The League Championship Series, starting today, both will take place. It can be hard to keep all the madness straight. So join us, throughout the week, for our daily previews – see, for each series, the three main storylines for each team going into the day’s game.
• Post-season bracket, schedule
There has never been a postseason like this, but we have now reached the point where things have been resolved and the schedule resembles a “normal year.” Settings have changed, but this is the postseason, and the postseason always tells us one thing is certain: Every night, you’ll be reminded that you know nothing. The story line will change every day. Here are three storylines for each team heading into Monday’s game.
Game 2: Astros-Rays, 4pm ET, TBS
Rays leads series, 1-0
FAQ: Line-ups, pitchers, others
3 Astros storylines
1. Is Jose Altuve back? There’s really nothing more real than looking at Jose Altuve’s baseball card stats and seeing that he’s hit 0.219 this year. Jose Altuve! 0.219! But the old Altuve appears to be back in October: It owns 1,054 OPS and is in charge of the only Astros operating in Game 1, first inning homer. (Yes, I know he scored for the final, but Diego Castillo is no slouch.) Altuve now have more homers than any second baseman in LCS history and more postseason experience than anyone on either team, and he’s had a tough year he wants to forget. Keep warm, this series will really help make it happen.
2. Could the McCullers make 2017 again? Let’s never forget how good Lance McCullers Jr. in the 2017 postseason.He had an ERA of 2.61 in a variety of roles, including closing Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees with four goalless innings. He also starts Game 7 of the World Series and sets the Astros on his way to series victory, in a game that Charlie Morton closes – the man he’ll face in Game 2!
The McCullers are doing well in 2020, returning from Tommy John’s operation to look basically the same as ever, although this one postseason start was a shaky one (four innings, five runs allowed in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against Oakland). With no day off in the series, Astros may need a chapter from him just like anything else.
3. Is it time to make changes to first base? Yuli Gurriel had a postseason nightmare – 2-for-24, no extra-base hits – before she came to the plate with the bases loaded, one out, dropping one after another at the top eight in Game 1.Gurriel’s swinging free nature got her into trouble again, grounded into a double game which wiped out the Astros’ best scoring chance of the night. It’s not easy to figure out who will replace him at this point, but at 2-for-25, and after the DP killer, manager Dusty Baker should at least weigh every option he has.
3 rays of the story line
1. Will Randy Arozarena only win every MVP from now until the end of time? Arozarena takes her 31st postseason shot Game 1, which is almost exactly half the amount he has in the regular season. Between the regular and postseason seasons, he only had 119 games in the two years of his career. He’s averaged a home run every 7.8 at-bats this postseason, and he’s been doing it against the best pitchers in the world. He’s brash and funny and, as we all find, he’s an amazing dancer. His Game 1 homer breaks Valdez’s Framber spell on Rays and lets them return to the game.
Arozarena (born 1995) is only three years older than the Rays organization… and he could emerge as the face of the franchise.
2. Are they going to wear the hat again? Okay, so yeah, it might be a little silly to ramble on about hats when the stakes are this high. But come on: It doesn’t feel so 1999 here since they announced they were doing another “Matrix” sequel. Wearing the old Devil Rays hat on their first ALCS game since 2008 was a bit of a boss move, if you ask us, and considering it just gave them a Game 1 win, it would tempt the baseball gods to make the switch now. You might think the hat is ugly (and believe us who is there: the old Devil Ray is ugly). But Game 1 might be the best thing they’ve ever been on. Who are you, skeptical, screwing up history?
3. Are there enough people who can have great success? You can forgive Rays fans if they feared most of Game 1 that they would lose. It often happens when teams miss as many chances as Sinar did, leaving nine runners behind and missing lots of opportunities to extend a one-round lead. Diego Castillo to be very relieved that Sinar doesn’t pay for it. Arozarena and Mike Brousseau’s exploits have disguised a little that the Rays are not hitting well post-season – Joey Wendle is the only regular hitting over .300 apart from both, and he doesn’t have one extra-base hit.
When did they start throwing around Arozarena? (What a strange thing to say at last.)
Game 1: Braves-Dodgers, 8 p.m. ET, FOX
FAQ: Line-ups, pitchers, others
3 Bold storyline
1. How many of these can the pitcher follow? The Braves knew they had a strong offense going into the postseason: They had three legitimate MVP candidates above their ranks. But the most amazing thing about the Braves so far, and the reason they haven’t lost a postseason match, is the throw: They’ve thrown four closings this postseason. (That’s as much as they do during the regular season.) Max Fried and Ian Anderson are big arms, and they line up perfectly 1-2 for this series, but don’t forget that Kyle Wright also threw six innings goalless in Game 3 of the Marlins sweep.
Dodgers fouls hurt both the Reds and the Marlins, so don’t expect much closure. But if the Braves can keep throwing anywhere near this, they have a great chance.
2. Could Freeman have his life sequence? Freddie Freeman, who may have just won MVP this season, was great in his first two playoff series, scoring 4-for-5 in the notorious Wild Card Game defeat to the Cardinals in 2012 and hitting .313 in a four-game loss to the Dodgers in 2012. 2013. But then his team didn’t return to the playoffs for five seasons, and while he was an established team leader in 2018, his postseason results weren’t what you might expect. In his last four series, he’s hit 0.204 (11-for-54) with only two homers (though he had a single walk-off in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against Cincinnati.)
Freddie Freeman, in many ways, has become the story of 2020: He was very sick with COVID when the year started, returned to hero’s welcome and then put together the best season of his career in the best team he’s ever played. This is the farthest he has ever achieved in the playoffs. The hot series will make 2020 its year more than anyone else’s.
3. Is this an Acuña moment? Our greatest stars seek the biggest stage for their abilities. There is perhaps no more talented player at all of baseball than Ronald Acuña Jr., a man who can do everything and make it look so easy. But, for fair and (mostly) unfair reasons, there is a feeling that he still hasn’t risen to the level of stature and fame as a player overflowing with the talent he should be. In a way that, say, Juan Soto – as close as Acuña has in this game – did the final postseason for the Nationals.
Was it a National League Championship Series when Acuña made the game his, as many would expect? The Braves’ World Series odds may depend on it.
3 Dodgers storylines
1. Will their only “weakness” reveal itself? The Postseason is supposed to test even the most successful regular season teams. But the Dodgers, as Ken Rosenthal points out, seemed to have extinguished all potential fires before they went on a rampage. Got Fernando Tatis Jr. who is ready to do a homer changing series? There’s Cody Bellinger jump over the fence to return homer. Have a great starter ready to stop you? The deep ranks would tire him out in the end.
The only possible drawback may be behind the bullpen, where Kenley Jansen has had a slowdown in the past few weeks and had to be bailed out of Game 2 of the NLDS by Joe Kelly. You can be sure that Dodgers fans will be watching Jansen’s next outing more intense than usual.
2. What’s Mookie’s big moment? It’s easy to forget now that the Dodgers have signed with him for many years in the future, but the whole idea of getting Mookie Betts in first place is to get the Dodgers closer to the title this year – winning one, you know, right now. The Dodgers have been close to winning a World Series for a few years now, and they keep failing. But we all know what’s different now: Mookie is here. He already has a title with the 2018 Red Sox, he has a long-term contract and, finally, now he has some fans to play with in 2020.
Mookie is already a superstar. But now he can become a legend.
3. How do they respond when someone finally refuses? Dodgers don’t actually experience stress for a second the whole season. They’re sailing the NL West, they’re sweeping the Brewers, they’re sweeping the Padres. But when you’re a title team or a World Series destroyer like the Dodgers, eventually something will happen to make you sweat a little. The Dodgers have had enough post-season disappointments to know when an uncertain situation is on the horizon, and no player on this team doesn’t realize how many years over the last half decade the Dodgers have failed.
They haven’t had a reason to recall all those bad memories. But all it takes is one downside to get started.