Cubs

Cardinals clinch NL Central, will host Cubs or Pirates in NLDS

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Cardinals clinch NL Central, will host Cubs or Pirates in NLDS

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals are back in a familiar spot: on top of the NL Central looking down at everyone else.

Jason Heyward's third-inning grand slam powered the Cardinals over the Pittsburgh Pirates 11-1 in the second game of a doubleheader on Wednesday night, giving St. Louis its third straight division title and 11th since 1994.

This one may be among the most impressive. The Cardinals and assured themselves of the best record in the majors this season despite losing several stars to injury for long stretches.

Heyward's shot off Bobby LaFromboise, who replaced an ineffective Charlie Morton (9-9), gave St. Louis an early six-run lead. Tyler Lyons (3-1) had little trouble making it hold up as the Cardinals reached the 100-win plateau for the ninth time.

St. Louis players jogged out of their dugout to the infield in a businesslike celebration of their fifth straight postseason berth. Their season-long run atop baseball's most competitive division — and the ease in which the team did it — is all the more stunning considering the obstacles it had to overcome.

The Cardinals held off the Pirates and the Chicago Cubs even though ace Adam Wainwright, sluggers Matt Holliday and Matt Adams and high-profile relievers Jordan Walden and Matt Belisle spent large chunks of the season on the disabled list.

Wainwright returned from a torn left Achilles to pitch one inning of mop-up duty during an 8-2 loss in the opener, his astounding recovery four months ahead of schedule. Even made Pirates manager Clint Hurdle break out in applause when Wainwright raced in from the bullpen in the eighth inning of the opener.

Yet to Wainwright, watching what the Cardinals did without him was just as impressive.

"I'm ridiculously impressed," the three-time All-Star said on Tuesday, hours before being activated off the DL. "I think if you asked anybody in the distinguished media before the season if (we) lost (our) No. 1 pitcher and No. 3 hitter, No. 4 hitter and two set-up guys … nobody would have us (here)."

Certainly not the Pirates, who have spent the last four months breathlessly trying to track down the Cardinals only to come up short even though they have the second-best record in the majors. Pittsburgh will play in the wild-card round for the third straight year when it faces the Cubs next Wednesday, with the site still to be determined.

The Pirates missed a chance to inject some real drama into the final week of the regular season when it left 16 runners on base in a 3-0 loss on Monday night. Though Gerrit Cole threw seven strong innings in the opener on Wednesday to briefly pull the Pirates within three games, the Cardinals wasted little time getting to Morton, just like always.

Morton came in winless against St. Louis since April 4, 2011, a span of 11 starts. Tasked with forcing the Cardinals to wrap up the division in Atlanta on Friday, Morton faltered against his long-time nemesis once again.

Carpenter led off the game with a triple to the gap in left-center, with normally sure handed Pittsburgh outfielders Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen letting the ball scoot between them. Carpenter scored on a double play, Heyward singled and then scored on a double by Adams.

Morton temporarily gathered himself only to unravel completely in the third. Carpenter doubled, Morton hit Jon Jay with a pitch and walked Jhonny Peralta. LaFromboise came in for Morton only to watch Heyward send his fourth pitch streaking into the seats in right-center to make it 6-0 and send the attendants in the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park scrambling to prepare for a postgame celebration.

Lyons, who has struggled while starting this season, didn't let the cushion go to waste. He gave up four hits in seven innings, striking out five without a walk.

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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