That was really the best the NL has to offer?

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No juggernauts here.

The Cardinals just beat the Brewers in a six-game series despite not having any one of their starters pitch more than five innings. There simply wasn’t a quality start in the bunch.

But then, maybe beat is the wrong word. Unless one wants to apply to what the Brewers did to themselves. Seven errors in the final two games of the series. Everyone knew defense was Milwaukee’s weak link, but it never figured to manifest itself so obviously. Besides the seven errors, there were at least a half-dozen plays that should have been made and weren’t in the team’s final two losses.

So, the NL Central-only NLCS was a bust. As probably should have been anticipated given it’s status as baseball’s worst division. Those six teams combined to go 226-270 outside of the division this year, a .456 winning percentage.

At least these Cardinals are better than their last World Series team. In 2006, the Cards won the Central with an 83-78 record, edged the Mets in seven games in the NLCS and then took down the Tigers in five games in the World Series.

Still, it figures to be a more difficult assignment this time around. The Rangers aren’t going to fumble the ball around like those Tigers (eight errors in five games) or the Brewers did. They also have a bullpen that can match the Cardinals’ and greater depth in the lineup, even in games without the DH.

The Cardinals deserve all kinds of credit for what they’ve done so far. Overcoming a 10 1/2-game deficit to make it to October, taking out the heavy favorites in the Phillies in five games in the NLDS and then surviving a series against the Brewers in which their starters gave them next to nothing. They’re battlers alright.

Unfortunately, they’re battlers who are probably going to get battered if they don’t get a whole lot more from Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Edwin Jackson this week.

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.