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.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.