Pierre, Polanco, Stanton expected to top Marlins order

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That’s the way new Marlins manager Mike Redmond is looking to kick off his lineup; Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco and Giancarlo Stanton are likely to occupy the top three spots.

Sadly, Pierre and Polanco seemed like givens to bat first and second from the moment they were plucked from the bargain bin this winter. The alternatives there the middle infield duo of Donovan Solano and Adeiny Hechavarria.

On the other hand, Stanton batting third is a bit of a surprise and quite seemingly a mistake, particularly given the lack of proven hitters behind him. Justin Ruggiano and Logan Morrison will be the  fourth and fifth hitters in some order.

Let’s face it, most of the Marlins innings that begin with the leadoff man are going to unfold in a couple of ways:

– Pierre and Polanco both make outs, putting Stanton up with none on and two out.

– Pierre singles, attempts to steal second or gets moved up by Polanco. Stanton comes up with a man on second and one out and immediately gets pitched around or intentionally walked to set up the double play.

My thought is that it makes a lot more sense to hit Stanton fourth. For one thing, if he’s going to come up with no one on, it’s much better that he does it at the start of the inning, giving him a chance to start a rally, than with two outs. And hitting him fourth should open up more situations in which he’s up with multiple men on, making the intentional walk less likely.

Cleanup hitters simply get more RBI chances than No. 3 hitters, even without accounting for the fact that they get fewer at-bats. Last year, NL No. 4 hitters drove in 1,658 runs while hitting .272/.343/.470. No. 3 hitters, despite hitting slightly better at .283/.356/.469, drove in 1,509 runs.

Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things. The Marlins would have to figure out how to hit Stanton second, third and fourth to have much of a chance of avoiding the NL East basement this year.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.