Matt Cain shuts down Phillies as Giants take 2-1 lead in NLCS

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Philadelphia scored the second-most runs in the NL during the regular season, averaged 4.4 runs through five playoffs games, and hadn’t been shut out since August, but the Phillies’ lineup managed just three singles and three walks while being blanked by Matt Cain, Javier Lopez, and Brian Wilson in Game 3 of the NLCS.

Cain struggled at times with his command, throwing first-pitch strikes to just 15 of 28 batters, plunking two hitters in addition to handing out three walks, and finding the strike zone with just 69 of his 119 offerings overall, but the Phillies simply couldn’t put together many damage-inducing swings.

Charlie Manuel shifted his lineup to insert Placido Polanco between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in an effort to make life tougher on side-arming left-handed specialist Javier Lopez in the late innings, but Lopez needed just nine pitches to record three outs after relieving Cain and Brian Wilson pitched around Jimmy Rollins’ wall-banging single to close out the 3-0 win.

Cody Ross once again played a big role for the Giants, knocking in the game’s first run with a sharp single to left field in the fourth inning. That proved to be all the support Cain, Lopez, and Wilson needed and Ross is now 8-for-23 (.348) with four homers and seven RBIs in seven playoff games. Not bad for a guy the Giants ended up in August with after putting in a waiver claim primarily to block the Padres from doing the same.

Obviously his postseason production is unexpected, but Ross hasn’t quite come out of nowhere. In five seasons as a regular he’s averaged 24 homers per 550 at-bats and his Isolated Power–which is slugging percentage minus batting average–of .203 during that span ranks right up there with some pretty big names like Vladimir Guerrero (.207), Brian McCann (.206), Troy Tulowitzki (.205), Torii Hunter (.202), Derrek Lee (.200), and Andre Ethier (.200).

Ross doesn’t have much plate discipline or strike-zone control and hits for low batting averages, so he hasn’t developed into anything more than an average corner outfielder, but as the Braves and Phillies have learned the guy has always had plenty of power and he’s even produced a 4/3 K/BB ratio so far in the playoffs.

Bruce Bochy has made it very clear all along that rookie Madison Bumgarner will be the Giants’ starter in Game 4 and Manuel wasted no time confirming that he’ll stick with Joe Blanton tomorrow night despite being down 2-1 in the series. Manuel was no doubt tempted to bring back Roy Halladay on short rest, but that would also have involved doing the same with Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Plus, with The Big Three now waiting in the wings to start Games 5-7 on full rest it’s not quite a “must-win” situation for Blanton.

Obviously he’d love to continue leaning exclusively on Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels, but having them at full strength will give the Phillies a chance to win the series regardless of what happens in Game 4 and Blanton quietly had a very strong second half in their collective shadow. He went 6-1 with a 3.29 ERA and 75/21 K/BB ratio in 14 starts after the All-Star break and if he can out-duel Bumgarner the Phillies will suddenly be back in the driver’s seat with The Big Three lined up for what would essentially be a three-game series.

Of course, Bumgarner had a 1.18 ERA and 34/7 K/BB ratio in his final six regular season starts and beat the Braves with six innings of two-run ball in the NLDS, so the Giants are a good outing by their young southpaw away from making every game a “must-win” for the Phillies.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.