Cards stuff: Albert Pujols plays third, Allen Craig has fracture

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I’m not sure they’re all worthy of separate entries, but there’s plenty of Cardinals news today:

– Albert Pujols is making his fourth start and fifth appearance at third base in Wednesday’s game against the Nationals.  It may not mean a whole lot to some, but that fifth appearance gives him third-base eligibility in a lot of fantasy leagues, making the game’s No. 1 property even more valuable.

– Allen Craig, who had been doing excellent work before going on the DL on Sunday with a left knee contusion, was found to have a small fracture in his kneecap, likely putting him out through the All-Star break.  Craig has hit .336/.405/.523 with 23 RBI in 107 at-bats this year, so it’s a substantial loss.  Still, he wasn’t going to play quite so much anymore because…

– The Cardinals confirmed Wednesday that Matt Holliday would come off the disabled list on Thursday.  He’s been out since June 1 with a left quad strain.

– The team also revealed that rookie setup man Eduardo Sanchez was sent home Wednesday for a shoulder examination.  The hope is that he merely has some inflammation, leaving him day-to-day.  Still, the Cards will want to be careful with the 22-year-old.  Sanchez, who was briefly the team’s closer last month, has a 1.88 ERA in 28 2/3 innings.

– Finally, the team sent down third baseman Matt Carpenter today to make room for Kyle McClellan, who is coming off the DL to start against the Nationals.  Carpenter was 1-for-15 during his brief stay.

 

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.