Cardinals blow late lead, lose in Chris Carpenter’s return

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The good news for the Cardinals is that Chris Carpenter, originally thought to be out for the season after surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, turned in a successful five-inning stint Friday in his 2012 debut.

The bad news is that the bullpen blew a two-run lead in the ninth, and the Cards went on to lose to the Cubs 5-4 in 11 innings.

Darwin Barney hit a two-run homer off Fernando Salas with two outs in the ninth to extend the game. Salas was going for the save in place of regular closer Jason Motte, who had the day off after working in all three games in the sweep of Houston.

The Cubs ended it in the 11th when David DeJesus knocked in Brett Jackson with his fourth hit of the day.

Carpenter’s start went off without a hitch. While he wasn’t exactly in midseason form with either his fastball or curve, he held the Cubs scoreless in four of his five innings. He ended up allowing five hits, walking one, striking out two and hitting a batter. His heater was typically in the 88-91 mph range, which is pretty promising considering that he’s still so ahead of schedule in his recovery. Maybe he’ll get back closer to his usual 90-94 mph come playoff time, should the Cardinals advance.

While the loss today snapped the Cardinals’ four-game winning streak, the team remains in position for the second wild card. They’ll end the night with at least a 1 1/2-game lead over the Brewers.

2017 Preview: The American League Central

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League Central

Do the Indians have a weakness? Do the Tigers and Royals have one more playoff push in them or do they have to start contemplating rebuilds? The White Sox and Twins are rebuilding, but do either of them have a chance to be remotely competitive?

As we sit here in March, the answers are “not really,” “possibly,” and “not a chance.” There are no games that count this March, however, so they’re just guesses. But educated ones! Here are the links to our guesses and our education for all of the clubs of the AL Central:

Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

2017 Preview: The National League East

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League East

The Washington Nationals crave a playoff run that doesn’t end at the division series. The Mets crave a season in which they don’t have a press conference about an injured pitcher. The Marlins are trying to put the nightmare of the end of the 2016 behind them. The Phillies and Braves are hoping to move on from the “lose tons of games” phase of their rebuilds and move on to the “hey, these kids can play!” phase.

There is a ton of star power in the NL East — Harper, Scherzer, Cespedes, Syndergaard, Stanton, Freeman — some great young talent on ever roster and, in Ichiro and Bartolo, the two oldest players in the game. Maybe the division can’t lay claim to the best team in baseball, but there will certainly be some interesting baseball in the division.

Here’s how each team breaks down:

Washington Nationals
New York Mets
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves