Brad Lidge yo-yo back on the upswing

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lidge_brad_091015.jpgStill worried about the Phillies bullpen?

For all the talk of Brad Lidge falling off the ledge, he certainly looked fine on Thursday night in the NLCS opener. So did the rest of his bullpen mates (aside from Ryan Madson’s hiccup), holding the Dodgers in check in a wild 8-6 victory.

The Dodgers figured to have an edge in this series in the bullpen department with a lockdown closer in Jonathan Broxton plus a whole host of talented guys like Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario, and a solid lefty specialist in George Sherrill.

The Phillies, on the other hand, had Lidge, who after a perfect 48-for-48 2008 season, reverted in 2009 to the guy who seemed stalked by Albert Pujols in his nightmares. The ugliness lasted all season long, resulting in a line of 0-8, 7.21 that would make Mariah Carey cringe.

But a couple of things were overlooked heading into the playoffs.

For one thing, Lidge seemed to finally get his act together in the last part of the season, allowing one run in his last four appearances. Add to that the two saves he notched in a pair of scoreless appearances in the NLDS, and Phillies fans could at least hope that their incredible yo-yo of a closer was once again on the upswing.

Another overlooked advantage for the Phillies was their overall pitching depth. The Phillies have so many talented starting pitchers they don’t know what do with them all. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee were guaranteed starting spots, but with the extended format of the playoffs, Charlie Manuel has had some flexibility in deciding what to do with J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez, Joe Blanton and Chan Ho Park, who took Brett Myers’ spot on the NLCS roster.

On Thursday night, Happ came out of the bullpen to get one out, and Park looked strong in a perfect seventh inning. Having these guys ready to go in relief takes pressure off the back-end guys like Scott Eyre, Madson and of course, Lidge.

Look, this isn’t to say this series is close to being over. Lidge gave up a hit and a single on Thursday, and was fortunate to have a hard-hit grounder turn into a double-play ball.

It’s also difficult to predict what the Phillies will get out of Martinez in his Game 2 start Friday, which will be his first action since Sept. 30. (In fact, he hasn’t even pitched in a playoff game since helping the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004.)

But it’s still a good sign for the Phillies to see Lidge notching saves again.

“Honestly, for some reason I’ve really been locked in this postseason. I felt really good mechanically. I feel like myself. I feel pretty comfortable right now.”

Lidge is locked in? Uh oh, Dodgers.

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.

Pirates’ Nick Leyva selected as senior advisor of baseball ops

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 17:  Coach Nick Leyva #16 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photo during photo day at Pirate City on February 17, 2013 in Bradenton, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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Former first base and infield coach Nick Leyva was promoted to senior advisor of baseball operations on Saturday, per a report by Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The Pirates also fired third base coach Rick Sofield, with no named successor as of yet.

Leyva joined the Pirates’ organization in the 2011 offseason as a third base coach under manager Clint Hurdle. He shifted to his role as the first base coach and infield coach in 2014, when first base coach Rick Sofield was reassigned to third base prior to the 2015 season. According to Biertempfel, the swap was made in order to optimize the team’s baserunning strategies, all of which appeared to fall flat during the 2015 and 2016 seasons:

The results this season were awful. The Pirates ranked 13th in the National League with a minus-7.0 BsR — a metric that measures how many runs above or below league average a team gets via its baserunning.

In 2013 and 2014, the Pirates had one of the top five BsR ratings in the NL. In 2015, they were seventh with a 2.8 BsR.

This season, the Pirates made the second-most outs at third base in the league and were last in taking extra bases on singles and doubles. Their baserunners went from first to third base on hits a league-low 63 times.

Sofield, in particular, highlighted the Pirates’ poor baserunning choices in games like this one, when he sent Sean Rodriguez home too early during the last vestige of a ninth inning rally against the Phillies.

Following the announcement, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington issued a statement elaborating on Leyva’s role within the organization:

We have great respect and appreciation for both men. We thank them for their time and effort as part of our Major League team and the Pirates organization. It was a difficult decision, but we felt it was the right time to make this change on our Major League staff. We look forward to Nick’s continued impact in his future role with the Pirates. Nick has held nearly every coaching position at the major league level and at the minor league level, including Major League manager, in his extensive career and will be a quality mentor for our minor league managers, coaches and players.