St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Lohse delivers a pitch to a Washington Nationals batter during the first inning of their MLB National League baseball game in St. Louis

Looking ahead to tonight’s playoff action

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Sad jams:  this could be the last time we have multiple baseball games on one day this year. What’s on tap:

Giants vs. Cardinals, 4PM Eastern: Fox:  The series is tied 1-1, but in some ways it feels like the Cardinals are behind. Probably because their starting pitching is in need of some stability. Indeed, they haven’t had a starter go more than four innings in three straight playoff games. Sure, they’ve won two of those three games, but they can’t really expect to make it through a seven game series with the tightrope act they’ve had on display.

Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA) takes the hill for the Cards and will try to turn that dynamic around. This will be his first action against San Francisco this season.  Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA) goes for the Giants. He faced the Cardinals twice in 2012 and was beat up pretty badly, surrendering nine runs in 11 and two-thirds innings over two starts.  At present it looks like Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro will play despite the strained hip he suffered as a result of Matt Holliday’s farkakte slide in Monday’s game, but he is in some pain and we could just as easily see Ryan Theriot take his place.

Yankees vs. Tigers, 8PM Eastern: TBS: It’s do or die time for the Bombers, and if they have to do, at least they have CC Sabathia on the mound. The Yankees ace came up aces in each of his two playoff starts so far, and they need him to do it again or else it’s fishin’ season for New York. He’s 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA on the year. He made three starts against the Tigers in 2012, winning all three, while allowing eight earned runs in 21 and two-thirds.  Countering Sabathia will be Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74). He was rocked by the Yankees in his lone start against them this year, but that came way back on April 29, and Scherzer in the second half of the season was a way different pitcher — a way better one — than he was back then.

The real issue isn’t the pitching, though — the Yankees’ pitching has been pretty fantastic, actually — it’s the dead bats. A-Rod and Nick Swisher seem like personae non gratae in Joe Girardi’s lineup, and even when they’ve been in it, they have been non-entities. As has Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and just about everyone else.  You can’t win if you don’t score, and the Yankees just haven’t done it. If this is the last time they play in 2012, it’ll be because the bats just died.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.