Things aren’t supposed to start on Sunday. That’s why the phrase “Even God rests on Sundays” is around. It’s a deflation period. So yeah, I wasn’t totally on top of it with the ALCS starting yesterday. But it was a Sunday. They’re meant for long walks or brunch (which you make yourself these days and not put someone in danger for a goddamn mimosa at a restaurant, you inconsiderate monster) or, if you’re like some people but certainly not me, nursing a hangover you didn’t anticipate while watching the G1 the night before. It happens. Anyway, today is the first day of both league championship sets taking place, so we’ll just technicolor yawn this out now and then go about our lives as normal, yes? Yes.
Well definitely not because they already have the lead in a game that took place after this should have been written! No siree!
Anyway, last night was a pretty good example of what this series will boil down to. The Rays have a bullpen full of boogeymen, ghouls, and demons (#SaveHalloween), and they put one on the Astros in Game 1. The Astros make the most contact and strike out the least amount of any team. The Rays will win if their pen can turn Houston into the same shapeless goo they’ve turned everyone else into during this season and playoffs.
The other advantage the Rays have is the depth in starting pitching. But that’s somewhat capped by Tyler Glasnow not being available until Game 4, and then probably only Game 4, after his exploits in the Division Series. But if the series goes the full route of seven games, he could be used again as an opener. The no off-days rears its ugly head again. Still, with Zack Greinke lost in the supermarket so far this postseason, the Astros don’t have anyone they can trust as much as the Rays can look to Snell, Morton, and Glasnow. Lance McCullers goes this afternoon and the A’s have already turned him into a fine paste once this fall.
The aforementioned contact, which kept Snell to only two Ks through five and ran his pitch count over the lid in just five innings. With a no-days-off best-of-7, the more the Astros grind over and through the Rays starters (and the more they have to go to the pen and the more looks they get at said pen), the more likely they are to finally break through. This is how they won in 2017, as by the time the ALCS or World Series got to Games 6 and 7 they’d seen every reliever two or three times. That, and the buzzers and cameras and cans and neon lights and a descendant of Alan Turing’s machine in center field. The Nationals got around this by just throwing their starters, their best pitchers, as often as they could and negating that sort of advantage. As good as the likes of Fairbanks, Thompson, Curtiss, and Castillo have been, give any team three or more looks in the course of a week and it can get dicey.
Because in the COVID year, we really need a World Series between a team from Florida and a team from Georgia playing each other in Texas, as those are just about the three most fucked up states in regards to handling the pandemic as you could find.
As for baseball matters, the Braves are possibly the one team that can go offensively toe-to-toe with the Dodgers. Atlanta didn’t get much from either Freddie Freeman or Ozzie Albies in the first two rounds, and yet pounded the Marlins and their impressive starting staff. If Freeman comes to party along with those who have already, they will score a lot, even off the Dodgers. The Braves also have five or six relievers they can trust, which is the one thing the Dodgers don’t have. Mark Melancon is way too pitch-to-contact for a closer at this point in his career to feel totally safe, especially against the fireworks factory Dodgers, but that’s better than the pitch-to-gasoline that Kenley Jansen has been. And that throws the whole pecking order of the Dodgers pen out of whack, and it’s unclear if Dave Roberts is the guy to navigate those waters. He’ll probably throw Clayton Kershaw out of the pen again just to pile more manure on the poor man’s playoff rep.
Because they do everything Atlanta does but a little bit better. The Braves can go 1-6 or even 7 in the lineup. The Dodgers can go 1-13 or something. Max Fried and Ian Anderson have made for an impressive top of the rotation. The Dodgers sport Walker Beuhler and Kershaw, and then Julio Urias or Dustin May and his far-too-tight pants behind that. Roberts could get cute again and keep using Urias out of the pen, but with no off-days there’s a limit to how many bullpen days a team can have.
The only area the Dodgers might worry is if they have to use their pen too much, and what exactly Roberts is going to do with Jansen. Roberts isn’t exactly Eisenhower when it comes to being an in-game general, and asked Joe Kelly to clean up Jansen’s mess last time when there were at least three better options to do so. If you’re asking Joe Kelly to do anything other than be a tool, you’re playing with fire.
Again, the lack of off-days plays a role here. If the Braves can force Buehler and Kershaw into early nights, there’s only so many times in a week’s span you can throw Pedro Baez, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol before a lineup like Atlanta’s catches on. If the starters keep those limited, then the Dodgers are still the better team.