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Exit Astros, Thankfully, Enter Reds, No-Thankfully

This is Bud Norris. The Cardinals still can't hit him.
This is Bud Norris. The Cardinals still can't hit him.

I thought this might have been the game when the Cardinals finally solved their Bud Norris problem—instead, it was his most impressive performance yet. It wasn't a typical one run game; they seemed to threaten on a regular basis, but were stifled by a lack of baserunners—Norris has allowed zero walks in just one other game in his career, and had walked three or more in five games out of six this year—and a series of ugly and inexplicable plays. If Rasmus's first swing gets by Berkman, or Skip Schumaker's 3-2 double play is broken up at home plate, things look different. But they don't look different.

Which leaves us without a lot to say by way of a series post-mortem. Most of the Cardinals should be hitting, but many of them aren't. As Bernie notes in byte form, most of it has to do with our presence in a Hraboskian twilight zone in which not enough runs are scored with the dinger—

Take a look at the primary 2-3-4-5 hitters in the lineup:

* Ryan Ludwick: last homer - April 27, a drought of 55 ABs.

* Albert Pujols: last homer - April 25, a drought of 59 ABs.

* Matt Holliday: last homer - April 19, a drought of 75 ABs.

* Colby Rasmus: last homer - April 26, a drought of 43 ABs.

If we go back to April 26, which is the day after Pujols last homered, the Cardinals as a team have hit only 7 home runs in their last 484 at-bats. Only Colorado (6) and Seattle (4) have fewer.

More specifically, the Cardinals since then have hit .276 (great!)/.354 (also great!)/.388 (not great!). It's great to have baserunners, and yesterday's game aside the Cardinals often have. But a lineup of David Ecksteins would have a lot of these stretches; sometimes it's like a carousel of singles-hitting pests, scoring five runs without ever hitting one out of the infield, other times it's like every inning starts with two outs and a runner, unmovable, standing at first base. Yesterday home plate seemed booby trapped; whenever a Cardinal got near it a line drive was snared, or a play was set up just perfectly for the catcher.

Tonight the Cardinals get Aaron Harang; if the GOB weren't quite so vindictive he would be the anti-Bud, having gone 7-12 (and 0-2 in 2010) against the Cardinals. 

The Reds have been on a roll since losing two of three to the Cardinals in May, winning seven of their last nine. They're doing it by hitting for average and power—.299 with a .512 slugging percentage—and pitching pretty well while they're at it, having gotten their ERA down to 4.85 from a late-April peak of 6.20. The back-to-back shutouts from Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey were only the end of a gradual move in the direction of respectability; Harang has thrown three quality starts in a row, and even Bronson Arroyo, who got shelled for three starts running after his brilliant season debut (against St. Louis, of course), has looked as good as a pitcher who's allowed home runs in five consecutive starts can. 

For this series the Cardinals have drawn both veterans and Mike Leake, who managed to win a spot in the Reds' rotation without having ever pitched in the minor leagues. After walking 12 in his first two starts he's shown impressive control—five in four starts since—and a Duncan-approved taste for the groundball. If the Cardinals want to recommence with the dingers, then, he's not the guy. 

But they'd be well-served to start with Harang, who remains among the most combustible active starters in baseball. Arroyo, too, has begun to give up home runs at a Harangian pace since joining the Reds. Cincinnati no longer employs Dave Weathers, but Harang and Arroyo are the Cardinals' best shot since Brett Myers to begin scoring runs The Wrong Way once more. With even Scott Rolen hitting for power again on the other side, they'd better take advantage of it.