Billingsley relegated to Game 4; Hudson to the bench for Dodgers-Cardinals series

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In my NLDS preview the other day I blithely assumed that Chad Billingsley would pitch Game 3 for the Dodgers, but that’s apparently not the case. Vicente Padilla gets the nod. Joe Torre said that Billingsley’s simulated game “went fine” but if that were the case you’d think that the guy would be the Game 3 starter over a famously erratic guy who was designated for assignment by the Rangers for being a clubhouse cancer earlier this year.  Joe Torre has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know, but I can’t help but think that he’s reading too much into Padilla’s last start. Yes, he mowed down the Rockies, but the game was meaningless and it was not exactly their starting nine.

But Billingsley isn’t the only All-Star who will be riding the pine for L.A.  Torre also named Ronnie Belliard the starting second baseman for tonight’s game.  While he and Orlando Hudson have been splitting time down the stretch, as Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness notes, Belliard has hit really well against Game 2 starter Adam Wainwright, so he is probably going to get that start as well, rendering Hudson a full-blown backup.

Both of these moves are defensible on the micro level. The big picture, however has to be rather disquieting for Dodgers fans, because teams who win World Series tend not to have to depend on guys like Vicente Padilla and Ronnie Belliard in key roles.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.