MLB’s 12-team postseason bracket has already been whittled down to eight contenders. Now, the top two seeds from each league have joined the fray in the Division Series. After advancing directly to their ALDS and NLDS slots via byes, the Astros, Yankees, Dodgers and Braves are taking on challengers.
Some of those challengers are proving more than worthy. In the National League, the top-seeded Dodgers and Braves will both stare down elimination on Saturday. The Phillies took a 2-1 series lead on Friday with a major statement win in front of their home fans. They will hand the ball to trade deadline acquisition Noah Syndergaard in a bid to upset the 101-win Braves and the October-tested Charlie Morton. Meanwhile, the Padres might be an even bigger surprise. A resurgent bullpen has helped San Diego frustrate the Dodgers — who have gone cold with runners in scoring position — and get within a game of the NLCS. Local native Joe Musgrove, who wiped out the Mets in a memorable wild-card series performance, will get the ball against the Dodgers’ Tyler Anderson.
In the AL, the Astros are looking like the favorites they are. Yordan Alvarez’s huge homers have them up 2-0 on the Mariners as the series heads to Seattle. Houston mainstay Lance McCullers Jr. will get the ball looking to make up for missing the 2021 playoffs with injury. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Guardians are a day behind after a rainout. Tied at 1-1, that ALDS will shift to Cleveland with the upper hand on the line. The Yankees’ Luis Severino will take on ascendant Cleveland No. 2 Triston McKenzie. Here’s the full slate:
Game 4: Braves (Morton) at Phillies (Syndergaard) – 2:07 p.m., FS1
Game 3: Astros (McCullers Jr.) at Mariners (Kirby) – 4:07 p.m., TBS
Game 3: Yankees (Severino) at Guardians (McKenzie) – 7:37 p.m., TBS
Game 4: Dodgers (Anderson) at Padres (Musgrove) – 9:37 p.m., FS1 (Update: This game began at about 10:07 ET after a brief rain delay.)
[Full updated MLB playoff TV schedule]
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Padres strike with 5-run rally, complete stunning upset of Dodgers
The San Diego Padres have knocked out the Los Angeles Dodgers. After trailing for much of Game 4, the Padres summoned a five-run rally in the seventh inning to win the game and the NLDS, defeating the juggernauts who lorded over them in the regular season. Second baseman Jake Cronenworth struck the decisive blow with a go-ahead two-run double. With the 5-3 win, the No. 5 seed Padres ended the season of the 111-win, top-seeded Dodgers and advanced to an all-wild card NLCS with the Phillies.
As if to acknowledge the absurdity of it all, Mother Nature brought rain to San Diego — delaying the start of the game and then offering a downpour in the eighth inning for good measure.
In what turned out to be the final game of a record-setting season, the Dodgers sent lefty Tyler Anderson to the mound looking to force a Game 5. He did his part, twirling five innings of scoreless ball allowing only two hits. The bullpen had a tougher time. Tommy Kahnle started the fateful seventh inning but didn’t record an out. Yency Almonte allowed RBI hits by Ha-Seong Kim and Juan Soto that tied the game, then threw one pitch to Cronenworth before Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts elected to bring in lefty Alex Vesia. Cronenworth’s double sent Petco Park into hysterics, with the prospect of San Diego’s first NLCS since 1998 becoming palpable.
These two teams could not have switched fortunes much more abruptly. The Dodgers cruised into October riding the wave of three superstars — Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman — doing exactly what they were acquired to do. The Padres endured a tumultuous year weighed down by the Fernando Tatis Jr. injury and suspension sagas, lifted by a blockbuster trade deadline that brought in Juan Soto and Josh Hader, and then seemingly soured by the scuffles of those big additions.
In this series, it was the Padres bullpen — led by Hader and unsung free agent signee Robert Suarez — that dominated while the Dodgers’ unsettled relief corps faltered. Soto kept popping up in the middle of Padres rallies, along with Manny Machado and Trent Grisham, the center fielder who didn’t even come close to batting .200 this summer.
Having clearly constructed a superteam, the Dodgers will spend another winter with the memory of a 100-win team that didn’t win it all. It will be their fourth such team since 2017. The one version that did win it all, of course, won at an even better clip than this one, but in the shortened 2020 season.
For the Padres, their journey will continue into the NLCS under new manager Bob Melvin, with the fruits of GM A.J. Preller’s fervent maneuverings no longer just exciting hypotheticals, but stars on the best Padres team in a generation.
They will host Game 1 against the Phillies on Tuesday.
Guardians stage rally in 9th inning to beat Yankees
It looked like a classic Yankees win … right up until it turned into a classic Guardians win. Cleveland rookie Oscar Gonzalez whacked his third game-winning hit of the postseason — a walk-off two-run knock with the bases loaded to cap a three-run ninth inning. Cleveland strung together five singles to rally and win ALDS Game 3, 6-5. They now have a 2-1 series edge on the No. 2 seed Yankees.
Earlier in the game, it looked like the Yankees had found their footing. Aaron Judge busted out of his brief postseason slump with a two-run homer to tie the game after a wobbly start for Luis Severino, then Oswaldo Cabrera and Harrison Bader went deep to put the Yankees ahead.
Severino, after allowing Cleveland rallies in the first two innings to go down 2-0, settled in and worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs and striking out six. Judge had struggled mightily in the first two games of the series, striking out seven times with no hits in the leadoff spot. Aaron Boone moved him to the No. 2 hole on Saturday and he crushed the deep home run in his second at-bat.
But the Guardians didn’t go easily. In the ninth inning, down two runs, No. 9 hitter Myles Straw rapped a one-out single off Wandy Peralta. Then Steven Kwan hit another single. Aaron Boone replaced his stretched reliever with Clarke Schmidt, but the hits kept coming. Amed Rosario singled to bring in Straw and cut the deficit to one. Then Jose Ramirez singled to load the bases. Josh Naylor struck out before Gonzalez, the sudden postseason legend, smoked a line drive up the middle to bring in two and flip the game on its head.
The Yankees will now have Gerrit Cole on the mound for Game 4, needing to win to force a Game 5 in New York.
Astros break scoreless draw in 18th inning to oust Mariners
The Astros completed a three-game sweep of the Mariners Saturday, but it took the innings of a full fourth game. After waiting 21 years to witness postseason baseball, Mariners fans watched and hoped through an ALDS Game 3 that stayed scoreless into the 18th inning. But a charmed season full of promise and young talent ended when a Houston rookie finally connected for a home run.
Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña finally landed the decisive blow leading off the 18th, against Mariners reliever Penn Murfee — the second-to-last arm in Seattle’s bullpen with any real chance of appearing. The Astros closed it out to win Game 3, 1-0.
The string of zeros exceeded the MLB record for the deepest a postseason game had gone scoreless — beating the Guardians-Rays wild-card series game from last weekend. It also set a new record for combined strikeouts in a postseason game.
Game 3 was a tense pitcher’s duel. Rookie Mariners starter George Kirby made an October name for himself by blanking the Astros lineup for seven innings. He scattered six hits and struck out five. Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., meanwhile, fired six shutout innings in his return to the playoffs after missing 2021 with an injury. Luis Garcia, a starter during the regular season, pitched the final four innings for the Astros to earn the win.
The list of pitchers who performed well in this game is … long. Overall, the two teams combined to notch 44 strikeouts and allow just four walks and 18 hits.
The most interesting outs of the game — and there were so, so many to choose from — may have come in the fifth inning, when Mariners first baseman Ty France turned an unassisted double play with barely any movement required. He caught an Altuve blooper, lowered his glove and found that Martin Maldonado, who had been on first base, was off the base and bumping into his glove.
The last of those outs was made by Julio Rodriguez, the Mariners phenom who will likely win AL Rookie of the Year. In him, more than anyone else, resides the hope that this will be just the first chapter of the 2020s Mariners and their playoff voyages.
The Astros now advance to their sixth consecutive ALCS. They will host Game 1 against the winner of Yankees-Guardians on Wednesday.
Phillies wax Braves in Game 4, advance to NLCS
The last team in the postseason is the first team in the Championship Series. The Philadelphia Phillies trounced the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves, 8-3, in Game 4 to win the NLDS and move on. The No. 6 seed Phillies wipe out the No. 2 seed Braves in the first full season where MLB’s playoff format admits six teams from each league. The Phillies finished 14 games behind the Braves in the regular season.
None of that matters now, though. Under manager Rob Thomson — who took over for Joe Girardi in June — the Phillies are 70-47 including their burst of success to begin this postseason. They have eliminated the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals and now the NL East champion Braves.
The Phillies once again put the Braves on the ropes with a key early homer. This one came from midseason trade acquisition Brandon Marsh, whose three-run shot in the second opened the scoring. In the third, J.T. Realmuto put an exclamation point on the early surge with an inside-the-park home run. Bryce Harper finished it off with a homer in the eighth inning — his third of the postseason.
Atlanta may look back on this series as an unfortunate string of compromised pitching performances. In the three games they lost, Max Fried was ill, Spencer Stride wore down in his first game back from an oblique injury, and Charlie Morton exited after being hit by a comebacker. It doesn’t change the fact that the Phillies pounced, pounding out hits against starters and relievers alike.
After a fine start from ace Aaron Nola in Game 3, the Phillies turned to a bullpen-centric approach in Game 4. Noah Syndergaard went three innings, then handed it off to a total of five relief arms to finish off the game and the series.
No matter who wins the Dodgers-Padres series, the Phillies will travel to meet them for Game 1 of the NLCS starting Tuesday.
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