On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays were celebrating after winning the AL Wild Card, as they began to dream of the magical playoff run that were hoping to watch unfold.
A mere three days later their season is all but over, as the Houston Astros have taken the first two games of the ALDS and have the Rays on the cusp of elimination.
How can an offense that hit four home runs in a do-or-die Wild Card Game suddenly fall silent?
The answer is simple. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
The Astros have the two front-runners for the AL Cy Young Award on their pitching staff and they looked every bit as dominant this weekend against the Rays.
In Game 1, Justin Verlander took the mound for Houston and filleted the Rays linuep with ease.
Verlander pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and walking three, while striking out eight batters. You can make the argument that Verlander is the greatest pitcher in the history of the division series.
Verlander’s seven career wins in the division series are the most in MLB history and if the Rays were to extend this series to a Game 4, he could be waiting to end their season and add to that record.
In Game 2 on Saturday, it was Gerrit Cole’s turn to dominate and he did so in thrilling fashion. Cole has a five-pitch arsenal, but mostly relies on his curveball and slider to work off his fastball.
When you can keep bringing that 100-mph fastball through a seven-inning start though, it sets up a lot of strikeouts.
Cole finished the night with a franchise record 15 strikeouts, pitching 7 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball.
The Astros bullpen did yield a run, but were ultimately able to hold off a Rays comeback bid in the ninth inning to win Game 2.
What makes matters worse for Tampa is that they now have to face another dominant starting pitcher in Zack Greinke with their season on the line in Game 3.
There in lies the reason that the Astros came into this postseason as the favorites to win the World Series. With Verlander, Cole and Greinke, Houston is trotting out one of the greatest playoff rotations in MLB history.
Gerrit Cole Leads the Astros to the ALCS For Third-Straight Year
The Houston Astros are once again heading to the ALCS, as they continue their dynasty over the American League.
In the past two seasons, the Astros have won their division round mathcup rather easily, never facing an elimination game. However this year that changed, as the Tampa Bay Rays pushed them on the brink of elimination.
Tampa won Game 3 and Game 4 at home, forcing the series to return to Houston to play a Game 5 on Thursday night. But the Astros still had Gerrit Cole ready to pitch in that game and he was his usual dominant self.
Cole was spotted a four-run lead in the first inning, giving him ample run support. Then Cole did what any good ace does. He closed the door.
The hard-throwing righty allowed just two hits and one run across eight brilliant innings pitched.
In his first playoff start, Cole struck out 15 batters in a dominant performance. After reaching double digits again in Game 5, Cole put himself in elite company for accomplishing a rare postseason feat.
With Gerrit Cole in the rotation, the Astros stand a great chance to make it to the World Series and win their second title in three years. Cole was not with the Astros in 2017, giving him extra motivation to get his first World Series ring.
The first team standing in the way of that happening is the New York Yankees. The Yankees just came off sweeping the Minnesota Twins and will have been resting for five full days by the time Game 1 starts on Sunday.
That could give them a slight advantage over the Astros, but with a starting rotation that includes Cole and Justin Verlander, Houston will be ready to face whatever the Yankees throw at them.
Washington Nationals Upset the Los Angeles Dodgers to Advance to the NLCS
The Los Angeles Dodgers were the best team in the National League this year and it wasn’t really even close. L.A. won 106 games and had a run differential of plus-273.
For comparison, the Braves were the next best team in both those departments with 97 wins and a run differential of plus-112. Yet at the end of the day on Tuesday, both teams have been eliminated from the playoffs.
In Game 5 between the Nationals and the Dodgers, it was a great pitching matchup, as Stephen Strasburg squared off against Walker Buehler.
Early on it appeared that would be the deciding factor in the game, as Buehler outdueled Strasburg by holding the Nationals to just one run.
Meanwhile the Dodgers hit two home runs off of Strasburg in the first two innings, getting out to a 3-0 lead.
Strasburg buckled down from there though, keeping his team in the game by giving them a quality start through six innings. With the Nationals trailing 3-1, everything changed in the eighth.
Clayton Kershaw came into the game in relief to get the Dodgers out of a jam in seventh inning, striking out Adam Eaton with two runners on. He then stayed in the game to pitch the eighth inning and disaster struck.
Facing one of the best hitters in baseball in Anthony Rendon, Kershaw gave up a lead-off home run to put the Nationals within a run of tying the game.
After Rendon took him yard, all of the chatter surrounding Kershaw’s miserable postseason struggles began to be brought light again as he can’t shake that narrative in an otherwise remarkable career.
Then Juan Soto put the nail in his postseason coffin, drilling the longest home run of his career to tie the game.
While Kershaw is a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer and the greatest pitcher of his generation, he just can’t seem to get the job done in October.
As much as you can’t blame one player on a 25-man roster, Kershaw has been at the middle of a lot of playoff disappointment for the Dodgers over the last decade.
While Kershaw did blow the lead, he did not blow the game, as the Dodgers still had a chance to score a run in the final two innings to come away with the win.
The Nationals were just better though, holding them to no runs in their last two frames and taking the game into extra innings.
Then in the 10th inning, Washington loaded the bases with no outs and Howie Kendrick stepped up to the plate. The former Dodger would deliver one of the biggest home runs in Nationals history, hitting a grand slam that put L.A. away for good.
Washington’s closer Sean Doolittle shut the door in the bottom of the 10th inning and they won their first playoff series in Nationals history.
After their dramatic victory in the NL Wild Card Game and their beating of the juggernaut that was the Dodgers, it is safe to wonder if these Nationals may just be the team of destiny.
We will find begin to find out later this week, as the Nationals open their series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night.
St. Louis Cardinals Eliminate the Atlanta Braves Behind Record 10-Run First Inning
On Tuesday, the Atlanta Braves were set to host the St. Louis Cardinals for Game 5 of the NLDS, with a chance to advance to the NLCS for the first time in 18 years.
Then after the top of the first inning, the game was all but over, as the Cardinals jumped all over Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried, scoring 10 runs.
Foltynewicz was the starting pitcher, but he only got a single out in the contest. First he walked the leadoff batter, before getting that out on a sacrifice bunt.
He then allowed a pair of singles to yield his first run of the game. Then a big turning point came when Foltynewicz induced a potential inning-ending double play ball that Freddie Freeman booted for an error.
From that point on, the Cardinals scored nine more runs, essentially ending the game before the Braves even had a turn at the plate.
It was a record-setting frame for the Cardinals lineup, as no team has ever achieved that feat in the first inning of a playoff game.
The Cardinals added three more runs over the next two innings, carrying a 13-0 lead into the bottom of the third inning.
Jake Flaherty has become the Cardinals ace in his second full year in the big leagues, after pitching to a 2.75 ERA in 33 starts this season.
Today Flaherty had ample run support, but did not give up an inch all game to a talented Braves lineup.
All told, Flaherty pitched six innings and allowed one run when he gave up a solo homer to Josh Donaldson in the fourth inning.
Now St. Louis will play in the NLCS, with a chance to win their second World Series of this decade.
On the other hand, the Braves have failed to achieve much postseason success since their last World Series title in 1995.
Atlanta has won the NL East 13 times since 1995, yet they only have two pennants and no World Series titles to show for it. In fact, since advancing to the NLCS in 2000, the Braves have lost their last 10 playoff series’.
The Braves had a great season in 2019, winning 97 games, the second-most in the National League. That win total is the most the Braves have had since they won 101 games back in 2003.
In the end though, that regular season success just hasn’t translated come October for Atlanta.
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