Cardinals cash in on early opportunities against Nationals, grab 7-1 lead

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The Cardinals had all sorts of opportunities in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Nationals yesterday, but they collected just three hits and went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. They aren’t wasting those chances today.

The Cardinals got to Jordan Zimmermann early and currently lead the Nationals 7-1 through four innings in St. Louis.

The Nationals got on the board first via an RBI single by Zimmermann in the top of the second inning, but the Cardinals battled right back with four straight hits to begin the bottom-half of the inning, including an RBI double by David Freese and an RBI single by Daniel Descalso. After seeing his team squander opportunities yesterday, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny then made the bold decision to have Skip Schumaker pinch-hit for starting pitcher Jamie Garcia. It paid off, as Schumaker drove in a run with a ground out before Jon Jay knocked in Descalso with the fourth run before he was cut down trying to stretch a single into a double.

Allen Craig extended the Cardinals’ lead in the third with a solo home run just inside the left field foul pole. The Cardinals tacked on two more in the fourth, as Descalso hit a solo homer to right-center field off Craig Stammen and Pete Kozma scored on a fielding error by Ian Desmond. Lance Lynn is currently pitching for the Cardinals, who appear poised to bring this series to 1-1 going to Washington, D.C.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.