NLDS Game 4 Live Blog: Phillies vs. Cardinals

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8:42pm: Jay makes a sliding catch in center field to end it. Cards win, 5-3. This series will come down to Game 5, Friday in Philadelphia. Chris Carpenter vs. Roy Halladay. You couldn’t ask for much better.

8:40pm: Motte blows a 98 mph heater past Ibanez’s late swing for the second out of the inning.

8:38pm: Motte falls to a 3-0 count on Victorino, then fires two straight strikes and induces a groundout.

8:36pm: Jason Motte and his beard are on for the save. He’ll face Victorino, Ibanez, then Polanco.

8:33pm: And down goes Holliday. To the ninth inning we go. The Phillies have three outs to get two runs.

8:32pm: Berkman also retired by Lidge.

8:31pm: Brad Lidge enters and retires Pujols. The Cards are looking for insurance runs.

8:28pm: Howard, a hero in Game 1’s 11-6 win, has no hits in his last 11 at-bats. Discuss.

8:26pm: “Scrabble” fans Howard. The Cards will bat in the bottom of the eighth with a two-run lead.

8:22pm: Pence grounds out to shortstop. The Cardinals will bring in left-hander Marc Rzepczynski to face Howard. Two outs, Utley is at second base. This feels like a big opportunity for the Phils.

8:21pm: Pinch-runner Michael Martinez cruises home as a ball gets past Molina. Cards 5, Phillies 3.

8:20pm: Cliff Lee and Brad Lidge have begun warming up in the Phillies’ bullpen.

8:18pm: Rollins grounds out, but Utley reaches base when his lightly-struck ball bounces high off the first base bag. The Phillies have runners at first and third with one out, trailing by three runs.

8:14pm: Hernandez calls a balk on Cardinals reliever Fernando Salas, who entered at the start of the inning.

8:12pm: Ross Gload pinch-hits for Blanton and slaps a leadoff single to right field. The Phillies are now at the top of their batting order with six outs to go in a 5-2 game. In steps the hot-hitting Rollins.

8:10pm: Blanton turns in an easy, hitless frame. To the top of the eighth inning we go.

8:05pm: Joe Blanton enters in relief of Oswalt, who surrendered five earned runs on six hits.

8:04pm: Dotel induces a groundout from the struggling Polanco before getting Carlos Ruiz to fly out. The Cardinals still hold a 5-2 lead as Game 4 of the NLDS heads to the bottom of the seventh inning.

7:58pm: Rhodes fans Ibanez then exits for Octavio Dotel. The Phillies have eight outs to mount a comeback.

7:56pm: Jackson is out, and Cardinals left-hander Arthur Rhodes is in. Freese has also been removed in favor of the more defensively-adept Daniel Descalso. Tony La Russa loves his double switches.

7:52pm: Holliday hits a one-out single up the middle, then Freese — who grew up in the St. Louis suburbs — smashes a two-run bomb to straightaway center. It’s 5-2 Cardinals. The crowd is going wild.

7:50pm: Word from TBS’ Craig Sager is that Schumaker has been diagnosed with “hamstring cramps.”

7:47pm: MLB.com has video of the squirrel crossing for those of you not in front of a television.

7:43pm: Victorino grounds out to Theriot. E-Jax did a fine job of damage control. The Cardinals lead by a score of 3-2 and will send Berkman, Holliday and Molina to the plate in the bottom of the sixth.

7:42pm: Howard flies out to center field. Two down in the top of the sixth inning.

7:37pm: Impressive play by Pujols, who came off first base to nail Utley as he was trying to advance to third on a groundout by Pence. But Pence is on first base with just one out in the frame. Howard’s up.

7:33pm: E-Jax delivers a leadoff walk to Utley. The Phillies might have something going with the heart of their order coming up. It’ll be Pence, then Howard, then Victorino here in the top of the sixth.

7:31pm: Ryan Theriot has entered the game in place of Schumaker, who appeared to grab at his hamstring following an awkward fifth-inning swing. Theriot will bat second and play second base.

7:29pm: Schumaker flies out anyway, and Pujols does the same. No squirrel controversy. Darn.

7:26pm: A squirrel just ran right in front of home plate as Oswalt was delivering a pitch — called a ball — to Schumaker. It may or may not be the same squirrel that was hanging around the field during Tuesday’s Game 3. Oswalt wants a do-over on the pitch, but home plate umpire Angel Hernandez is having none of it.

7:23pm: Furcal pops out on a first-pitch bunt attempt.

7:22pm: E-Jax escapes the danger. The Cards still lead 3-2 as we move along to bottom of the fifth.

7:19pm: Placido Polanco leads off the fifth inning with a single to left. He’s now 2-for-14 in this series.

7:12pm: The Cards strand Freese at third, but now hold a one-run lead as this one heads to the fifth.

7:08pm: Pence tracks down a hard-hit ball to right field from Molina, but David Freese laces a two-run double into the left field corner one batter later. The Cards have a 3-2 lead and a rocking Busch Stadium.

7:06pm: Berkman draws a leadoff walk and Holliday takes a pitch off his right arm. The Cardinals have life here in the bottom of the fourth. Yadier Molina steps to the dish to chants of “Ya-di, Ya-di, Ya-di.”

7:02pm: Ryan Howard fans in a three-pitch at-bat, Victorino grounds to short, then Raul Ibanez flies out to left. Jackson certainly looks sharper than he did in the first inning. But can the Cards break through?

6:56pm: Schumaker moves to 2-for-2 on the day with a two-out single, but Oswalt gets Pujols to chase a low-and-outside third strike. The Phillies still lead the Cardinals 2-1 as we head to the fourth inning.

6:47pm: Rollins, who is now 9-for-14 with six runs scored in this five-game series, managed a one-out infield single in the top of the third. But Jackson and the Cards were able to stymie the minor threat.

6:41pm: Here’s a .GIF snapshot of Victorino’s first-inning stumble. The outfield grass at Busch Stadium has struggled to recover from a July U2 concert. Blame it on Bono and The Edge, Phillies fans.

6:39pm: Oswalt had the Cardinals off balance in the bottom of the second for a quick 1-2-3 frame. It looks like both starters might be settling in. The Phillies still lead the game 2-1 heading to the third.

6:33pm: E-Jax begins featuring more breaking balls in the second and comes away with better results, retiring three batters in order — two via punch-out. The Cardinals will bat trailing by a run.

6:26pm: Lance Berkman hits a run-scoring extra-base hit to the right-center field gap, advancing to third base when Shane Victorino stumbles while trying to throw the ball back to the infield. Holliday follows with a groundout to Rollins. Phillies 2, Cardinals 1. Heading to the top of the second inning.

6:24pm: Pujols pops up after a lengthy at-bat.

6:21pm: Cardinals leadoff man Rafael Furcal goes down swinging, then Skip Schumaker smacks a one-out single to left field. Albert Pujols steps in against Roy Oswalt with a duck on the pond.

6:16pm: A strike ’em out, throw ’em out helps the Cardinals get out of the jam. To the bottom of the first we go, with Philadelphia leading St. Louis in Game 4 by a score of 2-0.

6:13pm: Edwin Jackson averaged 94.5 mph on his fastball this year. For reference, Justin Verlander averaged 95 mph. But E-Jax doesn’t locate like Verlander, and often trusts his fastball too much.

6:11pm: Just like that, the Phillies are up 2-0. Chase Utley follows Rollins’ leadoff double with a triple down the right field line, then Hunter Pence hits a run-scoring single to left-center field.

6:09pm: The sun plays a role on the first pitch of the game, as Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay fails to get a good read on Jimmy Rollins’ warning-track fly. Rollins is standing on second base with no outs.

6:05pm: In the interest of full disclosure, I think I should divulge that I was raised in and still reside in St. Louis. So I’m a Cardinals fan. But a pessimistic one. If you sense bias, yell at me in the comments.

6:01pm: Welcome aboard. Thanks for stopping by and hanging out. Or just for stopping by. If you’re busy, you’re busy. We’ll do updates (bottom-to-top) every couple minutes. I can’t guarantee they’ll be entertaining or informative updates, but they’ll be updates. Like, with words and everything. And punctuation, at times.

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Below are the starting lineups for Game 4 of the NLDS between the Phillies and Cardinals, set to get underway just after 6 p.m. ET in St. Louis.

The Phillies took a 2-1 series lead on Tuesday night courtesy of a 3-2 win and can wrap things up with a victory this evening at Busch Stadium.

Ibanez is back in Philadelphia’s starting lineup after riding the pine Tuesday against Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia. And left fielder Matt Holliday is back in action for the Redbirds despite lingering tendon issues in his right middle finger.

 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES           ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS            1. Rafael Furcal, SS
2. Chase Utley, 2B              2. Skip Schumaker, 2B
3. Hunter Pence, RF             3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B              4. Lance Berkman, RF
5. Shane Victorino, CF          5. Matt Holliday, LF
6. Raul Ibanez, LF              6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Placido Polanco, 3B          7. David Freese, 3B
8. Carlos Ruiz, C               8. Jon Jay, CF
9. Roy Oswalt, RHP              9. Edwin Jackson, RHP

It should be another exciting matchup. Follow along here on our NLDS Game 4 Live Blog.

2017 World Series Preview: How the Astros and Dodgers match up

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The Dodgers are seeking their first World Series championship in 29 years. The Astros are seeking their first in the franchise’s 56-season history. Clayton Kershaw is making his first appearance on baseball’s biggest stage. Justin Verlander is making his third, but looking for his first ring. The Astros two aces are facing the Dodgers’ deep lineup. The Dodgers power throwing bullpen will face off against the Astros powerful lineup. For the first time in 47 years each team in the World Series won 100 games in the regular season.

Stars taking on stars. Power facing power. History, of one kind or another, somewhere between five and nine days from being made. It’s the Fall Classic, and it gets underway tonight. Here’s how it all breaks down:

 

THE ROTATIONS

It’s a bit of a shame that the rotations didn’t line up in order to give us a Verlander-Kershaw battle in Game 1, as it’s not every day you see two pitchers who each won an MVP Award face off. We’re still going to get some great matchups of staters here, however, as Kershaw — who still has something to prove as a big-game pitcher, his pennant-clinching Game 5 NLCS victory notwithstanding — meets 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel in tonight’s Game 1. Game 2 gives us Rich Hill, who has remade himself into one of baseball’s best in the latter stages of his career, against Verlander, who many though his best days were behind him. That was before his trade to Houston and his 9-0 run for the Astros that culminated in a couple of the most dominant postseason starts in recent memory.

The back end of the rotations, featuring Yu Darvish and Alex Wood for L.A. and Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers for Houston, are pretty evenly matched. At their best the Dodgers back two are probably better, but they have each been touched at times late in the season while both Morton and McCullers found a new gear in the ALCS. Whether driving at that gear has them low on gas at the moment is an open question. ADVANTAGE DODGERS.

 

THE LINEUPS

The Dodgers’ lineup has been top heavy in the postseason, but the top has been really, really heavy, so it’s been just fine. Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig have been nearly impossible to pitch to. Fill-in shortstop Charlie Culberson was a revelation in Corey Seager‘s injury absence, but Seager’s back is better and he will be back for the World Series. The bottom half of the lineup has not come through too often — Kiké Hernandez’s big NLCS Game 5 notwithstanding — with left field (Andre Ethier/Hernandez/Curtis Granderson) second base (Logan Forsythe/Chase Utley) and catcher (Austin Barnes, who has pushed Yasmani Grandal to the bench) struggling. The Dodgers can win it all if the top half of the lineup continues doing what it’s doing, but given how slumps can hit at any time, Dave Roberts would like to see a new postseason star emerge.

The Astros bats need no introduction, but they could use a bit more consistency in the postseason. Houston led the majors in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, were second in homers and struck out less than any team in baseball. The Yankees kept them quiet in the first five games of the ALCS but they roared back to life in Games 6 and 7. The attack will be keyed, as always, by possible AL MVP Jose Altuve, leadoff power source George Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa. As Houston showed all season, however, almost everyone in this lineup is dangerous.  ADVANTAGE ASTROS.

 

THE BULLPENS

This is probably the biggest separator between the clubs, with the Dodgers sporting a big advantage. Unlike in postseasons past, Dave Roberts has not had to use Clayton Kershaw or his other starters as relievers. This is due in part to the Dodgers taking care of their business quickly, sweeping the Dbacks in the NLDS and beating the Cubs in five in the NLCS. It’s mostly, though, due to the uncharacteristic depth and power of L.A’s relief corps. They didn’t allow a run against the Cubs in 17 innings of work in the NLCS.

Kenley Jansen needs no introduction. He continues to be one of the best if not the best closer in the game. Roberts will not hesitate to use him for multiple innings if need be. Has retired 24 of the 28 batters he has faced in the playoffs. He’s yet to be challenged. Hard throwing Brandon Morrow looks like an ace closer this postseason. Kenta Maeda has been a revelation as a setup man who can go multiple innings if need be. Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson and Josh Fields have not been used heavily, but each provides Roberts with an embarrassment of matchup possibilities.

Houston has talent in their pen, but it’s been somewhat shaky in the postseason. Chris Devenski, Will Harris and Joe Musgrove were all gotten to by Yankees hitters in the ALCS. Ken Giles has been OK, but not dominant, and A.J. Hinch has leaned a bit heavier than usual on him at times. More tellingly, Hinch has leaned on starters in relief, using Justin Verlander in that role in the ALDS against the Red Sox and using McCullers for four innings of relief in Game 7 of the ALCS. Hinch’s best hope is that he gets a lot of innings from Keuchel and Verlander in Games 1 and 2 and then has everyone in the pen well-rested for he middle games of the Series. If not, he’s going to be doing a lot of shuffling and, yes, we may see a lot of short rest work from starters in relief roles. ADVANTAGE DODGERS.

 

THE MANAGERS

Dave Roberts is the reigning NL Manager of the Year and both he and A.J. Hinch has a good shot of winning the award this year. Neither man has been second guessed very often in this postseason, as Roberts has not had to gamble at all and Hinch’s gambles have largely paid off. Unlike in some years, there are few dramatic storylines and little philosophical tension at play here. Both of these guys played the game, both work well with analytically-minded front offices yet both have shown that they have a free hand to use their instincts to make changes on the fly and manage the game on the field rather than simply carry out a game plan. If either of these two guys make themselves into a big story in this series it’ll be pretty surprising. EVEN.

 

THE BENCHES

The Dodgers lineup is a bit more fluid than Houston’s, with Roberts subbing in different guys at left field and second base in various postseason games. As such, if they’re not starting they may be a bit more game-ready than your usual benchwarmer. Houston tends to roll with the same lineup most nights, but Hinch has some flexibility at catcher where Evan Gattis and Brian McCann are both options and at DH in the home games, where either of them or Carlos Beltran can see action. ADVANTAGE DODGERS.

 

X-FACTOR

We don’t put much stock in intangibles, history or dramatic storylines when it comes to the World Series. We’ll leave that to the producers at Fox. Buy we will throw one wild card into the mix: home field advantage.

It’s not often the most important thing going in baseball, but it’s been an usually big boost in the 2017 postseason. Home teams are 23-8 (.742) this October, which is the best mark since the playoffs expanded to include Wild Card teams. So far the Astros are 6-0 in Houston and the Dodgers are 4-0 in Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers, likewise, had the best home record in all of baseball in the regular season. L.A. hasn’t yet had to bring a playoff series back home after it began, but the chance to host four home games in a best of seven may loom a bit larger this year than most. Oh, and keep an eye on guys’ stamina levels in Games 1 and 2. It’s gonna be close to 100 degrees at Dodger Stadium at game time for each of those tiltsADVANTAGE DODGERS.

 

PREDICTION

This is the matchup many of us were hoping for as early as late July. The Dodgers swooned in late August and early September, but the fact that they still won 104 games tells you just how dominant a club they were in 2017. While the Indians had the AL’s best record thanks to their late season winning streak, the Astros were, in our view, the best team in the American League all season long. This is the first matchup of 100-win teams in the Fall Classic in 47 years. It is, quite simply, the best on-paper World Series matchup we’ve had in many, many years. It’s sad someone has to lose this thing, but that’s how it goes.

Los Angeles hasn’t had to come back to Dodger Stadium to finish off a series yet. We don’t think they’ll be that lucky this time around, but we do think that their bullpen gives them a clear advantage and will work to neutralize those dangerous Astros bats in the final 3-4 innings of every game. That’s enough daylight for us to say that, in our view it’ll be . . .

DODGERS IN SIX