On a Thursday that could see as many as four teams sent home from the 2020 MLB playoffs, the Atlanta Braves got things started by completing an NLDS sweep of the Miami Marlins, and the Houston Astros followed by finishing off the Oakland Athletics. Will the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers join them in advancing, or will the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres keep their seasons alive?
Here are the stars, turning points and takeaways from each of Thursday’s games.
What it means: The Astros didn’t possess the pitching depth to match the A’s going into this series. Their path to victory was obvious — they needed to hit like the Astros of old. And they did just that. A decorated lineup that languished through the shortened season finally came to life at Dodger Stadium, which consistently provided warm day games that heavily favored the hitters.
Carlos Correa, George Springer and Michael Brantley each provided multihomer performances during the series and the Astros amassed 33 runs in four games. Eleven of those runs, on 14 hits, came in the Game 4 clincher, with Correa going 3-for-4 with five RBIs and one 427-foot home run. The dagger was provided by Jose Altuve, who struggled mightily during the regular season but crushed a 428-foot home run to straight-away center field in the seventh, his sixth hit in 15 at-bats this series.
The Astros will have their challenges in the next round, a seven-game series with no off-days in between. Zack Greinke, who gutted through 14 outs in Game 4, is clearly not right. The rest of the rotation is nowhere near as accomplished. And the bullpen is composed of young pitchers who were mainly starters in the minor leagues. But those are problems for another day. The Astros — hated by most of America and clearly determined not to care — are heading to their fourth consecutive American League Championship Series. — Alden Gonzalez
Next up: The Astros will open the ALCS on Sunday night against either the Rays or the Yankees. The A’s, meanwhile, begin their offseason with some questions to answer.
Ronald Acuna Jr. is feeling good about the Braves’ large lead in Game 3 of the NLDS vs. the Marlins.
What it means: The gap between even two disparately matched teams doesn’t always show up in a short series, but it sure did in this one. The Braves throttled the underdog Marlins in every way imaginable. Atlanta got airtight pitching, timely defense and an offense that kept the scoreboard clicking both with and without home runs.
The Marlins did not look ready for prime time, which really should have surprised no one. They were a 31-29 team during the season that was outscored by 41 runs. Miami has more work left ahead of it in its quest to construct a perennial winner. Still, from overcoming an early-season COVID-19 outbreak to rarely seeing its home ballpark in the opening weeks of the campaign, the Marlins overcame a lot to get this far. Better days lie ahead, and establishing an organizational identity as one of resilience is not nothing for a franchise that has for so long lacked an identity of any sort. Kudos to Don Mattingly and his squad.
Now Atlanta will move up in class after polishing off Cincinnati and Miami without breaking a proverbial sweat. By polishing off the Marlins in three games, now the Braves can make the short trip from Houston to Arlington and enjoy three days off before the NLCS begins Monday. Thus, manager Brian Snitker and his staff can set up their pitching plan however they see fit. The Dodgers and the Padres present a considerably more formidable test for Atlanta, but so far, the Braves appear to be more than ready for it. — Bradford Doolittle
Next up: Atlanta’s NLCS matchup with Los Angeles or San Diego will begin Monday night in Arlington, Texas. Miami heads into the offseason with questions to answer after a surprising run has come to an end.
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