It’s baseball nirvana: The one day we’re guaranteed four playoff games. The setup is a little weird. The American League Division Series games will be played first, meaning they’ll have two games in the books before the National League even plays. And how’s this for some big names on the mound: We have four former Cy Young winner starters, plus maybe the hottest pitcher on the planet.
So, who is is playing today? Everyone! The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros begin the day in Houston at 2 p.m. ET, followed by the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians in Cleveland at 5 p.m. Then it’s the NL’s turn — the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals open their series in D.C. at 7:30, and the Arizona Diamondbacks visit the Los Angeles Dodgers in the late game from Los Angeles at 10:30.
The most important thing of the day: One of those former Cy Young winners starting is not Max Scherzer, who tweaked his hamstring in his final start of the regular season, and Dusty Baker decided to play it safe and push Scherzer back to Game 3. That decision was easier to make because Stephen Strasburg posted a 0.86 ERA over his final 10 regular-season starts with seven scoreless outings.
If you’re going to watch only one game, tune in for: Clayton Kershaw on the mound at Dodger Stadium, the best the Dodgers have. His postseason career has been part Shakespearian tragedy. He’s due, right?
ALDS Game 2: Red Sox at Astros (Astros lead 1-0)
Drew Pomeranz (17-6, 3.32) vs. Dallas Keuchel (14-5, 2.90), 2 ET (Fox Sports)
The stakes: Jose Altuve became the ninth player (Babe Ruth did it twice) in postseason history with a three-homer game in Houston’s 8-2 win in Game 1, so the Red Sox need a win to avoid the dreaded 2-0 disadvantage. Pomeranz allowed one run in six innings against Houston in the final series of the regular season, but with David Price available in long relief and a 1-0 series deficit, John Farrell has no choice but to have a quick hook with Pomeranz if he gets into trouble.
If the Astros win: They’re looking good as they turn to secret weapon Brad Peacock in Game 3 (most likely; A.J. Hinch hasn’t officially announced his starter). Peacock was 8-0 with a 2.88 ERA on the road.
If the Red Sox win: They should be happy to go back to Fenway with a split. If you get another split, it’s probably a Chris Sale-Justin Verlander rematch in Game 5, and you’ll take your chance with that, even as poorly as Sale pitched in Game 1.
One key stat to know: Keuchel is the most extreme ground ball starter in the game with a 68 percent ground ball rate, but the Red Sox were third in the majors in OPS against Baseball-Reference.com designation of ground ball pitchers (compared to 25th against fly ball pitchers).
The matchup that matters most: We have to go Altuve versus Pomeranz. Altuve’s home runs came on an 0-2 fastball, 0-0 fastball and 1-1 changeup. During the regular season, Altuve hit .381/.441/.629 against fastballs in the upper half of the zone. Pomeranz throws his fastball in the upper half 74 percent of the time. So …
The prediction: Keuchel scuffled a bit after coming off the disabled list, but looked much better in September. The Boston lineup just doesn’t feel that imposing right now, and Keuchel shuts down the running game. Look for him to pitch a solid game and for Altuve to hit another homer, as the Astros win 5-3.
ALDS Game 2: Yankees at Indians (Indians lead 1-0)
CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69) vs. Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25), 5 ET (MLB Network)
The stakes: The Yankees couldn’t do anything against Trevor Bauer and his steady diet of curveballs, and their reward for Game 2: the pitcher with the best curveball in the game. Heading into the series, Game 1 felt like one the Yankees needed to win, even more so than a typical opener. Now they have to win three of four against the hottest team in baseball.
If the Yankees win: It means they somehow scratched out a couple runs off Kluber or the bullpen, and manager Joe Girardi probably got a lot of mileage from his bullpen. Sabathia had a nice season, but his peripherals don’t match his ERA, so Girardi isn’t going to look for much length from him, even if he’s putting up zeros. If the Yankees do win, they get a day off before Game 3 and a chance to win two at home to close out the series without having to face Kluber again since Cleveland’s ace won’t pitch until Game 5.
If the Indians win: Well, they’ve gone two months since losing three games in a row — July 30-Aug. 1. So good luck, Yankees, even returning home for the next two.
One key stat to know: Batters hit .105/.118/.160 against Kluber’s curveball and struck out 54 percent of the time in plate appearances ending with the pitch. While Bauer’s curve is more of the old-school 12-to-6 variety, Kluber’s has a lot more horizontal movement to go with vertical movement.
The matchup that matters most: Yankees hitters versus Kluber’s fastball. They need to be aggressive early in the count and hope they run into a fastball with bad location. On 0-0 counts, batters hit .302 and slugged .547 against Kluber; on 0-1, they hit .319 and slugged .556. Those numbers are even higher when they put a fastball in play.
The prediction: Good plan, hard to execute. That’s why Kluber has a 1.62 ERA since June 1. Kluber dominates for seven innings, the Indians take an early lead off Sabathia and hold on for a 3-1 victory.
NLDS Game 1: Cubs at Nationals
Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.03) vs. Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 2.52), 7:30 ET (TBS)
The stakes: The defending champs are trying to become the first World Series repeat winner since the 1998-2000 Yankees won three straight (and the first NL repeater since the 1975-76 Reds). The Nationals seek the first World Series in franchise history — including the Montreal days that began in 1969.
If the Cubs win: It probably means Joe Maddon made the right choice in going with Hendricks over Jon Lester as his Game 1 starter. Lester has the postseason history of success, but Hendricks has been excellent the final two-plus months after returning from the DL.
If the Nationals win: It will mean the bullpen didn’t blow a late lead (well, that’s possible; you can blow a lead and then rally to win). We all know the Nationals’ bullpen history in the playoffs hasn’t been pretty, but this pen gives them their best shot yet at a title.
One key stat to know: Batters hit .157 against Strasburg’s curveball. They hit .112 against his changeup. Wait, that’s two stats. Point is, the Cubs are known for the patient approach, but you want to avoid two-strike counts against Strasburg.
The matchup that matters most: Nationals hitters versus Hendricks’ changeup. Batters hit just .222 against it and lefties hit just .197 with two home runs in 117 at-bats ending with the pitch. It’s the pitch that makes him so good despite a sub-90 fastball.
The prediction: Strasburg will be making just his second career postseason start. The Cubs led the majors in runs scored in the second half, but Strasburg seems locked in right now. Nationals win 3-2.
NLDS Game 1: Diamondbacks at Dodgers
Taijuan Walker (9-9, 3.49) vs. Clayton Kershaw (18-4, 2.31), 10:30 ET (TBS)
The stakes: All the expectations are on the Dodgers. They have now won five straight division titles, but are still looking for their first World Series trip since 1988. They won the most games, have the highest payroll and made the big trade to acquire Yu Darvish. It’s World Series or bust. Not that the Diamondbacks don’t expect to win, but they’re kind of playing with house money at this point.
If the D-backs win: It means they beat the Dodgers in a game started by Kershaw without starting one of their own two best starters — Zack Greinke or Robbie Ray — which arguably now tilts the series in Arizona’s favor.
If the Dodgers win: They did what they had to. Keep in mind that Kershaw is almost certainly not going to start Game 4, so it would help if they’re at least up 2-1 in the series and tempt Dave Roberts to start Kershaw on short rest.
One key stat to know: Kershaw had a 31.1 percent strikeout rate and .572 OPS allowed before going on the DL, but a 24.6 percent strikeout rate and .731 OPS after returning from the DL.
The matchup that matters most: J.D. Martinez versus Kershaw. Martinez not only hit 29 home runs in 62 games with Arizona, but annihilated lefties with a .376/.464/.892 line. Oh, he also had that four-homer game against the Dodgers in early September. Think Kershaw may brush him back his first at-bat?
The prediction: Kershaw delivers six innings of one-run baseball. Corey Seager homers. Kenley Jansen gets the save. Dodgers win 4-1.