Reds beat Cubs to become first team to clinch playoff berth

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Trotting out a lineup that included just one regular, the Reds beat the Cubs 5-3 on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field and become the first team this year to clinch a playoff berth.

The Reds got Johnny Cueto his 18th victory despite fielding a lineup that included Miguel Cairo at first base and second baseman Henry Rodriguez hitting third in his first career start. Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey were in there as well, but catcher Ryan Hanigan was today’s only starter who can be safely penciled into the lineup for Game 1 of the NLDS.

The team was also missing its manager, as Dusty Baker remained hospitalized after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

Cincinnati’s ‘B’ lineup was shutout by Jason Berken for six innings, but it busted out for five runs off Manny Corpas in the top of the seventh. That earned Cueto the win, even though he had been removed for a pinch-hitter. Coming off three straight losses, Cueto was better today, though not dominant. He allowed five hits, walked four and struck out just two.

With two starts left, Cueto still has a chance at 20 wins for the season. He’ll have an even better chance if Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are in the lineup next time he pitches.

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.