What we're watching: Astros go for sweep

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– As great as he is, Tim Lincecum has still won a mere 45 percent of
his 76 career starts. However, he’s 5-for-5 against the Braves heading
into another showdown tonight. He blanked the Braves for eight innings
in his only start against them this year, that coming on May 26. Jair
Jurrjens, who ranks seventh in the NL in ERA, will be the opponent
tonight.

– 26-year-old Carlos Torres will make his major league debut for the
White Sox tonight against the Rays. The 2004 15th-round pick moved back
and forth between the rotation and pen during his first five minor
league seasons, but an impressive 2008 in Double-A caused the White Sox
to make him a full-time starter this year and he was 8-4 with a 2.20
ERA, 72 H and 96/38 K/BB in 98 IP for Triple-A Charlotte. It seems
unlikely that he’ll notch so many strikeouts in the majors with his
cutter and curveball, but he could prove to be a pretty useful
swingman.

– Chad Billingsley will attempt to bounce back from his shortest
start since 2007 when he faces the Reds. He’s 2-1 with a 0.92 ERA
against Cincinnati in his career, but he appears to be battling fatigue
of late. He allowed five runs in five innings on July 10, struggled
through his inning in the All-Star Game and then gave up six runs in 1
2/3 innings against the Astros on Friday. Bronson Arroyo is due to
start for the Reds. If Manny Ramirez plays — he left last night’s game
with a bruised hand — he’d be facing his former Red Sox teammate for
the first time.

Game of the Night

St. Louis vs. Houston – The Astros will aim for a three-game sweep
of the first-place Cardinals with Roy Oswalt on the mound. Houston has
won each of Oswalt’s last four starts, with the right-hander amassing a
1.69 ERA in the process. Oswalt, though, hasn’t beaten the Cardinals
since 2007, going 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA in three starts over the last two
seasons. St. Louis will start Chris Carpenter, who has won three
straight this month and is 8-3 with a 2.26 ERA for the season.

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.