Cardinals will try to finish off the Giants in five

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Is everyone all geared up to see the NL’s fifth best team and the AL’s seventh best team square off in the World Series?

Of course, the Cardinals and Tigers have genuinely looked like baseball’s best teams during October. And if some would prefer neither had reached the postseason because they weren’t all that good in the regular season, well, that’s just too bad.

One win away from reaching the World Series, the Cardinals will send Lance Lynn to the mound in Friday’s Game 5 in St. Louis. The 18-game winner will be opposed by 15-game winner Barry Zito.

The Cardinals should be favored in the game, but to win, they’ll need to overcome the Giants’ good luck charm. The team has won each of Zito’s last 12 starts, including Game 4 against the Reds in the NLDS when Zito lasted just 2 2/3 innings and gave up two runs. Zito himself hasn’t been all that much better than usual with a 4.04 ERA during the streak. He was 8-8 with a 4.27 ERA before it began.

Coincidentally, the Zito streak actually started in St. Louis, with the Giants winning 4-2 on Aug. 7. It was Zito’s only start versus St. Louis this year, and he allowed two runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. Lynn took the loss for the Cardinals that game.

Lynn also had a bit of a rough go of it in his Game 1 start in the NLCS, surrendering four runs in 3 2/3 innings. However, the Cardinals went on to win the game 6-4.

Even if the pitching matchup isn’t necessarily a big point in the Cardinals’ favor for Game 5, they’d seem to have the advantage on offense and in the pen. They used only Fernando Salas in relief in the Game 4 rout, meaning that Friday’s game will likely feature an ample helping of Trevor Rosenthal and Jason Motte if it stays close.

Also, the Cardinals are aiming to get Carlos Beltran back into a lineup that’s been the most productive of any in either league this month. Beltran left Wednesday’s game with a knee strain and didn’t play Thursday. Matt Carpenter has done a terrific job filling in, homering off the bench in Game 3 and then reaching three times and scoring twice in Game 4.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉