Welcome to October. The expanded 2020 postseason format delivered a veritable smorgasbord of compelling Wild Card series matchups on Wednesday, with all 16 playoff qualifiers in action during a massive eight-game slate. The Athletics were the only American League squad to force a decisive Game 3 in their opening-round series. The Astros eliminated the Twins, the Rays dispatched the Blue Jays, and the Yankees jettisoned the Indians in their respective series. Meanwhile, the National League kicked off their Wild Card series with the Braves edging the Reds in a marathon extra-inning affair, Marlins mounting a late-inning rally against the Cubs, Cardinals battering the Padres, and the Dodgers edging the Brewers in a low-scoring, late-evening contest. Without any further delay, here is a full recap of Wednesday’s action and where each franchise is headed moving forward.
Reds 0, Braves 1 (13-innings)
(Atlanta leads NL Wild Card series 1-0)
Trevor Bauer and Max Fried locked horns in a throwback pitcher’s duel, trading zeroes for seven frames in a dazzling display of pitching prowess. Bauer authored one of the most dominant starts of his career, becoming the first pitcher in postseason history to fire 7 2/3 scoreless frames with at least 12 strikeouts and zero walks. In addition to setting a Reds’ postseason record with 12 punchouts, the 29-year-old impending free agent scattered two hits, generated a whopping 18 swinging strikes, and threw 73 of his 103 pitches for strikes. Unfortunately, he was forced to settle for a no-decision as his Braves counterpart, 26-year-old lefty Max Fried, yielded only six hits and finished with five strikeouts over seven shutout frames. The contest remained deadlocked in a scoreless stalemate until NL MVP frontrunner Freddie Freeman delivered a tiebreaking RBI single to center field, propelling the Braves to a walk-off victory in the 13th inning.
What’s Next: On the heels of Bauer’s prolific performance, and the Reds facing elimination, Luis Castillo is slated to make his playoff debut in Game 2 at Truist Park on Thursday afternoon. The dynamic 27-year-old righty posted a 3.21 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 89/24 K/BB ratio across 70 innings (12 start) during the regular season. The Braves will counter with rookie standout Ian Anderson. The 22-year-old righty compiled a microscopic 1.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 41/14 K/BB ratio over 32 1/3 innings (six starts) in the truncated regular season. He also served up only one home run during that span.
Astros 3, Twins 1
(Houston wins AL Wild Card series 2-0)
Carlos Correa launched a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning, while relievers Cristian Javier and Ryan Pressly fired four scoreless frames, leading the Astros to an impressive series sweep against the Twins, who have lost 18 consecutive postseason games, dating back to 2004. Minnesota had several chances early on in the low-scoring affair, but Astros starter Jose Urquidy wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the opening frame, and managed to keep the Twins off the scoreboard until lefty reliever Brooks Raley allowed an inherited runner to cross the plate on a game-tying RBI double by Nelson Cruz with two outs in the fifth inning. Twins starter Jose Berries retired 11 consecutive batters to open the contest before issuing back-to-back walks, and surrendering an RBI single to Kyle Tucker in the fourth inning. Both starters were gone from the contest by the sixth inning as managers Dusty Baker and Rocco Baldelli leaned heavily on their bullpens over the final four frames.
What’s Next: Houston advances to face the winner of the White Sox and Athletics first-round series, with Game 1 of the best-of-five series scheduled for Monday, October 5. The entire series will be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Minnesota has been eliminated from the postseason in the Wild Card round for the second consecutive season. On a positive note, highly-touted Twins prospect Alex Kiriloff became the first player in major-league history to debut by starting a postseason game. The 22-year-old outfielder flew out with a chance to put the Twins ahead in the opening stanza, but he later ripped a 105.9 mph single to right field in the fourth inning and also made a nice sliding catch in the fifth inning. The future isn’t totally bleak in Minnesota.
Marlins 5, Cubs 1
(Miami leads NL Wild Card series 1-0)
The Marlins exploded for five runs in the seventh inning, thanks to a three-run homer by outfielder Corey Dickerson and a two-run dinger by first baseman Jesus Aguilar, to emerge victorious in their first playoff game since 2003. Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks carried a shutout into the seventh inning before surrendering back-to-back one-out singles to Miguel Rojas and Chad Wallach before serving up a go-ahead three-run shot to Dickerson. Cubs manager David Ross turned to his stopper Jeremy Jeffress to try to prevent any further damage, but he was tagged for a two-run shot by Aguilar to further extend the Marlins advantage. Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara was credited with a win in his playoff debut, surrendering one run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings.
What’s Next: The Marlins have an opportunity to advance to the NLDS, but they’ll likely be without veteran outfielder Starling Marte, who suffered a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal on his left hand when he was drilled by a pitch in the ninth inning of Game 1. Electrifying rookie sensation Sixto Sanchez -- 3.46 ERA, 1.205 WHIP, and 33/11 K/BB ratio across 39 innings (seven starts) -- will square off against Cubs ace Yu Darvish -- 2.01 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 93/14 K/BB ratio in 76 innings (12 starts) -- in Game 2 at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon. It’s the marquee pitching matchup of the best-of-three game series. What more do you need to know?
White Sox 3, Athletics 5
(Series tied 1-1)
Facing elimination, right-hander Chris Bassitt, who quietly evolved into an upper-echelon starting pitcher this season, carried a shutout into the eighth inning, Marcus Semien and Khris Davis left the yard, and the Athletics held off the White Sox’ late rally to force a decisive Game 3. It was their first playoff victory since 2013. Yasmani Grandal clobbered a two-run homer -- his second round-tripper of the series -- off A’s closer Liam Hendriks in the eighth inning and also drew a bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning, but it simply wasn’t enough for the White Sox to overcome a five-run deficit.
What’s Next: As of late-Wednesday evening, neither team has officially announced their starting pitcher for Thursday’s decisive Game 3. However, it seems likely that the Athletics will turn to veteran righty Mike Fiers, given the White Sox exceptional results versus left-handed pitchers, including A’s lefty Jesus Luzardo in Game 1, this season. The White Sox have plenty of options, but rookie right-hander Dane Dunning seems like the obvious choice to start the win or go home matchup. Athletics manager Bob Melvin told reporters Wednesday that Hendriks, who threw 49 pitches over 1 2/3 innings in Game 2, will be available out of the bullpen. The winner of this series will advance to face the Astros in the ALDS next week.
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Blue Jays 2, Rays 8
(Tampa Bay wins AL Wild Card series 2-0)
Hunter Renfroe launched a grand slam off Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was shelled for seven runs -- three earned -- over 1 2/3 innings, in the second inning Wednesday, leading the Rays to a series sweep of the division-rival Blue Jays. The Rays relentless offensive onslaught was spearheaded by 25-year-old designated hitter Randy Arozarena, who doubled twice and reached base safely in four of his five plate appearances. Meanwhile, 27-year-old righty Tyler Glasnow followed up lefty Blake Snell’s dominant outing in the series opener, recording eight strikeouts over six innings of two-run ball to extinguish Toronto’s playoff hopes.
What’s Next: The Rays advance to the ALDS where they will face a familiar foe (Yankees) in an unfamiliar location (Petco Park in San Diego) next week. The Blue Jays failed to manufacture anything at the plate in this series, plating only three runs combined in the two-game sweep, but it’s difficult to envision them not making an extended run in the near future, especially given their young offensive nucleus. There was some speculation that Ryu was dealing with a physical issue after the Blue Jays opted to hold him back from Game 1, but that was denied by the team. His velocity was noticeably down and he gave up hits to eight of the 15 batters he faced. Hard-throwing rookie right-hander Nate Pearson was impressive in his postseason debut, striking out five batters over two perfect frames. Better days lie ahead in Toronto.
Cardinals 7, Padres 4
(St. Louis leads NL Wild Card series 1-0)
San Diego’s season is officially on the brink after Chris Paddack was lit up for six runs on eight hits over 2 1/3 frames, and the Padres were simply unable to dig themselves out of an early deficit in their first playoff game since 2006. Veteran stalwart Paul Goldschmidt kicked off the scoring with a two-run dinger in the opening stanza and the Cardinals never trailed in this one. The Padres bullpen yielded one run over 6 2/3 frames to keep them within striking distance, but the offense failed to manufacture a late-inning rally. The Cardinals’ bullpen ended up being the difference as a trio of relievers -- Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Miller and Alex Reyes -- combined for 3 1/3 scoreless innings to preserve the narrow victory. Manager Mike Shildt turned to Gallegos to face Fernando Tatis Jr. with the tying runs on base and two outs in the sixth inning. The 29-year-old righty came through, whiffing Tatis Jr on four pitches to end the threat, and also hurled a scoreless seventh inning as well. Miller allowed the tying runs to reach, and recorded only two outs in the ensuing frame, before Reyes came on to dispatch Tatis Jr. and toss a perfect ninth inning to end the contest.
What’s Next: Hard-throwing right-hander’s Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet were left off the Padres’ Wild Card series roster, which further amplifies the pressure on soft-tossing righty Zach Davies in Game 2 at Petco Park on Thursday. The command-oriented 27-year-old compiled a remarkable 2.73 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 63/19 K/BB ratio across 69 1/3 innings (12 starts) in his Friars debut, and will be tasked with keeping their playoff hopes alive. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will look to close out the best-of-three series with veteran Adam Wainwright on the mound. The 39-year-old righty enjoyed a remarkable renaissance during the shortened regular season, posting a sparkling 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 54/15 K/BB ratio over 65 1/3 innings (10 starts). Both teams relied heavily on their bullpen in the series opener, so this series may hinge on whether Davies can outlast Wainwright.
Yankees 10, Indians 9
(New York wins AL Wild Card series 2-0)
As SNL Weekend Update “New York City correspondent” Stefan would eloquently summarize, this game had everything. A 43-minute rainless delay, followed by a 33-minute rain delay, four lead changes, Masahiro Tanaka grinding out five innings after a disastrous opening frame, an RBI double by Jose Ramirez through a driving rainstorm, a 420-foot opposite-field dinger from Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Naylor becoming the first player in major-league history to record a hit in each of his first five postseason plate appearances, strikeout artist James Karinchak coming on with the bases-loaded and nobody out in the fourth inning, Gio Urshela walloping a mammoth grand slam off Karinchak, Ramirez drilling a game-tying RBI double in the sixth inning, mercurial backstop Gary Sanchez belting a two-run shot in the seventh inning, Aroldis Chapman coughing up a late run, Urshela making an incredible defensive play at the hot corner to prevent any further damage against Chapman, Brad Hand blowing a save in the top of the ninth inning, and finally Chapman slamming the door in the bottom of the ninth inning. What. A. Game.
What’s Next: The Yankees are a fully operational Death Star at this early stage of the postseason. They’ve clobbered seven round-trippers and plated 25 runs through two games, and demolished some of the best pitchers in the American League in the process. They advance to face the division-rival Rays in the ALDS next week. The entire best-of-five series will be hosted at Petco Park in San Diego.
Brewers 2, Dodgers 4
(Los Angeles leads NL Wild Card series 1-0)
Corey Seager crushed a solo homer, Mookie Betts doubled twice, and a quartet of Dodgers’ pitchers -- Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Blake Treinen and Kenley Jansen -- combined to shut down the Brewers in the late-night affair in Los Angeles. Brewers starter Brent Suter issued a pair of bases-loaded walks in the opening frame and also surrendered an RBI double to Betts in the second inning, which provided enough run support for a well-stocked Dodgers’ pitching staff. A two-run homer by Orlando Arcia accounted for all of the damage against Buehler, who recorded eight strikeouts over four innings to open the contest. Urias scattered three hits, and struck out five batters over three frames, before Treinen and Jansen combined for two scoreless frames to close out the low-scoring affair.
What’s Next: The Brewers were already shorthanded due to Corbin Burnes oblique injury, which he suffered during his final regular-season outing, but they will also be without rookie sensation Devin Williams, who was left off their Wild Card series roster due to an arm injury. The 26-year-old righty told reporters Wednesday that he believes he’ll be available if the Brewers advance to the NLDS. In order for that to happen, they’ll need a stellar performance from Brandon Woodruff in Game 2. The hard-throwing 27-year-old righty posted a 3.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 91/18 K/BB ratio across 73 2/3 innings (13 starts) during the shortened regular season. The Dodgers will counter with veteran lefty Clayton Kershaw, who compiled a microscopic 2.16 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 62/8 K/BB ratio over 58 1/3 innings (10 starts) in the condensed 2020 campaign.