Item item hoozgotta item.
I’ve been meaning to crow about this for a month or so now, but every time you read that nobody picked the Cardinals to win the National League Central, please remember your humble servant, who did just that on April 1.
I immediately forgot about this and spent the rest of the spring thinking I’d picked the Cubs to repeat. I did pick the White Sox to win the A.L. Central, so I guess I got mixed up. I discovered my mistake one day last month, just as the Cards were starting to dust the field.
I figured that as soon as I said anything about it, they’d lose 20 straight. I don’t believe I actually have that much power over things, but then again, we all kind of believe that sort of thing, don’t we? Don’t tell me you’ve never stayed glued to your seat on the couch because you didn’t want to jinx your team’s rally.
“They’ll need Matt Morris and 37-year-old Woody Williams to stay healthy at the front of the rotation and all those fourth-starter, Jeff Suppan types at the back to come through,” I wrote. “I think that’s a better bet than putting my money on the Cubs to repeat.”
Hot damn. Even a blind squirrel etc. etc. I also said the Blue Jays would win the A.L. East. And I predicted, for the 137th consecutive year, that the Atlanta Braves wouldn’t win their division.
Shut up, he explained.
The Cardinals are 42-14 since the last week of May. That’s .750 baseball, three wins every four games. They’ve seemed pretty invincible over that 56-game stretch, haven’t they?
Now picture this: The 1914 Boston Braves got swept in a doubleheader in Brooklyn on the Fourth of July to fall to 26-40, last place in the National League, 15 games out. Starting two days later, when they swept another doubleheader in Brooklyn, they went 68-19 — that’s .782 baseball over 87 games — and won the pennant by 10 and a half games.
It seems like the Cardinals never lose. What must it have felt like to follow the Miracle Braves? They swept the Philadelphia A’s, sort of the Yankees of their day, in the World Series. I just love the 1914 Braves. Their big star was Rabbit Maranville, who was bug nuts.
Here’s the Cardinals’ record in the starts of each of the five members of their rotation, who between them have started all but one of the team’s games:
Chris Carpenter: 13-6
Jason Marquis: 13-7
Jeff Suppan: 13-7
Woody Williams: 13-7
Matt Morris: 13-8
Well, I think you can see my point there. And if you can, please let me know what it is.
No, OK, here’s one: Why aren’t pitchers’ records displayed this way, ever? I’m fine with the traditional pitchers’ wins and losses stat. It has historical resonance and everything. But it often doesn’t say enough about how good a pitcher is at that thing that managers love to talk about, “giving us a good chance to win.”
There are lots of stats to look at, some more complex than others, to get at a pitcher’s effectiveness, but doesn’t it make sense to ask the basic question, “How good is that team when this pitcher takes the ball?”
That has its limitations too. Sometimes a team hits like the ’27 Yankees for one starter and like the ’03 Dodgers for another, all year long. But it’s not a bad way to get a good idea. You wouldn’t get any clue from looking at their pitching records that when Williams (7-6) and Marquis (11-4) have taken the mound, the Cardinals have compiled the exact same record, 13-7.
Usually what this stat shows for a good team is that it’s much better when the front of the rotation takes the ball than when the back of the rotation does. The 2001-02 Diamondbacks were an extreme example of this, nearly unbeatable when Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling started and sub-.500 when anyone else did. Recent A’s and Red Sox teams have also followed this pattern.
The trading deadline is Saturday afternoon and the big name out there is Johnson, who seems to have said he’ll OK a trade to any team as long as that team is the Yankees, who could also use a dominant starter to take into the postseason, as anyone can.
If the trade doesn’t happen by the deadline — and things were pretty quiet as of Friday morning, with the Diamondbacks uninterested in any of the Yankees’ prospects, to use that term loosely — that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The trading deadline is a little overrated as a deadline. The real one is Aug. 31. You have to have a player by the end of that day if he’s going to play in the postseason for you.
All Saturday’s deadline passing means is that any player traded has to clear waivers first. That means another team could block a Johnson-to-New York deal by claiming him. But then that team would be on the hook for Johnson’s $16 million salary for the rest of this year and next. I suppose the Red Sox could take that risk.
My crystal ball, the one in which both the Cardinals and Blue Jays appeared this spring, says Johnson will be in pinstripes by September, even if he isn’t by Sunday.
Previous column: Higher ed. at Miami
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