Cardinals’ Hit or Miss Offense Is Missing Again

ST. LOUIS — The baseball schedule is so unforgiving that most teams, by the end, know just who they are. The St. Louis Cardinals are still searching, and they are running out of time.

In the first two games of the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals, the Cardinals lost twice and scored just one run. A pinch-hitter, Jose Martinez, was 2 for 2. The rest of the hitters were 2 for 55.

“It’s just pretty obvious,” said Paul Goldschmidt, who singled to break up Max Scherzer’s no-hitter in the seventh inning of Game 2. “You score one run, you’re not going to win many games.”

If you score 10 in the first inning, you have a much better shot. The Cardinals did that in their division series clincher in Atlanta, coasting to a 13-1 victory. But the Nationals have unplugged their offense and hidden the power cord.

“That’s kind of been the story of our season, really,” first baseman Matt Carpenter said. “Our offense, at times, has been hit or miss. We’ve had stretches where we’ve struggled to score and we’ve had stretches where we’ve just poured it on. Hopefully we can get one where we pour it on here in the next couple of days, get some confidence back and get some guys rolling.”

But the Cardinals could not solve the soft-throwing Anibal Sanchez on Friday night, or the hard-throwing Scherzer in the shadows on Saturday afternoon. Now Stephen Strasburg awaits them in Game 3 on Monday at Nationals Park, with Patrick Corbin to follow in Game 4.

Strasburg has 21 strikeouts and one walk in 15 October innings, with a 2.40 earned run average. Corbin, a two-time All-Star, was 8-2 with a 2.40 E.R.A. at home in the regular season.

“I feel like we’re road warriors,” Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong said. “We’ve found our niche on the road; we know how to play on the road. We know the pitchers we’re up against, the odds we’re up against. But that’s what we’re all about. That’s what we love.”

The Cardinals are an unlikely underdog. They are playing in their 10th N.L.C.S. in the last 20 seasons, and their 11 World Series titles are second only to the Yankees’ 27. But they missed the playoffs the last three seasons as the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers took over the N.L. Central, and needed an all-around effort to return.

“This year, we have a complete team that is doing a lot of different things well that we haven’t been doing the last few years,” starter Adam Wainwright said. “This year we played much better defense, this year we ran the bases much better, this year our starting pitching was a little better, this year our bullpen was certainly much better. We have more thump in the middle of our lineup than we’ve had in years.”

The thumpers — Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong and Marcell Ozuna — combined for 94 homers this season. But the Cardinals had only 210 homers over all and 764 runs scored this season, both figures ranking last among teams with winning records.

That sets these Cardinals apart from their last championship team in 2011. Those Cardinals were a wild-card team, but they led the N.L. in runs scored and beat three Philadelphia Phillies aces — Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Roy Halladay — in a first-round upset. They battered another ace, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Zack Greinke, in the N.L.C.S., and ravaged the Texas Rangers’ bullpen in the World Series.

This time, the Nationals’ aces have dispatched the Cardinals with ease, and relievers Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson — who returned to save Game 2 after missing the opener for the birth of his daughter — have been sharp this month.

The Cardinals have hope in Game 3 because of their starter, Jack Flaherty, a 23-year-old right-hander with a 1.13 E.R.A., postseason included, since the All-Star break. The rookie Dakota Hudson, a 16-game winner in the regular season, will start Game 4.

“This series is far from over, and we have a guy going that’s really the best guy in baseball in the second half, undisputed, going for us on Monday,” Manager Mike Shildt said, referring to Flaherty. “I’m very optimistic, still, about this series.”

This is how the Cardinals scripted it, after all, managing their young pitchers’ workloads so they would be available in October. It was a deliberate effort not to repeat the Nationals’ infamous decision to shut down Strasburg before the 2012 playoffs to protect his long-term health. The Cardinals beat Washington in the division series that fall, and it took four more tries for the Nationals to advance to the N.L.C.S.

Now that they have, they seem eager to make it a short stay. They could be just two games away from the World Series, which has not come to Washington since 1933.

“The atmosphere in the playoffs at Nationals Park has been incredible,” Scherzer said. “They come out and they go nuts from the first pitch. So I have a feeling it’s even going to be more crazy given what we have done, and really our first postseason win as an organization. I think it means a lot to everybody in D.C.”

Unless the Cardinals quickly solve Scherzer’s fellow pitchers, the District can start planning the party.

2 Outs? 2 Strikes? No Problem for Dodgers

WASHINGTON — In the first inning of their first World Series game, in 1916, the Brooklyn Robins went down in order against the Red Sox at Braves Field in Boston. A young right fielder named Casey Stengel made the third out.

The Robins did mount a rally that day, with four runs in the ninth, and in later years they would score as many as six runs in various October frames. But in 33 trips to the postseason, across more than 2,150 innings, the franchise now known as the Los Angeles Dodgers had never produced anything like the sixth inning at Nationals Park on Sunday night.

The Dodgers seized Game 3 of this National League division series by scoring seven times in the sixth. They had entered the back half of the game by then, trailing by a run, and they knew who awaits them in Monday’s fourth game: Max Scherzer, the ferocious right-hander who might as well have been pacing in a cage at the zoo in Woodley Park.

“You know he’s going to be crazy on the mound, staring at you,” said Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers’ star center fielder. “You’ve got to be ready for it.”

The sixth inning assured that the Dodgers would face Scherzer in an enviable spot: trying to advance to the N.L. Championship Series, not trying to avoid elimination. Their outburst off Patrick Corbin and Wander Suero lifted them to a 10-4 victory and a two-games-to-one lead in the series.

“The Dodgers showed up in the sixth inning,” said the utility man Enrique Hernandez, and that is always a scary thought for their rivals.

The Dodgers, at their best, have been unbeatable lately in the N.L. playoffs. They are trying to become the first N.L. team to win three consecutive pennants since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, and while they still have not won a World Series, they keep taking their chances with a lineup that can counter any pitching change.

For five innings on Sunday, the Dodgers struggled to solve Anibal Sanchez, a wily junkballer who struck them out nine times. “He gave us all he had,” said Nationals Manager Dave Martinez, who eagerly deployed Corbin for the sixth, unleashing one of the few reliable pitchers on his staff.

Corbin signed a six-year, $140 million contract last winter and lived up to the deal, going 14-7 and pitching well in defeat in Game 1. He has one of the game’s best sliders, and is crafty enough to shape the pitch to counteract a hitter’s swing path.

“I don’t mind lefties,” said the Dodgers’ David Freese, “but man, he’s tough.”

The Dodgers started the sixth with Bellinger and Corey Seager, elite left-handed hitters who are not removed for pinch-hitters. Bellinger singled for his first hit of the series, but Seager and the next hitter, A.J. Pollock, struck out.

Now was the chance for Dave Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager, to flip his lineup and grab the platoon advantage. Three of the next four batters were right-handed pinch-hitters — Freese, Chris Taylor and Hernandez — and all would reach base and score.

“I loved the matchups to combat Corbin,” Roberts said. “It’s just a complete buy-in from our guys that you might not start the game, but you certainly have an opportunity later on in the game to impact it.”

The Nationals’ infielders shifted Freese up the middle, and he rolled a single through the wide hole at second base. He was not trying to do it, Freese said, but managed to fight off an inside pitch and send it to the right spot.

Catcher Russell Martin came up next; he had fanned twice against Sanchez, but as a right-handed hitter, he matched up better with Corbin and doubled off the wall to score two runs.

Martin, who added a home run later, is playing in his 10th postseason. He has never reached the World Series, and his playoff average before the double was .183. At 36, he said, he had learned a few things since his first trip to the postseason in 2006.

“I’m definitely calmer now,” Martin said. “I’ve always been an intense baseball player and just person in general, but I think now I just know how to take a deep breath. I had a lot of yoga classes in between those games and now.”

Like Bellinger, Martin had been down 0-2 before connecting on his hit in the sixth. So were Hernandez — who also doubled in two — and Justin Turner, who clubbed a three-run homer off Suero. All the runs scored with two outs.

“Definitely at two strikes you’ve got to take it seriously; you can’t assume your at-bat is over,” said Freese, who had one of baseball’s most famous two-strike, two-out hits, a game-tying triple in the 2011 World Series when the St. Louis Cardinals were facing elimination against the Texas Rangers.

“You look at the best guys that ever played this game, they look like they like two strikes. I watched Albert Pujols do it for 10 years, living in St. Louis and playing with him. Guys like that, it’s incredible.”

The Dodgers were all like that in the sixth, and there was not much Corbin could say. He had not pitched in relief in three years, but did not blame the unfamiliar role or the impact of pitching with just two days’ rest. His sliders simply lacked their usual bite.

“It just stinks,” Corbin said. “I feel like I let these guys down.”

The Dodgers have that effect on N.L. pitchers at this time of year. But they had never scored quite so emphatically, in such a short burst, in all of their many Octobers.

Why Are the Nationals Different? Here Are 140 Million Reasons

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Call it the strange but true feat of this frigid baseball off-season. An All-Star free agent drew interest from several teams. One team reached to make a better offer than the others. The player signed, and the whole saga was over before the winter meetings.

“I was fortunate to have a lot of teams that were competitive and wanted to win now — which was exciting, to have that many teams come after me,” said the player, Patrick Corbin, now a proud and wealthy member of the Washington Nationals. “It kind of made it a fun process.”

The process has confounded many of his peers, with several dozen free agents, including many former All-Stars, still unsigned. But Corbin, a left-handed starter, did just fine. He joined the Nationals on Dec. 7 for six years and $140 million — a deal more than twice as lucrative as the next richest on this winter’s free-agent market: Nathan Eovaldi’s four-year, $68 million contract to stay with the Boston Red Sox.

Corbin, 29, also had offers from the Los Angeles Angels, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Yankees, the team Corbin rooted for while growing up near Syracuse. Knowing this, the Nationals separated themselves the old-fashioned way, by offering Corbin a longer, more valuable deal than their rivals.

“There were other teams that were more poised to get him if we weren’t aggressive, and we really wanted him,” said Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ general manager, as he watched his pitchers throw in the bullpen Friday in West Palm Beach. “We extended on him and we got the player. If we didn’t, we’d be looking back and saying, ‘We weren’t going to go there — and now we don’t have the player.’ ”

Corbin, who has one of baseball’s best sliders, worked 200 innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, with 246 strikeouts and a 3.15 earned run average. Maybe he will still be a top pitcher in 2024, maybe not. But he was the best pitcher on the market this winter, and Rizzo wanted the best. He was willing “to be a little uncomfortable” to get Corbin, he said, and the clubhouse is grateful.

“When I signed, I was like, ‘Man, he’s going to do something big right here,’ and my agent told me that, too,” said Kurt Suzuki, a veteran catcher who signed for two years and $10 million in late November. “And when they got Corbin, I was like, ‘There you go, No. 1 pitcher on the free-agent market.’ ”

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Pitcher Patrick Corbin at a December news conference with Rizzo after they cut a deal to bring Corbin to Washington.CreditPablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

It was the second time Rizzo had done this, Suzuki added, mentioning Max Scherzer, who received a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals in January 2015. Sixteen months later, the team extended starter Stephen Strasburg’s contract by seven years and $175 million. The Nationals hoped to pay outfielder Bryce Harper even more, and made him a widely reported 10-year, $300 million offer at the end of the 2018 season.

Harper, on the verge of free agency, decided to explore his market value. The Nationals pulled the offer and moved on quickly; by the end of December, they had added Corbin and Anibal Sanchez to the rotation, Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal to the bullpen, and Suzuki and Yan Gomes as catchers. Second baseman Brian Dozier signed on Jan. 13.

In an off-season of inertia for many teams, the Nationals have sprinted to spring training.

“I kind of feel like we’re the only organization that’s doing that,” said Scherzer, an outspoken critic of teams that do not try to win. “It’s great to play for an organization where ownership, front office and management identified what they wanted to change and then went out and did it. That’s what you want to play for.”

Harper — like shortstop Manny Machado, who finished last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers — was expected to command a record contract on the open market. A six-time All-Star, Harper helped lead Washington to four division titles and won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2015.

Rizzo, 58, played three seasons as a minor league infielder and spent decades as a scout. He appreciates the rarity of major league talent, and said it was important to “treat these guys with respect and dignity.” To that end, he made sure to put a value on Harper and give him a chance to stay. But he would not let Harper’s free agency handcuff the team’s plans.

“We made it clear to him he was loved here and we wanted him to stay here,” Rizzo said. “We felt that since he’s our player, we have this window to figure out if we can get a deal done. But we also had to put an expiration date on it, because how do you do other business if you don’t have an expiration date on that offer?

“That doesn’t mean that we can’t circle back and do something another time — including now — but we felt that Harp was our primary goal, and we had a strategy and a plan put together to make him a good, fair offer,” Rizzo continued. “But we felt that the expiration date on that was as important, because once free agency started, we had to be able to go out and look at other avenues with the mind-set that we could always circle back if we had to.”

Photographs of Harper still line the hallway outside the Nationals’ clubhouse in West Palm Beach, but to get him through the door, both sides will need to be creative. The Nationals are the majors’ only team with three contracts worth at least $140 million that all extend beyond 2020 — including Corbin’s, the only true bonanza of baseball’s bewildering, endless winter.

“It was a perfect storm of situations where it all worked out,” Corbin said. “We were ready, we thought it was a good fit for us here and wanted to get it done, and I think they did as well. It worked out for both sides. I guess that’s how a good deal works.”

Nationals’ Signing of Patrick Corbin Proves Yankees Can Be Outbid

When the first big free-agent domino fell on Tuesday, the biggest surprise was not that Patrick Corbin landed a six-year, $140 million contract, it was the team with which he signed it.

Corbin, the top pitcher on the market, did not sign with the two suitors close to his hometown in upstate New York: the Philadelphia Phillies, whose owner was prepared to spend “stupid” money over the winter, and the Yankees, who have written the book on it.

Instead, the Washington Nationals landed Corbin, a 29-year-old left-hander.

The Nationals were flush with cash — the expiring contracts of Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Wieters free nearly $62 million from their payroll — and probably fueled by last season’s collapse, they were willing to outbid the competition by adding a sixth year to the offer.

Corbin, for his part, also gave a little, allowing the Nationals, as is their habit, to defer some of the money, according to a baseball official familiar with the agreement.

The deal sends a signal that is heartening for baseball: At least in the National League East, most everyone is trying to win. The division champion Atlanta Braves landed third baseman Josh Donaldson, the American League Most Valuable Player three years ago, on a one-year, $23 million flier. The Mets acquired an elite closer in Edwin Diaz and an aging middle-of-the-lineup bat in Robinson Cano.

And while the Phillies may have lost out on Corbin, they should be in the chase for the premier free agents in this class: Manny Machado and Harper.

In Washington, Corbin joins a rotation where he will be third fiddle — behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, who are down for $37 million and $38 million next season.

Those are the types of salaries that used to regularly dot the Yankees’ ledger. Sometimes it was money well spent (C. C. Sabathia) and sometimes it was not (Jacoby Ellsbury), but the deals had at least one commonality: They reinforced the notion that the only bottom line that mattered was winning the World Series.

Now it is no longer so. Fiscal responsibility reigns.

The Yankees, though they did take on what remained of Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million contract last December, went through financial contortions to stay below the luxury tax threshold for the first time last season.

General Manager Brian Cashman has said that he has been given a budget by Hal Steinbrenner, but has declined to say if it is above the new luxury tax threshold of $206 million, which is $9 million more than last season.

The Yankees have occasionally lost out on free agents over the years — Greg Maddux didn’t care much for New York, and Curt Schilling was intrigued by the possibility of ending the Red Sox playoff drought — but it is exceedingly rare for them to pursue one of the top players on the market and be outbid.

About the only example that comes to mind is Cano, whom the Yankees were wary of committing to for 10 years.

The Yankees made a similar calculus with Corbin, whom they viewed as a very good pitcher — they had tried to trade for him last winter — but one who had several middling seasons after Tommy John surgery before blossoming last season. He was 11-7 with a 3.15 earned run average, making the All-Star team and finishing fifth in the N.L. Cy Young voting.

The Yankees liked Corbin plenty, but they did not view him as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and thus did not want to give him a sixth year. Their final offer, according to a baseball official familiar with the negotiation, was five years and $100 million.

So, instead of reading tea leaves last week — the order of Corbin’s visits was Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and the report that Corbin’s brother put on a Yankees cap while delivering a toast at Corbin’s wedding — it was better to have listened.

Cashman was asked on Friday, a day after Corbin’s visit, if he was waiting on Corbin as a primary target.

“There’s a lot of players of interest to us and a lot of players that can improve us, both in free agency and trade, so I wouldn’t designate anyone as a primary,” Cashman said. “There’s a lot of attractive players that are available for various price points.”

Now the Yankees will pivot. Their pursuit of pitching to augment Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and Sabathia already resulted in a trade with Seattle for James Paxton, and will now shift toward the next-level free agents — Dallas Keuchel, Nathan Eovaldi and J. A. Happ — and what could be a robust trade market with Cleveland’s Corey Kluber headlining it.

Only time will tell if the Yankees were wise not to invest in Corbin. Cashman has been shrewd in rebuilding the Yankees through their farm system, but his reluctance to take on the salary of Justin Verlander two years ago and — to a lesser degree — his unwillingness to part with a prospect like Miguel Andujar to land Gerrit Cole loom as what-ifs.

But there was no equivocation about what happened on Tuesday. If this season’s Yankees do win the franchise’s 28th World Series title, it will not have been at any cost.

Yankees Court Patrick Corbin, but Keep Their Options Open

STAMFORD, Conn. — When Patrick Corbin, the jewel of the free-agent pitching market, was married two weeks ago, his younger brother Kevin stood to give a toast to the newlyweds. As it concluded, according to one report, Kevin put on a Yankees cap and — to great applause — told the room that he was hoping the couple would soon be moving closer to their upstate New York home.

That story was not relayed to Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman on Thursday, when he spent much of the day and an evening dinner in Manhattan with Corbin, the Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander; his wife, Jen; and his representatives.

But Cashman said on Friday morning that he had read about the toast — in a tweet by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal — and that he was trying not to read too much into it.

From someone who attended Patrick Corbin’s recent wedding: “His younger brother gave a best-man speech and at the end took out a Yankees hat and put it on, which elicited a great applause, and said they all hoped that he and Jen would be moving closer to home.”

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 30, 2018

“My understanding is it was more tongue in check — we’d love to have you come closer to home if you’re willing because they are Yankee fans,” Cashman said between turns rappelling down the 22-story Landmark Building, practice runs for a winter festival program on Sunday night.

He added: “Their Yankee allegiances are appreciated, but usually in this process typically the thing that’s most important is the financial opportunities.”

Corbin, who grew up in Clay, N.Y., just north of Syracuse, spent this week on a free-agent tour of teams he is considering: the Nationals on Tuesday, the Phillies on Wednesday and the Yankees on Thursday.

All of them have money to spend, which they figure to need for Corbin, a 29-year-old left-hander whose foray into free agency is exquisitely timed.

After becoming an All-Star for Arizona at age 23 in 2013, he had Tommy John surgery the next season, and did not recover that form until this season, when he was 11-7 with a 3.15 earned run average. He struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings, allowed only 15 home runs and pitched 200 innings. He finished fifth in the National League Cy Young voting.

A baseline for what Corbin is expected to cost his current suitors is most likely the six-year, $126 million contract the Chicago Cubs gave to Yu Darvish last year.

The last two years, the Yankees have paid a dear price for their timidity in pursuing top-shelf starting pitching, passing on Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who wound up in Houston, and not being able to pry Corbin away from the Diamondbacks last winter. It was starting pitching that has failed the Yankees in the playoffs,first against the Astros in 2017 and then against the Red Sox this season.

This winter, though, the Yankees’ other needs — a middle infielder to fill in for Didi Gregorius while he recovers from elbow surgery, refurbishing the bullpen and trading pitcher Sonny Gray (11 teams are interested, Cashman said) — have percolated in the background as they have pursued starting pitching.

They quickly re-signed C.C. Sabathia (as well as left fielder Brett Gardner) and swung the first big trade of the winter to acquire the left-hander James Paxton from Seattle for a package of minor leaguers that included a top prospect, Justus Sheffield. Paxton and Sabathia will accompany Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation.

Now the question is whether Corbin will join them.

Cashman said Thursday’s tour and dinner were not so much a recruiting trip as an educational one. Corbin has pitched only once at Yankee Stadium — seven innings of two-hit ball in 2013. He was introduced to Manager Aaron Boone and the training and analytics staff, but also to how the Yankees operate with security, family services and dealing with a large news media following.

The visit gave the Yankees a chance to get to know Corbin better — their bullpen coach, Mike Harkey, was Corbin’s pitching coach in Arizona, and he played briefly with Gregorius there — but also offered Corbin a chance to understand better what playing for the Yankees entails.

“It’s happened twice,” Cashman said, explaining the value of these meetings, “where we’ve been in front of a player that we had an interest in and I walked out going: ‘We are crossing that one off the board. That’s not a fit for us in any way, shape or form.’”

He added: “If it scares somebody off, they’re doing us a favor because you don’t want to bring somebody here who is not going to work here, and if during that process something comes up that scares us off, the same thing.”

Cashman made a point of saying that Corbin was not a primary target. He said the team was not waiting on a decision from Corbin and would continue to pursue other options — mentioning pitchers who were with the Yankees recently, which would include J.A. Happ and Nathan Eovaldi.

Perhaps that was posturing. Then again, the Yankees are coming off a season in which they ducked below the luxury tax threshold for the first time, and Cashman has declined to say whether he has an edict to stay under it again.

But the Phillies’ owner, John Middleton, with plenty of cash cleared from the books and some promising young talent, told USA Today recently that he was ready “to spend money — and maybe even be a little stupid about it.”

If Corbin’s family is longing for him to return close to home, Yankee Stadium is 265 miles from Clay, N.Y. The Phillies’ Citizens Bank Ballpark is a mere 13 miles farther.

Even the Umpires Approve of Carlos Santana’s Approach at the Plate

PHILADELPHIA — For Carlos Santana, the most important part of his job is the same as it is for the home plate umpire: determining what is and what is not a strike. Sometimes, he said, the umpires will reassure him that he is performing this task very well, despite a persistently low batting average in his first season with the Philadelphia Phillies.

“Never change your approach,” Santana said recently, repeating what the umpires tell him. “We know you’re a patient guy but aggressive for your pitch. Don’t worry about your average — we respect you, and we know you’re, like, the best guy about the strike zone.”

Through Wednesday’s games, Santana was the only qualified hitter in the majors with more than 80 walks and fewer than 70 strikeouts. Batters are striking out at higher rates than ever this season, but Santana seems immune to the trend.

“Every time I look up there and see his walk rate is way more than his strikeout rate, I think, how can I be like that?” Nick Williams, the Phillies’ right fielder, said. “That is incredible. And then he’s still able to hit for damage.”

Santana had 17 home runs through Wednesday to go with a .356 on-base percentage and 87 walks, compared to just 69 strikeouts. His .219 batting average was second lowest in the National League, to Atlanta’s Adam Duvall, and bad luck may be a part of the reason: Santana had a .220 average on balls in play, well below the major league average of .295.

That would suggest that Santana is due to start getting more hits, right?

“That’s probably true,” Manager Gabe Kapler said. “But what I’d submit is that it probably doesn’t matter because what he’s doing is really good. I think everybody’s like, ‘Wait till Carlos gets going.’ He’s already going. He’s already gotten huge hits for us, driven in runs, walked, been on the bases, played good defense. He’s already been a really good player.”

In a sluggish winter for free agency, the Phillies eagerly targeted Santana, the former Cleveland Indians first baseman, and signed him to a three-year, $60 million contract in December. Judging his impact is a matter of viewpoint.

By wins above replacement, as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, Santana has barely been above league average. Yet, after going 66-96 last year, the Phillies have spent much of the summer in first place in the N.L. East. And Santana’s example has helped the team fulfill its mission of seeing a lot of pitches, drawing plenty of walks and playing for the big inning.

Through Wednesday, only the Los Angeles Dodgers — Kapler’s previous organization — were seeing more pitches per plate appearance than the Phillies’ 4.03. The Phillies ranked third in the majors in walks, trailing only the Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs, who have met in the N.L. Championship Series in each of the last two Octobers.

“We want to be an organization that controls the strike zone, both on the mound and at the plate — and that doesn’t happen overnight,” said General Manager Matt Klentak, who joined the Phillies in October 2015. “It takes time to acquire players who do that and develop players in the system who do that. That has been our goal for the last several years, and there’s nobody in baseball better at it than Carlos Santana.

“We know he’s never going to win a batting title. That’s not part of the profile. He’s going to hit somewhere in the low- to mid-. 200s, but he’s going to do it with power and walks and seeing a ton of pitches. We feel like with our current offense, this was a year for us to move the needle in that department and he would fit right into the mix. What we’ve seen is that type of behavior in the batter’s box is contagious.”

The results, for the offense, are inconclusive. The Phillies ranked third in the majors in strikeouts through Wednesday and were averaging the fewest runs per game (4.37) of any team in playoff position. Their durable rotation, led by Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, has been their best asset.

But the signing of Santana, 32, signaled to a young roster that ownership was serious about contending after five consecutive losing seasons. And his approach gives a template to the rest of the lineup for how to behave in the batter’s box.

“The guy’s got a good eye, and he doesn’t care about striking out looking,” left fielder Rhys Hoskins said. “I think, as a general statement, we’ve been good at taking the pitcher’s pitch and waiting for a mistake. Sometimes it doesn’t happen; I think that’s kind of why the strikeouts are there.

“But I think, too, that leads to some big innings. Maybe the sixth batter of the inning’s coming up and the guy’s already thrown 28 pitches. He’s tired, and with that, we’re more apt to see mistakes.

“I also think it’s about knowing who we are as individuals. That’s where the coaching staff has done a really good job picking through the data and saying: ‘Look, this is what you do really well, and this is what you don’t do so well. Why don’t we focus on what you do well to put you in the best place to be successful?’ ”

For Santana, that has always meant patiently waiting for his pitch. Plate discipline has come naturally, he said, ever since he started playing, relatively late, at age 12 in the Dominican Republic. He started switch-hitting around age 16, inspired by Neifi Perez, a veteran major leaguer he watched in winter ball on television, and he signed with the Dodgers for $75,000 in 2004.

Three years later, with the Class A Great Lakes Loons, Santana was the catcher for a left-handed phenom named Clayton Kershaw — with Kenley Jansen, the future Dodgers closer, as the backup catcher.

“Same hitter,” Kershaw said of Santana. “A lot of pop from both sides of the plate, always had a good eye, always took his walks.”

The Dodgers traded Santana to the Indians the next summer for infielder Casey Blake, and Santana helped Cleveland reach the postseason three times in his last five seasons. The Phillies have not been there since 2011, but with Santana — low average and all — they may have their guide.

“I don’t like the word ‘leader,’ but it’s natural for me because I worry about my team and I worry about being a winning player,” Santana said. “It’s a hard situation now; I’m not hitting good, but I’m playing good defense, keeping up the talk, the energy, playing hard every day and respecting everybody. I’m happy about that and happy to represent Philadelphia. The season is not over yet, but we’re in a very good position.”

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Red Sox shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin, right, tagged out the Orioles’ Adam Jones in April. The Orioles appealed with video review, but the call was upheld.CreditCharles Krupa/Associated Press

How Video Review Helps Infielders

Alex Cora spent 14 seasons in the majors as a middle infielder, all before baseball instituted its expanded video review system in 2014. Cora, now the manager of the Boston Red Sox, recently mentioned a subtle way that middle infielders have changed their tagging habits since then.

An errant throw used to be problematic for infielders, Cora said, because fielders believed they had to catch it and then scramble back to the base to tag the runner there. Not so anymore.

“Now, you don’t have to go to the hands — just go to the body,” Cora said, referring to a runner sliding headfirst. “There’s a lot of plays at second base and steals where you used to catch it and try to go back and tag him. Now, it really doesn’t matter what he’s trying to do. If you put the tag down, there’s a pretty good chance he’s going to be out.”

The reason for the old technique, Cora said, was because umpires naturally focused on the base on close plays. Now, he said, because the cameras catch everything, “if the throw is off line, you can go right there and, boom, put it down.”

Through Aug. 5, according to data from Major League Baseball, 95 plays had been reviewed in which a runner was called out on a tag play at second base, with 41 resulting in a reversal call. The 43 percent rate of overturned calls is the highest on such plays in the five seasons of expanded replay.

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Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin learned the grip for his devastating slider from his father.CreditJoe Camporeale/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

A Slider With Radar

Patrick Corbin was at it again on Wednesday for the Arizona Diamondbacks, blanking the Phillies for seven and a third innings with no walks and nine strikeouts. On the Diamondbacks’ radio broadcast, the analyst Tom Candiotti said Corbin had so much movement on his pitches, he seemed to be throwing Wiffle balls.

Corbin’s slider has been one of the most devastating pitches in baseball this season. It has generated a swing and miss more than 54 percent of the time, the best percentage for any starter’s slider. His teammate Zack Greinke, a 15-year veteran and a student of the craft of pitching, had high praise for the pitch.

“He throws it with the best command that I’ve ever seen someone throw that slider,” Greinke said. “So it’s good, but then it goes in the perfect spot every time. That makes it even better.”

Corbin, a two-time All-Star who grew up near Syracuse, said he learned the slider from his father, Dan, playing catch in the backyard at age 10. Dan Corbin did not pitch professionally, but he knew what the pitch could do.

“He was a left-hander as well, same size as me,” Corbin said. “He said he used to love throwing it at a left-hander’s hip, to try to freeze him. He showed me his grip, and it’s something I never changed.”

Corbin is 9-4 with a 3.15 earned run average and has not allowed a homer in his last nine starts, the longest streak by an Arizona pitcher in 15 years. He said he uses a similar grip for his slider as he does for his two-seam fastball, disguising them by throwing them from the same arm slot. He has improved steadily in each of his three full seasons since Tommy John surgery but said the slider came back quickly.

“Some guys say it takes awhile to get the feeling back or the location on some of your pitches, but for me that kind of just came right along and I was able to throw it the same,” he said. “It’s always been my pitch.”

Corbin is one of four starters from the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field who soon needed Tommy John surgery, with Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey and Matt Moore. Fernandez died in a boating accident in 2016, and Harvey and Moore have regressed markedly.

Corbin, however, is peaking at just the right time. He stands to become a free agent after the season, and at 29 years old, he will be one of just two significant free-agent starters under 30, with Nathan Eovaldi of the Red Sox.

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Padres starter Brett Kennedy showed his frustration after giving up three home runs in the first inning of his major league debut.CreditMorry Gash/Associated Press

In the Big Inning …

No pitcher in major league history has had a debut quite like Brett Kennedy’s on Wednesday. Kennedy, a San Diego Padres right-hander, allowed three consecutive home runs in the first inning in Milwaukee when Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw and Eric Thames all went deep.

Two other pitchers had allowed three consecutive homers in their debut — the Yankees’ Bill Fulton in 1987 and Milwaukee’s Tyler Thornburg in 2012 — but neither did it in his first inning. Both of those pitchers were removed after the third home run, but Kennedy weathered the barrage and made it through four innings, blanking the Brewers for the last two.

“We saw who he was in those last couple innings,” Padres Manager Andy Green told reporters later. “We saw a guy settled in, dialed in, locating his fastball very well, pitching effectively. He’s going to be fine.”

Kennedy, an 11th-round draft pick out of Fordham in 2015, was 10-0 with a 2.72 E.R.A. for the Class AAA El Paso Chihuahuas this year. He is the third Fordham player to appear in the majors in the last 20 seasons, with the former All-Star pitcher Pete Harnisch and the former Texas Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez, who is now with the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan.

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Felix Hernandez threw the last perfect game in the majors, in 2012, but he is struggling, and the Mariners recently moved him to the bullpen, after 398 career starts.CreditBrandon Wade/Associated Press

A Less Than Perfect Situation

Wednesday is the sixth anniversary of the last perfect game in the majors, by Seattle’s Felix Hernandez in 2012, continuing baseball’s longest stretch without a perfect game since a 13-year span from 1968 (Catfish Hunter) to 1981 (Len Barker).

Hernandez is the only active pitcher to throw a perfecto, with the others who did it in 2012, Philip Humber and Matt Cain, now retired. But Hernandez has now lost his hold on his rotation spot. The Mariners moved him to the bullpen, after 398 career starts, after he allowed a career-high 11 runs (seven earned) in a loss to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, swelling his earned run average to 5.73.

Only two pitchers with at least 100 innings have a higher E.R.A. — Kansas City’s Jason Hammel, who now pitches in relief, and Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox. Hernandez has not successfully transitioned from a power to a finesse pitcher, but that is probably the only way he can save his career. His average fastball now measures a career-low 89.2 miles per hour, according to Fangraphs, with his slider a career-low 82.4 m.p.h.

Hernandez is only 32, but no pitcher in baseball threw as many innings as he did in the decade from 2006 (his first full season) through 2015, when he last made the All-Star team. His seven-year, $175 million contract expires after next season.

“What can I say?” Hernandez told reporters after the start in Texas. “I can’t say anything. I’m frustrated. It’s all I can say.”

‘Shoot Past the Moon’

As they continue to thrive in the standings despite injuries to some of their top young starters, the Oakland Athletics added yet another well-traveled starter on Monday, trading for Mike Fiers from the Detroit Tigers. Among Oakland starters, Fiers has now pitched for four teams, Brett Anderson for five, Trevor Cahill for six and Edwin Jackson for 13, tying the major league record.

Jackson, who was profiled in this space last month, has now collected his 101st major league victory. When he spoke about his career recently, it seemed as if 101 would mean more to him than 100. Here is how Jackson considered the milestone, with a bit of veteran wisdom that transcends the ballpark:

“It would still be nice to say I had 100 wins in baseball, no doubt — but I have to pitch past 100,” he said. “Because if you get 100, it’s like 100 was your goal. You’ve got to shoot past the moon. Don’t let the moon be the limit.”