Tony La Russa and the Cards bullpen shine as St. Louis beats Philly 5-4

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This was maybe the most Tony La Russa game ever.  Some mind games early, 125 double switches late, and a close game was won by the Cardinals, 5-4.  What did we learn, kids?

  • You can fall behind one of the Phillies’ aces 4-0 and still win.  I didn’t go back and look, but man, I bet that didn’t happen very often in 2011.
  • I’ll have some praise for La Russa below, but if that 4-0 had held up, a lot of people would have been asking why he pitched Chris Carpenter on short rest when he had never done so before.  He was probably wrong to run Carpenter out there, but he was right to have the quick hook on him too (though it did look like Carpenter was settling down a bit right before he left the game).
  • The strike zone was cause for some beefing.  Tony La Russa came out to argue about it early, thinking Carpenter was getting squeezed. Then, suddenly, it seemed like Cardinals pitchers were getting more calls and Cliff Lee was getting a bit squeezed. Little-known fact: La Russa knows how to use the Jedi mind trick.
  • Squeezed or not, Cliff Lee was able to strike out nine dudes. His problem was the death by a thousand cuts. Lots of bloops and balls that could have been caught but weren’t. It wasn’t bad defense, just great fortune, ground balls with eyes and broken bat singles for the Cardinals. It happens. Especially when you’re around the zone like Lee is. You can’t escape allowing 12 hits in the postseason, but nor can you really draw much of a negative conclusion about Cliff Lee because of this outing. Just one of those things.
  • As the game wore on, La Russa really went, well, La Russaian with his double switches and calls to the pen. Little known fact: he is allowed a 37-man roster in the postseason.  OK, not really, but seriously, he used a lot of players, with Jake Westbrook being the only guy remaining in the pen when the game ended. If it had gone extras, it could have meant trouble for him, though I suppose Westbrook is able to go forever considering he’s a starter by trade.  But let’s give some credit here: it worked.
  • And why it worked? Because the Cardinals bullpen was fantastic. Easily the weakest part of the team this year, so if you would have told me before the game that Chris Carpenter would be pulled after giving up four runs on five hits in three innings, I would have guessed that Philly won in a walk. Kudos to the 18 relievers who came through for the Cardinals. OK, it was only six, but they shut the Phillies out over six innings and allowed only two baserunners. That, my friends, is serious strength from an apparent weakness.
  • There was a great moment in the top of the eighth when Allen Craig was almost hit in the head and the Phillies fans cheered like it was the best thing ever. Never change, Philly fans! Never, ever change.
  • But at least cheer up a bit, guys. Tied 1-1, heading to St. Louis with Cole Hamels on the hill isn’t the worst thing in the world. Except for the fact that you’re going to face Jaime Garcia, and he has been tough on Philly over the past two years.

We have ourselves a series, everyone.

Steven Matz to skip next spring training start with elbow issues

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Mets’ left-hander Steven Matz will miss his Grapefruit League appearance on Monday after experiencing soreness in his left elbow, according to a report by Mike Puma of the New York Post. Matz reportedly first felt discomfort in his elbow on Wednesday after pitching four innings against the Marlins, but a medical evaluation revealed no structural damage.

Still, it’s unsettling news for the 25-year-old, who is coming off of an injury-riddled 2016 season. Matz pitched to a 3.40 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 8.8 SO/9 during his sophomore campaign with the Mets, but his success was hampered by a bevy of shoulder and elbow issues that culminated in season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs from his left elbow.

Comments from Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson indicated that while the club doesn’t believe anything is significantly wrong with Matz’s elbow this time around, the setback could have an impact on his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster. Until he’s cleared to return to the mound, the club is expected to take a longer look at rotation candidates Robert Gsellman, Zack Wheeler and Seth Lugo.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.