Is Columbus Day one of those official holidays in which you don’t have to go to work? If you’re a baseball fan, it doesn’t matter: You’re finding a way to skip work or leave early. Quadruple-header, baby!
The big story of the 2017 postseason has been the dismal starting pitching, at least until Sunday night’s duel between Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Carrasco. Through 12 games, eight of the 24 starting pitchers failed to finish even three innings and half failed to go at least five. It’s not just that managers are going quickly to the bullpens; starting pitchers have combined for a 5.68 ERA. What will we see Monday?
The most important thing of the day: Max Scherzer makes his playoff debut for the Nationals after suffering a minor hamstring injury at the end of the regular season. Is he 100 percent, and if not, how will it affect his performance and how deep into the game Dusty Baker trusts him to go?
If you’re going to watch only one game, tune in for: Indians at Yankees. The past two games of this series have been so good that you hate that it’s a best-of-five instead of a best-of-seven. If not for the controversial failure of Joe Girardi to challenge that hit batsman call in Game 2, the Yankees could be on the brink of a stunning upset over the 102-win Indians.
NLDS Game 3: Nationals at Cubs (series tied 1-1)
Max Scherzer (16-6, 2.51) vs. Jose Quintana (7-3, 3.74), 4 p.m. ET (TBS)
The stakes: The Cubs held the Nationals to one run through the first 16 innings of the series before the Nationals erupted for five runs in the eighth inning of Game 2 to rally from a 3-1 deficit and even the series. Now they have to face the likely Cy Young winner in Scherzer, who will be pitching on eight days of rest after tweaking his hamstring in his final regular-season start and getting pushed back to this game.
If the Cubs win: You never want to have to win a clinching game on the road. A victory sets up the Cubs to win the series at Wrigley Field with Jake Arrieta starting Game 4.
If the Nationals win: Dusty Baker announced Tanner Roark would be his Game 4 starter, so no Stephen Strasburg on short rest. Roark is the weakest of the Nats’ four starters, so they would obviously be a little more comfortable knowing they could lose Game 4 and have Strasburg in their back pocket.
One key stat to know: Scherzer had 10 or more strikeouts in 15 of his 31 starts, including nine of 10 starts during one stretch from late May through mid-July. His ERA peaked on July 2 at 1.94, however; and in September he had a 4.05 ERA with just one 10-strikeout game. His swing-and-miss rate was 33.3 percent through the end of August, then 27.4 percent in September. So it seems there was a slight loss of stuff or command down the stretch, and that’s not even factoring in the potential effects of the injury. Of course, maybe eight days of rest will be a good thing in this case.
The matchup that matters most: Quintana (and the lefty relievers) versus Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. Quintana held lefties to a .584 OPS compared to .732 versus righties. As mentioned here before, Harper had a sizable platoon split this season, with a much worse strikeout-to-walk ratio against southpaws. Yet in the eighth inning of Game 2, Joe Maddon let Carl Edwards Jr. face Harper (who represented the tying run) instead of bringing in Mike Montgomery. Boom. Game tied. With three lefties in the pen — Montgomery, Brian Duensing and Justin Wilson — Harper shouldn’t see a right-hander in a tight game unless it’s closer Wade Davis.
The prediction: The Nationals hit a lot better at home this season (.287/.352/.471 versus .245/.312/.428), so that may favor the Cubs. Quintana has been very good of late, with a 45-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his final six starts. Scherzer’s health is a wild card, but it seems he may have to pitch a gem. Here’s saying he does. Nationals win 4-2.
NLDS Game 3: Dodgers at Diamondbacks (Dodgers lead 2-0)
The stakes: The Dodgers won the first two games, scoring 17 runs while hitting .333. You know they’d love to clinch against former teammate Greinke.
If the D-backs win: Who starts Game 4? Game 1 starter Taijuan Walker lasted just one inning after giving up four runs. Zack Godley relieved him and threw 100 pitches in relief over five innings. So that would likely point to Patrick Corbin, since Walker’s start may still be too fresh in Torey Lovullo’s mind. Corbin had a weird year, pitching much better at home even though Chase Field is a good hitters’ park. He had a 3.15 ERA there and allowed just seven of his 26 home runs at home. One-year home/road splits are tricky, but Lovullo probably goes with Corbin if the D-backs remain alive.
If the Dodgers win: They sweep and head to their fifth National League Championship Series in 10 years. They’ll get to line up Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, which wasn’t the case in either 2013 or 2016 (he started Game 2 both years).
One key stat to know: Greinke is 2-5 in seven starts against the Dodgers since signing with Arizona in 2016 (including a five-homer game in September 2016). But he faced the Dodgers three times the final two months of 2017 and allowed just five runs over 19.2 innings.
The matchup that matters most: Diamondbacks versus fastballs and cutters early in the count against Darvish. Because his breaking stuff is so nasty, Darvish has one of the biggest splits among pitchers for when they get ahead versus when they don’t. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in his fastball, which is why he’ll nibble too much on the corners at times. Anyway, check out the batter results on various counts:
2-0: 1.250 OPS
2-1: .801 OPS
1-0: 1.013 OPS
0-0: 1.044 OPS
1-1: .829 OPS
2-2: .389 OPS
0-1: .970 OPS
1-2: .376 OPS
0-2: .304 OPS
Overall, batters slugged .450 against Darvish’s fastball and .511 against his cutter. The way to beat him is to jump on those pitches early in the count.
The prediction: Arizona is coming off a terrible Game 2. It’s not just the fact that they lost, but they played poorly, with Robbie Ray walking too many guys, J.D. Martinez making an ill-advised throw to third that allowed a runner to move up to second, a key error by Ketel Marte, and even Lovullo’s decision to bring in rookie Jimmie Sherfy — he of 10.2 career innings — in a key situation. Lovullo is probably counting on three pitchers in this game: Greinke, Archie Bradley and Fernando Rodney. Let’s say that works and the Diamondbacks get to Darvish. They win 6-3 and we go to Game 4.
ALDS Game 4: Astros at Red Sox (Astros lead 2-1)
The stakes: You have to love how the narrative can change so quickly. It went from the “Red Sox are dead,” to “Man, the Astros’ bullpen is kind of crappy and if the Red Sox can steal Game 4, they have Chris Sale going in Game 5.” This has been the blowout series so far: For the first time, the first three games of a playoff series were all decided by five or more runs. The Astros won 101 games, but they’re one loss away from having to beat a guy who struck out 308 batters to keep their season alive.
If the Astros win: They move on to the American League Championship Series and avoid the same fate as 2015, when they led the division series against the Royals but lost Games 4 and 5.
If the Red Sox win: Then we get a Game 5 matchup between Sale and Justin Verlander, which is about as good a pairing as you’ll ever see in an ultimate game (Game 5 or Game 7). After throwing four shutout innings and 57 pitches in Game 3, David Price will certainly be unavailable for Game 4, but with two days of rest, he should be ready for Game 5. So John Farrell has to have a plan in place that doesn’t involve Price in case Porcello doesn’t hold down the Astros in the early innings. He could go again to Joe Kelly, who threw 22 pitches on Sunday, or maybe even Game 2 starter Drew Pomeranz, who threw 47 pitches that game. He should also be prepared to use Craig Kimbrel for at least two innings — and not necessarily the final two, if he needs to stop a rally.
One key stat to know: This is a different Morton than the one who pitched for the Pirates. He had a career strikeout rate of 16 percent before 2017, but suddenly fanned 26.4 percent of batters faced in 2017. Morton used to rely heavily on his sinker, but he’s throwing more four-seamers and throwing a lot harder. His fastball averaged 95.5 mph compared to 91.6 in 2015 (he was injured most of 2016). His sinker is even harder, averaging 95 mph. His curveball turned into his wipeout pitch, holding batters to a .119 average with a 44 percent K rate. So here’s your key stat: The curveball was especially dominant against lefties, a key reason he had a big reverse platoon split (.561 OPS compared to .805 for righties).
The matchup that matters most: Porcello versus the top of the Houston lineup. In Game 1, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve homered off Sale in the first. In Game 2, Carlos Correa hit a two-run homer in the first. In Game 3, the Astros scored three runs in the first, including Correa’s two-run homer. Is this a bad time to mention Porcello led the majors in home runs allowed?
The prediction: We should get the first close game of the series, with Houston’s ability to hit the long ball off Porcello an obvious advantage. Astros win 6-4.
ALDS Game 4: Indians at Yankees (Indians lead 2-1)
The stakes: The Indians haven’t lost two in a row since Aug. 23. The Yankees have to beat them for a second straight game to stay alive. Good news for the Indians: Teams up 2-1 in a best-of-five series go on to win 72 percent of the time (59-22). As suspected when the Indians chose to initially start Bauer over Corey Kluber in Game 1, the Indians decided to bring Bauer back in Game 4 on short rest instead of Josh Tomlin, in part because Tomlin did warm up at one point in Game 3. Good news for the Yankees: They have their best starting pitcher going in Severino (we’ll pretend that wild-card game never happened).
If the Yankees win: Then we get a Game 5 matchup between Kluber and Sonny Gray. Because Tanaka went seven innings on Sunday and there was an off day on Saturday, the Yankees’ bullpen is in great shape. Only David Robertson (nine pitches) and Aroldis Chapman (34 pitches) were used on Sunday, which leaves Chad Green, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and Tommy Kahnle all rested and ready to go. The only concern is Chapman’s 34 pitches might make Girardi hesitant to use him for more than one inning.
If the Indians win: They move on to the ALCS for the second year in a row, with Kluber then set to start Game 1. If he does have to start Game 5, that means he wouldn’t be ready to start until Game 3 of the ALCS, if the Indians advance.
One key stat to know: Bauer had that amazing start in Game 1, when he allowed just two hits in 6⅔ innings. He had a great curveball going — not so much getting misses on it (just three misses out of 14 swings), but inducing weak contact and getting eight called strikes. That made his fastball more effective — the Yankees put just five fastballs in play out of 21 swings, while hitting 13 foul balls. That was Bauer’s third-lowest rate of balls in play off his fastball all season. Batters slugged .500 off Bauer’s fastball, so that’s his goal: Limit damage on his fastball.
The matchup that matters most: Yankees pitchers versus Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Aside from Lindor’s grand slam off Green, the two switch-hitters haven’t done much in the series. Lindor is 1-for-11 and Ramirez is 2-for-13 with two singles — an infield hit and a slow grounder through the infield. With Edwin Encarnacion likely out again with his sprained right ankle, the Indians need those two to do some damage.
The prediction: Severino bounces back from his wild-card debacle with five strong innings. Aaron Judge (0-for-10 with eight strikeouts and four walks) blasts a long one off Bauer. We go five. Yankees win 5-3.