Oh my! We are being treated to some fantastic baseball in these two championship series. With both matchups poised 3-2, no one knows which teams will line up in Game One of the World Series on Tuesday 26 October?
The battle between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers for the top spot in the NL West kept us all enthralled during September. Despite winning 19 of 26 games in the month, the Dodgers were pipped for the division title by the Giants. The reward for the victor was to avoid a potentially catastrophic Wild Card game against the St Louis Cardinals, who were coming off 12 wins in their final 14 games of the regular season. No one wanted to play Yadier Molina and the hottest team in baseball in a one-off, loser’s-season-is-over game.
So we saw the Giants and Dodgers leave nothing in reserve in their attempts to clinch the NL West title. If the second Wild Card spot were not in existence, the final week of the season would have dragged on with both teams preparing themselves for the forthcoming five-game division series. It seems fair to suggest that the Dodgers might not have lost Max Muncy for the postseason when the first baseman dislocated his elbow in the final game of the regular season.
As it was, we were treated to the Dodgers burning Max Scherzer in the start against the Cardinals. The 37-year-old allowed a first-inning run but then threw four scoreless innings, and was watching from the dugout as Chris Taylor hit the two-run walk-off homer in the ninth inning. I think Taylor likes October baseball.
The NLDS between the two west coast rivals lived up to the billing. Five extraordinary games, with both teams pushing the other to the limit. Scherzer was unavailable until the third game, rendering a two-start series impossible for the Dodgers workhorse. Another kick in the teeth for not winning the division.
However, the Dodgers came back from 2-1 down in the series to take the best of five thanks to a resurgent Cody Bellinger driving in Justin Turner off the chillaxed Camilo Doval in the ninth inning of the decider.
So, onto the NLCS, and the Dodgers, like a heavyweight boxer in the fifth round, have taken some knocks. A pulled hamstring has forced Justin Turner to join Max Muncy on the list of unavailable sluggers. The rotation, which preseason looked unbeatable (and that was before the addition of Scherzer), is so depleted that the bullpen has started two of the five games against the Braves. And now, one of those openers, Joe Kelly, is out for the rest of the postseason with a right biceps strain.
Compare this to the relatively easy route the Atlanta Braves have enjoyed to get through. The Braves are within touching distance of the World Series. They lead the Dodgers 3-2 ahead of Saturday’s clash – 10pm UK time – which sees right-hander Ian Anderson take the mound against Scherzer.
Despite finishing second in the division and sneaking through via the Wild Card, the Dodgers are still the best team in MLB. If Bat Flips and Nerds (or ESPN or The Athletic) conducted their 2022 season preview today, there is a good chance that the Dodgers would be the World Series favourites.
It is too simplistic to lay all of the Dodgers’ current woes on their second-place finish. Still, it seems appropriate that if Los Angeles is to make it all the way through to the World Series, then they should have to overcome extra hurdles because of the failure to win the division.
Surely 2021 has proved that the current MLB postseason format is absolute perfection.
Across in the ALCS, the momentum has switched dramatically in favour of the Houston Astros following their two consecutive nine-run games to hand an L to both Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale.
Game Six is late Friday night (1am Saturday, to be more accurate); Eovaldi takes the ball again after Tuesday’s disastrous four-run bullpen appearance. The 32-game starter faces Luis Garcia, who imploded in Game Two, giving up five earned runs in the first (and his only) inning.
For Houston, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker are all mashing. Apart from the catcher position, there is no breathing room in the lineup for Boston’s pitchers. Even pitch-hitter (and occasional catcher) Jason Castro is hitting like an MVP with 2.467 OPS over his five plate appearances #smallsamplesize.
For their part, in Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Kiké Hernández, the Red Sox have a trio playing possibly the greatest baseball of their careers. Between them, they already have eight home runs in the five games against the Astros. Boston badly needs Alex Verdugo, Kyle Schwarber or Hunter Renfroe to step up and lend a hand before it is too late.
The Astros are only one win away from their third pennant in the last five years but don’t count out a gem from Eovaldi to force a Game Seven on Saturday night (1am Sunday morning.)
As the diminutive, veteran MLB analyst, Tim Kurkjian, says, “Is this a great game or what?”
Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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