NLCS Brewers Cardinals Baseball

NLCS Game 4 Live Blog: Brewers vs. Cardinals

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11:31pm: Furcal grounds out to short, ending Game 4 of the NLCS. The Brewers captured a 4-2 victory and have guaranteed that the series will travel back to Miller Park. NLCS Game 5 is Friday night at 8:05 p.m. ET. Thanks for hanging out.

11:29pm: Berkman punches a single through the right side of the Brewers’ infield. Furcal is up.

11:26pm: Jay grounds out to short. Berkman steps in with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

11:24pm: Theriot completes an 0-for-4 night with a soft groundout in front of the plate. One out.

11:22pm: Theriot and Jay are coming up. We could see Lance Berkman as a pinch-hitter after those two hit.

11:19pm: Gomez flies out to deep center, then Braun strikes out. To the bottom of the ninth…

11:12pm: Morgan flares a single to left field after a long battle with Salas. One out for Carlos Gomez, who replaced Kotsay in the outfield earlier in the game. Braun will bat if Gomez avoids the double play.

11:08pm: Salas remains in the game for St. Louis and strikes out the pinch-hitting Jonathan Lucroy.

11:04pm: Molina fans on a ball in the dirt to end the threat. To the ninth inning we go…

10:59pm: Holliday grounds out to Hairston. Fielder makes an excellent pick at first base. Two down.

10:56pm: Freese registers his eighth hit of the NLCS with a single to center field. Holliday is up.

10:55pm: Pujols is retired on a groundout up the middle. The Brewers had perfect positioning.

10:53pm: The Cardinals will send Pujols, Freese and Holliday to the plate in a crucial eighth inning. Wolf, who allowed just two earned runs over seven solid innings, has been replaced by Francisco Rodriguez.

10:51pm: Betancourt grounds out to the pitcher, Kottaras pops out to Molina. Quick work by Salas.

10:45pm: The Cardinals’ fifth pitcher of the night is right-hander Fernando Salas, and he quickly retires Hairston on a fly ball to left field. Betancourt and Kottaras are due up next for Milwaukee.

10:43pm: Craig is retired on a weak groundout back to the pitcher. Pujols is left standing in the on-deck circle. The Brewers still hold a 4-2 lead in this NLCS Game 4 as we roll to the top of the eighth inning.

10:40pm: Morgan, now playing right field, tracks down a hard-hit ball from Furcal. Two down.

10:38pm: Punto strikes out as Wolf’s impressive outing continues. One down.

10:35pm: The Cards will send pinch-hitter Nick Punto to the plate to open the bottom of the seventh.

10:32pm: Weeks also falls to 0-2, then strikes out swinging. He appeared to strike out looking on the pitch before, but third base umpire Gary Darling called timeout before Dotel went into his delivery.

10:29pm: Fielder falls to 0-2, then draws a two-out walk. Weeks will bat next.

10:25pm: Kotsay grounds out to first base, then Braun strikes out. In steps Fielder.

10:23pm: The Cardinals will turn to right-hander Octavio Dotel to start the seventh.

10:19pm: Theriot chases a high fastball for the second out of the inning, then Jay hits a lazy fly ball to center field. The Brewers will carry a 4-2 NLCS Game 4 lead into the top of the seventh inning.

10:16pm: Molina flies out to center, but Holliday advances to third on Morgan’s weak arm. One down.

10:13pm: Holliday smacks a leadoff double to the left-center field gap. Molina steps to bat for the Cards.

10:10pm: Morgan strikes out looking. But the Brewers lead by two as we move to the bottom of the sixth.

10:09pm: Wolf is retired on a bunt. Morgan steps in to big boos from the St. Louis crowd.

10:08pm: Theriot bobbles a hot shot from Kottaras. Weeks scores, Hairston moves to third. Kottaras is safe at first base. The Brewers now have a 4-2 lead over the Cardinals in the top of the sixth inning.

10:04pm: Tony La Russa calls on veteran southpaw Arthur Rhodes to face Kottaras, a left-handed hitter.

10:01pm: Betancourt grounds out to shortstop. Weeks can’t score. One down.

9:59pm: Hairston follows quickly with a double over Furcal’s head. Weeks is at third base. No outs.

9:58pm: Weeks hits a leadoff single, and the Brewers are threatening yet again.

9:54pm: Freese grounds out to short to end the fifth. A big zero for the Brewers and Wolf as we move along to the sixth inning. The Brewers will send Weeks, Hairston and Betancourt to the plate.

9:51pm: Craig goes down looking, but Pujols keeps the inning alive with a sharply-struck single to left.

9:47pm: Furcal grounds out to third base to open the bottom of the fifth. Craig and Pujols are due up next.

9:40pm: Theriot starts a brilliant double play on Fielder, putting an end to the top of the fifth inning.

9:39pm: Braun punches a ball through the left side of the Cardinals’ infield, scoring Morgan from third base. The Brewers now have a 3-2 lead in this NLCS Game 4 with Fielder stepping to the dish.

9:34pm: Lohse is done after 4 1/3 innings. He allowed six hits and two earned runs (though Morgan will also count against him if he scores). The Cardinals’ first reliever will be right-hander Mitchell Boggs.

9:32pm: Kotsay grounds out, but advances Morgan to third base. Braun is up with just one out.

9:30pm: Morgan doubles down the left-field line, flashing a big “Beast Mode” after reaching second base.

9:29pm: The Brewers are back to the top of their batting order. Morgan steps in to more boos.

9:27pm: Another quick pitch count update: Wolf is at 64, Lohse is up to 72.

9:25pm: Theriot flies out to left field to open the bottom of the fourth inning and Jay follows with a weak groundout to first base. Lohse then pops out to center, capping an easy frame for the Brewers’ Wolf.

9:20pm: Kottaras grounds out to second base, then Wolf flies out to center. We head to the bottom half…

9:15pm: Betancourt singles to center field, scoring Hairston from second base. This one is tied, 2-2.

9:14pm: Hairston doubles down the left field line, just beyond the glove of a diving Freese. Fielder scores easily as the Brewers close to within one run. Betancourt will try to pour on some more.

9:13pm: Weeks strokes a line drive to right-center, but Jay is in the right spot to snag it. One down.

9:11pm: Fielder rips a leadoff double to the right-center field gap. Weeks steps in, looking for a big hit.

9:05pm: Molina can’t pad the lead, grounding out to short. The Cardinals will take a 2-0 lead into the top of the fourth inning. Fielder, Weeks and Hairston will come to the plate against Lohse.

9:04pm: Holliday draws a four-pitch walk. Two baserunners on for Molina.

9:02pm: Freese keeps the inning alive with a shot off of Betancourt’s glove. Holliday will bat.

9:01pm: Pujols grounds out to short and is now 0-for-2 in this NLCS Game 4. Two outs.

8:58pm: Allen “Wrench” Craig sends an opposite-field homer into the right-field bullpen, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. It also appeared to catch the wind. Pujols steps to the plate, looking to add on.

8:57pm: Furcal flies out again to center field to open the bottom of the third inning.

8:54pm: Braun falls to 0-2, then pops out to first base. Lohse works out of the jam to preserve the Cardinals’ one-run lead. St. Louis will send Furcal, Craig and Pujols to the plate in the bottom of the third.

8:52pm: Kotsay flies out to left field. Two outs, but Braun steps in with two ducks on the pond.

8:50pm: Morgan gets caught on the right arm by an inside pitch, takes first base. One out.

8:49pm: Wolf smacks a double to right field. Morgan comes to the plate to more boos.

8:47pm: Kottaras strikes out looking. Lohse looks to be settling in nicely. Wolf steps to the dish.

8:45pm: A quick pitch count update on both starting pitchers: Lohse is at 29, Wolf is at 36.

8:43pm: Lohse strikes out after chasing a couple of high fastballs. The Cardinals lead the Brewers 1-0 in this NLCS Game 4 as we move to the top of the third inning. Kottaras, Wolf and Morgan will bat.

8:41pm: Jay grounds out softly to first base, so Molina can’t score from third. Lohse steps in.

8:40pm: Theriot reaches first base when Weeks muffs a routine groundball. Molina to third, Jay is up.

8:37pm: Molina drills a ground-rule double down the right field line, then mocks the Brewers’ “Beast Mode” gesture with what we’re calling the “Cry Baby.” Theriot will bat with a runner in scoring position.

8:33pm: Holliday hits a ball that barely squeaks over the right field fence, just to the left of the foul pole. It looked to catch the wind, which is blowing out to right. St. Louis leads 1-0 here in the second inning.

8:31pm: Freese strikes out swinging to lead off the bottom of the second inning. Holliday is up.

8:28pm: Betancourt flies out to center field. A quick second inning for Lohse, who was able to get ahead of all three batters he faced. He fell behind all four hitters he faced in that shaky first inning.

8:27pm: Hairston hits a hot shot to third base. Freese makes the play. Two outs for Milwaukee.

8:26pm: Weeks grounds out to shortstop. He, too, voiced concerns about the strike zone.

8:22pm: Pujols chases a low pitch and strikes out. Wolf registers a perfect first frame. He’s the first starting pitcher on the Brewers’ staff to keep the Cardinals scoreless through the first inning.

8:20pm: Craig grounds out sharply to third base. Pujols will bat with the bases empty.

8:18pm: Furcal swings on the first pitch and launches a ball to the warning track in center field, but Morgan snares it. Wolf, the Brewers’ starter, has had trouble containing offenses in the early innings.

8:14pm: Fielder chases a ball in the dirt, giving Lohse his second strikeout. To the bottom of the first…

8:12pm: Braun singles up the middle for the Brewers’ first hit of the game. In steps Fielder.

8:10pm: Kotsay fans looking, has a few words with the home plate umpire, then heads to the dugout.

8:06pm: Morgan steps to the plate to boos, then grounds out to shortstop.

7:43pm: We’ll get underway at the top of the hour. Wouldn’t want to interrupt TBS’ thrilling pregame show.

*****************

The Cardinals are carrying a 2-1 series lead into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 4 against the Brewers. First pitch is scheduled for just after 8:00 p.m. ET. Follow along as we provide updates throughout the night.

Your starting lineups, as shared earlier:

   MILWAUKEE BREWERS            ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
1. Nyjer Morgan, CF          1. Rafael Furcal, SS
2. Mark Kotsay, RF           2. Allen Craig, RF
3. Ryan Braun, LF            3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Prince Fielder, 1B        4. David Freese, 3B
5. Rickie Weeks, 2B          5. Matt Holliday, LF
6. Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B    6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS   7. Ryan Theriot, 2B
8. George Kottaras, C        8. Jon Jay, CF
9. Randy Wolf, LHP           9. Kyle Lohse, RHP

Updates will read bottom-to-top. Consider the comments section an “open thread.” Let’s do this.

Sports and politics share some of their worst excesses

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 19:  Montana alternative delegate Susan Reneau shouts "guilty" as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes a column today — likely part of the Post’s overall Inauguration coverage — about how the world of sports and sports fandom is a refreshing change from the world of politics. It’s a place where “facts are still facts,” he says. Where  “debates, though sometimes loud, are surrounded by oceans of substantiated facts and often informed by respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points.” Contrasted with politics, of course, where objective fact has turned into opinion and vice-versa.

I get what he’s trying to say and I think he’s well-intentioned. But I also think he badly misreads both sports discourse and political discourse, each of which have borrowed the worst excesses from the other. And by this I do not mean the extent to which the substance of sports and politics overlap, which we have often argued about in this space. This is not a “stick to sports” point. I’m talking about the way in which sports fans interact with sports and political people interact with politics, even in a relative vacuum.

Politics has coopted sports discourse in the most toxic and wrongheaded of ways. The idea that “scoreboard!” is all that matters. The belief that winning is the only objective as opposed to a means to an end. Notions of rooting and tribalism, and that “our team” and “the opposing team” is the proper way to view the parties to the contest. All of those things — each of which make sense to varying degrees in a sports context — have been imported into politics and have served to degrade them.

Likewise, contrary to what Boswell says, sports fans and commentators have eagerly begun to traffic in political-style reality creation, distortion and spin. He takes an oblique swipe at the “hot takers” like Skip Bayless and talk radio shouters, but he’s deluded if he thinks that they do not have more influence over sports fans than do than “the respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points” which he describes. Bayless and his crowd are a direct aping of “Crossfire”-style political shows.

Likewise, the concept of fan loyalty is increasingly discussed and routinely encouraged by sports leagues and teams in terms that were once reserved for party politics. The notion that those who have succeeded have done so because they are worthy and all of those who are worthy have succeeded is likewise fully believed by both sports fans and political actors. The idea that validation of one sort — electoral or competitive — justifies overlooking the political or athletic actor’s real life transgressions likewise crosses political and athletic lines. How much do sports fans and citizens overlook crimes and misdemeanors if there is a sufficient redemption or comeback narrative to cloak them?

Yet Boswell believes there to be a fundamental gap between how sports and politics are practiced and consumed. To explain it, he says this:

One partial explanation for the gap between the way we talk about sports and the way we talk about some other subjects may be the distorting force field of ideology. When we have a deep attachment to unprovable beliefs, ideas and emotions get intertwined. The psychological cost of disentangling them can be profound.

Tell me that you have not witnessed that dynamic among people whose identities have become far too wound up in the sports teams for which they root. There is ideology among sports fans just as much as there is among political partisans, even if the stakes aren’t as high.

He also says this:

For example, Clemson and Alabama have split the past two college football titles. Yet both coaches, in both years, deferred respectfully to the results, didn’t seek scapegoats, didn’t claim the results were invalid and, by their example, encouraged their fans to take pride in the battle — won or lost — and analyze it with enthusiasm but without distortion.

As if sports fans haven’t spent years re-litigating the Tuck Rule, Don Denkinger or Maradona’s Hand of God. As if notions of good sportsmanship and proper perspective are satisfied by merely accepting results. As if cheating scandals, real, imagined or inflated beyond all perspective, have not caused people to question the very legitimacy of the players in question.

As I said at the outset, I get what Boswell is trying to get at. And I find it admirable that he’s looking to sports to find some grace in an increasingly graceless world. Moreover, none of this is to say that sports don’t provide some refuge from raging political storms. They do.

But the world of sports is every bit as susceptible to the reality-denying, magical thinking storms which have increasingly come to characterize politics. And those raging political storms are very much fueled by a type and mode of passion that was first cultivated in sports and repurposed for a larger stage.

I mean, are these things really all that different?

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Which current players are Cooperstown bound?

Miguel Cabrera
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With the election of Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez and with the Hall of Fame press conferences over, let’s wrap up Hall of Fame week with a look at today’s game and see if we can’t figure out who among current big leaguers are likely to get the call to Cooperstown one day.

The No-Brainers

I think it’s a 100% lock that, absent their being identified as international terrorist masterminds, the following guys are already in:

Albert Pujols — He’ll break 600 homers this season, is a three-time MVP, has a couple of World Series rings and will be above 3,000 hits before he’s done. He could’ve been hit by a bus five years ago and still would be a lock.

Ichiro Suzuki — Over 3,000 hits in this country, over 4,000 hits between here and Japan, with some added spice due to him breaking people of notion that only Japanese pitchers, and not hitters, could be effective in Major League Baseball. A first ballot guy, just like Pujols.

Miguel Cabrera — He has two MVPs, a Triple Crown and is approaching 500 homers and 3,000 hits already despite still being only 33 years-old. He may be beginning to descend from his career peak, but there is no reason at all to think that he doesn’t have several years of top performance left. He, like Pujols and Ichiro are already in.

Adrian Beltre — As recently as a couple of years ago I was convinced that voters would fail to appreciate his greatness, but something has changed recently in the way he is discussed by the baseball commentariat. His defense has been spectacular and has remained so even as he approaches 40 and, unlike what may have been the case a decade ago, it is widely appreciated. He’ll pass 3,000 hits this year.

Yadier Molina — I would’ve put him in the next lower category before Wednesday, but Ivan Rodriguez’s first ballot election shows that defense behind the plate carries more weight with the electorate than many considered it to. There’s also the fact that Molina has always been talked about as a Hall of Famer and has the respect of everyone he’s ever played with, often being cited as the heart and soul of the successful Cardinals teams of the past decade and change. Voters love that and that’ll do a lot to make up for the lack of typical Hall of Fame offensive numbers.

Justin Verlander — An MVP/Cy Young combo and a couple of other years when he could’ve easily won the Cy Young set Verlander apart, especially if his rebound 2016 presages a few more years of excellence. Assuming a normal decline, he’ll top 3,000 strikeouts will be between 225-250 wins one thinks. Wherever he ends up on those numbers, though, there is going to be — heck, there has to be — a rethinking of what a Hall of Fame starting pitcher looks like by the voters in the coming years. Guys like Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling are getting overlooked because they don’t have 300 wins and a boatload of complete games, with voters not yet grokking that the game has changed. By the time Verlander is on the ballot, I suspect that they will have fully grokked it and that his case will be easier than it has been for some others who came before. The guy to watch as this dynamic unfolds: Roy Halladay, who hits the ballot in two years.

 

Probably In, But People Will Argue

Carlos Beltran — His career stock has improved as he’s continued to an effective hitter late in his career, but I feel like he may not yet be fully appreciated by many due to the lack of hardware and rings and things. Overall, however, his numbers are comparable to several Hall of Famers. One thing a lot of people overlook in Hall of Fame careers is just how much playing for one team — which was once the norm due to the Reserve Clause — colors the narrative of a player’s case. Beltran is Billy Williams, right? Except without the entire career with the Cubs and the adoration of those fans to speak for him. As we’ve seen with Tim Raines, having someone stump for a guy is important. Which team’s fan base stumps for Beltran?

 

Probably NOT in, But People Will Stump For Them

Chase Utley — I feel like he’s just short, though that’s mostly due to him getting a late start in his career and not compiling some of the counting stats voters like to see. Was definitely the best second baseman around for a number of years and has the rate stats and defensive reputation. A good case can be made for him. But the same is true of Larry Walker, Alan Trammell and a number of other guys who haven’t gotten the Hall of Fame love.

Jimmy Rollins — Utley’s former teammate may have an opposite case: a lot of good counting stats based on being a regular at 21, but he has somewhat lackluster rate stats and secondary stats for a Hall of Famer.

Joe Mauer — If he had stuck at catcher he’d have a stronger case — and if he weren’t so unfairly denigrated by Twins fans and those who cover them his existing case would be more appreciated — but the odd arc of his career and setbacks due to concussions will likely make him fall short. There’s a very interesting statistical/historical case to be made for Mauer, but it’s not one that, barring an unexpected late career offensive renaissance, will get much of a hearing I suppose.

 

On the way, but need to pad their resumes

Clayton Kershaw — The only thing keeping him out of the “already in” group is the fact that he has only played for nine seasons and you have to have ten in order to be eligible. Yes, even after 10 his career will be super short, but what he has done in his nine seasons — three Cy Youngs and three other top-5 Cy Young finishes, four ERA crowns and three strikeout crowns, — has been pretty outstanding. I suppose that if he suddenly turned into a tomato can and spent a decade with ERAs in the 5s people would rethink him, but the smart money has him cruising in based on his first decade alone, padded with even merely good later years. And there’s no reason to think that his next couple of years will be merely good.

Robinson Cano — Only 12 seasons under his belt but already north of 2,200 hits and, barring serious injury, will likely finish his career at or near the top of most offensive categories for second basemen. He plays every dang day. Multiple All-Star selections and a lot of MVP votes. Barring a Dale Murphy-style falloff, I think he makes it.

Dustin Pedroia — Likely has it on peak performance already — the Rookie of the Year, the MVP, a couple of World Series rings for which he is given a large amount of credit — but he has only played 11 seasons, which is generally too short for Hall of Famers not named Koufax. Second baseman have historically fallen off younger than players at other positions, but if Pedroia, like Cano, avoids that and has a standard career decline, he’s Cooperstown bound.

Buster Posey — There are only eight years under Buster’s belt, but they’ve been great years. Someone besides Bruce Bochy will get credit for the Giants’ three World Series rings, and it’ll likely be Posey. That is, if his down 2016 season isn’t the beginning of an unexpectedly sharp falloff.

Mike Trout — The shortest tenure of anyone on this list, but the guy has already put together a Hall of Fame peak by the age of 25 and only needs to gain eligibility. If he falls off to merely very good starting now he’ll have already made it. WAR is a counting stat which accumulates over a career. By the time 2017 is over, he will likely have passed Hall of Famers Tony Lazzeri, Kirby Puckett, Orlando Cepeda, Larry Doby, Nellie Fox, Bobby Doerr, Mickey Cochrane and Tony Perez. In less than seven full seasons.

UPDATE: Joey Votto — I forgot him when I first published this. Which, I dunno, was maybe some weird unconscious impulse I had which channels what I think voters will do. We’ve come a long way in appreciating on-base ability and rate stats and eschewing RBIs and things when it comes to evaluating hitters, but I feel like, to some, Votto is an extreme case here. He shouldn’t be — he’s a career .313 hitter and has slugged to the tune of .536 — but the negative narrative that has been written by some in the media that Votto is too timid a hitter or that his taking walks somehow has hurt the Reds has had some annoying staying power. All of that said: he’s only got ten years in. If he continues doing what he’s doing, he’ll be a strong Hall candidate. If he has even one or two more years where he shuts the naysayers up and, say, finishes first or second in the MVP voting, he’ll be in. Alternatively: if the Reds ever trade him to a contender and people see how valuable his production is in a lineup with even a modicum of support, that narrative changes immediately.

Others

Ian Kinsler — Dustin Pedroia without the MVP and the rings? I suppose a lot of people would take issue with that, but they’re a lot more similar than you may suspect. Kinsler has a higher bWAR in the same number of seasons as Pedroia, even if he doesn’t have the same level of fame.

Max Scherzer — If he can keep up the peak he’s established over the past few seasons for a bit longer, or if he can show remarkable longevity, he could possibly make up for blooming a bit late.

Zach Greinke — Could go either way. We’ve likely already seen his best seasons — and his two best were, uncharacteristically for a Hall of Famer, several years apart — but if he has several more good ones, he’s in the conversation.

Felix Hernandez — I feel like 2017 will be key. Two years ago I’d have said he was well on his way, but two average seasons in a row at ages 29 and 30 could be the precursor to a less-than-Hall-of-Fame second act.

There are likewise several players who have begun careers which look a lot like guys who eventually made the Hall of Fame — Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Sale, Jose Altuve, Manny Machado, etc. etc. — but for the most part they’re just too early in the game to project. Let’s hold off on them for a few years, shall we?

I feel pretty good about this list thus far, however. What say you?