The Cardinals gave us a little space in which to not be worried about their berth in the Wild Card play-in game—okay, the Astros helped—but I admit up front that a 90 percent postseason probability is a little more reassuring when you weren't, exactly a year ago, hoping for the same odds to come tumbling down and give some other SB Nation blog permanent Baseball Prospectus flashbacks.
Now that sour-tasting loss—I guess it had to be Bud Norris—and noted postseason talisman Edwin Jackson have combined to give us one last chance for pre-play-in anxiety.
The Cardinals are probably going to get to the play-in game. If the numbers aren't doing it for you, here are some people who have something to do with them:
Adam Wainwright will be pitching Friday night. Wainwright's comeback from elbow surgery is calibrated perfectly to underwhelm. His ERA's hanging just over four, he's 13-13, he's started and ended the season with his least impressive months, and he's managed, as a result, to lose the Cardinals fanbase's guy-you-want-when-it-counts crown to, one after the other, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, and (belatedly) Kyle Lohse.
He's also got an xFIP indistinguishable from 2009 and 2010. A FIP, too, for that matter—this isn't even a home run issue, like some people thought it might be. It's hardly even a BAbip issue. His strand rate used to be suspiciously low; now it is suspiciously high.
Basically, though, he's Adam Wainwright. If he's not doing his best pitching in September, he's gone 0-2 with an ERA of 4.88 The Right Way, by striking out twice as many batters as he walked and beating the Dodgers. You'll remember Edwin Jackson as a not-quite-adequate replacement for Adam Wainwright; if he's doing a better impression as a member of the Nationals' rotation, I still like the original's chances.
Kyle Lohse could end this season 17-3. It's wins and losses and they don't mean much, but that's a thing that's one win away from happening. I've had a few people on Twitter and via e-mail use Lohse as a means for acting out their distaste for advanced statistics, but that seems like a false polarization to me—the kind of thing that didn't exist until we realized we were fighting about something.
If Lohse were having this season in 1990, would our ostensibly uneducated forebears assume he was really a 16-3 pitcher, whatever it is that was supposed to mean? Some would, I guess—if you thumb through Bill James's back catalogue looking for Storm Davis's name you'll find plenty of frustrated corrections to that effect—but some large contingent, without the benefit of DIPS or the words "regression to the mean," would look at his 4-8 2010 and his 14-8 2011, and his fastball, and his spotty career so far, and assume he was pitching a little over his head.
It's not like Baseball Prospectus or even Bill James and Pete Palmer were the first people to realize that suspiciously great seasons were usually once-in-a-career, and without the overheated stats-vs-scouts backdrop I think a lot of people insisting we-the-stat-people are failing to recognize Lohse's greatness might themselves suspect, just a little, Lohse's greatness. It just went down more easily when we were all using the same numbers to draw our conclusions.
So Kyle Lohse is probably not a 16-3 pitcher, or a 4 bWAR pitcher, or whatever perennial-Cy-Young-candidate number you'd like to use. But advanced statistics are happy to tell you he's had a fine season—there's those 4 bWAR, and by way of a compromise his 3.62 K:BB ratio.
And if he can beat Jordan Zimmermann he'll be 17-3, and I don't think it's a surprise that I would find that very cool, whatever it really means.
Somebody on offense, probably. Nothing is right about this offense in September. Which is not to say the results have been terrible—they're within a few OPS points of June and August in either direction—but everything is just wrong. Pete Kozma leads the team in OPS and, even more surprisingly, just-plain-S; Allen Craig is second on the team in plate appearances but hitting an empty .300; Matt Holliday is the injured-veteran-we're-worried-about.
Yadier Molina has an OPS of .884 and it's not surprising anymore, Skip Schumaker has fallen out of favor and we don't even have time to be happy about it, Ryan Jackson has four plate appearances and is nearer Bryan Anderson on the depth chart than the shortstops.
Please commit the gambler's fallacy with me, over these last few games. I need this offense to even out, and I think they'll do it. But I'm willing to settle for Pete Kozma slugging .550 for a few more days.