Cardinals can’t capitalize after Braves lose

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Facing opponents simply playing out the string, just one of the top four wild card contenders — the Tampa Bay Rays — could muster a victory on Monday night.  In the NL, the Braves lost 4-2 to Cliff Lee and the Phillies, and the Cardinals followed with a 5-4 loss to the Astros in 10 innings.

The Braves remained one game up with two left to play.

Atlanta’s loss was less surprising, though the Braves did manage to score twice off Lee early.  Chipper Jones homered in the first, and Alex Gonzalez doubled in Matt Diaz in the second.

“Everybody was swinging free and easy. We were ready to play,” Jones said. “After the first two innings, I would’ve given us a 99.9 percent chance to win the game.”

Too bad that proved to be it for the Braves offense. 21-year-old Randall Delgado gave back the lead, surrendering two runs in five innings, and the bullpen stumbled from there.  Raul Ibanez knocked in Shane Victorino in both the sixth and eighth innings with singles.

Philadelphia’s second win in a row after eight losses made the Phillies 100-60 for the season.  It’s the third time in franchise history that it’s reached the century mark. Lee was expected to throw about 70 pitches, but manager Charlie Manuel let him throw 92 and complete six innings for his 17th victory.

St. Louis had a more favorable matchup against the team with the game’s worst record.  However, Jaime Garcia struggled, yielding four runs in four innings.  The Cardinals rallied from 4-2 down in the eighth, with Lance Berkman delivering a game-tying two-run double, but they failed to plate the go-ahead run from second with none out or from third with one out.

After leaving more men on base the next two innings, the Cards lost it in the bottom of the 10th.  Octavio Dotel, who was perfect in the ninth, gave up a leadoff double to Brian Bogusevic and then committed an error on Jason Bourgeois’ sacrifice attempt.  A squeeze bunt followed, with Angel Sanchez driving in the winning run.  Dotel had a chance on that one too, but he failed on an attempt to flip the ball to catcher Yadier Molina with his glove.

Mark Melancon pitched two scoreless innings to earn the win for Houston.  Matt Downs had a two-run homer.

Martin Maldonado and Willson Contreras say they’re willing to pay fines rather than follow new mound visit rule

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On Monday, Major League Baseball announced some changes aimed at improving the game’s pace of play, something that has been a pet cause for commissioner Rob Manfred. Among the changes was a limit on mound visits whether from managers and coaches, the catcher, or other defenders. Each team will have six non-pitching change mound visits per game and one additional visit each inning in extra innings. Craig wrote more in depth on the changes here if you happened to miss it.

Angels catcher Martin Maldonado says he is going to do what’s necessary to stay on the same page with his pitchers. Via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, Maldonado said, “If the game is on the line, I’m going to go out there. If we’re at six [visits], and it’s going to be the seventh, I’m going to go out there, even if I have to pay a fine. I’m there for the pitchers.”

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said as much on Tuesday. Per Josh Frydman of WGN News, Contreras said, “What about if you have a tight game and you have to go out there? They can’t say anything about that, that’s my team and we just care about wins. If they’re going to fine me about number seven mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Exhibition games haven’t even started yet, but two notable backstops — the lesser-known Maldonado won a Gold Glove last year — are clearly not happy with the rule change. As Craig alluded to in his article yesterday, arguments between catchers and umpires (and, subsequently, managers and umpires) are probably going to become more frequent, which would likely end up nullifying any pace of play improvements.

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Update (4:43 PM ET): In response to this, Manfred said that if a catcher or coach made a seventh mound visit, there would have to be a pitching change (via Fletcher). However, chief baseball officer Joe Torre said (via SB Nation’s Eric Stephen) that the seventh visit cannot trigger a pitching change. The umpire would simply have to prevent the seventh mound visit.