Posted on: October 5, 2011 8:45 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 9:34 pm

Cardinals win sets up 'dream matchup' in Game 5

ST. LOUIS -- The Phillies didn't want or need this tension.

Baseball should love it.

The Phillies and Cardinals are headed to Game 5. That means Roy Halladay is headed for a meeting with Chris Carpenter.

The Phillies didn't want it, because the alternative was celebrating Wednesday night in St. Louis and heading to their fourth straight National League Championship Series. Instead, they'll play Game 5, because the other Roy (Oswalt) gave up a two-run double and a two-run home run to David Freese, and the Cardinals won Game 4, 5-3.

And now it's Halladay vs. Carpenter, in a matchup of ex-Blue Jays teammates who have gone on to win Cy Youngs elsewhere.

Perfect (even if the Phillies don't agree).

"I think it's a dream matchup because the two guys are great," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Wednesday afternoon. "They have maintained a relationship. I mean, you can't ask for anything better scripted than that.

"It's as special as it gets."

This Phillies-Cardinals series has already been special, with close games and comebacks. It deserved a Game 5.

And now it gets one.

Posted on: October 5, 2011 3:19 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 4:57 pm

Holliday in Cardinals Game 4 lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Matt Holliday has made it back into Tony La Russa's Cardinals lineup for Game 4.

La Russa said Wednesday afternoon that he actually made out two Game 4 lineups, one with Holliday and one without him. He said a decision on whether Holliday plays would come after Holliday takes batting practice and tries to throw before the 8:07 ET game, which the Cardinals must win to keep their season alive.

But Holliday said after batting practice he intends to play. "I'm good enough," said Holliday. "I can help the team in some way. That's all I'm hoping to do."

Holliday hurt his right middle finger on Sept. 13 in Pittsburgh, and he has played sparingly since then. He has just two at-bats in the series with the Phillies, and the Cardinals even considered replacing him on the roster.

Category: MLB
Posted on: October 4, 2011 8:21 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 10:52 pm

Game 3 concerned Phils, but they win it

ST. LOUIS -- This was the game the Phillies were concerned about.

They knew the numbers. They knew Jaime Garcia has dominated them. They knew that basically every hitter they would send to the plate has terrible career numbers against the young Cardinals left-hander.

Hey, numbers aren't everything.

Ben Francisco was 1-for-9 against Garcia when Charlie Manuel sent him up to pinch hit in the seventh inning (and, according to baseball-reference.com, the hit was an infield single). Now he's 2-for-10, and the second hit was a three-run home run that gave the Phillies a 3-2 Game 3 win and turned this series decidedly in their favor.

Garcia was very good again Tuesday. Before Francisco's home run, the Phillies had just four hits, all of them singles, in 6 2/3 scoreless innings. But an inning that began with a Shane Victorino single took a bad turn for the Cardinals when a two-out Yadier Molina passed ball led to a Tony La Russa intentional walk of Carlos Ruiz.

That brought Francisco to hit for Cole Hamels, who had already thrown 117 pitches in six shutout innings. Francisco had just the one hit off Garcia, but he did have a long fly ball against him, a couple of weeks back in Philadelphia.

"I almost hit one out, hit it to the wall," Francisco said. "That night, I wanted that pitch back."

This time, Garcia wanted it back, after it turned into the home run that changed the game.

It did not win the game, simply because the Phillies still had nine outs to get, and their bullpen is a huge postseason question.

With the help of Vance Worley (a regular-season starter), and with Ryan Madson's first five-out save since 2009 (and just his third ever), the Phillies got the job done in this game.

They've gotten past the dangerous Garcia, who had them so nervous, and they're one win away from qualifying for their fourth straight National League Championship Series.

And now the pitching matchups seem to be in their favor.

Roy Oswalt goes against Edwin Jackson in Wednesday's Game 4. And even if the Cardinals win that one, the Phillies feel ultra-confident with Roy Halladay ready (against Chris Carpenter) in a potential Game 5 back in Philadelphia.

This was the game that really worried them, the game that had turned this series into such a worry.

No thanks to the numbers, they won it.

Posted on: October 4, 2011 5:48 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 8:08 pm

Holliday pinch hits, could return to Cards lineup

ST. LOUIS -- When Matt Holliday is healthy, the Cardinals may have the best 3-4-5 combination in baseball.

The Cardinals now have some hope that they'll have it again before this postseason ends.

After a favorable checkup on his troublesome finger on Monday, and an encouraging batting practice session Tuesday afternoon, Holliday pinch hit for the Cardinals in Tuesday night's Game 3, and delivered a single. Two days after the Cardinals considered replacing him on the playoff roster, there's now hope that Holliday could even return to his regular spot in the lineup.

"It feels pretty good," Holliday said before Game 3.

In that regular Cardinals lineup, Holliday hits between Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, both of whom should finish high in this year's National League MVP voting. Holliday was limited to 124 games because of various injuries, but he still hit .296 with 22 home runs and 75 RBI.

In Holliday's checkup Monday, doctors considered giving Holliday an injection, but decided against it. They also told him that the injury won't get worse if he plays with it, so that the main issues are pain-tolerance and how effective he can be.

Holliday said he still hasn't tested the finger by trying to throw, but he also said he thinks the bigger question was how much it would bother him when he hit.

The answer he gave after batting practice Tuesday is that he is again available to pinch hit. And that he could be available for even more.

Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:36 pm

3 to Watch: The Yankees' chance edition

NEW YORK -- The Phillies haven't won since they clinched the National League East.

The Tigers have lost three of five since they clinched the American League Central.

And Thursday, the Yankees played a Triple-A lineup, committed four errors and lost 15-8 to the Rays, the day after clinching the AL East.

What happens next will be more interesting.

What happens next is Yankees-Red Sox, giving the Yankees a chance to push their biggest rivals a few steps further towards what would be an embarrassing collapse.

Could the Yankees possibly sleepwalk through three more days, at the risk of giving the Red Sox life?

Johnny Damon says no.

As the Rays designated hitter, Damon is an interested party. But as an ex-Red Sox and ex-Yankee, he understands the dynamics of the rivalry, too. And he fully believes that whether the Yankees say it publicly or not, they want the Red Sox out of the playoffs.

"Yeah, because it's definitely not a good story if the Red Sox beat them in the playoffs," Damon said. "If the Rays beat them, it may not be acceptable, but it's more palatable.

"And they've matched up well against us. We haven't really done anything to show them otherwise."

The Yankees have been in an unusual spot all week, in a sense having control over who wins the AL wild card and who doesn't. For three games against the Rays, they could pretend that they were solely focused on winning the division themselves.

Now that they're in, they'll claim that they're solely focused on setting themselves up for the playoffs. Yes, catcher Russell Martin said Thursday, "I hate the Red Sox," but everywhere else in the Yankee clubhouse they were insisting they don't care who else gets in.

We'll see.

We'll see what lineups manager Joe Girardi runs out there the next three days, and then for three games at Tampa Bay. We'll see what intensity the Yankees play with.

Girardi is absolutely right that his main objective should be to get his team ready. He's right not to start ace CC Sabathia, since Sabathia wouldn't line up well for Game 1 if he starts again during the regular season.

"Our responsibility is to our club," Girardi said Thursday. "That's the bottom line. I have to make sure our guys are healthy, rested and ready to go [for the first playoff game] next Friday."

Hard to blame him for that.

The Phillies did the same thing on the final weekend of last season against the Braves, who were still fighting for a wild-card spot. On the final day of the season, in a game the Braves had to win, Cole Hamels started but pitched just two innings.

The Phils will likely take the same approach next week in Atlanta. The Rangers may do the same in Anaheim, if they clinch the AL West before their series against the Angels begins Monday.

The difference for the Yankees is that each of their final six games could influence the wild-card race.

The difference is that the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with a chance to help knock them out.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Braves, as colleague Scott Miller pointed out, have been collapsing almost as badly as the Red Sox have. They got a break Thursday, when the Cardinals collapsed in the ninth inning against the Mets, but they know that the Cards have a seeming schedule advantage with their final six games against the Cubs and Astros. The Braves will figure they need to win, beginning with Braves at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. The Nats just swept the Phillies, and have won nine of their last 11. And this is a Strasburg game.

2. Yes, it's true, the Red Sox were worried enough about their pitching that they contacted the Mets at one point to try to make a late trade for Chris Capuano. It's true, after starting Jon Lester Friday, the Sox are stuck with no better choices than Tim Wakefield and John Lackey the rest of the weekend. Lackey has a 10.70 ERA in September. Wakefield is at 4.95, heading into a likely meeting with equally bad A.J. Burnett in Red Sox at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

3. There are other games that matter more, with the Angels at home against the A's, the Cardinals at home against the Cubs, the Rangers trying to clinch at home against the Mariners and the Diamondbacks trying to clinch at home against the Giants. But Justin Verlander is going for his 25th win, so 3 to Watch has no choice but to close with Orioles at Tigers, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. No pitcher has won 25 since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 A's, and Welch was the first since Steve Stone won 25 for the 1980 Orioles. The last Tiger to win 25: Denny McLain, when he won 31 in 1968. Verlander, who at this point has to be the American League MVP, is 20-2 with a 1.75 ERA over his last 22 starts, holding opponents to a .188 batting average and a .529 OPS. The last guy with an OPS that low and enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title was Alfredo Griffin, in 1990.

Posted on: September 22, 2011 10:57 am
Edited on: September 22, 2011 11:42 am

Cardinals sign Berkman to extension

The Cardinals have signed Lance Berkman to a one-year contract extension, the team announced Thursday morning. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Berkman will get $12 million.

Berkman, who will turn 36 in February, has been one of the more pleasant surprises this year. He was an early candidate for National League MVP, and while he won't win it, his numbers (31 home runs, 91 RBI and a .967 OPS) are still outstanding. Berkman leads the league in OPS+, which attempts to adjust numbers based on a player's ballpark.

Berkman is the second Cardinal to sign an extension this month, joining pitcher Chris Carpenter, as the Cardinals clear their offseason schedule to deal with Albert Pujols. While the thinking in baseball has been that Pujols is most likely to stay in St. Louis, that's hardly guaranteed.

Berkman has been a much better than expected defender in right field this year, but he could become the Cardinals first baseman if Pujols leaves.

Berkman's career seemed to be nearing an end last year, when he hit just .245 in the final 85 games of his 12-year career with the Astros, then didn't contribute much to the Yankees after going to New York in a midseason trade. The Cardinals were widely panned for their decision to sign him to an $8 million, one-year contract, especially since Pujols' presence meant that Berkman would be playing more or less exclusively in the outfield.

Even this spring, when Berkman was limited by a sore elbow, the deal seemed like a big risk.

But it worked out, so well that there's no question it's the right move by the Cards to bring Berkman back for another year.

Category: MLB
Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:15 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 2:38 pm

Up 3, 13 to play

BOSTON -- Teams don't blow nine-game leads in September. It just doesn't happen.

Teams do blow three-game leads with 13 games to play. That does happen.

That has happened.

In fact, it's not hard to find teams that have led by four games, or even five games, with 13 games to play, and still missed the playoffs.

The 1951 Dodgers (four games) did it, although it took maybe the most famous home run of all time.

The 1964 Phillies (5 1/2 games) did it, although it took a collapse that tarnished Gene Mauch's legacy for the rest of his life.

The 1995 Angels, the 2009 Tigers and the 2007 Padres (all three games) did it, too. So did the 1934 Giants (3 1/2 games), the 1962 Dodgers (four games) , the 1965 Giants (3 1/2 games) and the 1938 Pirates (3 1/2 games).

The point isn't that the Red Sox are going to miss the playoffs. Most likely, they won't.

The point is that they've moved from "It can't happen because it's never happened," to "It could happen, but it would still be historic."

And yes, the same goes for the Rangers (up 3 1/2 games on the Angels in the American League West), and even the Braves (up 4 1/2 games on the Cardinals for the National League wild card).

Oh, and Mets fans, your 2007 team doesn't make the list. While they were up seven games on the Phillies with 17 games left, the lead was already down to 2 1/2 games by the time the Mets had played their 149th game (and had 13 remaining).

The 1978 Red Sox aren't on the list, either. They led the Yankees by seven games entering September, but led by 2 1/2 with 13 games left.
Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:58 am

3 to Watch: The Beckett edition

BOSTON -- If Josh Beckett loses Friday night, maybe the Red Sox don't get to the playoffs.

But if Josh Beckett doesn't look healthy Friday night, maybe it doesn't matter whether the Red Sox get to the playoffs.

Not to put too much on Beckett, but there might not be a more important player in baseball to watch this weekend. At this point, there's no way there's a more important player on the Red Sox.

The Sox already have a wounded starting rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the year, Clay Buchholz still not certain to return (and unlikely to start), and John Lackey owning the worst ERA in the big leagues (6.19) for anyone allowed to make 16 or more starts.

Lackey is still Boston's third starter, and the Red Sox really don't have a fourth or fifth starter. They may be in trouble in October (if they get there), anyway.

But with a healthy Beckett to team with Jon Lester atop the rotation, and a lineup that can still be very dangerous, they'd have a chance.

There's a reason the Red Sox are 19-8 in games Beckett has started this year. There's a reason that Beckett is the one Boston starter that the Rays worry about (they have no runs and two hits in 17 innings against him this year).

There's a reason I wrote, barely two weeks ago, that Beckett was the biggest difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Just six days after I wrote that, Beckett sprained his right ankle in a Sept. 5 start in Toronto. He hasn't pitched since.

The Red Sox say he's healthy now. They say he should be fine, and under no real limitations, for Friday's start against the Rays.

The Red Sox also have a habit of not always being entirely truthful about injuries.

Is Beckett healthy? For Boston's sake, he'd better be.

Without him, they don't stand much chance in October. Without him, they may not even need to worry about October.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. No matter how good or how healthy Beckett is, there's no guarantee he wins, in Rays at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. That's because James Shields is pitching for the Rays, and Shields has two (of his 11) complete games, and one (of his four) shutouts against Boston. Shields hasn't lost to anyone since Aug. 16, when he gave up just three runs on three hits in a complete-game 3-1 loss to Lester at Fenway. As Shields pointed out Thursday, his six final regular-season starts will be Texas, Texas, Boston, Boston, New York, New York. He's halfway through that tough six-game stretch, and so far he's 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA.  The 29-year-old Shields is the oldest of the Rays' starters. In fact, if he's still around next year (they could trade him), Shields would be the guy who ends Tampa Bay's major-league record streak of consecutive starts by pitchers under 30 (currently at 751 games).

2. The first team to clinch a playoff spot was the Phillies, who did it earlier this week. But they didn't celebrate, waiting to clinch the division first. So the first team to spray champagne could be the Phillies, whose magic number is two going into Cardinals at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park (they'd also need a Braves loss to the Mets); or the Tigers, whose magic number is one going into Tigers at A's, Friday night (10:07 ET) at the Coliseum (they could also clinch with an Indians loss in Minnesota). The Phillies starter is Vance Worley, who might not make the playoff rotation but would be second or third for the Yankees or Red Sox. The Tigers starter is Doug Fister, who the Yankees and Red Sox probably should have tried harder to trade for in July.

3. Like the Rays, the Angels aren't done yet. They're 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the American League West, and four games back of the Red Sox in the wild card. Unlike the Rays, the Angels don't have five dependable starters. That's why the Angels will bring ace Jered Weaver back on three days' rest to start in Angels at Orioles, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Camden Yards. By starting Weaver on short rest now, the Angels will be able to start him on normal rest in their final series of the season, against the Rangers.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com