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: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.

Report: The new collective bargaining agreement reduces players’ meal money

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, JAN. 18-19 - This Jan. 15, 2014 photo showing new baseball union head Tony Clark during an interview at the organization's headquarters, in New York. Clark has big shoes to fill _ and not just as Michael Weiner's replacement as head of the baseball players' union. Moving from Arizona to New Jersey, the former big league All-Star also needed to find size 15 snowshoes.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew
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ESPN’s Pedro Gomez provides a previously unreported detail of the new collective bargaining agreement, agreed to by the owners and the players’ union last week. Players’ meal money for road games is being reduced from $105 to $30 per day. Teams are providing pre- and post-game meals in the visitors’ clubhouse to offset some of the decrease in meal money.

Gomez quotes an unnamed player who said, “I doubt many guys know about the money going down, nor would they have agreed to it.” All of the players Gomez contacted said they were unaware of and unhappy about the change.

Clubhouse attendants are certainly unhappy about this change, too. As Gomez notes, the attendants previously provided food for visiting teams which earned them tips from the players.

EDIT: It’s worth clarifying that chefs are required in clubhouses now as part of the new CBA, so it’s not a complete loss for the players.