So, what did we learn?
The Cubs are probably a better team -- or at least a more talented team -- than the Cardinals, especially on the offensive side. They have an awful lot of bats. First-base and center field are the only positions where the Cards really have an advantage, at least with the bat. That being said, the gap in talent between these two teams is not very dramatic.
I wasn't expecting these two teams to be this evenly matched. In fact, I think I have to give the Cardinals the clear advantage in pitching. Cubs Ace Carlos Zambrano is the only one of their starters who is clearly better than most of what the Cards can trot out there. I don't think Ryan Dempster is really this guy, and the rest of their rotation has some significant question marks. And when it comes right down to it, I would take the Big Z over our own Adam Wainwright, but not by a whole lot. Seriously.
Alfonso Soriano is being badly misused. He's miscast as a lead off hitter, and really miscast as a left fielder. I didn't think he was that bad in left; maybe he's just struggling at the moment coming back from the disabled list, but I couldn't help but comparing him, unfavorably, to Chris Duncan on a couple of those plays on Friday night. Admittedly, Duncan probably would have missed at least one of those two plays, and quite possibly would have crashed into the fence on the Molina ground-rule double, breaking both the fence and several bones, but at least he would have looked like he was trying, damn it!
As for the lead off position, I'm perfectly aware that Soriano has hit lead off his whole career. I fail to see how that relates to anything at all. His career on base percentage is only .326. I don't care if he occasionally makes something exciting happen; his power is being wasted. Soriano has never seen a pitch he didn't like, and he rarely gets a chance to run because if he is on base, Derek Lee is usually at the plate, and you don't want to run into an out with a guy like that hitting. Don't get me wrong; I like the fact that one of the Cubs' more dangerous hitters, (although struggling badly right now) isn't being used in a such a way as to maximize his contributions. It helps the opponents out significantly.
Kyle Lohse is not quite as good as he looked to be the first four or five times out this year. Of course, that's not really a huge surprise; we should have all seen this one coming. Still, if he can keep going at the pace he's set so far, he'll still end up being the steal of the off season. His last two outings have been less than sterling, and he still sports a very respectable stat line. We may want to hold off on the extension just this minute, though.
The reports of Jason Isringhausen's demise, at least for the moment, appear to be greatly exaggerated. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was one of the people questioning whether or not he was healthy; whether or not he was just done. As of this morning, though, it appears that his problem is largely with just one of his pitches; the infamous cutter. It's long been Izzy's favorite pitch, and one that he probably goes to way too often, but it's crap right now. He threw only one of them last night; it was up and rather flat. Luckily he kept it far enough off the plate that Lee couldn't reach out and crush it. Izzy was throwing beautifully last night, comfortably sitting at 93-94 mph with his fast ball, and his curve ball was just as good as ever. For now, at least, it looks as though he just needs to put away the pitch that's betraying him. He has plenty to succeed without it.
Todd Wellemeyer is still too inefficient. He required 95 pitches last night to get through five innings. That's just not good enough; too much of a strain on the bullpen to have to consistently go four innings every fifth day. Still, though, he held the Cubs' lineup to only two runs, and that's pretty damned impressive. A mixed bag on the Colonel, to be sure, but it'll do, Todd. It'll do.
Adam Kennedy's early season resurgence this year may just be the best trick since the one that followed, ''Lazarus, come out.''
Most of all, though, what we learned is that this Cardinal team is, in fact, for real. Critics continued to say they hadn't beaten anybody yet; even Milwaukee, they said, was struggling badly and didn't really count. Well, here you are then. The Cubs came in to town sporting one of the most potent offenses in all of baseball, and the Cardinals took the series. Admittedly, 15 runs in three games isn't fantastic, but considering nine of those runs came in one game, I'll take it every day of the year. The Cards' own bats continued to do what they've done so far this year, which is just enough.
In fact, that may be exactly what we have in this team here. They're legitimate, but they're not flashy. We may not see too many teams come into town terrified to play this squad, but I'll bet we continue to see lots of them leave town the same way as the Cubs did, having lost the series and wondering how in the hell that just happened.
The 2008 Cardinals: They won't scare you, but maybe, just maybe, they'll do just enough to beat you.