The NL is featuring two wildcard teams in its championship series, while the #1 and #2 seeds square off in the AL. More after the jump.
Phillies vs. Padres
These two clubs face each other for the first time in the post-season. There’s a simple reason for that: in the Padres’ 54 seasons of existence, this is the first year that both clubs have reached the post-season.
Game 1 was a tight duel between starting pitchers Zack Wheeler and Yu Darvish, who both went 7 innings (the new CG, I suppose). Darvish allowed just three hits but two were solo home runs, an opposite field wall-scraper by Bryce Harper. and a mammoth blast by Kyle Schwarber, the longest (488 ft) and hardest (120 MPH exit velocity) ever hit at Petco Park. Wheeler was even better, shutting out the Padres on only one hit (a single) and one walk. Despite throwing only 83 pitches, Wheeler was removed after those seven frames; any speculation on whether that was the right move was rendered moot by the Phillie relief corps, which held the Friars hitless to complete the team shutout. Four combined hits for the two teams ties the post-season record low set in game 4 of a 2013 NLDS when the Cardinals edged the Pirates 2-1. Darvish has allowed 6 runs over his three starts this post-season, all of them surrendered via the solo home run; he becomes the eighth pitcher to allow 6 or more home runs over his first three games of a post-season, but his 2.84 ERA over those games is easily the lowest of that group.
In game 2, the Phillies jumped out to an early lead, getting to Padre starter Blake Snell in the 2nd inning for 4 runs on 5 hits, before the veteran lefty finally got the last out after throwing 37 pitches in the frame. It wasn’t Juan Soto‘s finest hour (the half inning almost seemed that long) as he made a throwing error and then lost an easy fly ball in the sun. San Diego responded immediately in the bottom of the frame when Brandon Drury and Josh Bell led off the inning with back-to-back jacks off of Phillies ace Aaron Nola. Both starters steadied after that eventful 2nd inning, until the game turned in the home 5th when the Padres chased Nola with 4 hits by the first 5 batters, including an RBI double by Soto. With the score tied, two out and runners at second and third, Phillie manager Rob Thomson brought in veteran southpaw Brad Hand to retire lefty batter Jake Cronenworth; instead Hand plunked Cronenworth and then allowed RBI hits by the Drury and Bell tandem as the Friars plated 5 runs in the inning to take a 3 run lead they would not relinquish. Josh Hader struck out the side in the 9th to become the first reliever to strike out each batter faced in consecutive one inning post-season appearances. In the first post-season pitcher-vs-hitter confrontation between brothers, Austin Nola went 1 for 2 with an RBI against brother Aaron. Six of the eight San Diego RBI were provided by three players (Soto, Drury, Bell) the Padres acquired in trade deadline deals.
Game 3 featured a matchup between Phillie southpaw Ranger Suarez and Padre righty Joe Musgrove. Kyle Schwarber led off the home 1st with a home run, just as he did for the Red Sox in last year’s ALDS. (Quiz: which other player has hit post-season leadoff home runs for more than one franchise?). The Padres tied it in the 4th, but the Phillies responded with a 4 hit attack in the bottom of that frame, the last knock a two out 2-RBI single by Jean Segura. San Diego got back one of those runs with an unearned tally in the 5th, but the Phillies restored their two run advantage in the 6th with back-to-back two out doubles. As he did in game 1, Phillie manager Rob Thomson went to his bullpen early, pulling Suarez after 5 innings and only 68 pitches. That was ten fewer pitches than the bullpen threw in covering the last four innings unblemished, including more than 25 each by the high leverage tandem of Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez. The six out save by Dominguez was the first in the post-season by a Phillie reliever since Tug McGraw recorded three such saves in the 1980 post-season, including in the World Series clinching game exactly 42 years before. Bryson Stott joined Jimmy Rollins as the only Phillie shortstops with a two double post-season game. Ranger Suarez is the 4th Venezuelan-born left-handed starter to win a post-season game; if Philadelphia makes it to the World Series (or, possibly, to a game 7 in this series), Suarez could become the first such starter to win two post-season games.
Both teams chose to have their bullpens cover game 4, with Mike Clevinger for the Padres and Bailey Falter for the Phillies getting the nod to be the first of an expected long line of moundsmen for both sides. Those lines grew longer than expected as both starters got shelled, making this the first post-season game in 90 years with neither starter lasting one inning. After the first two batters of the game made outs, San Diego went HR, single, walk, double, single to plate four runs. The Phillies responded in the home 1st with single, HR, walk, double for three runs, sending Clevinger to the showers without recording an out. The Phillies tied it in the 4th, but the Padres came right back in the 5th with a 2-run blast by Juan Soto, his first home run of the post-season. The game turned for good in the bottom of that frame when the Phillies tied it on Rhys Hoskins‘ second homer of the game, and took the lead on run scoring knocks by Nick Castellanos and Bryce Harper. Solo shots in the next two innings rounded out the scoring for the home side, while three Phillie relievers blanked the Padres the rest of the way. Clevinger’s last three post-season starts have totaled only 3.2 IP with an ERA over 17, both post-season records for three consecutive starts. Four Padre pitchers allowing home runs ties a post-season record; six of the eleven other teams to record such a game made it to the World Series.
Game 5 featured a rematch of the game 1 starters, Zack Wheeler and Yu Darvish As in the series opener, both had solid outings, each allowing runs only on a home run, a solo shot by Juan Soto against Wheeler, and a 2-run blast by Rhys Hopkins against Darvish. For Darvish, it was his 10th consecutive post-season game allowing a home run, a new record. A leadoff single against Wheeler in the 7th ended his day, with Seranthony Dominguez called on to relieve. The game was played in a steady drizzle and Dominguez struggled with his control in the wet conditions, allowing a double by Josh Bell and three wild pitches that plated a pair of Padre runs. In the home 8th, righty Robert Suarez, working his second inning of relief, allowed a leadoff single on an 0-2 pitch to J.T. Realmuto, bringing Bryce Harper to the plate. Lefty closer Josh Hader was warming in the bullpen, but Padre manager Bob Melvin elected to stick with Suarez to face Harper. On a 2-2 pitch, Suarez left a fastball out over the plate, and Harper connected for an opposite field homer to put the Phillies on top. The Padres threatened in the 9th after a pair of one out walks, prompting Phillie manager Rob Thomson to bring in game 3 starter, lefty Ranger Suarez, to face lefty batter Trent Grisham. Grisham chose to try to bunt his way aboard, but succeeded only in advancing the runners. Suarez then retired Austin Nola on a short fly ball for the save and a series win. This game is the first in the post-season in which relievers with the same surname finished the game for both teams. Series MVP Bryce Harper becomes the first player with home runs in three series clinching games in the same post-season. Zack Wheeler becomes the first pitcher to begin his post-season career with four 6+ IP games allowing 4 hits or less. Philadelphia becomes the 15th team to win its first 5 home games in a post-season. Quiz: which one of those teams failed to advance to the World Series?
Yankees vs. Astros
This ALCS marks the fourth time these teams have met in the post-season. Houston has won the three previous encounters, a wildcard game in 2015 and the ALCS in 2017 and 2019.
One day after winning their division series, the Yankees were in Houston for game 1 of the ALCS against Astro ace Justin Verlander. After one of the worst starts of Verlander’s post-season career in the division series, the veteran righty was taxed early, needing over 20 pitches to get through each of the first three innings, and allowing a solo home run to the hottest Yankee Harrison Bader. Verlander steadied after that and ended up lasting 6 innings, allowing only that one run. Jameson Taillon got the start for the Yankees and was effective, allowing only one run through 4 innings. In the 5th, a one out double by Jeremy Pena ended Taillon’s night, despite having thrown only 67 pitches. Clarke Schmidt relieved and escaped that inning unscathed, inducing a double play ball with the bases loaded. Schmidt went back to the mound for the 6th, but home runs by two of the first three hitters brought his evening to a sudden close. Houston added another homer in the 7th by Pena, and New York responded with a solo shot by Anthony Rizzo in the 8th. But, the Yankees could get no closer, as Astro closer Ryan Pressly retired the last four batters in order, three by strikeout. Pena tied the rookie and shortstop post-season records with three extra-base hits in the game (Quiz: which other rookie shortstop had three extra-base hits in a post-season game?). Astro pitchers struck out 17 on the night, tied for the second most in a 9 inning post-season game; the only higher total was 18 by the Rays, also against the Yankees, in a 2020 ALDS.
Game 2 featured Astro lefty Framber Valdez going up against Luis Severino for the Yankees. Valdez was sharp, allowing only four hits and no walks in 7 innings of work. He might have allowed no runs as well, but for a double miscue on a comebacker in the 4th. In his haste to start a double play, Valdez first dropped the ball, then picked it up and threw wildly as he was falling down; two unearned runs would ensue, the Yankees’ only tallies of the game. Severino also made a mistake, not with his glove, but with a fastball left in Alex Bregman‘s happy zone. With two aboard in the 3rd, Bregman deposited that offering in the left field seats for the Astros’ only runs of the game. The Yankees did not homer in this game, ending their record streak of 23 post-season games with a long ball (the next longest streak is only 14 games). Jose Altuve went 0 for 4 to extend his post-season oh-fer to 0 for 23, a new record to begin a post-season. In his record-setting AB, Altuve hit a missile that bounced just in front of second baseman Gleyber Torres who somehow managed to snag the high hop (and start a double play), throwing up his glove beside his head probably as much in self defense as in a fielding attempt. Houston won their 5th straight game of this post-season, winning each time by one run or two, the longest such streak to begin a post-season, and tied for the longest at any point in a single post-season. Nine hits by the Yankees over the first two games is a franchise record low in the ALCS; it’s also an Astro franchise record pitching low to start an LCS series.
The Yankees had their ace Gerrit Cole on the hill for game 3, with the Astros countering with righty Cristian Javier, making his first start in three weeks. Javier has been something of a Yankee killer, holding the Bombers to one run in 15 career IP, including 7 hitless innings earlier this season in his only start at Yankee Stadium. Javier continued his mastery over the home side, allowing only one hit in his 5.1 scoreless IP. After a scoreless first frame, Cole was about to finish a 1-2-3 second inning with an easy fly ball to right center field. Harrison Bader called off Aaron Judge for the catch, but Judge veered away by passing directly in front of and very close to Bader, a distraction which evidently affected Bader who muffed the easy catch. The next batter, center-fielder Chas McCormick, hit a line drive down the right field line that was a virtual carbon copy of Josh Donaldson‘s shot in game 1 of the division series, with both balls hitting the top of the fence in almost the same spot; the only difference was Donaldson’s drive bounced back into play, while McCormick’s bounced into the seats. Houston was still clinging to that early 2-0 lead when the first three Astro batters reached against Cole in the 6th. Yankee manager Aaron Boone went to righty Lou Trivino to get out of that bases loaded nobody out jamb, but a sac fly and a 2-RBI single by catcher Christian Vazquez put the Astros comfortably ahead. The Yankees were stymied the whole game, held to one hit until the 9th inning and advancing only one baserunner to 3rd base. Twelve hits by New York over the first three games matches the 2013 Red Sox for the lowest total to begin an ALCS. New York’s lineup featured a 3rd different leadoff hitter in as many games, just as it did in the 2012 ALCS when the Yankees were swept by the Tigers. Giancarlo Stanton got the start in left field, his first time playing that position at home since before the pandemic; the Astros took advantage, with all three runners advancing on their 6th inning sac fly, a medium depth drive to left center. Jose Altuve ended his record oh-fer to start a post-season at 25, and Matt Carpenter put his first ball in play after a record 8 strikeouts to start his post-season.
Lance McCullers Jr. for the Astros and Nestor Cortes for the Yankees were the starting pitchers in game 4. McCullers struggled early, needing 45 pitches to get through the first two innings in which Yankee bats finally came to life, plating three runs on five hits. Cortes got through the first two frames allowing just a single and a walk, but a pair of walks to start the 3rd followed by a Jeremy Pena home run tied the score and sent Cortes to the showers. Wandy Peralta finished that inning, but not before allowing three hits and the go-ahead run for the Astros. The Yankees tied the game in the 4th on an unearned tally after a passed ball, and then took the lead in the 6th on a Harrison Bader solo home run. In the 7th, facing Jonathan Loaisiga in his second inning of relief, the Astros tied the game on a pair of one out hits and a costly error by Gleyber Torres, then took the lead on an RBI single by Alex Bregman against Clay Holmes. The last 9 Yankee batters went down in order against a trio of Houston relievers to give the Astros the sweep and back-to-back AL pennants. Houston joins the 2007 Rockies and 2014 Royals in sweeping the LDS and LCS. Series MVP Jeremy Pena joins Kyle Schwarber (2015) and Randy Arozarena (2020) as rookies with home runs in two series clinching games. Josh Donaldson struck out three times, his 7th consecutive game with at least two whiffs, the second longest such post-season streak. The Yankees become the second team to strikeout 50+ times in the first four games of an LCS, and the fourth to do so in any post-season series. Quiz: which of those teams would win the World Series?