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Looking ahead to Game 6 of the NLCS between the Cardinals and Giants

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The Cardinals were hoping to clinch their second consecutive National League pennant last night, but vintage Barry Zito showed up to ruin the party. While they still hold a 3-2 lead in the NLCS, the series will now shift to San Francisco for Game 6 on Sunday night. Let’s take a quick look at the pitching matchup, which is a rematch from the Giants’ 7-1 win in Game 2 on Monday.

Chris Carpenter will make the start for the Cardinals after giving up five runs (two earned) over just four innings back in Game 2. The 37-year-old right-hander served up a leadoff home run to Angel Pagan in the bottom of the first inning and committed a throwing error during a four-run fourth inning. He struck out just one batter while allowing six hits and two walks. Carpenter has a 3.04 ERA and 15/7 K/BB ratio in 26 2/3 innings over five total starts (including two postseason starts) since returning from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in September. However, he has yet to throw more than six innings. This will be the fifth time in his career that he will start a game with the chance to clinch a playoff series. He is 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA and 17/5 K/BB ratio in 28 innings in his previous four assignments.

Ryan Vogelsong will get the call for the Giants after tossing seven innings of one-run ball in Game 2. He allowed just four hits on the night while the only run he surrendered was on an RBI double by opposing pitcher Chris Carpenter. Vogelsong has been on a pretty nice roll recently, posting a microscopic 0.93 ERA in his last five starts dating back to the regular season. He had a 2.86 ERA in 15 starts at home this season, which was 10th-best among qualified National League starters. By the way, the National League starter with the best ERA at home this season? Matt Cain (2.03), who lines up to pitch a potential Game 7 against Kyle Lohse on Monday.

Phil Bickford suspended 50 games for drug of abuse

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  Phil Bickford of the U.S. Team pitches during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at PETCO Park on July 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Brewers’ right-hander Phil Bickford received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a drug of abuse, per the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin. This is the second time Bickford has been suspended for recreational drug use, as he was previously penalized in 2015 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the amateur draft.

Bickford was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft and was later dealt to the Brewers for lefty reliever Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. He finished his 2016 campaign in High-A Brevard County, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, 10.0 K/9 rate and 5.0 BB/9 over 27 innings.

Two other suspensions were handed down on Friday, one to Toronto minor league right-hander Pedro Loficial for a positive test for metabolites of Stanozolol and one to Miami minor league outfielder Casey Soltis for a second positive test for drugs of abuse. Loficial will serve a 72-game suspension, while Soltis will serve 50 games. All three suspensions are due to start at the beginning of the 2017 season for each respective minor league team.

Brewers’ GM David Stearns issued a statement after the Commissioner’s Office announced Bickford’s suspension (via Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America):

We are very disappointed to learn of Phil’s suspension, but we fully support the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Testing Program and its enforcement by the Commissioner’s Office. Phil understands he made a mistake, and we fully anticipate that he will learn from this experience.

Diamondbacks sign Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million deal

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 21:  Fernando Rodney #56 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 21, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Confirming a report from Tuesday, the Diamondbacks officially signed right-hander Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million contract on Friday. The 39-year-old stands to receive up to $4 million in incentives, per Jack MacGruder of FanRag Sports, with $250,000 kicking in when the veteran reaches 40, 50 and 60 appearances and $500,000 if he reaches 70.

Rodney came three games shy of the 70-appearance mark in 2016 during back-to-back stints with the Padres and Marlins. He put up a cumulative 3.44 ERA on the year, which effectively disguised the extreme split during his performances in San Diego and Miami. The Diamondbacks aren’t anywhere close to contending in 2017, but Rodney should stabilize the back end of their bullpen while providing Arizona GM Mike Hazen with a potential trade chip during next year’s deadline.

Hazen issued a statement following the signing:

With Fernando, we’re getting an established Major League closer and a veteran presence in the bullpen. It is helpful to have someone with his experience on the back end to slow the game down and get the final three outs.