October baseball is always one of the most thrilling and nerve-wracking times of the year. The Division Series is underway with plenty of drama, standout players, and lessons to learn for the rest of the playoffs. With each team playing to kick off the Division Series, here is one takeaway from each matchup.
4 Takeaways From the First Day of the Division Series
Baltimore Bullpen Battle
The Texas Rangers squeezed out a 3-2 win against the Baltimore Orioles to kick off their Division Series. With neither team jumping to a commanding lead at any point, there was plenty of tension throughout the game as both starters were taken out before finishing the fifth inning.
For the Orioles, it felt like an opportunity missed. Rangers’ starter Andrew Heaney was taken out after allowing one run in 3 2/3 innings. The Rangers bullpen only allowed one run throughout the rest of the game, largely due to the Orioles’ inability to capitalize on extra runners. The Orioles only managed three hits against the Rangers’ bullpen, but they also worked four walks.
From the fifth inning onward, the Orioles struggled to get runners on base and saw those few opportunities quickly dissipate. A double play ended the fifth inning. With two runners on in the bottom of the eighth, another double play cleared the bases. Gunnar Henderson led off the ninth inning with a single, but got caught stealing.
Meanwhile, the Rangers’ offense didn’t find much more success against the Orioles’ pitching as they struck out a stunning 16 times in 35 at-bats. Orioles’ starter Kyle Bradish gave up a few too many hits, but still had nine strikeouts in his 4 2/3 innings of work. The positive sign for the Rangers was their hitting depth. Their #2-9 hitters all had a hit, including Corey Seager going 1-3 with two walks and Evan Carter continuing his stellar, young career. It will be fascinating to see if the Rangers’ depth and aggressive approach can grind down the Baltimore pitching staff.
Déjà Vu for Houston
This is what Houston does. Playoffs, mash some homers, win some games. In a homer-happy Game 1, the Houston Astros stars pulled through to back up Justin Verlander‘s six shutout innings. Jose Altuve homered on the first pitch of the bottom of the first inning, a fastball at the top of the zone. Yordan Alvarez mashed two home runs, including one after the Minnesota Twins just called to the bullpen for a left handed pitcher, Caleb Thielbar. Platoon splits? Not happening tonight.
This Astros lineup is built to win games like this. They don’t have the offensive depth of other Astros’ team of Octobers past. The top four hitters in the Astros lineup (Altuve, Alex Bregman, Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker) all had an OPS over .800 in the regular season. Chas McCormick (.842) was their only other starter who posted an OPS better than .730.
The top four hitters are the stars we all know from the Astros and their recent postseason success. They will be tasked with carrying this offense for large stretches, and they lived up to that in Game 1. Just like Alvarez hitting his second home run off a lefty reliever, this group of players will have to perform even as other teams focus on maximizing their matchup advantage for this part of the lineup.
Philly’s Looking for a Championship
The Philadelphia Phillies made the World Series as a Wild Card team last season. They are back, even better, and ready to take down their rival, the Atlanta Braves. The Phillies didn’t have a fantastic September with a 15-13 record. Their two-game sweep over the Miami Marlins was nowhere near the same test as the Braves. At least for Game 1, the atmosphere in Philadelphia showed why they believe they can hunt a World Series again.
The Braves had Spencer Strider set for the start, their matchless ace. Opportunities were always going to be hard to come by against Strider, so the Phillies needed to capitalize. From the start, it looked like things might not go their way. Kyle Schwarber led off the game with a double, but made a goof on a ball hit to the shortstop for a fielder’s choice. The Phillies still got Trea Turner to third, but were unable to score after a double play ended the inning. One missed opportunity already.
The next chance came just as much as a fault on Strider. A wild pitch in the fourth inning allowed Bryce Harper to advance to second base when Bryson Stott hit an RBI single. Alright, 1-0, but against a team like the Braves, that’s basically a tie.
Harper was excellent at the end of the regular season, despite returning from Tommy John surgery so quickly. He proved he is ready to shine once more in the postseason as he gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead with a solo home run on Strider’s slider, a pitch that otherwise devastated the Phillies’ lineup throughout the night. The Phillies whiffed on 13 of their 21 swings against the pitch, once more showing why players like Harper can step up in the biggest games.
The Phillies only managed those two runs off Strider before the Braves went to the bullpen in the eighth inning. From there, the Phillies tagged on an extra run with a hectic inning that included two stolen bases from Turner and a stolen bag from Harper, two walks, and a wild catcher’s interference call. The Phillies offense did there job. It was the toughest test yet. They almost certainly won’t curtail this Braves offense all series, so pulling out a shutout win against their best pitcher is a massive step toward the NLCS.
Diamondbacks Dominate Kershaw
The Arizona Diamondbacks are spunky. They have several exciting youngsters, a duo of top-tier pitchers, and they just knocked off the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card round. Even as the Los Angeles Dodgers had extra time to set up their pitching for this matchup, they are missing a serious portion of their A-team rotation. The Diamondbacks jumped on Clayton Kershaw for six runs for only one out to suddenly send this series into emergency mode for Los Angeles. The Diamondbacks would take a decisive 11-2 win in Los Angeles, assembling the first piece of yet another upset.
The Diamondbacks’ unlikely offensive output against Kershaw is interesting to analyze. Without using that one fluky inning as a predictor for the rest of the series, Arizona also found success against Milwaukee’s best pitchers. The offense is truly a threat when it’s firing. It did not see much of that firepower to finish out the regular season, but the playoffs are when it matters most. Even if we accept this six-run outburst as an anomaly, the effects are very, very real for the rest of the series. The Dodgers were forced to cover an entire game with their bullpen and the Diamondbacks scored five more runs even after Kershaw’s first inning blowup. For a Dodgers team already struggling with starting pitching, favored pitching duels will be even harder to come by as the Diamondbacks get Zac Gallen for Game 2.
Taking a closer look at the 11-2, there were some encouraging performances for the Diamondbacks that shouldn’t be overlooked simply because of the blowout nature of the game. Corbin Carroll hit his second home run of the postseason in a 2-for-5 night. Gabriel Moreno went deep after a concerning concussion scare in the Wild Card round. Alek Thomas, who had a .647 OPS in the regular season, already has two home runs this postseason. We’re all here for the October upsets and memorable stories. Through three games, Arizona has outscored their opponents 22-7 while their bullpen has allowed only two runs. The Diamondbacks are capable of winning a lot of games if they get to follow this script.
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