It’s a four-playoff-game Friday! These days come around only once, maybe twice, a year — and this one is leading into the weekend. So let’s consider it a national holiday for the national pastime.
What’s on tap
2:05 p.m. ET: Rays-Astros, ALDS Game 1
4:37 p.m. ET: Cardinals-Braves, NLDS Game 2
7:07 p.m. ET: Twins-Yankees, ALDS Game 1
9:37 p.m. ET: Nationals-Dodgers, NLDS Game 2
The most important thing of the day: That your supplies of hot dogs, peanuts and your beverage of choice are plentiful, your calendar is clear and your couch is comfortable. Playoff baseball for 10-plus straight hours?! Nuff said.
The view from inside the ballparks
HOUSTON — The Astros are fending off chatter about their status as consensus favorites, insisting they are, of course, taking things one day at a time. But from George Springer to Alex Bregman to Game 1 starter Justin Verlander to manager AJ Hinch — this team can’t wait to get things started. — Bradford Doolittle
ATLANTA — Thursday’s loss might be one from which the Braves simply can’t recover. After blowing several leads in Game 1, while giving up six runs over the final two innings, Atlanta now has to face St. Louis ace Jack Flaherty. He has been the game’s best pitcher in the second half, and a loss to him could signal the end for the Braves. — Jesse Rogers
NEW YORK — The last two times the Yankees played in the postseason they were eliminated by the eventual world champions, the Astros in 2017 and Red Sox in 2018. As Aaron Judge said, the first 162 games of the season were basically meaningless to them, and the sting of their loss at home to the Red Sox in Game 4 of last year’s ALDS has been one of their biggest motivators. The Yankees will settle for nothing less than avoiding their first calendar decade without a championship ring in more than a century. — Marly Rivera
LOS ANGELES — Gone are the good vibes from Washington’s wild-card win. That’s what happens when a team tallies as many hits as errors (2) in the series opener. Stephen Strasburg, who has been the team’s most dependable pitcher this year, tries to even the score against Clayton Kershaw and a patient Dodgers lineup that drew seven walks in Game 1. Given the sorry state of the Nats’ pen, Strasburg must go deep for Washington to stand a chance. — Eddie Matz
A stat to impress your friends: We get our first look at the Astros — and there are plenty of ways to measure how great they are. Such as they’re the first team in MLB history to lead baseball in pitching strikeouts (a record 1,671) and have the fewest strikeouts by their hitters in the same season. But better than all that: The [itching staff set an unbreakable record by issuing zero intentional walks. Let’s be honest — there’s nothing to like about intentional walks.
Both managers speculated that Rays starter Tyler Glasnow with come out throwing fire, which the Astros feast on, while Justin Verlander will simply be Justin Verlander. Astros 5, Rays 1. — Doolittle
Verlander did give up 36 home runs, but he also finished with a 1.92 ERA over his final 13 starts with only eight home runs given up and double-digit strikeout totals in nine of those games. For what it’s worth, Verlander is also 7-0 in his LDS career with a 2.38 ERA. Astros 4, Rays 1 — David Schoenfield
Going on the road down 2-0 is no way to start the postseason, but that’s exactly what the Braves are facing. Cardinals 6, Braves 1 — Rogers
After a tough late loss in the opener, the Braves get rewarded with … facing Jack Flaherty. Good luck. Flaherty is the hottest pitcher in baseball with a 0.91 ERA and .142 average allowed in the second half, and I’m betting on seven or eight shutout innings from him. Cardinals 4, Braves 0 — Schoenfield
Against left-handers, the Twins led the majors with 95 homers and an otherworldly .521 slugging percentage, second best all time. I think it will be a close back-and-forth, high-scoring game, but the Twins should take Game 1, supported by a strong performance by Jose Berrios. Twins 8, Yankees 6. — Rivera
The Twins have lost 13 consecutive playoff games dating to 2004, 10 of those to the Yankees. Unfortunately, the streak goes to 14 as the Twins melt under the noise and pressure of Yankee Stadium. — Schoenfield
Strasburg has been dominant of late, and he’ll summon just enough to beat Kershaw and even this series. Nationals 4, Dodgers 2. — Alden Gonzalez
Three days removed from his first career relief outing, Strasburg dominates early before tiring, and L.A. takes advantage of Washington’s pen again. Dodgers 7, Nationals 3. — Matz
About last night
Stud of the night: Walker Buehler. The second-year Dodgers righty picked up where he left off in last year’s World Series, allowing the Nationals only one hit with eight strikeouts over six shutout innings. So much for the Nats’ momentum from their thrilling wild-card win.
Dud of the night: Mark Melancon. The Braves had a closer carousel this season, and the merry-go-round stopped at Melancon over the past six weeks or so with solid results. On Thursday? Not so much as seven of the nine batters he faced reached base and he gave up four St. Louis runs in the ninth after allowing an inherited runner to score (and tie the score) in the eighth. So, yeah, not good.
Highlight of the night:
The Cardinals score 4 runs in the top of the 9th inning to defeat the Braves on the road, 7-6.
Off the diamond
Social media says:
Chipper Jones catches NLDS foul ball pic.twitter.com/mRTxwhHmly
— Bush Leaguer (@BushLeague101) October 4, 2019
Quote of note: “Nothing is more important than winning to these guys. Nothing is more important than leaving it all out on the field and doing it with your brother to your left and to your right.” — manager AJ. Hinch on the Astros
Best of the playoffs so far …
Our running postseason MVP: Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz. Two homers in two at-bats, including one to lead off the first inning, set the tone of the American League wild-card game and took the A’s and their huge crowd out of it.
The play of this October: Juan Soto‘s single/Trent Grisham‘s error with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth inning of the NL wild-card game, which turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 Washington lead. Unfortunately for Grisham, the play will be part of those postseason blunders lists — and it could take on a life of its own if the Nationals end up winning it all.
Game of the postseason so far: Brewers-Nats. The first game of this postseason set the bar pretty high, with a truly unexpected comeback via an unusual turn of events. What a start to October.