What we're watching – Cards look to sweep

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– Ricky Nolasco has pitched well in two starts since returning from the
minors, but he has a tough assignment ahead of him in Boston tonight.
Jon Lester, who has fanned 34 and allowed three runs in his last three
starts, will get the ball as the Red Sox try to complete a home sweep
of the Marlins. They’re a major league-best 23-8 in home games this
season.

– With Mike Hampton down, Brandon Backe will make his first start of
the year against the Rangers. He’s allowed 12 runs and 17 hits in nine
innings out of the pen since coming off the DL, so it looks like it
could be a big night for Texas hitters. Backe has given up eight homers
and 21 runs in 24 1/3 innings lifetime against the Rangers.

– Vin Mazzaro, who opened his career with 17 2/3 scoreless innings
before giving up three runs to the Giants last time out, takes on the
Dodgers tonight. Los Angeles will counter with Randy Wolf, in what
would seem to be a pretty easy matchup for the left-hander. However,
the A’s hitters who have faced Wolf have tended to be very successful
against him. Jason Giambi has homered in both of his at-bats against
Wolf. Orlando Cabrera is at .316/.372/.500 in 38 at-bats, and Nomar
Garicaparra is 7-for-14 with two homers. Matt Holliday is 3-for-11 with
one homer and five RBI.

Game of the Night

Detroit vs. St. Louis – Two of the game’s top groundball pitchers will
face off with Rick Porcello and Joel Pineiro on the mound tonight. The
Cardinals are going for a sweep of the three-game series after
withstanding a pair of Curtis Granderson homers to win 4-3 on
Wednesday. For it to happen, Pineiro will have to snap a string that’s
seem him take losses in each of his last four starts. He’s 5-7 with a
3.99 ERA for the season, but he has gone 6-1 with a 2.82 ERA lifetime
against the Tigers. Porcello is 7-4 with a 3.71 ERA.

Report: Cardinals are scouting Cuban outfielder Luis Robert

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 25: Baseballs sit in the St. Louis Cardinals dugout prior to a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by David Welker/Getty Images)
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According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are keeping an eye on outfield prospect Luis Robert. The 19-year-old left his native Cuba last November and is expected to command interest from multiple MLB teams as he approaches free agency. Goold adds that the Cardinals sent scouts to evaluate Robert’s workouts in the Dominican Republic as recently as last week.

There’s still a good chance that the club won’t get a shot at signing him; as Craig mentioned last month, it seems likely that Major League Baseball won’t declare Robert a free agent until after June 15. By July 2, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policies on international bonuses will go into effect, handcuffing teams with the maximum penalty for bonuses to a $300,000 signing figure for any available international prospect. It’s designed to effectively take away those teams’ abilities to sign additional international talent, and the Cardinals have already spent a reported $9.35 million in bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, Cuban outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena and Cuban right-hander Johan Oviedo.

Until the cutoff in mid-June, the Cardinals are likely to continue actively scouting other international talent, including Robert. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez quotes an anonymous National League scouting director who describes Robert as the No. 2 talent behind Japanese wunderkind Shohei Otani. The 19-year-old hit .286/.319/.397 with a .716 OPS during a 16-game run in the Canadian-American League in 2016, following up an impressive three-year tenure with the Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series from 2013-2015.

Cubs extend Pedro Strop through 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Pedro Strop #46 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported over the weekend that the Cubs and reliever Pedro Strop agreed to a contract extension. He’ll remain with the Cubs through 2018 and the new deal includes a club option for the 2019 season as well. Per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Strop will earn $5.85 million in 2018 and the club option is worth $6.25 million with a $500,000 buyout. The two sides already avoided arbitration earlier this month, agreeing on a $5.5 million salary for the 2017 season.

Strop, 31, has been a very reliable reliever for the Cubs over the last three years. He has a combined 2.65 ERA with 212 strikeouts and 69 walks over 176 1/3 innings in that span of time.

The Cubs replaced Aroldis Chapman with Wade Davis, so Strop and Hector Rondon will be bridging the gap to Davis this coming season.

Strop joined the Cubs along with Jake Arrieta in the July 2013 trade that sent Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to the Orioles. That trade panned out well for the Cubs.