Because of the drawn-out nature of the playoffs and all the extra off days the Phillies headed into the postseason knowing they would only need to use a fourth starter twice, at most.
Game 4 of the NLDS is one of those times, and manager Charlie Manuel announced today that Joe Blanton will get the nod.
Game 1: Roy Halladay
Game 2: Roy Oswalt
Game 3: Cole Hamels
Game 4: Joe Blanton
Game 5: Roy Halladay
Game 6: Roy Oswalt
Game 7: Cole Hamels
Manuel left open the possibility that he could skip Blanton if the Phillies were down 0-3 or 1-2 going into Game 4, but that would involve short-rest starts and he’s shown a hesitancy to do that in the past regardless of the pitcher.
Blanton hasn’t started a game since September 29 and he’s obviously not in the same class as Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels, which has a certain segment of the Phillies fan base fretting about having to actually use someone other than The Big Three in a playoff game.
However, he went 6-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break, including beating the Giants with a solid outing in mid-August, and is 2-0 with a 3.89 ERA in 35 career playoff innings. Assuming he eventually wakes up from this nap, the Phillies will be just fine having to use a non-ace once in a seven-game series.
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 MLB.com’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.
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 FanGraphs.com 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.