Daily Dose: Astros shut down Oswalt

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Roy Oswalt’s back problems haven’t improved, so after back-to-back rough starts the Astros have decided to shut him down for the season. “It’s not getting any better and it’s kind of lingering a bit,” Oswalt said. “If we were in contention and fighting for the playoffs, I would try to get an epidural block and ride it as long as I could. But I don’t want it to linger for next year.”
Oswalt had a 3.66 ERA and 104/33 K/BB ratio in 135.1 innings through 21 starts, but has a 5.48 ERA in nine outings since then and finishes the season with an ERA over 4.00 for the first time in his nine-year career. Toss in a team-record 16 no-decisions leading to just eight wins and it has definitely been a very disappointing campaign, but his secondary numbers suggest a 2010 bounce back if he can get healthy.
While the Astros remain on the hook to the 32-year-old Oswalt for at least two more seasons and at least $33 million, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Matt LaPorta is showing why it was so foolish for Cleveland to keep him at Triple-A for so long, driving in three runs Wednesday to make him 28-for-96 (.292) with five homers and eight doubles since being called up in mid-August. LaPorta’s extended stint in the minors will keep his raw totals modest and likely make him undervalued in 2010, but he’s a potential middle-of-the-order bat with 30-homer power right now.
* Mike Scioscia talked earlier this week about possibly giving rookie Kevin Jepsen some save chances because of Brian Fuentes’ struggles and may want to put those wheels in motion after Fuentes blew his seventh save of the year Wednesday. Some questionable umpiring conspired against Fuentes and the Angels, but he has a 6.38 ERA and four blown saves since the All-Star break and Jepsen has been great.
* Trevor Cahill tossed seven innings of one-hit ball Wednesday, combining with two relievers on a shutout of the Rangers. Even with the excellent outing Cahill moves to just 9-12 with a 4.54 ERA and equally unimpressive 88/68 K/BB ratio in 168 innings, although certainly at 21 years old he has plenty of room to improve. He’s not likely to miss a ton of bats, but induces lots of grounders and will throw more strikes in 2010.
* Jesus Flores got off to a nice start this year, hitting .301/.371/.505 through 106 trips to the plate, but a bruised shoulder turned into a stress fracture that sidelined him for four months. He finally returned this week, but had season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum Wednesday. Washington is hoping that Flores will be healthy for spring training, but the 24-year-old former breakout candidate is now a big question mark.
AL Quick Hits: Jorge Posada began serving a three-game suspension Wednesday, so third-string catcher Francisco Cervelli delivered a walk-off single … Bartolo Colon (elbow) was released Wednesday by the White Sox after going 3-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 starts … Jarrod Saltalamacchia will undergo surgery Monday for thoracic outlet syndrome, which has a four-month recovery … Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable Wednesday because of back soreness … Nate Robertson will start Sunday in place of Jarrod Washburn (knee) … Tim Wakefield (back) is now scheduled to rejoin the rotation Monday, but will throw a bullpen session first … Fausto Carmona will stay in the rotation at 3-11 with a 6.58 ERA, with Eric Wedge explaining that “we’re going to keep running him out there” … Vladimir Guerrero left Wednesday’s game after taking a fastball off the ribs … Victor Martinez is due to rejoin the team Thursday after being away for a personal issue.
NL Quick Hits: St. Louis is skipping Kyle Lohse’s next rotation turn, with John Smoltz set to start Friday … Huston Street (biceps) threw a bullpen session Wednesday and hopes to return Sunday, but will work as Franklin Morales’ setup man initially … Joe Blanton bounced back from his worst outing of the season with six scoreless innings Wednesday … Manny Parra (neck) won’t make his scheduled Friday start despite an MRI exam revealing no structural damage … Justin Upton went 5-for-5 and missed the cycle by a homer Wednesday while teammate Mark Reynolds went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts … Randy Johnson came off the disabled list and officially joined the Giants’ bullpen Wednesday … Justin Lehr amazingly gave up five runs on five solo homers Wednesday … George Sherrill threw two perfect innings Wednesday, giving him a 0.42 ERA in 21.1 innings with the Dodgers … Milwaukee is debating whether to shut Yovani Gallardo down for the season after 180.2 innings.

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.