The Cardinals are on the brink of the WS

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The Cardinals are on the brink of the WS

From Comcast SportsNetST. LOUIS (AP) -- The St. Louis Cardinals are oh so close. They know better than to start celebrating yet.To a man, the defending World Series champions kept their latest victory in perspective Thursday night. Before cashing in another wild-card run to a second straight pennant, they've still got to beat the San Francisco Giants one more time."We're not taking the last game to get into the World Series for granted," Matt Holliday said after an 8-3 win put St. Louis up 3-1 in the best-of-seven NL championship series with a chance to wrap it up at home. "The Giants have proven they're a great team and they had their backs to the wall against the Reds."Seated next to Holliday on the podium, Adam Wainwright chimed in: "Well said."The Giants won three straight to eliminate Cincinnati in the division series. Now they have to do it again against a team that appears to have everything working."They do have something, there's no getting around that," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's not over. We've been in this position. We know it's an uphill battle, but we've been here before."The Giants are in a hole after Wainwright threw seven innings of four-hit ball and St. Louis' offense roughed up Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco bullpen."This is where we are and what we've got to deal with," Hunter Pence said. "The last series we were down in a similar situation, but this is a new series."The Cardinals can close it out at home Friday night in Game 5. Lance Lynn faces Giants lefty Barry Zito, and a St. Louis win would set up a 2006 World Series rematch with Detroit.Plus, the Cardinals could have Carlos Beltran back in the lineup. Beltran missed virtually all of Games 3 and 4 with a left knee strain but is optimistic about playing in Game 5 after doing some jogging and hitting indoors Thursday."Right now, the plan is to come in tomorrow and do what I have to do in order to be in the lineup," said Beltran, who is batting .375 in the postseason with three homers and six RBIs. "Today was a better day for me, better than yesterday."Tomorrow is the day I need to go for it."Holliday, Jon Jay and Yadier Molina had two RBIs apiece to lead a 12-hit outburst by a team that batted just .198 through the first three games of the series.Lincecum was a bust in his first postseason start since the 2010 World Series clincher over Texas, giving up four runs in 4 2-3 innings."That second inning was a little bit laborious, but the third and fourth were a little bit better and I thought I was going to carry it further in the game," Lincecum said. "I ran into some bumps in that fifth."The two-time Cy Young Award winner with the quirky delivery earned a shot based on nearly spotless relief work earlier in the postseason but reverted to regular-season form, when he was 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA, worst among qualifying starters in the National League.Wainwright was a glorified cheerleader while rehabbing from reconstructive elbow surgery during the Cardinals' improbable title drive last fall. They earned the wild card on the final day of the season and then upset the favored Phillies, Brewers and Rangers to give manager Tony La Russa a chance to retire on top.Under rookie manager Mike Matheny, the 88-win Cardinals were the final team to qualify this year, too. Once again, they've stepped up their game.Wainwright bounced back from a poor outing in Game 5 of the NL division series against Washington, striking out five and walking none for his first postseason victory as a starter."It was a big motivator," he said. "I know that I'm good enough to pitch in the postseason, to carry this team deep into the game, give them a quality game, a quality outing. Last time I didn't do it, but I knew tonight if I just believed in myself and went out there and executed pitches I would be in good shape."The lone damage against Wainwright came on Pence's first homer and RBI of the postseason, a second-inning clout estimated at 451 feet that soared over the visitor's bullpen into the left-center bleachers to cut the Cardinals' lead to 2-1.Now, the 14-game winner can just about taste his first World Series as an active player since striking out Brandon Inge as the stand-in closer for injured Jason Isringhausen in the 2006 clincher over the Tigers."This whole experience is so special as it is," Wainwright said. "But to get back to that World Series is always the way to go."Holliday wasn't surprised by Wainwright's strong performance."You expect Adam to pitch well and pitch like an ace, and he did," Holliday said. "His curveball was really good. He located his fastball. No surprise. We all expect Adam to pitch the way he pitched tonight, but sometimes things like the Washington game happen. But he's tough as nails. We knew he'd pitch well."Just 12 pitches in, the Cardinals had two hits and the lead, and Lincecum got a visit from pitching coach Dave Righetti. Jay opened the first with a single, Matt Carpenter walked on four pitches and Holliday singled up the middle for the lead. Allen Craig tacked on a sacrifice fly.Lincecum escaped trouble in the second after issuing two more walks, one of them on five pitches to Wainwright. The Cardinals missed a chance to add on after Pete Kozma reached on third baseman Pablo Sandoval's fielding error to open the inning when he was thrown out trying to steal.Lincecum had retired eight in a row before running into trouble in the fifth.Carpenter doubled off the top of the wall in right-center with one out. He held up until Holliday's single fell in front of fast-charging center fielder Angel Pagan, but third base coach Jose Oquendo aggressively waved Carpenter home.The relay from shortstop Brandon Crawford was in time, but it short-hopped catcher Hector Sanchez and Carpenter scored on a headfirst slide to make it 3-1. Molina's two-out RBI single made it 4-1 and was the knockout blow for Lincecum."He gave us all he had out there," Bochy said. "That was his last inning and he was close to getting out of that inning. He made a great effort on that ball and good throw. We had him at home plate and it's still 2-1. That's a big play in the game."Pence, who called himself "the goat" of Game 3 after stranding seven runners, hit the second-longest home run by an opposing player at 7-year-old Busch Stadium with a drive that sailed over the visitor's bullpen into the bleachers in left-center.Holliday's RBI single was the first RBI by a Cardinals starter since Beltran's two-run homer in the fourth inning of Game 1. Holliday entered 2 for 12 in the NLCS with no RBIs.Sandoval hit a two-run homer in the ninth, but the NL West champs are on the brink of elimination."We have all the confidence in Barry," Bochy said. "We do need to get the bats going. They've been shutting us down."NOTES:Cardinals Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Ozzie Smith made pregame appearances. The 91-year-old Musial toured the warning track in a golf cart while waving to fans and Smith threw out the first pitch. Smith's son, Nikko, a former American Idol finalist, sang the national anthem. ... With Beltran out, Matheny changed the lineup for the first time in the postseason. ... According to STATS LLC, the Giants have faced a 2-1 series deficit eight times in franchise history. They have lost Game 4 each time. ... Wainwright has a 2.48 ERA in 13 postseason appearances, four of them starts.

Melvin ponders where Semien fits best in A's batting order

Melvin ponders where Semien fits best in A's batting order

MESA, Ariz. — Marcus Semien provides the A’s a luxury as a shortstop with great home run power.

With that, an annual question surfaces:

Where is the best spot to hit him in the batting order?

Semien led American League shortstops, and finished second on the A’s, with 27 homers last season, yet he spent the majority of his time hitting seventh or ninth. Given Oakland finished last in the American League in runs last season, would it make sense to move him up higher?

The early indications are that manager Bob Melvin will keep Semien hitting in the bottom third of the order, even though Semien has bounced around in exhibitions so far.

“He and I were talking about that yesterday,” Melvin said Wednesday morning. “I hit him third yesterday. I’ll have him hit second, I think, tomorrow. But boy, it’s a nice little security blanket (hitting him down in the order). And it seems to be that the ‘7’ spot is where (he hits with) some guys on base. It’s nice to have a guy down in the lineup that is that productive.”

Expect Melvin to continue experimenting with different batting-order combos throughout spring training before honing in on a more steady look as late March rolls around. And where he bats Semien will be based, partly, on how Semien’s teammates are performing offensively.

The A’s signed Rajai Davis to be a speedy table-setter from the leadoff spot. They added Matt Joyce and Trevor Plouffe to add some punch through the middle of the lineup. If those three, plus cleanup man Khris Davis, Stephen Vogt, Jed Lowrie and Ryon Healy are producing, it makes more sense to save Semien as a lower-lineup headache for opposing pitchers to deal with. The shortstop’s nine home runs from the No. 9 spot tied for the major league lead in 2016.

And keep in mind, Semien is likely to bat higher against left-handers. He’s a .288 career hitter with a .493 slugging percentage against lefties, compared to .229 and .380 against right-handers. Last season, he made 24 starts in the No. 2 spot.

But where he hits has no bearing on his approach, Semien said.

“I don’t want to try and change what I do based on where I am in the lineup necessarily. I want to become a better hitter no matter what spot I’m in. There was power production from the ‘9’ hole (last season). I hit second a lot against lefties. Either way, whatever is the best chance to win with that lineup that day is what we’ve gotta do.”

Falcons coach Quinn: 49ers' offense, defense in good hands

Falcons coach Quinn: 49ers' offense, defense in good hands

INDIANAPOLIS – Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn believes the 49ers’ offense and defense have capable people charge.

Quinn, speaking Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, has worked on the same staffs with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who will run the team’s offense, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Saleh, who served as Jacksonville’s linebackers coach the past three season, spent one season on the Seattle staff when Quinn was defensive coordinator.

“He has a really good and rock-solid understanding of the principles of playing three-deep and man-to-man,” Quinn said of Saleh. “He’s an excellent teacher. And, I think, as a coordinator that’s a really important thing, especially when you’re first putting the whole thing together so everyone has a real clear understanding and they’re all on the same page. So I think he’ll do a fantastic job.”

Shanahan did not hire an assistant to serve under the title of offensive coordinator. Instead, he will assume those duties with the 49ers while also overseeing the entire operation as head coach. Shanahan has been an NFL offensive coordinator for eight seasons, including the past two under Quinn with the Falcons.

“He is one of the few coaches who has a full understanding – run game, offensive line, quarterback play, receiver play,” Quinn said of Shanahan. “You could put him into any spot on the offense, and he’ll be able to coach that position. That’s a rare trait. There are some guys who are sto strong in one area. It might be in the run game or so strong in the pass game. But he has a really clear understanding how to do the whole thing.

“I never like to see anybody leave the staff, but what I can appreciate is a guy taking a risk to say, ‘Hey, I want to give this a shot and go battle for it.’ So I’m excited for him and the opportunity he has there.”