Mark Kotsay, Nick Punto

That was really the best the NL has to offer?

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No juggernauts here.

The Cardinals just beat the Brewers in a six-game series despite not having any one of their starters pitch more than five innings. There simply wasn’t a quality start in the bunch.

But then, maybe beat is the wrong word. Unless one wants to apply to what the Brewers did to themselves. Seven errors in the final two games of the series. Everyone knew defense was Milwaukee’s weak link, but it never figured to manifest itself so obviously. Besides the seven errors, there were at least a half-dozen plays that should have been made and weren’t in the team’s final two losses.

So, the NL Central-only NLCS was a bust. As probably should have been anticipated given it’s status as baseball’s worst division. Those six teams combined to go 226-270 outside of the division this year, a .456 winning percentage.

At least these Cardinals are better than their last World Series team. In 2006, the Cards won the Central with an 83-78 record, edged the Mets in seven games in the NLCS and then took down the Tigers in five games in the World Series.

Still, it figures to be a more difficult assignment this time around. The Rangers aren’t going to fumble the ball around like those Tigers (eight errors in five games) or the Brewers did. They also have a bullpen that can match the Cardinals’ and greater depth in the lineup, even in games without the DH.

The Cardinals deserve all kinds of credit for what they’ve done so far. Overcoming a 10 1/2-game deficit to make it to October, taking out the heavy favorites in the Phillies in five games in the NLDS and then surviving a series against the Brewers in which their starters gave them next to nothing. They’re battlers alright.

Unfortunately, they’re battlers who are probably going to get battered if they don’t get a whole lot more from Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Edwin Jackson this week.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.