Wednesday, August 29, 2007

fading brewers, rising cardinals

in the comments to my last missive, astute commenter uncle dave read the situation to get at the heart of the matter.

a 1.5 game lead is a bigger hammer than anything that the other teams in the race can boast

i respectfully disagreed at 1.5 games -- especially when the brewers had three to play against the cubs.

but, on the heels of a real bad day for deadline acquisition scott linebrink, at 2.5 and two to play milwaukee is seeing its chance slip away. to be sure, luck will still play the dominant role over the final 30 or so games in this race. these teams' fortunes now can easily turn on a fluke ten-game run of babip luck or an unexpected and unlikely power surge or bullpen meltdown. but now milwaukee is faced with splitting the final two against the cubs and being 2.5 down with less than 30 to play and no head-to-head avenue to come back on. that's a very difficult comeback to expect, even if it can happen by vicissitude alone.

if the brewers don't take these next two at wrigley, in my opinion it probably becomes a two-team race between the cubs and cardinals. local shaman and water-diviner (at a very reasonable rate, email the page for availability) ccd had this to say:

The Cardinals have won this division so many times. They are the defending world series champs. They still have the best player this side of A-Rod in Albie. So despite the fact that I have declared them DEAD numerous times this season, I am now scared to death of that team.

and i have to agree, particularly if milwaukee can't take the next two. the cardinals are riding momentum and unreasonable pitching performances from some really average-to-poor starters (including another last night). it's as tenuous a run as you're likely to see, built on babip and very little else. but it's happening, and the cubs themselves are evidence that babip weirdness can persist longer than a rational observer can maintain credibility.

saint louis is two back, but has two major avenues to redemption. first, their remaining schedule -- six vs houston, seven vs pittsburgh, six vs cincy is plenty weak but essentially no different from the northsiders. the salient point is that they have five remaining against the cubs, and these games are now taking on the character of the season climax for both clubs. four of those games are in saint louis.

second, the cards have played just 128 games -- meaning they have two in hand compared to the cubs and three compared to milwaukee. the idea is to win as more games than the next guy, and the cards -- with three fewer wins today -- are going to get two extra cracks at boosting their total. and, if their momentum holds out, they may get those turns at the most opportune time: when they're hot. as we've showed here, winning begets winning.

it's not all positive for the cardinals. they don't have a single off day for the remainder of the year -- their bullpen mainstays are going to be completely frazzled before this is over, and the genius is going to have to utilize september callups to take every possible mop-up inning to keep guys like russ springer, troy percival and ryan franklin fresh. maybe that means a critical loss or two. this is an uphill fight for them, and the odds are decent -- against every earlier expectation -- that the cubs come out of this thing on top.

this much for sure, though -- it's good to have to care about baseball in september. in fact, the only thing better is having to care about it in october.

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