Tony La Russa presses all the right buttons as Cardinals take 3-2 lead over Brewers in NLCS

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Tony La Russa has managed well over 5,000 games in the big leagues, yet on any given day, he will do something that will make you shake your head. And the crazy thing is, he often walks away looking like a genius. Friday’s 7-1 win over the Brewers in Game 5 of the NLCS was no different.

With a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth, La Russa elected to have the eighth place hitter Nick Punto bunt two runners into scoring position for the pitcher Jaime Garcia. Yes, the same Garcia who has a .137 career batting average during the regular season. Unconventional, yes, but he somehow got away with it. Garcia hit a ground ball at shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, but he couldn’t make a play on David Freese at home plate. The Cardinals extended their lead to 4-0 on the RBI groundout.

Garcia cruised through the first four innings of the ballgame, but after allowing one run on three hits in the fifth, La Russa didn’t just sit on his hands. No sir. He came with the quick hook, bringing on Octavio Dotel to face Ryan Braun with two runners on. And he got away with it once again, as Dotel struck out Braun and tossed a perfect sixth inning for good measure.

We’ll never know what would have happened had La Russa acted differently in those situations, but the Brewers didn’t exactly put themselves in position to win, as they became just the third team to commit four errors in an LCS game. Zack Greinke came up small once again, allowing five runs (two earned) on seven hits and two walks over 5 2/3 innings. Sure, his defense didn’t help him any, but he faced 30 batters on the night and recorded just two swinging strikes and zero strikeouts. For someone who had 201 strikeouts over 171 2/3 innings during the regular season, that’s just plain odd. And a recipe for a bad night.

Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina each had three hits for the Cardinals while Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. The Cardinals’ bullpen now has a 1.69 ERA during the series as compared to a 6.04 ERA for their starters.

The Cardinals now hold a 3-2 advantage over the Brewers as the series shifts to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Sunday. And unless Ron Roenicke changes his mind and uses Yovani Gallardo on short-rest in the face of elimination, he’ll send the struggling Shaun Marcum to the hill against Edwin Jackson.

Cardinals shut down Carlos Martínez for two weeks due to shoulder issue

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MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosh reports that the Cardinals are shutting down pitcher Carlos Martínez from throwing for two weeks because his shoulder strength isn’t where it should have been at this point. Langosch added that an MRI showed no structural damage in Martínez’s right shoulder.

Interestingly, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak didn’t sound too happy with Martínez offseason training regimen. Per Mark Saxon of The Athletic, Mozeliak said, “Obviously, there’s a history with Carlos’ shoulder and it would be probably in everybody’s best interest if he maintained a constant or perpetual approach to that program.”

Martínez, 27, battled oblique and shoulder injuries last year. He accrued just 118 2/3 innings, making just 18 starts. He was moved to the bullpen when he returned from the disabled list in August and finished out the season in that role. Still, Martínez managed a 3.11 ERA with 117 strikeouts and 60 walks.

Langosch reported last week that the Cardinals were considering using Martínez in relief again in 2019. The latest news may push the Cardinals to indeed use Martínez out of the bullpen once again. He will be reevaluated in early March, but there is a chance he won’t be ready for Opening Day.