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.

Fultz a perfect fit, but do Kings have assets required to trade up?

Fultz a perfect fit, but do Kings have assets required to trade up?

It’s lonely at the top, which is where Markelle Fultz sits on almost every 2017 NBA Draft board. The Brooklyn Nets should be set for the next decade with a big time scoring point guard. Instead, it’s the Boston Celtics who have no choice but to take Fultz with the No. 1 overall selection after a savvy trade that sent veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets for a stack of picks and players back in 2013.

Fultz can do it all. He’s deadly from the outside, he can take you off the bounce and he has elite passing skills to boot. In a draft packed with star potential, specifically at the point guard position, the freshman from Washington stands out well above the rest.  

It would take a major shake up at the top for Fultz not to have his name called first on draft night, but there are plenty of very talented players sitting on the board behind him. Here is a deeper look at the potential top overall selection.

The Positives:
Fultz has tremendous size, length and athleticism for an NBA point guard. He measured in at 6-foot-5, 195-pounds with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and has a frame built to take on muscle. At just 19-years-old, he is already well defined physically and has plenty of room to grow and get stronger.

A crafty, high-end scorer, Fultz changes speed and direction well and has an advanced Euro-step for a young player. He averaged 23.2 points in 35.7 minutes a night for the Huskies while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three. He can score from all three levels, finish well above the rim and play through contact.

In his lone season in college, Fultz showed that he is not only a legitimate scoring threat, but he is a willing passer and an unselfish teammate. While Lonzo Ball is considered the true pass first point guard of the draft, Fultz had a higher assist rate (35.5 to 31.5) and lower turnover rate (13.4 to 18.2) than the star guard from UCLA.

Fultz rebounds well for his position, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game at Washington. He also has potential as a defender, posting 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks, although he is a work in progress on that end of the floor.

Known as a high-character kid and tireless worker off the court, Fultz has the entire package. He can also play the lead or shooting guard spot, which will come in handy if the Celtics decide to pair him with All-Star Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt.

The Negatives:
9-16 is a concern. Great college players should be able to will their team to victory, even if the talent around them is suspect. Washington was certainly worse off without Fultz down the stretch, losing their last six while he sat with a knee injury.

Shot selection and sloppy ball handling was also an issue this season. In Fultz’ defense, he played with a group that lacked overall talent and those issues might eventually disappear when he’s added to a roster that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.  

Fultz is a quality chase down defender, but he fell asleep on plenty of plays or didn’t show a consistent fight on the defensive end. Lack of focus allowed for plenty of back cuts. He also showed an inconsistent effort fighting through screens.

He’s a work in progress on the defensive end, like most young players coming into the league. Most of these issues can easily be coached out of him at the next level.

Projection:
Fultz has an advanced feel and tons of room to expand his game. On the court, he resembles another former Husky in Brandon Roy. Fultz is much further along than Roy was at the same age, but possesses both the ability to score from anywhere on the court, as well as rebound and set up his teammates.  

It’s hard to imagine the Celtics passing on Fultz with the top overall selection, but if they do, teams will scramble trying to move up to select him. He would fit perfectly in the Kings starting backcourt alongside sophomore Buddy Hield, but Sacramento lacks the assets to move from five to one, Fultz’ likely landing spot.

 

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- The blisters on Johnny Cueto's middle and index fingers that limited his effectiveness in his last few starts haven't yet completely healed.

But the two-time All-Star is learning to pitch with them.

Cueto threw six strong innings and Brandon Crawford drove in three runs as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves 7-1 on Sunday.

Cueto (5-4) bounced back from his roughest stretch as a Giant. He was 0-3 with a 4.33 ERA in his previous four starts.

"They're not bothering me like they were before," Cueto said through a translator. "I'm just getting used to it but I have to continue pitching until they get better."

The Giants won their third straight home series and posted their 11th victory in 18 games overall.

Crawford's two-run single highlighted a four-run second against R.A. Dickey (3-4) that made it 6-0.

Matt Kemp had three hits for Atlanta. But the Braves couldn't get much going against Cueto, who allowed one run on six hits and a walk. Cueto struck out eight, including five in a row at one point.

"He did what he needed to do to get us out," Kemp said. "We had chances to score runs and we didn't. I think in this series we really didn't do a good score of scoring runs."

Dickey allowed a season-high seven runs (six earned) on six hits and five walks in six innings.

"This can be a challenging place to throw because of the wind because it swirls so much," Dickey said.

Eduardo Nunez and Gorkys Hernandez each had two hits for the Giants. Joe Panik tripled to start the second-inning burst.

Cueto had two productive at-bats, bunting a runner to second in the second inning and driving in a run with a sacrifice fly in the third.

"It's always nice to have a lead and I thought Johnny was the sharpest he'd been this year," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "Hopefully it's something he can build on. The changeup was working really well and his command of the fastball was really good."

Posey was 0 for 2 with two walks. He hasn't struck out in 55 consecutive plate appearances.

FUN FACTOR:
The Giants scored the game's first run when Nunez came around from third when a knuckleball glanced off catcher Kurt Suzuki glove in the bottom of the first. The play was ruled a passed ball. Asked if he had any empathy for the plight of his counterpart, Posey said "Yes, no question. It's not fun to hit, it doesn't look fun to catch, either."

FANCY FIELDING:
Hernandez made a diving catch in the gap in left-center robbing Emilio Bonifacio of an extra-base hit with one out in the seventh inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM:
Braves: 2B Brandon Phillips left in the fifth for pinch-hitter Jace Peterson. Phillips fouled a ball off his foot in his last at-bat in the third.

Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner will start his throwing program on Friday, manager Bruce Bochy said. Bumgarner will start out playing catch and make five rehab starts. The 2014 World Series MVP suffered a separated left shoulder in a dirt biking accident. "The progress is happening," Bochy said. "I think he sees light at the end of the tunnel." ... Slumping rookie INF Christian Arroyo was out of the lineup on Sunday and his playing status appears uncertain. Arroyo, who turns 22 on Tuesday, is 0 for 19 in his last five games. "I'll talk to him, about what his situation is," Bochy said. "I'm definitely planning on giving him a couple of days" off.

UP NEXT:
Braves: RHP Julio Teheran will make his first career start against the Angels in Anaheim on Monday. He is 3-9 with a 5.63 ERA in 15 career interleague starts.

Giants: LHP Matt Moore will face the Nationals for the second time in his career. He was with Tampa Bay when he gave up two runs in five innings against Washington in 2012.