It’s only Wednesday in MLB’s League Division Series Week and we already have our first potential elimination game as the Astros close in on returning to the American League Championship Series to defend last year’s pennant. With the Yankees and Rays already splitting their first two games and questions growing out of Aaron Boone’s initial pitching decisions, that series is only just getting interesting. And now that the National League is underway, we’ll see if the Dodgers and Braves are ready to drop the hammer on the Padres and Marlins early on or if those series can go the distance.
What’s on tap
All times Eastern; all series best-of-five played at neutral sites
After a dazzling display in his playoff debut during the last round for Atlanta, rookie starter Ian Anderson will try to pitch the Braves to a 2-0 NLDS lead over the Marlins. One thing to keep an eye on: How will Ronald Acuna Jr. be pitched to after a home run, a hit by pitch and emotions showing for both sides on the field in the series opener?
It’s a must-win game for the A’s, and they turn to rookie left-hander Jesus Luzardo in what could be a tough matchup for him against the righty-heavy Houston lineup (especially with the way the ball has been flying during the day at Dodger Stadium in these first two games). Luzardo has a good changeup and curveball that are effective wipeout pitches, but getting to those two-strike counts is the key. Batters slugged .542 off his four-seamer and .493 off his sinker, with eight of the nine home runs allowed coming off those fastballs. Look for the Astros to be aggressive early in the count. And with the season on the line, look for A’s manager Bob Melvin to be aggressive in going early to the bullpen.
This is a fun matchup between two veteran pitchers who have had postseason success. Even after getting shelled last round by Cleveland, Masahiro Tanaka has a 2.70 career postseason ERA over 50 innings. Charlie Morton, the Game 7 hero for the Astros in the 2017 World Series, made two starts last postseason for the Rays and allowed one run each outing. It will be interesting to see how the Rays stack their lineup against Tanaka. He had a big reverse split this year (righties hit .330 off him) but a big traditional split in 2019. I expect the Rays to go lefty-heavy in their lineup regardless of the 2020 numbers. Let’s also see how both staffs attack the red-hot Giancarlo Stanton and Randy Arozarena.
No sooner has the series begun than the Padres are in a dangerous spot after having to use nine pitchers just to get through a Game 1 loss, on top of absorbing the reinjury of starting pitcher Mike Clevinger. Drawing Kershaw while dealing with a hard-worked pen and asking that staff to shut down a relentlessly grinding Dodgers lineup is a tall order for the Padres. How will they respond?
Updated odds for every series
Projections courtesy of ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle.
Astros-A’s (HOU 2-0): Astros 82.8% to advance
Yankees-Rays (Tied 1-1): Rays 50.9% to advance
Marlins-Braves (ATL 1-0): Braves 84.1% to advance
Padres-Dodgers (LAD 1-0): Dodgers 77.2% to advance
Running World Series odds
NL: Dodgers 43.6%, Braves 13.5%, Padres 8.7%, Marlins 0.6%
AL: Rays 13.4%, Yankees 10.3%, Astros 7.4%, A’s 2.6%
Hot take of the day
Want to irritate your baseball friends? Tell them you’re rooting for the Astros. Hey, the postseason is always more fun when we have a heel to root against, and the Astros are certainly this playoffs’ version of Randy “Macho Man” Savage. But you know what? Rooting for the heel also can be great entertainment. After all, it’s amusing how irrationally angry the Astros make fans these days.
Watching the Astros go 4-0 so far is a reminder of how exciting the Astros were the past three seasons. They’ve also unveiled a potential breakout star in Framber Valdez, who has been terrific in his two outings and beat the A’s with seven innings in Game 2. Imagine how furious everyone will be if the Astros win it all in a season they finished under .500. Hmm. On second thought … go A’s. — David Schoenfield
Stat of the day
George Springer cashes in on two home runs as the Astros defeat the Athletics 5-2 in Game 2 of the ALDS.
A second-inning blast at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday afternoon was the 16th of George Springer‘s postseason career, pushing him past another George on the all-time list — George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Then Springer added another shot in the fifth inning, which means that with 17 postseason homers, Springer is now tied for the sixth most in AL postseason history with David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz and Jim Thome … and one behind Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle.
About last night …
Inspired — or infuriated — by the Marlins’ plunking of Ronald Acuna Jr. in his third-inning at-bat after having homered in the first, the Braves clawed their way back from down 4-1, sealing the game with a six-run rally in the seventh inning to win 9-5 and take a 1-0 lead in the series. … Tuesday was George Springer‘s turn to have a multihomer game for the Astros, powering a 5-2 win in support of a sturdy seven-inning spin from Framber Valdez to put Houston up 2-0 and in position to eliminate Oakland on Wednesday. … The Yankees tried an opener in Game 2, going with rookie Deivi Garcia. But switching to veteran J.A. Happ in the second derailed their plan when the Rays raked him for four runs and two of the four homers they’d hit to even up the series with a 7-5 win, despite Giancarlo Stanton crushing a huge pair of home runs. … The Dodgers were getting no-hit by a half-dozen Padres pitchers into the sixth inning before Mookie Betts broke through with a double to help fuel a four-run frame and deliver a 5-1 Game 1 win for L.A. in the Texas showdown between the two SoCal powerhouses.
Giancarlo Stanton knocks out a fastball 458 feet to left field for a three-run homer as the Yankees trail the Rays 5-4.
Social media post of the day
Best moment of the MLB playoffs to date
Postseason baseball, meet Fernando Tatis Jr. With his team trailing 6-2 in the sixth inning of Game 2 against the Cardinals on Thursday, MLB’s most electrifying player sparked a much-needed uprising with a three-run homer. Manny Machado followed with another homer in the next at-bat to tie it. And when the dust finally settled, San Diego had hit five home runs, including another Tatis shot — complete with an epic bat flip. The Padres fended off elimination with an 11-9 win, and Tatis enlivened not just his team but also the entire sport.
The running MLB playoffs MVP
The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. Eight dominant innings, giving up only three hits and recording 13 strikeouts, all on breaking pitches. The 13 K’s in Game 2 against the Brewers marked the most by a pitcher in a potential series-clinching game. Perhaps most importantly, the performance might have set the tone for L.A.’s October.