The MLB playoffs are already providing fans with plenty of memorable moments and exciting performances to enjoy. We’ll see even more of that on Sunday with two pivotal Game 3s in the National League.
Sunday’s first pitch will be thrown in St. Louis. Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals will try to silence an Atlanta Braves lineup led by Ronald Acuña Jr. The winner will take a crucial 2-1 lead in the five-game series and pave the way for the next pivotal NLDS game.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will turn to Hyun-Jin Ryu in Washington with the hopes he can outduel three-time Cy Young recipient Max Scherzer. While the Dodgers entered October as heavy favorites, a win could put the Nationals on the brink of the NLCS.
On an afternoon where so much will be on the line for these four playoff teams, it’s the little things that will decide who wins in October. Here are six things for everyone to know for Sunday’s MLB playoff action.
Ronald Acuña Jr. is better than advertised
For all of the criticism Acuña receives for some of his theatrics in this series, it gets lost how great of a player he is. He became just the third player 21-or-younger in MLB history to hit 40-plus home runs in a season.
Acuña also fell three stolen bases shy of joining the historic 40-40 club. He excels against finesse pitchers, which Wainwright is now, as seen in his .280/.340/.529 slash line this season. He’s become an excellent defender in center field and can deliver series-defining, impact plays on Sunday.
Cardinals’ struggles with runners in scoring position
St. Louis accomplished what it needed to in Atlanta by taking one game on the road. The Cardinals must start taking greater advantage of opportunities to take on runs with runners on base to win this series.
It even proved to be an issue in the team’s 7-6 in Game 1. St. Louis went 3-for-13 with runners on base and stranded 10 on the bases. That’s inexcusable in October, especially given the frequency of close games, and it will end the Cardinals’ season if they don’t correct it immediately.
Mike Soroka thrives in hostile environment
The Braves saved Soroka specifically for this moment. While he struggles at home with a 4.14 ERA and .275 batting average allowed, the 22-year-old loves taking the hill in an opponent’s house and silencing the crowd.
Soroka’s numbers on the road this season are unbelievable. He held opponents to a .205 batting average with only five home runs allowed and a 1.55 ERA in 98.2 innings. When the Cardinals get runners on against Soroka, his .233/.288/.291 slash line demonstrates that he’ll be ready for those moments too.
Cody Bellinger’s MVP bat freezes in October
The Dodgers delighted in watching Bellinger develop from a three-outcome hitter in his first two years to the consensus NL MVP this season. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, his first two games in the NLDS are part of a growing problem.
Washington held Bellinger to six hitless at-bats with four strikeouts to open the series. The 24-year-old enters Sunday with a career .164/.227/.320 slash line and 49 strikeouts across 122 postseason at-bats. Now he’s set to face Scherzer, an all-time strikeout artist, with a chance to give the Nationals a 2-1 series lead. If Bellinger doesn’t turn it around, this will be part of his reputation for years to come.
Nationals’ rotation carries it in all situations
While it’s typical for a team to depend on its starters in October, Washington is taking it to the extreme. Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer combined to cover 20-of-26 innings this postseason.
We’ve now seen the Nationals deploy Strasburg and Scherzer out of the bullpen. While Strasburg won’t be available on Sunday, we could see Corbin come in for an inning if the Nationals lead in the seventh or eighth inning. If Washington finds a way to win this series, it will be because its three starters carried the team.
Hyun-Jin Ryu will infuriate Nationals’ hitters
When Washington won the wild-card game to face the Dodgers, its hitters knew this day would come. Ryu dominated this team in two previous meetings with only nine hits and one run allowed across 14.2 innings. Now he faces them in the postseason.
Ryu doesn’t make things easy for opponents. He allowed a walk to only 3.3 percent of batters faced this season and finished in the 96th percentile in average exit velocity allowed (85.3 mph), according to Baseball Savant. Ryu mixes six pitches – changeup, curveball, cutter, four-seam fastball, sinker and slider – to keep hitters guessing at the next pitch. Three runs might be all a team needs to win this Game 3.