Where have these St. Louis Cardinals been all year, and where did the New York Mets go?
Riding the strong right arm of ... Jeff Weaver? The Cardinals beat the Mets 4-2 in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series Tuesday in St. Louis, giving them a 3-2 series lead and putting them one win away from becoming the World Series team with the second-worst record ever.
Do you believe me yet that there's no such thing as momentum in baseball?
The Tigers, who salvaged a wild-card spot, then went 7-1 in the American League playoffs and have been eating bonbons since Sunday. The Cardinals, whose 83-78 record is better than that of only one World Series team, the 1973 Mets, are 6-3 so far and they're sending the likely Cy Young winner, Chris Carpenter, in Game 6 Wednesday night in New York, the travel day having been erased by Monday's rainout.
Momentum is what happened to the last hitter, and it just expired. Always.
Three and a half months ago, Weaver was on the waiver wire, or would have been within days if the Cardinals hadn't agreed to send a minor league outfielder to the Los Angeles Angels, which had designated Weaver for assignment and are picking up some of his $8.3 million salary.
Teams have 10 days to trade a player who has been DFA'd or get him to agree to a minor-league assignment. Otherwise they have to put him on waivers, which essentially means giving him away. And that would have been about the right price for Weaver, given his performance for the Angels.
Now all Weaver's done is toss two solid playoff starts at arguably the best offense in the National League -- you could make a case for the Atlanta Braves -- and easily the best that made the N.L. playoffs. He got outpitched by a brilliant Tom Glavine in Game 1, a 2-0 Mets win, but Tuesday night Glavine was headed to the showers with his head down in the fifth inning with no outs, two on and the Cards up 3-2.
After reliever Chad Bradford allowed a single to Juan Encarnacion to load the bases with nobody out, he and Pedro Feliciano executed a masterful escape to keep the Cardinals from scoring again.
They didn't need to, it turned out, because Weaver turned in a 1-2-3 sixth, his final inning, giving him a line of 11 and two-thirds innings, four runs in the series, an earned-run average of 3.09 against a team that scored five and a half runs a game this year.
And the Cardinals' bullpen, in tatters at season's end but suddenly magnificent, threw three more shutout innings. Cardinals relievers have a 1.30 ERA in 27 and two-thirds playoff innings if you ignore Josh Hancock no-out, six-run disaster in Game 4, and the bullpen ERA is still a solid 3.25 counting that blowout. The St. Louis bullpen's ERA against the Mets is 0.87 if you throw out the Game 4 shellacking.
True, the Mets are without Cliff Floyd, who made a pinch-hitting appearance Tuesday, but the 2006 Cliff Floyd isn't the Cliff Floyd you're used to. With all due respect to any Mets hand-wringing about having to replace Floyd in left field with slick-fielding Endy Chavez, Chavez was a better hitter this year too.
And they still have the remarkable quartet of Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and David Wright. But except for the Game 4 outburst, that quartet has been held to a relatively modest .801 OPS by a Cardinals pitching staff that wasn't much more than Chris Carpenter and a huge question mark entering October.
And the rub is that Carpenter pitched poorly in Game 2, the Cardinals winning in the ninth inning long after he and Mets starter John Maine were gone. Maine matches up against Carpenter again in Game 6.
Maine also struggled in Game 2, walking five and giving up four runs, three earned, in four innings, but he had a solid year, 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA and good peripheral stats, and finished strong, with three quality starts out of five in September and no bad ones. On the other hand, the Cardinals pounded him twice, including last week.
The Cardinals have their ace going and their second-best pitcher, Jeff Suppan, scheduled for Game 7 if one is needed. The Cards would love to avoid that so they could have Suppan ready to pitch the first game of the World Series, then Weaver and Carpenter. The Mets, obviously, want nothing more than to get to Game 7 so manager Willie Randolph can throw a dart at the pitching roster and choose a starter.
All the momentum's with St. Louis right now. And you know what that means.
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Beltran: Helpless at home? [PERMALINK]
Now that the NLCS is going back to Shea Stadium, see if you can hold your breath from the beginning of Carlos Beltran's first plate appearance to the point at which Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, Luis Gonzalez or a Fox graphic mentions that Beltran had the lowest home batting average in the league this year, .224 at Shea.
I don't think you'll have a problem.
Fox has shown a graphic displaying that stat at least once in each of the Mets' two series, and the fact has been talked about a lot more than that.
There's plenty missing from that graphic, which compares Beltran's home and road batting average, home runs and runs batted in: .224 with 15 and 38 at home, .317 with 26 and 78 on the road. Pretty remarkable.
What it doesn't say is that Shea Stadium is a fairly severe pitcher's park, and that despite that, Beltran was still a decent hitter there, posting a .368 on-base percentage and slugging .487. Nothing like the .406 OBP and .683 slugging percentage he put up on the road, but not nearly as meager as the words ".224 batting average" imply either. He walked a ton, and when he did hit, he hit for power.
He wasn't a liability at Shea. He just wasn't Carlos Beltran, MVP candidate, as he would have been if he'd matched his road production.
Here's something else I've heard no one at Fox mention in between the half-dozen or so discussions of Beltran's .224 home batting average, lowest -- have you heard? -- in the league:
Carlos Delgado, home batting average: .226.
You know what the difference is between .224 and .226? Pretty much nothing. If just one grounder that Beltran hit for an out had taken a bad hop and gone for a single, his home batting average would have been .228. The difference between .224 and .226, over a full season of full-time play, is about one hit. Only looking at home games, it's a half a hit.
If it's significant that Beltran hit .224 at Shea, it's significant that Delgado hit .226. In fact, Delgado had the same .487 slugging percentage at Shea that Beltran did, but only a .331 on-base percentage. Delgado was a worse hitter at home than Beltran was, but I haven't seen a graphic on Fox about him.
Also glossed over is the fact that Beltran only trailed the league in home batting average among players who qualified for the batting title, which means they got at least 501 plate appearances. There were several guys who played regularly and hit worse than .224 at home.
Mike Piazza of San Diego hit .223. Miguel Olivo of Florida, another catcher, hit .215. San Diego shortstop Khalil Green hit .210. The Marlins and Padres both play in pitcher's parks, by the way.
And by far the worst hitter at home among regular players in the National League hit only .197 in 218 at-bats. He fell 50 plate appearances short of qualifying, but he's a regular, and everybody below him in home batting average is either a scrub or a pitcher.
Who is he? Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
Wonder if Fox has a graphic.
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Bill Buckner's double curse [PERMALINK]
A major find for minutia and curse maniacs in Paul Lukas' Uni Watch column on ESPN.com.
When Bill Buckner of the Boston Red Sox made that famous error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, allowing the winning run to score for the New York Mets and perhaps adding 18 years to the Sox's championship drought, you'll never guess what he was wearing under his first baseman's mitt.
Close examination of a famous Associated Press photograph of Buckner walking off the field that night has revealed that he was wearing a batting glove on his right hand. On that batting glove can clearly be seen the logo of Buckner's former team.
The Chicago Cubs.
Previous column: Why the Bears are still undefeated
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