Home Featured MLB League Championship Series Observations: Rays one win from reaching World Series, Braves jump out to 2-0 series lead over Dodgers

MLB League Championship Series Observations: Rays one win from reaching World Series, Braves jump out to 2-0 series lead over Dodgers

by Chris Brown

A field of 16 MLB teams has been whittled down to four and with the League Championship Series in full swing, that number will soon be just two. The American League’s 1-seed is doing what you’d expect it to against a team that finished the regular season under .500 while the National League’s top seed is trailing in its series 2-0. 

Let’s break down five key observations from each of the series thus far:

ALCS: Rays lead Astros 3-0

The Rays have played some incredible defense.

Kevin Cash’s team has put on a defensive clinic in this series. Outfielders Manuel Margot, Kevin Kiermaier and Hunter Renfroe have all made multiple sensational catches. Infielders Joey Wendle and Willy Adames just keep making big plays, and first basemen Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Díaz have vacuumed up everything thrown their way, sometimes in spectacular fashion. It’s really difficult to put into words how impactful the Rays’ defense has been. They just keep making big play after big play, and even the pitchers have gotten involved. Here’s a sampling from Game 3:

The Astros’ defense, meanwhile, has let them down spectacularly, and the Rays have capitalized.

Jose Altuve’s throwing error in the first inning of Game 2 left the door open for Margot’s game-winning three-run homer. In Game 3, Altuve tossed away a seemingly tailor-made double-play ball, initiating a nightmare sequence of events for Houston which included back-to-back hit batters in a five-run sixth inning for the Rays. The normally sure-handed second baseman, who entering this postseason having not made a throwing error since August 2019, has committed three in the ALCS, with five Tampa Bay runs scoring following those errors. Simply put, they’ve been the kind of mistakes you simply can’t afford to make against a team as good as the Rays.

The legend of Randy Arozarena only continues to grow.

The 25-year-old Rays outfielder has four home runs this postseason but is doing a lot more than just hitting the longball. Arozarena on Tuesday became just the fifth player in postseason history with four three-hit games in a single postseason. Arozarena is now just one extra-base hit away from tying BJ Upton and Evan Longoria for the most extra-base hits (nine) in a single postseason in Rays history. His batting line for the playoffs: .462/.512/.897. His OPS is 1.409. 

The Astros have picked up plenty of hits but have been unable to capitalize with runners on.

Houston has actually out-hit Tampa Bay 26-18 in the first three games of the ALCS. The gap would be even wider without several strong plays by the Rays as well as effective defensive positioning, as several Astros players have hit the ball exceptionally hard but had little to show for it. So how do the Astros have just five total runs in three games? The biggest reason, aside from the great Rays defense, is that they’ve stranded 31 baserunners and are 4-for-24 with runners in scoring position. None of those four hits have produced a single run. It’s really about as simple as that. The Rays have come up big at the plate when it’s mattered most and capitalized on Houston errors. The Astros have, well, not done the same. 

Both clubs’ pitching has generally been strong through the first three games of the series.

The Rays’ five runs in Game 3 were the most either club has scored in a game thus far in the ALCS, and one of those was unearned. Astros pitchers have posted a collective 2.52 ERA, allowing seven earned runs on 18 hits, three homers, seven walks and 35 strikeouts. Rays hurlers have posted a sparkling 1.67 ERA despite giving up eight more hits, one more homer and four more walks and striking out 13 fewer batters. Tampa Bay’s pitchers haven’t all been completely dominant, but they’ve stranded every single one of the 20 inherited runners they’ve had so far this postseason. That’s the longest such streak to start a postseason ever. 

Up Next:

Tyler Glasnow will take the mound opposite Zack Greinke as the Rays attempt to sweep the ALCS on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and advance to their second World Series in franchise history. The Astros are facing a major uphill battle with only one team (the 2004 Red Sox) ever coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven postseason series in MLB history.

NLCS: Braves lead Dodgers 2-0

The Braves’ top starters have continued to dominate against their toughest postseason opponent yet.

Atlanta entered the NLCS having thrown four shutouts in its five playoff games. The Dodgers lineup, though, was going to be the pitching staff’s greatest test yet during this postseason following matchups with the Reds and Marlins. Lefty Max Fried and rookie Ian Anderson, who started in three of those shutouts, both continued their dominant postseason runs in the first two games of the NLCS. Fried held the Dodgers to one run (a Kike Hernandez homer) on four hits while walking two and striking out nine in Game 1, and despite walking five, Anderson extended his postseason scoreless streak to 15 ⅔ innings with four shutout frames in Game 2. The pair has started six of the Braves seven games this postseason, but the club will have to turn elsewhere for at least the next two games in this series.

The Dodgers finally got their bats going late in Game 2, but came up just short and now face a daunting challenge.

After being held to just four hits in a 5-1 loss in Game 1 of the series, the Dodgers, who lead baseball in runs scored this season, were again struggling at the plate for most of Game 2, with Anderson and Tyler Matzek keeping them off the board through the first six innings. Dave Roberts’ club cut its 7-0 deficit to 7-3 in the seventh thanks to Corey Seager’s three-run shot. After Ozzie Albies’ solo home run in the top of the ninth pushed the Braves’ lead up to five, the Dodgers scored four runs in the bottom of the inning on a Seager double, Max Muncy homer and Cody Bellinger triple, but Braves closer Mark Melancon was able to induce a hard groundout with the tying run 90 feet away for the Atlanta win. The Dodgers, playing in the NLCS for the fourth time in five years, will have to win four of the next five games in the series to avoid elimination.

Atlanta has yet to lose a game this postseason.

The Braves are 7-0 in the 2020 playoffs. It’s a stat that really speaks for itself, but let’s add a little context: Atlanta’s seven-game winning streak is tied for the second-longest to begin a postseason in MLB history, behind only the 2014 Royals, who won eight straight to start the playoffs. The team’s +24 run differential through seven postseason games is also tied for the second-highest in such a period in MLB history. The Braves have scored 13 total runs in the first two games of the NLCS against a Dodgers team that posted the best ERA in baseball this year. Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies are leading the team offensively with two home runs each and Austin Riley hit the game-winning home run in the ninth in Game 1.

Clayton Kershaw’s injury was a big blow to a Dodgers team in need of a Game 2 victory.

The eight-time All-Star was scratched from his scheduled start on Tuesday about six hours before first pitch due to back spasms, with rookie Tony Gonsolin getting the call instead in his first game appearance in 17 days. The 26-year-old started strong but faltered the second time through the Braves order, eventually being charged with five earned runs in 4 ⅓ frames. It appears likely that Kershaw could be ready to start by Game 4 of the series, but it’s certainly possible his team could be down 3-0 to Atlanta by then. The ninth-inning also remains an area of pitching concern for the Dodgers.

Ozzie Albies and Mark Melancon have formed a very unique connection.

In a span less than 24 hours, Braves closer Mark Melancon caught two ninth-inning home runs off the bat of second baseman Ozzie Albies while warming up in the bullpen:

Melancon has now caught more home runs in the ALCS than he gave up in the entire regular season. Said Braves manager Brian Snitker of Melancon after Game 2: “He must be reading the card. He’s well positioned.” Albies became the first player in MLB history with a ninth-inning homer in back-to-back playoff games. 

Up next: 

With Kershaw still sidelined, Julio Urías will take the mound for the Dodgers in Game 3 on Wednesday, Oct. 14, as the club looks to avoid falling behind 3-0 in the series. Urías has thrown eight scoreless innings this postseason, all in relief. Twenty-five-year-old Kyle Wright, who threw six shutout innings against the Braves in Game 3 of the NLDS, will start for the Braves as they look to take complete control of the series.

Photos by All-Pro Reels / Flickr

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