Smoltz expects to make Red Sox debut next week

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During a radio interview this morning John Smoltz said
that he expects to make his Red Sox debut on either Tuesday or
Wednesday of next week “if everything goes the way it continues to go.”

Smoltz’s
arrival in Boston has been pushed back slightly, so he’ll make one
additional minor-league rehab start than initially expected after
allowing four runs in six innings last week at Triple-A.

Regardless
of whether his first start comes Tuesday or Wednesday it would be
against the Nationals, but interestingly starting Tuesday would line
him up to face the Braves in his second outing. If you’re into drama,
that’s the scenario to root for.

As of now Brad Penny is lined up
to pitch Tuesday, with Jon Lester slated for Wednesday, but there’s
been tons of speculation about Penny being traded to clear a spot for
Smoltz. Normally it would be a mistake to give up an asset like Penny
to make room for a pitcher who a) may not be a significant upgrade, and
b) comes with plenty of injury risk.

However, as Bob discussed this morning
Boston would still have plenty of rotation depth even if Penny is
traded and Smoltz’s comeback hits a snag. In fact, the Red Sox’s
overall pitching depth is so plentiful that Ken Rosenthal of
FOXSports.com reports that they’ve been shopping setup man Takashi Saito in the hopes of swapping him for a prospect.

Penny
has a 4.10 ERA and 38/9 K/BB ratio in eight starts since a poor April
and Saito has a 2.42 ERA with a 22/7 K/BB ratio in 22.1 innings
overall, which tells you how stacked the Red Sox are with quality arms.
Boston’s bullpen leads baseball with a 3.01 ERA and for now at least
MLB-ready top prospects Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden rank as the
team’s No. 7 and No. 8 starters.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.