Short Series?

The Rockies gave it a valiant effort last night, but they came up short again, which puts them in a large hole, as I mentioned yesterday.

It did give me something to think about, though.  Ever since the whole “this game counts”/All-Star Game determining home field fiasco (don’t get me started on it, I’ll go all day), the American League has won home field advantage.  The downside to that is that no AL team has clinched the Series on their home field since 1999 (pre-ASG change) when the Yankees swept the Braves.

In 2003, the first year of the changes, the Marlins won in Yankee Stadium.  2004, the Red Sox swept the Cardinals and celebrated, movie stars and all, in Busch Stadium.  2005, the White Sox did the same to the Astros.  And, of course, in 2006, the Cardinals got to involve the home fans by clinching at home.

Can the Rockies force the Series back to Boston?  Sure, they can.  But will they?  I don’t know.  Baseball has a way of evening things out.  You’ll see long winning streaks followed up by a few losing streaks during the season.  21-1 wasn’t sustainable, obviously, but the pendulum may be swinging the other way.

I hope that if the Rockies are going to lose it, they lose it in Colorado.  Red Sox Nation can be obnoxious enough without them tearing up Fenway in celebration.

Stress Free October

Thank you, Arizona!

It was great to start the stress-free playoffs this weekend. With Arizona sweeping the Cubs out of the way (look at what all that off-season spending did for them–three more wins than the ’06 Cardinals and a first round exit. Spending money isn’t the panacea some Cardinal fans think it is.), I could enjoy the finale of the Colorado/Philadelphia series without wondering which team could beat the Cubs. That was a thrilling game, and the Rockies are on a serious roll. That roll has to come to an end sometime, but hopefully not terribly soon, as it is VEB’s adopted team for the post-season.

It was nice to watch the AL yesterday as well. I didn’t see much of the Sox sweep, but their win really had my house rooting for the Indians last night. Of course, the wife would have been anyway, but we were both intrigued by the possibility of four sweeps in the first round, which would have been a record. Unfortunately, it didn’t come to pass, but I did some digging on the number of playoff games.

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Playing a Hard 9

One of the trademarks of a Tony LaRussa team, especially since he’s been in St. Louis, has been the concept of a “hard 9”.  Playing until the final out, never giving up, never giving away at bats.  The team, in the past, has responded to this idea and really come up with some remarkable wins.

Earlier this year, that concept seemed to be lost somewhat.  The struggles of the team seemed to be reflected in some of the effort of the players.   This recent hot streak, though, has shown that while the idea may have been dormant, it hasn’t left the building.

Last night was another indication of that.  Looper pitched a pretty solid game.   One run in six innings is about the best you can expect from him, and with Pujols hitting a home run in his fifth straight game (a personal record, plus it got him to his normal 30 per year), he had a 3-1 lead after six innings.

Unfortunately, that’s when LaRussa got a little greedy and sent Looper out there for the seventh.  I noted in the past the stat that his BAA after 75 pitches was closing in on .400.  A leadoff double was enough to send Tony to the bullpen and bring in the normally reliable Ryan Franklin.

I’m not sure what was wrong with Franklin last night, but everything he threw seemed to get hit hard and, after a Jeremy Hermida home run, the Cards trailed 4-3.  After last night’s rally, it looked like the Marlins were going to turn the table on us.

However, that pitching change was a double switch that brought Jim Edmonds into the game, and he smacked the home run that won it in the bottom of that inning.   If Edmonds and Rolen can get going like they’ve shown signs of doing, this offense is going to be good enough to hang with most anyone.  If the pitching staff holds up like they have been, the Central Division title is still possible, with October surprises within the realm of possibility, as well.

That is, of course, if the Big Guy is OK.  Apparently Pujols had some numbness in his leg last night and it caused some concern with him and especially the manager.   Of course, that was right before he hit the home run and he played the rest of the game, so maybe it’s not as bad as some want to make it out to be.  But if we lose him even for a 15-day DL stint, that’s a blow I’m not sure this suddenly resilient team can come back from.

Checking the scoreboard, Milwaukee lost and the Cubs won in extras.  So it looks like this:

Chicago       —
Milwaukee 1.0
St. Louis     3.0

Cards go for the sweep tonight behind Anthony Reyes.  Should be a good game to watch.

Changing the Script

They play around with WPA a lot at places like VEB and Future Redbirds.  WPA, or Win Probability Added, can be found at a site called FanGraphs.  I can’t find an official definition, so my crude understanding of it is that it takes the chances of winning before an AB and after an AB and the change is credited to the player.  I’m not sure exactly how they get to the chances of winning, but it seems all very scientific.  (I’ve told you before, this isn’t a stats blog!)

Anyway, you could see the win expectancy dropping like a stone when that two-out grounder by Encarnacion headed to shortstop last night.  In fact, before that play, the Marlins had a 75% chance of winning the game.  (Oddly enough, probably because of the force and the slowness of Molina, even after the play the Marlins WE increased to 79.8%.)  This is where stats don’t take into account the stubborness of a pitcher trying to get over an error, as Benitez really seemed to come unraveled by that slip.

Even without the hardheadness of the Florida pitcher, I felt really good about a tie game once Encarnacion was at second.  Molina is hitting the ball the way we thought he could, and it’s nice to see that average in the .275 range instead of the .215 range.  I felt pretty confident he could get the tying run in.  If you’d told me he’d make it all the way to third, though, I’d have figured he hit a home run and then pulled up lame running the bases.  No way he could get there on a normal play!

It’s just another sign that things perhaps have turned around for the Cardinals.  Earlier in the year, that was a very typical loss for them.  A great pitching performance, but tons of double plays and no runs could be scored.  But this new, improved Cardinal team played LaRussa’s trademark “hard 9” and got the job done last night.   (Another difference between now and May–Albert Pujols is Albert Pujols again.  Four home runs in 4 games?  It’s so wonderful to watch when El Hombre is clicking!)  The times, they are a-changin’.

Good thing they did, too, since Milwaukee and Chicago both won.  Still three games out with Looper going tonight.  Hopefully the bats will show up tonight–I’d be real impressed if Looper kept it to two runs.

Who Was That Masked Pitcher?

Apparently, there was a slight change in the Cardinals roster last night, so subtle no one noticed. But that couldn’t have been Kip Wells pitching that game last night. Not the Kip Wells that went into the game with an ERA approaching six and a half. Not the Kip Wells that had been removed from the rotation at least once this year. Not the Kip Wells that was dangerously close to being DFA not long ago. However, this did bear some resemblance to the Kip Wells the Cardinals thought they were getting when they signed him to a bargain contract in this offseason. Kip has shown some good stuff in the bullpen, and while that didn’t carry over to his Philadelphia start right after the All-Star Game, let’s hope that whatever the changes were have stuck now and this will be closer to the Kip Wells we’ll be seeing from now on.

On the other side of the pitching equation was Dontrelle Willis. Now, I’ve never though Dontrelle was as good as the hype put him out to be. I like him, love the smile and fun that he brings to the game, but I’ve never thought he was a #1 pitcher. A #2, probably a #3 on a real good staff, sure. But a difference-maker? No. I know he challenged Chris Carpenter for the Cy Young a couple of years back, but the underlying stats (i.e., other than wins) really weren’t that close.

So the trade rumor last year that had the Cards sending Anthony Reyes, Chris Duncan and Colby Rasmus to the Marlins for Willis really had me cringing. Thankfully, nothing came of that, especially since Dontrelle sported a 4.81 ERA going into last night’s game, and giving up 6 runs in 3 innings is going to make that creep on up. Not that the Cardinals are just flush with pitching, obviously, but we can get those kind of results for basically free. (And have been all year! ) If we had mortgaged any potential at a future for those kind of results, things would be more depressing than they already are.

Looks like Scott Rolen, at least according to the manager, is just going back to get a shot and could be back in the Atlanta series. This apparently is similar to what he did last October, and we know that he responded well then. (I still think he should have been World Series MVP over David Eckstein, but voters like the “scrappy” storyline.) Let’s hope we get some similar results this year.

Cards start a four game series in Atlanta tonight. (CCHers, be sure to get your YNOT entries in!) The Braves just got swept by the Reds, but I don’t think that means they are going to be easy pickings. If St. Louis wins 3 of 4 down there, I’ll be impressed.