NLDS Game 4 Live Blog: Phillies vs. Cardinals

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8:42pm: Jay makes a sliding catch in center field to end it. Cards win, 5-3. This series will come down to Game 5, Friday in Philadelphia. Chris Carpenter vs. Roy Halladay. You couldn’t ask for much better.

8:40pm: Motte blows a 98 mph heater past Ibanez’s late swing for the second out of the inning.

8:38pm: Motte falls to a 3-0 count on Victorino, then fires two straight strikes and induces a groundout.

8:36pm: Jason Motte and his beard are on for the save. He’ll face Victorino, Ibanez, then Polanco.

8:33pm: And down goes Holliday. To the ninth inning we go. The Phillies have three outs to get two runs.

8:32pm: Berkman also retired by Lidge.

8:31pm: Brad Lidge enters and retires Pujols. The Cards are looking for insurance runs.

8:28pm: Howard, a hero in Game 1’s 11-6 win, has no hits in his last 11 at-bats. Discuss.

8:26pm: “Scrabble” fans Howard. The Cards will bat in the bottom of the eighth with a two-run lead.

8:22pm: Pence grounds out to shortstop. The Cardinals will bring in left-hander Marc Rzepczynski to face Howard. Two outs, Utley is at second base. This feels like a big opportunity for the Phils.

8:21pm: Pinch-runner Michael Martinez cruises home as a ball gets past Molina. Cards 5, Phillies 3.

8:20pm: Cliff Lee and Brad Lidge have begun warming up in the Phillies’ bullpen.

8:18pm: Rollins grounds out, but Utley reaches base when his lightly-struck ball bounces high off the first base bag. The Phillies have runners at first and third with one out, trailing by three runs.

8:14pm: Hernandez calls a balk on Cardinals reliever Fernando Salas, who entered at the start of the inning.

8:12pm: Ross Gload pinch-hits for Blanton and slaps a leadoff single to right field. The Phillies are now at the top of their batting order with six outs to go in a 5-2 game. In steps the hot-hitting Rollins.

8:10pm: Blanton turns in an easy, hitless frame. To the top of the eighth inning we go.

8:05pm: Joe Blanton enters in relief of Oswalt, who surrendered five earned runs on six hits.

8:04pm: Dotel induces a groundout from the struggling Polanco before getting Carlos Ruiz to fly out. The Cardinals still hold a 5-2 lead as Game 4 of the NLDS heads to the bottom of the seventh inning.

7:58pm: Rhodes fans Ibanez then exits for Octavio Dotel. The Phillies have eight outs to mount a comeback.

7:56pm: Jackson is out, and Cardinals left-hander Arthur Rhodes is in. Freese has also been removed in favor of the more defensively-adept Daniel Descalso. Tony La Russa loves his double switches.

7:52pm: Holliday hits a one-out single up the middle, then Freese — who grew up in the St. Louis suburbs — smashes a two-run bomb to straightaway center. It’s 5-2 Cardinals. The crowd is going wild.

7:50pm: Word from TBS’ Craig Sager is that Schumaker has been diagnosed with “hamstring cramps.”

7:47pm: MLB.com has video of the squirrel crossing for those of you not in front of a television.

7:43pm: Victorino grounds out to Theriot. E-Jax did a fine job of damage control. The Cardinals lead by a score of 3-2 and will send Berkman, Holliday and Molina to the plate in the bottom of the sixth.

7:42pm: Howard flies out to center field. Two down in the top of the sixth inning.

7:37pm: Impressive play by Pujols, who came off first base to nail Utley as he was trying to advance to third on a groundout by Pence. But Pence is on first base with just one out in the frame. Howard’s up.

7:33pm: E-Jax delivers a leadoff walk to Utley. The Phillies might have something going with the heart of their order coming up. It’ll be Pence, then Howard, then Victorino here in the top of the sixth.

7:31pm: Ryan Theriot has entered the game in place of Schumaker, who appeared to grab at his hamstring following an awkward fifth-inning swing. Theriot will bat second and play second base.

7:29pm: Schumaker flies out anyway, and Pujols does the same. No squirrel controversy. Darn.

7:26pm: A squirrel just ran right in front of home plate as Oswalt was delivering a pitch — called a ball — to Schumaker. It may or may not be the same squirrel that was hanging around the field during Tuesday’s Game 3. Oswalt wants a do-over on the pitch, but home plate umpire Angel Hernandez is having none of it.

7:23pm: Furcal pops out on a first-pitch bunt attempt.

7:22pm: E-Jax escapes the danger. The Cards still lead 3-2 as we move along to bottom of the fifth.

7:19pm: Placido Polanco leads off the fifth inning with a single to left. He’s now 2-for-14 in this series.

7:12pm: The Cards strand Freese at third, but now hold a one-run lead as this one heads to the fifth.

7:08pm: Pence tracks down a hard-hit ball to right field from Molina, but David Freese laces a two-run double into the left field corner one batter later. The Cards have a 3-2 lead and a rocking Busch Stadium.

7:06pm: Berkman draws a leadoff walk and Holliday takes a pitch off his right arm. The Cardinals have life here in the bottom of the fourth. Yadier Molina steps to the dish to chants of “Ya-di, Ya-di, Ya-di.”

7:02pm: Ryan Howard fans in a three-pitch at-bat, Victorino grounds to short, then Raul Ibanez flies out to left. Jackson certainly looks sharper than he did in the first inning. But can the Cards break through?

6:56pm: Schumaker moves to 2-for-2 on the day with a two-out single, but Oswalt gets Pujols to chase a low-and-outside third strike. The Phillies still lead the Cardinals 2-1 as we head to the fourth inning.

6:47pm: Rollins, who is now 9-for-14 with six runs scored in this five-game series, managed a one-out infield single in the top of the third. But Jackson and the Cards were able to stymie the minor threat.

6:41pm: Here’s a .GIF snapshot of Victorino’s first-inning stumble. The outfield grass at Busch Stadium has struggled to recover from a July U2 concert. Blame it on Bono and The Edge, Phillies fans.

6:39pm: Oswalt had the Cardinals off balance in the bottom of the second for a quick 1-2-3 frame. It looks like both starters might be settling in. The Phillies still lead the game 2-1 heading to the third.

6:33pm: E-Jax begins featuring more breaking balls in the second and comes away with better results, retiring three batters in order — two via punch-out. The Cardinals will bat trailing by a run.

6:26pm: Lance Berkman hits a run-scoring extra-base hit to the right-center field gap, advancing to third base when Shane Victorino stumbles while trying to throw the ball back to the infield. Holliday follows with a groundout to Rollins. Phillies 2, Cardinals 1. Heading to the top of the second inning.

6:24pm: Pujols pops up after a lengthy at-bat.

6:21pm: Cardinals leadoff man Rafael Furcal goes down swinging, then Skip Schumaker smacks a one-out single to left field. Albert Pujols steps in against Roy Oswalt with a duck on the pond.

6:16pm: A strike ’em out, throw ’em out helps the Cardinals get out of the jam. To the bottom of the first we go, with Philadelphia leading St. Louis in Game 4 by a score of 2-0.

6:13pm: Edwin Jackson averaged 94.5 mph on his fastball this year. For reference, Justin Verlander averaged 95 mph. But E-Jax doesn’t locate like Verlander, and often trusts his fastball too much.

6:11pm: Just like that, the Phillies are up 2-0. Chase Utley follows Rollins’ leadoff double with a triple down the right field line, then Hunter Pence hits a run-scoring single to left-center field.

6:09pm: The sun plays a role on the first pitch of the game, as Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay fails to get a good read on Jimmy Rollins’ warning-track fly. Rollins is standing on second base with no outs.

6:05pm: In the interest of full disclosure, I think I should divulge that I was raised in and still reside in St. Louis. So I’m a Cardinals fan. But a pessimistic one. If you sense bias, yell at me in the comments.

6:01pm: Welcome aboard. Thanks for stopping by and hanging out. Or just for stopping by. If you’re busy, you’re busy. We’ll do updates (bottom-to-top) every couple minutes. I can’t guarantee they’ll be entertaining or informative updates, but they’ll be updates. Like, with words and everything. And punctuation, at times.

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Below are the starting lineups for Game 4 of the NLDS between the Phillies and Cardinals, set to get underway just after 6 p.m. ET in St. Louis.

The Phillies took a 2-1 series lead on Tuesday night courtesy of a 3-2 win and can wrap things up with a victory this evening at Busch Stadium.

Ibanez is back in Philadelphia’s starting lineup after riding the pine Tuesday against Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia. And left fielder Matt Holliday is back in action for the Redbirds despite lingering tendon issues in his right middle finger.

 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES           ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS            1. Rafael Furcal, SS
2. Chase Utley, 2B              2. Skip Schumaker, 2B
3. Hunter Pence, RF             3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B              4. Lance Berkman, RF
5. Shane Victorino, CF          5. Matt Holliday, LF
6. Raul Ibanez, LF              6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Placido Polanco, 3B          7. David Freese, 3B
8. Carlos Ruiz, C               8. Jon Jay, CF
9. Roy Oswalt, RHP              9. Edwin Jackson, RHP

It should be another exciting matchup. Follow along here on our NLDS Game 4 Live Blog.

“Bullpenning” creates a serious labor issue

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
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Last year, we devoted some space here to talking about “bullpenning.” I believe the term was coined by MLB Network’s Brian Kenny, who has been a very outspoken proponent of the strategy. Aside from the occasional “bullpen day,” we haven’t really seen teams give “bullpenning” a shot, so we don’t have much data to work with to say whether or not it’s a viable strategy.

The Rays made some headlines early this season, suggesting the club might use a four-man rotation all year. The Rays also made headlines over the weekend, choosing to start reliever Sergio Romo on back-to-back days against the Angels. That rankled Angels third baseman Zack Cozart, who said the Rays’ strategy is “bad for baseball.” The Rays’ thinking on Saturday was that the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup was threatening for lefty starter Ryan Yarbrough, so having Romo start the first inning before handing the ball off to Yarbrough would prevent him from facing those right-handed hitters three times in a normal-length start.

Despite Cozart’s displeasure with the strategy, Romo is a fan of it:

In discussing the issue last night, I tried to imagine how Cozart’s claim holds up and came up empty. The strategy makes sense in a vacuum and, as SB Nation’s DRaysBay points out on Twitter, the strategy hasn’t led to overuse.

However, one problem that has often been overlooked when discussing “bullpenning” is the inevitable labor issue. Right now, starting pitchers make significantly more money than relief pitchers. In December 2016, Aroldis Chapman eviscerated the previous record contract for a reliever when he signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees. That doesn’t even crack the top-85 on the list of the most lucrative contracts in baseball history, per Cot’s Contracts. The largest contract by a starting pitcher was the seven-year, $217 million contract David Price signed with the Red Sox in December 2015. If you’re a pitcher and you want to make money, you should try to become a starter.

Teams will use whatever information they can to avoid having to pay a player more money. We see this when major league-ready players are held down in the minors longer than necessary, we see it when players go to arbitration, and we see it when free agents try to land contracts. On every stat-tracking site, there’s a column for pitchers labeled “GS” for games started. Right now, Yarbrough’s column has a three in it. He has appeared in 11 total games. He was effectively a starter on Saturday despite Romo getting credit for the start since he went 6 1/3 innings against the Angels, but he didn’t get the additional bump in the GS column, which has the potential to depress his salary throughout his career. Yarbrough has effectively “started,” lasting at least four innings in eight of those 11 games. But Andrew Kittredge got credit for the start several times, going two innings ahead of Yarbrough in a few of those games.

Yarbrough, a rookie, will have his contract automatically renewed by the Rays until he becomes eligible for salary arbitration. Until he reaches arbitration eligibility, the Rays will get to set his salary at whatever figure they want as long as it meets the major league minimum ($555,000 next year). Sometimes players perform well enough that the teams willingly choose to pay them more as a good will gesture, but usually teams hover at or just slightly above the minimum. Then Yarbrough will move into potential salary arbitration with the Rays in a few years. Should the two sides not reach an agreement in any of those three years, they will go before an independent arbitrator, who will hear arguments from Yarbrough’s agent and representatives for the Rays. The Rays will use statistics to argue that Yarbrough isn’t worth what he’s asking for. They will likely use the smaller number in the “GS” column, among other numbers, to do so. This would be the case for any player, particularly a younger player, who gets used in the “bullpenning” strategy.

Each previous salary becomes a jumping-off point for the next salary. Let’s say that Yarbrough filed for $6 million, the Rays countered at $3 million, and the arbitrator sided with the Rays. (Historically, arbitrators have tended to side with teams.) The next year that Yarbrough goes to arbitration, he’s arguing for a raise off of $3 million instead of $6 million. If Yarbrough had earned $6 million the previous year, it would be reasonable that he might request $10 million the next year. But if he requests $10 million after earning just $3 million, it seems less reasonable. These numbers are intentionally disparate, by the way. Usually the difference in figures filed is only in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Take Marcus Stroman as an example. He won his arbitration case with the Blue Jays going into the 2017 season, filing for $3.4 million against the Jays’ $3.1 million. He had a career year in 2017, finishing with a 3.09 ERA  in 33 starts. Stroman still lost his salary arbitration case heading into this season, filing for $6.9 million against the Jays’ $6.5 million.

If there’s any doubt that the Rays would fight tooth-and-nail to save a few hundred thousand bucks, consider that the Rays receive money both from revenue sharing and from BAMTech, a 33 percent share of which was sold to Disney in 2016 for $1 billion. Disney then bought a controlling share in BAMTech last August for $1.58 billion. As Craig mentioned at the time, that netted every owner about $68 million. And baseball’s 30 owners will continue to make more money off of BAMTech from their minority share. Yet the Rays’ Opening Day payroll has never topped $77 million. The club is often characterized as small-market and it’s relatively true, but it could have been out trying to sign big name free agents in recent years. Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has just chosen not to in an effort to maximize profits.

The solution to this labor issue shouldn’t be to prevent teams from utilizing strategies like “bullpenning.” We should seek to change the way we value players both systemically and statistically. If teams are artificially depressing important statistics for players — “games started” isn’t the only one; teams have also prevented their players from meeting performance bonuses (often based on appearances and/or innings pitched) in their contracts — then we need to amend the rules so that players don’t get the short end of the stick. This can’t be addressed until negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires on December 1, 2021. Hypothetically, the change made could be wholesale, but realistically, the change would need to be incremental, perhaps saying that a player’s playing time, amount of starts made, and other similar statistics can’t be held against him in arbitration since that’s almost entirely up to the team based on its personnel and other incentives. As for affecting change in how we value players statistically, that’s both a structural issue involving front offices and a social issue involving members of the media and fans. Batting average versus on-base percentage is a great example of this type of change, both structurally and socially.

We shouldn’t want to prevent teams from optimizing strategy since, in a vacuum, that’s healthy for the game. Having a stale “metagame” means the game is boring and figured out. Teams utilizing new strategies keeps the game fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, “bullpenning” represents an intersection of labor and strategy. It’s a serious issue the Major League Baseball Players Association should be keeping an eye on and working to solve.