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.

Jeffrey Springs, Rays agree to $31 million, 4-year contract

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Left-hander Jeffrey Springs became the first of the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration salaries with their teams to reach a deal, agreeing Wednesday to a $31 million, four-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

The 30-year old was among seven Rays who swapped arbitration figures with the team on Jan. 13. He began last season in the bullpen, transitioned to the starting rotation in May and finished 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA in 33 appearances, including 25 starts. He is 14-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 76 outings – 51 of them in relief – since he was acquired from Boston in February 2021.

Springs gets $4 million this year, $5.25 million in 2024 and $10.5 million in each of the following two seasons. Tampa Bay has a $15 million option for 2027 with a $750,000 buyout.

The 2025 and 2026 salaries can escalate by up to $3.75 million each based on innings in 2023-24 combined: $1.5 million for 300, $1 million for 325, $750,000 for 350 and $500,000 for 375. The `25 and ’26 salaries also can escalate based on finish in Cy Young Award voting in `23 and ’24: $2 million for winning, $1.5 million for finishing second through fifth in the voting and $250,000 for finishing sixth through 10th.

Tampa Bay’s option price could escalate based on Cy Young voting in 2025 and 2026: by $2.5 million for winning, $2 million for finishing second through fifth and $500,000 for sixth through 10th.

Springs would get $45.25 million if the option is exercised, $52.75 million with the option and meeting all innings targets and the maximum if he meetings the innings targets and wins two Cy Youngs.

Springs’ ERA last season was the second lowest in franchise history for a pitcher working a minimum of 100 innings. Former Rays ace Blake Snell compiled 1.89 ERA on the way to winning the 2018 AL Cy Young.

In addition to finishing sixth in the AL in ERA, Springs allowed three runs or fewer in 22 of 25 starts and two runs or fewer 17 times. He joined Tampa Bay’s rotation on May 9, gradually increasing his workload over his next six appearances. Springs was 6-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break.

Arbitration hearings start next week and the Rays remain with the most players scheduled to appear before three-person panels.

Springs had asked for a raise from $947,500 to $3.55 million and had been offered $2.7 million. Tampa remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam, Pete Fairbanks and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.

Tampa Bay also agreed minor league contacts with catcher Gavin Collins and right-hander Jaime Schultz, who will report to major league spring training.

Infielder Austin Shenton and pitchers Anthony Molina and Joe LaSorsa also were invited to big league spring training.