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.

Hunter Pence is mashing for the Rangers

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Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.

Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.

Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.

What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.