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Kyle Freeland, Jon Lester delayed postseason bullpen-palooza

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Kyle Freeland and Jon Lester were not Jack Morris and John Smoltz redux, but in an age where managers openly talk about hoping a postseason starter makes it through four innings, last night’s Wild Card game was a welcome reminder that, occasionally, starting pitchers are allowed to be starting pitchers in the postseason.

Freeland was working on short rest but you wouldn’t know it. His velocity was a tick higher than usual and his command was excellent. He was able to place his slider exactly where he wanted it and seemed to have Cubs batters off balance all night. He pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning, which is practically unheard of in modern postseason baseball, and that paid off for the Rockies when the game went 13 innings and Bud Black was allowed to use his best relievers when it mattered most.

Yeah, the Cubs lost, but hats off to Jon Lester too. The Cubs bullpen was on fumes after heavy use throughout most of September and in Monday’s tiebreaker game against the Brewers. His early trouble — the leadoff walk to Charlie Blackmon and the ground rule double to D.J. LeMahieu which moved him to third — ended up being huge in a close, low-scoring game. But that’s on the offense, not on Lester. As it was he kept the Cubs in the game, allowing only one run on four hits over six, while striking out nine.

It was a thirteen inning game so, obviously, there were a great many relief pitchers deployed last night, but I gotta say, it was really nice to see two starters work for as long as they did. It helped build the tension and the drama. It helped me stay engaged in a way that I have trouble staying engaged when a parade of relievers begins in the third or fourth inning. Yes, I know that’s partially my problem. I’m not trying to play some judgmental “get off my lawn” card here and wish baseball would only conform to the way I like it best. The game changes. I’m just being honest about what engages me and what does not.

I don’t expect the pattern to hold in the playoffs — we’re going to see a TON of relief pitchers, early and often, in almost every game — but it was nice to have something approaching traditional starting pitcher usage for at least one night.

Yasmani Grandal signs a four-year, $73 million deal with the White Sox

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The first truly big free agent signing of the offseason has gone down: the Chicago White Sox just announced that they have signed catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal.

Grandal, 31, was the best catcher available in free agency. He is coming off a fine year with the Milwaukee Brewers, with whom he had to settle for a one-year pact in 2019. He hit .246/.380/.468 with 28 homers and 77 driven in. It was his fourth straight season with 20+ homers. While his catching has been criticized due to some high-profile mistakes in the postseason, the two-time All-Star once again proved himself to be one of the best pitch-framers in the game if not the best. Between the bat and the glove he has a claim to being one of the best all-around catchers in baseball.

The signing leaves open the question of what happens to James McCann, who was himself an All-Star this year. It’s not that hard a question, of course, as Grandal is a far superior catcher to McCann in every respect. The Sox could make McCann a backup. Alternatively, they could try to trade him to fill other holes on the roster.

The White Sox finished 72-89 in 2019 but are showing signs of coming out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. This signing pushes them a big step into that direction.