Labor Day Coffee and Clippings

Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) shares his concerns related to the Cardinals starting pitching…

Before the three-game weekend series in Pittsburgh, I expressed the opinion that the Cardinals would be fine as long as they came out of PNC Park with one win.

I’m not suggesting that losing a series is worthy of applause. But I’m a pragmatist, so let’s be realistic here: When the Cardinals went into PNC Park this season, they were often rattled, intimidated and lacking in confidence. Their starting pitchers — other than Joe Kelly — usually got blown up.

Brian Macpherson (@brianmacp) of the Providence Journal takes a close look at Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s development in Boston…

It’s hard to imagine Jarrod Saltalamacchia having positioned himself much more favorably as he approaches free agency.

The switch-hitting Saltalamacchia has hit .266 with a career-best .337 on-base percentage and .447 slugging percentage while catching about three out of every four games the Red Sox have played this season. He’s hit 35 doubles, ranking him among the leaders in the American League.

Even better, he won’t turn 29 years old until after Opening Day next year — making him a particularly intriguing player for teams wary of spending big money on the players older than 30 that have been such poor bets in recent years.

Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) of the Tampa Bay Times covers the Athletics’ Sweep of the Rays

There really isn’t anything the Rays can change at this point, manager Joe Maddon calmly saying he will continue to use the same hitters in the same ways and wait for them to again start producing the way he confidently insists they can.

But they have to start doing things differently, and soon, before their postseason hopes spiral away.

A three-game sweep by the A’s, capped with a 5-1 defeat Sunday, was the Rays’ seventh loss in the past eight games, dropping them to 75-60, a hefty 5½ games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox with less than a month left, 2½ behind the wild card-leading A’s and, of little consolation, three ahead of the Orioles and 3½ of the Yankees and Indians for the second wild card.

Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) of the Los Angeles Times reports on a scary moment for Zack Greinke and the Dodgers…

But, for one scary moment Sunday, they had visions of disaster.

Not only had Zack Greinke decided the time was right to try to steal second base, he launched into a headfirst slide to get there. With Greinke following Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers might have the most dominant 1-2 pitching punch in postseason play, but the team’s collective heart skipped a beat as Greinke flung himself toward the bag.

“You hold your breath, basically,” infielder Nick Punto said.

Greinke was safe. The Dodgers exhaled, then proceeded to another victory, this one 2-1 over the San Diego Padres. Yasiel Puig hit a home run on Cuban Heritage Day, and the Dodgers extended their lead in the NL West to a season-high 111/2 games.

Ron Cooke of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shares his thoughts on the important of  Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke to the Pirates…

The Pirates love to give the baseball to Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton. They know they are going to get, in many more games than not, a quality start and a chance to win a ballgame. But Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke are going to have to play big parts if the Pirates are going to outlast the St. Louis Cardinals, who pulled even with them atop the National League Central Division standings with a 7-2 thumping Sunday at PNC Park.

Cole, who has been babied just a bit by management to protect his prized right arm, will start Tuesday night in Milwaukee against the Brewers. Locke, who was supposed to start Sunday but was skipped because of ineffectiveness since the All-Star break, is expected to return to the rotation Saturday night in St. Louis. Cole’s and Locke’s starts down the stretch will mean just as much as Liriano’s, Burnett’s and Morton’s.

Kevin Baxter (@kbaxter11) of the LA Times looks at the Dodgers’ pitching as they approach the post season…

Pitching wins. Especially in the playoffs.

That’s one of those baseball adages, like the infield fly rule, that everyone simply accepts but no one has really proved.

“There’s no question pitching’s at a premium because every team in the postseason has a stud at the top of their rotation, and a two and a three and a four that are very good. It’s just a common theme because you can’t really get there without it,” says Dodgers President Stan Kasten.

“Pitching is king,” agrees General Manager Ned Colletti. “If you don’t have pitching, you’re going to need so much offense and such a great defense, that you’re going to find yourself chasing the scoreboard on a lot of days.”

Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) of MassLive steals some bases

Dave Roberts set the standard for pinch-running, late-season success in Boston.

A spiritual successor, pinch-runner and outfielder Quintin Berry, has big shoes to fill.

“That’s a high pedestal, I’m trying to meet it,” Berry said Sunday. “Whatever I can do to help, it doesn’t matter what it is.”

Berry’s addition was one of five the Red Sox made Sunday, the first day for expanded September rosters. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, right-hander Rubby De La Rosa, and infielders Brandon Snyder and John McDonald were added to the team.