The Yankees staved off elimination with a narrow victory over the Rays on Thursday evening, forcing a winner-take-all ALDS Game 5 showdown on Friday night, featuring a pair of hard-throwing former Pirates - Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow - pitching on extremely short rest. One of these franchises will punch their ticket to face the Astros, who eliminated the Athletics in a series-clinching slugfest on Thursday, advancing to the ALCS for the fourth consecutive year.
There’s no drama left on the senior circuit, where the NLCS matchup is already set. It’ll be the Dodgers and Braves squaring off in Game 1 on Monday at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Rookie right-hander Kyle Wright tossed six scoreless frames, helping the Braves jettison the Marlins with a three-game series sweep. Lefty Julio Urias fired five solid frames in relief, and the Dodgers’ offense supplied seven unanswered runs to dispatch the upstart Padres in a three-game series sweep. Here’s a full recap of everything that transpired in Thursday’s four-game playoff slate.
Braves Fillet Fish, Advance To NLCS
Braves 7, Marlins 0
(Atlanta wins National League Division Series 3-0)
With the Marlins on the brink of elimination Thursday afternoon, rookie sensation Sixto Sanchez couldn’t keep their miraculous playoff run alive. The electrifying 22-year-old righty wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning, but wasn’t so fortunate in the ensuing frame when the Braves’ offense erupted for four runs on three hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly. Old friend Marcell Ozuna broke a scoreless tie with an RBI single to right field, plating Ronald Acuña, who had singled and swiped second base to lead-off the frame. Burgeoning slugger Travis d’Arnaud followed with a two-run double before Dansby Swanson capped off the four-run outburst with a sacrifice fly. The Braves tacked on three additional insurance runs over the next two frames, effectively eliminating any hope of a Marlins comeback, and punching their ticket back to the NLCS for the first time since 2001.
With the Braves offense sizzling, Kyle Wright was brilliant in his playoff debut. The 25-year-old righty recorded seven strikeouts and scattered three hits over six scoreless innings. He threw 52 of 88 pitches for strikes and also generated 11 swinging strikes. He ran into a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, but managed to coax an inning-ending ground out from Jazz Chisholm, and retired nine consecutive batters to close out the stellar performance. The former first-round pick was underwhelming during the condensed regular season, recording a pedestrian 5.21 ERA, 1.55 WHIP and 30/24 K/BB ratio across 38 innings (eight), but made some substantial changes over his final five starts. In addition to moving towards the first base side of the rubber, he began leaning far more heavily on his sinker. Those subtle changes have improved his control and command, which give him a chance to be an effective major-league starter moving forward.
What’s Next: The Braves advance to face the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Monday at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Braves manager Brian Snitker has pulled every correct lever so far this postseason. They’ve won five consecutive games, and their starting rotation -- spearheaded by Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Wright -- has allowed only four runs with a 33/5 K/BB ratio across 28 2/3 innings (five starts). The Braves’ bullpen has been even more impressive, allowing only one run with 26 strikeouts over 20 1/3 frames this month.
Brantley Powers Astros To Fourth-Straight ALCS
Astros 11, Athletics 6
(Houston wins American League Division Series 3-1)
Michael Brantley homered twice, Carlos Correa launched a three-run homer, and Jose Altuve also went deep as the Astros emerged victorious in a high-scoring slugfest Thursday afternoon, eliminating the division-rival Athletics in a hard-fought, best-of-five series. Ramon Laureano was a one-man wrecking crew, walloping a pair of home runs, but it wasn’t enough for the Athletics to stave off elimination. The two teams combined for 24 round-trippers, the most ever in a five-game playoff series, and the fourth-most in any postseason series ever.
Facing elimination, the Athletics jumped out to an early lead when Laureano launched a three-run homer off Zack Greinke in the second inning. He also tacked on a solo shot in the fifth inning for good measure. The 36-year-old veteran right-hander, whose health remains a question mark moving forward due to right arm soreness, surrendered four runs over 4 2/3 innings. It wasn’t a vintage Greinke performance, but it was enough to give the Astros’ formidable offense a chance to eventually out-muscle the Athletics in the high-octane, jet stream-fueled offensive environment at Dodger Stadium.
Frankie Montas held the Astros in check early on before coming unraveled in the fourth inning. He allowed five consecutive batters to reach safely to open the frame, and all of them eventually crossed the plate, thanks to a two-run homer by Brantley and a go-ahead, three-run blast by Correa -- who finished 3-for-5 with a homer and five RBI -- later in the frame. Things didn’t go much smoother for the Athletics bullpen as Brantley belted a solo homer off J.B. Wendelken in the fifth inning and the Astros tacked on five additional insurance runs to build an insurmountable lead. He won’t garner any headlines, but rookie right-hander Cristian Javier deserves some recognition after hurling 2 1/3 scoreless frames in relief, bridging the gap to closer Ryan Pressly in this one.
What’s Next: The Astros return to the American League Championship Series for the fourth consecutive year, despite finishing the truncated 2020 regular season with a sub-.500 record (29-31), and absorbing the loss of future Hall of Fame starting pitcher Justin Verlander as well. They’ll square off against either the Yankees or Rays -- who play Game 5 of their ALDS matchup on Friday -- in Game 1 of the ALCS at Petco Park in San Diego on Sunday.
The crushing loss represents a gargantuan missed opportunity for the Athletics. Despite the absence of superstar third baseman Matt Chapman due to injury, this may have been one their best opportunities to make a deep playoff run with their current core group. Their young nucleus of talented starting pitchers extends their playoff window for a few more years, but they could potentially lose a pair of key impending free agents, shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks, this offseason. They’ve emerged as key contributors over the last few seasons and will be extremely difficult to replace with in-house talent or free agent imports. The Athletics aren’t going away anytime soon, but this one definitely hurts, especially since they were seven games better than the Astros during the shortened regular season.
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The Empire Strikes Back
Yankees 5, Rays 1
(American League Division Series tied 2-2)
Luke Voit crushed a solo homer and Gleyber Torres clobbered a two-run blast, propelling the Yankees to a series-tying victory against the Rays on Thursday evening at Petco Park in San Diego. With the best-of-five series headed to a decisive Game 5 on Friday evening, New York will hand the ball to their ace Gerrit Cole on short rest. The 30-year-old righty surrendered three earned runs over six innings, while also racking up eight strikeouts, earning a win in the series opener on Monday. Tampa Bay will counter with hard-throwing righty Tyler Glasnow. Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters that he plans to utilize an “all-hands-on-deck” approach since Glasnow will be working on just two days of rest after striking out 10 batters over six innings to pick up a win in Game 2 on Tuesday. It seems highly unlikely that Glasnow will be allowed to go through the Yankees lineup more than once before the Rays turn to lefty Blake Snell on three-days rest. It’s also worth noting that Rays stopper Nick Anderson hasn’t pitched since Game 2 of the series and will likely be available for multiple innings in the series finale.
Voit, who led the major leagues with 22 round-tripper’s during the abbreviated regular season, kicked off the scoring by walloping a no-doubter to left field off Rays opener Ryan Thompson in the second inning. Torres tacked on a pair of key insurance runs with a two-run moonshot to left field off lefty Ryan Yarbrough in the sixth inning. With the Yankees’ offense fully operational, bludgeoning Thompson and Yarbrough in the early stages of the contest, left-hander Jordan Montgomery came through in the most pivotal start of his young career. Making his first appearance since September 24, the 27-year-old southpaw yielded one run over four innings before handing a slim lead over to a well-rested bullpen. Chad Green and Zack Britton tossed 3 2/3 shutout frames before Yankees manager Aaron Boone summoned closer Aroldis Chapman to record the final four outs of the contest. The Rays had several opportunities to even the low-scoring affair, but managed only three hits combined and went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees also appeared to finally solve the Randy Arozarena riddle, keeping him off the basepaths -- and without a round-tripper -- for the first time in the series. The 25-year-old playoff sensation went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts in the losing effort.
What’s Next: It’s entirely possible that the Rays missed their best opportunity to dispatch the heavily-favored Yankees in this best-of-five series. They’ll need to overcome an extremely difficult challenge versus Cole in a decisive Game 5 on Friday to advance to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2008. Cole will be pitching on short rest, but the marquee free agent acquisition is exactly who the Yankees want on the mound with a rematch against the Astros hanging in the balance. “You always want to be out there in the big moment," Cole told reporters on Thursday night. After losing to the Astros in 2017 and 2019, it’s safe to say the Pinstripes will be highly motivated to exact some revenge in the ALCS.
Urias Rescues Dodgers in Relief
Dodgers 12, Padres 3
(Los Angeles wins National League Division series 3-0)
Despite implementing a questionable semi-opener strategy involving Dustin May and Adam Kolarek, before handing the ball to lefty Julio Urias to escape a bases-loaded jam in the second inning, the Dodgers’ offense eventually came to the rescue, exploding for seven unanswered runs in a series-clinching victory over the upstart Padres. Injuries to frontline starters Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet forced the Padres to lean heavily on their well-stocked bullpen in this series, and they simply couldn’t hold up against a formidable Dodgers’ lineup over the course of ostensibly three full games. They used a postseason-record 11 pitchers to complete nine frames in the series-ending loss. Yikes.
Urias authored one of the most dominant performances of his young career in a critical spot for the Dodgers, extinguishing the Padres hopes of mounting a comeback in the best-of-five series. The 24-year-old southpaw was charged with one run -- zero earned -- on one hit, and also recorded six strikeouts over five innings out of the bullpen. More importantly, he stabilized their pitching staff, giving the offense time to respond with some run support, when it looked like this one could potentially spiral out of control early on. Will Smith went 5-for-6 with three RBI as the Dodgers racked up 12 runs on 14 hits without a ball leaving the yard.
What’s Next: The Dodgers will face off against the Braves in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Monday at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Clearly, the Padres are going to be really good for a long time. Burgeoning superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. has evolved into a franchise cornerstone and the potential face of the game moving forward. There isn’t a more compelling team to watch moving forward. The Dodgers dynasty is still going strong, but the Padres is just getting started. This won’t be the final time these two teams square off in October.
Major League Baseball Quick Hits: According to a report by Evan Drellich of The Athletic on Thursday, the qualifying offer for the impending offseason’s free agent class will be $18.9 million, which is an increase from $17.8 million last year. The qualifying offer is based on the average salaries of the 125 highest-paid players in the game. Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer, Astros outfielder George Springer, and Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu are virtual locks to receive qualifying offers this offseason. Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien, Astros outfielder Michael Brantley, Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius, and Athletics closer Liam Hendriks are qualifying offer candidates as well. Any team that signs a player who has rejected a qualifying offer is subject to the loss of one or more selections in the upcoming 2021 MLB Draft, which enables teams losing a marquee free agent to receive some form of compensation.