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Know Your Enemy 2005: Weeks 13 & 14
by Derek Smart
What's that? Nine days late, you say? Slacker, you say? A monkey could write this weekly tripe in under 50 seconds, you say?
Okay, so you've got a point. But to make up for it, I'll scrawl even more of this useless hoo-ha than you've come to expect.
What's that? That's not actually a reward, you say? Fine, then. I'll skip this feature again on Monday, rather than comment on a mere weekend's worth of action. All better? Good. On with the show!
St. Louis Cardinals
I think I've figured out why many Cardinals fans I run across seem so unimpressed by, even worried about, this year's squad.
Look at how they got their 105 wins last year: in the first 46 games, St. Louis posted a lackluster 24-22 record. Then the fire started, and the remainder of the year saw them go 81-35, and 65-23 when you remove their coast through the month of September.
This year their records by month have been 15-7, 18-11, 16-11, and 7-3. Steady as she goes. No big peaks, no big valleys. Just month after month of solid, winning baseball.
When your most vivid impression of a club is the over half a season they spent playing .739 ball, motoring along at a .636 clip can seem like wading through hip-deep mud, even if it does put you on pace for back-to-back 100-win seasons.
Poor fellas. I'll be sure to schedule a good cry for them soon.
Wow. Nothing like winning 23 of your last 31 to cure what ails you, and if you're looking for what brought this particular surge on, look no further than the offense.
In losing 35 of their first 56, the Astros scored a measly 3.61 runs per game. I don't care how great your pitching staff is, that's not going to get you very far. What will do you good, however, is scoring the 5.26 runs per game the club has put up during this recent run of success.
The Astro's won't continue to score at quite that high a level, but with their pitching they don't need to. What does matter is whether this scoring increase is a correction or a mirage: the former gets them a shot at the wildcard, and the latter gets them a lovely October vacation.
Such is the life of a Major League starter. Ben Sheets has three straight starts during this stretch where he only gives up two runs, and the team comes away with wins in only two of those games. Doug Davis gives up one, three, and two earned runs respectively in his troika of turns, and the Brewers don't sniff victory in any of those contests.
But Chris Capuano has three straight outings where he gives up four earned, and he walks away with a 3-0 record for the period. Run support is a harsh mistress.
When you stop hitting and stop pitching at the same time, you lose games, as Nostradamus once said. But while reality has set in along the Allegheny, the good news is that there's a little more to pay attention to than what booty can be hoisted from those interested in the likes of Matt Lawton or Jose Mesa, or how quickly those afflicted with that dreaded disease, Laundry-Toe, can return to action.
While the scale of the experiment is different than the one in Milwaukee, the Pirates are still giving their future a good long look, with Zach Duke performing impressively in his first two starts, and the so-far-less-successful Ian Snell likely to get a turn after the break.
The key to this organization's potential future success is the solid base of young pitching they've collected. Keeping these gents healthy and productive should be the organization's priority over the next several years. That and finding a way to cobble together something that at least resembles an offense.
Down and down they go. Where they stop, nobody knows.
Okay, that's not entirely true. They'll stay right here in last place. The only question remaining about their season is to what degree do they sell off their pricey veterans?
Which outfielder goes, Dunn or Kearns?
Will they shop Eric Milton, and if so, will they find a taker who can eat most of the cash?
Can they get a six pack of Schmidt's for Rich Aurilia, or will they be forced to buy their own?
Such is what remains of the season in the Queen City, so if apathy starts to set in, who can blame them?