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Astros Have Yankees in Rare Underdog Mode; Nationals Will Need More From the Bullpen to Defeat the Cardinals

Well that was quite a wild ride! Three of the MLB’s four LDS series went to five games, one of which was decided by an extra-inning grand slam, one by a record-tying 10-run inning, and the other featured a historic pitching performance. Bubbling underneath all the plot lines are two trends that have taken hold thus far: starting pitchers are pitching much better and for much longer than in recent history. This year starters are averaging five innings a start with an ERA of 3.16, compared to last postseason, when they averaged about 4 ⅔ innings with a 3.90 ERA. What’s a possible cause? Well, that leads us to our second trend: anemic hitting with runners in scoring position. Overall, teams have a .540 OPS with runners in scoring position, with only the Yankees at .942 clearing the 2019 MLB average of .788.

ALCS on FOX/FS1
New York Yankees vs Houston Astros
Saturday, October 12, at 8pm ET on FOX
Sunday, October 13, at 8pm ET on FS1
Houston Astros vs New York Yankees
Tuesday, October 15, at TBD on FOX/FS1
Wednesday, October 16, at TBD on FOX/FS1

Some people were trying a little too hard to be clever by picking the Twins to beat the Yankees in the ALDS, but the Bombers made them look like fools with a barrage of offense, scoring 23 runs en route to a sweep. Yes, the Yankees hit five dingers, but the real damage was done with their bats on their shoulders, as they drew 17 walks.

All-Star 2B Gleyber Torres led the charge with by scoring five runs with three doubles, a homer, four RBIs, and a 1.378 OPS. The Yankees’ pitching staff acquitted themselves rather well, giving up just seven runs in three games. The Twins did manage to hit four home runs, but all of them were solo shots.

Luis Severino, who didn’t join the team until September due to an inflamed rotator cuff and lat strain, provided a huge boost, pitching four shutout innings to start Game 3 before handing a 2-0 lead over to the bullpen. The bullpen was its typically excellent self, with a 2.03 ERA over 13 ⅓ innings, while the starting rotation shined with a 2.63 ERA over 13 ⅔.

The Rays gave the Astros more of a fight than they might’ve expected, but an epic start by Gerrit Cole slammed the door on any underdog dreams. Cole pitched eight innings of one-run ball, striking out 10 to lead the ‘Stros to a 6-1 win and the ALCS. For the Series, Cole was 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA, a 0.57 WHIP and 25 K’s in 15 ⅔ innings.

This Astros team has no weaknesses, with some suggesting that we may be witnessing the greatest team of all time. This declaration seems absurd in the moment, though history may yet bear it out. In the meantime, let’s acknowledge that the 2019 Astros are the only team ever with an OPS+ of 119 or higher and an ERA+ of 127 or higher and their +280 run differential was the 13-best since 1901. They have six everyday players with an OPS+ of 126 or better, and are just the fifth team ever with three starters — Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke — with 6+ WAR. They have MLB’s highest defensive efficiency, turning 71.7 percent of balls in play into outs. They had the second-best bullpen ERA at 3.75. It cannot be stressed enough: this team has no weakness.

The Yankees are well rested and they’ve gotten back some guys from injury that can make big contributions, but this Astros team is the cream of the crop.

NLCS on TBS
Washington Nationals vs St Louis Cardinals
Friday, October 11, at 8pm ET
Saturday, October 12, at 4pm ET
St Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals
Monday, October 14, at TBD
Tuesday, October 15, at TBD

Holy smokes… is there anything worse than being a Dodgers fan? Seven consecutive NL West titles and nothing to show for it. And so, for the first time in franchise history, which dates back to Montreal in 1969, the Washington Nationals have won a playoff series.

They did it thanks to the guys who’ve been doing it all season long: Max Scherzer pitched once in relief and once as a starter, with the Nats winning both, as he gave up just one run over eight innings. Stephen Strasburg went six innings twice, including the clincher. Anthony Rendon mashed his way to a 1.219 OPS with five runs and five RBIs; and Juan Soto had a 1.020 OPS with two dingers, four runs, and four RBIs.

But they also got huge contributions from two unlikely sources. With his team clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 5th inning of Game 4, Ryan Zimmerman, the last of the original Nationals, launched a three-run shot into the night sky, giving his team all the cushion they needed in that must-win game. And there has been no bigger moment in the teams history than Howie Kendrick’s 10th-inning grand that propelled the Nats to a 7-3 win and the NLCS.

The St. Louis Cardinals came into the NLDS as the consensus pick for the worst of the final eight, dug themselves a 1-2 hole, and then promptly went out and twice punched the Atlanta Braves in the face, thereby punching their ticket to the NLCS.

In Game 4, de facto captain Yadier Molina hit a game-tying single in the bottom of the 8th before hitting a game-winning sac fly in the bottom of the 10th to force a Game 5. And then in Game 5, all hell broke loose as the Cardinals went dropped a 10-spot on the Braves in the top of the 1st. Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz faced just eight batters, giving up seven runs on three hits, three walks and an error. Max Fried then came on in “relief,” giving up four runs over 1 ⅔ innings. From there it was all over but the crying.

Paul Goldschmidt, who struggled in his first season with the Cards, came through big time, with four doubles, two homers, two walks, and five runs with a 1.383 OPS. Adam Wainwright, who, along with Molina is the only holdover from the Cards’ 2006 World Series winning team, pitched 7 ⅔ shutout innings in a loss, but, hey, he saved the arms in the bullpen.

Andrew Miller didn’t pitch much, just three innings, but some of those outs were huge, as in Game 4, when he came on in the 7th with one out, a runner on third and the Braves looking to pad a one-run lead, eventually loaded the basis and then got Adeiny Hechavarria hit a harmless (if a bit scary) fly ball to left.

And then there’s Jack Flaherty, who pitched valiantly in Game 2, giving up three runs over seven innings with eight K’s on a night when his teammates’ bats were silent, only to come back to pitch Game 5 with a 10-run lead by the time he threw his first pitch and gave up just one run over seven innings with another 8 K’s.

For all the Cards’ heroics, the Nats are the obvious favorite here, witness 538 giving them a 58% chance of winning. That said, the Cards have home field advantage and a far superior bullpen and that ain’t nothin’, but it’s unlikely to be enough to overcome the Nats trio of Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.

The Cards’ starters were outstanding in the NLDS, with Flaherty, Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson combining for a 1.78 ERA and a .214 batting average against over 30 ⅓ innings, but there’s simply no way they’re going to sustain that.

The Nats only weakness is the bullpen, which was historically bad this season and has been even worse in the postseason with a 6.63 ERA over 19 innings — that, too, seems unsustainable.

All stats courtesy Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN.com

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