Now that the MLB playoffs are down to the final four teams, the intensity is picking up with the stakes of each game on the rise. We saw that on Saturday with Game 2 of the NLCS and Game 1 of the ALCS.
A night after Washington Nationals pitcher Aníbal Sánchez fell four outs shy of a no-hitter, Max Scherzer continued to quiet the St. Louis Cardinals hitters. While Adam Wainwright did everything in his power to help St. Louis on the mound, he couldn’t match Scherzer and the Nationals rolled to a 2-0 series lead.
Pitching shined in Game 1 of the ALCS. Houston Astros pitcher Zack Greinke was sharp early, but New York Yankees stars Gleyber Torres and Giancarlo Stanton rocked him in the sixth and that’s all Masahiro Tanaka needed to win.
Road teams stole the show on Saturday night with tremendous pitching performances and monumental wins. Now let’s take a look at the six things we learned from Saturday’s MLB postseason action.
Max Scherzer is strengthening his Hall of Fame resume
After a rough performance by Scherzer’s standards in the wild-card game, he bounced back with a shutout relief appearance in Game 2 then kept Washington’s season alive with seven brilliant innings in Game 4 of the NLDS. Scherzer raised the bar and strengthened his Hall of Fame resume on Saturday.
The 35-year-old allowed a one-out walk in the first inning before retiring the next 16 batters faced. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Paul Goldschmidt lined a single right in front of Juan Soto. Scherzer relied on a 1-0 lead for most of the day and finished with 11 strikeouts, just two walks and one hit allowed in seven outstanding innings. If Washington’s pitchers keep this up, Scherzer could rest until Game 1 of the World Series.
It’s time for a dramatic shakeup to Cardinals’ lineup
St. Louis came into the postseason with the lowest-scoring lineup among playoff teams. The explosion in Game 5 of the NLDS was nice, but the Cardinals’ lineup hasn’t left the ground through two games.
This team’s woes at the plate go even deeper than scoring one lone run in this series. St. Louis entered the seventh inning with zero runs in its last 21 innings and its starting lineup went hitless in its last 45 at-bats. Leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler is 2-for-29, Yadier Molina is 3-for-36 and Matt Carpenter is hitless as a starter this postseason. If manager Mike Shildt doesn’t make dramatic changes to the lineup in Game 3, this team is practically giving away a shot at the World Series.
Adam Wainwright’s postseason dominance keeps getting wasted
Wainwright seems to be snakebit in October. The 38-year-old dazzled in Game 3 of the NLDS with 7.2 shutout innings and eight strikeouts. Despite receiving little run support from his teammates, he was in position for the win until Carlos Martinez blew the game. St. Louis wasted another gem from Wainwright on Saturday.
The veteran righty made one mistake — giving up a solo home run to Michael A. Taylor in the third inning — across seven innings. Shildt sent him back out for the eighth inning and Wainwright promptly allowed three hits, including a two-run double, before exiting. We’re witnessing vintage greatness from Wainwright and seemingly everyone on the Cardinals’ roster is wasting it.
Masahiro Tanaka saves his best stuff for October
Some fans were still feeling uncertain about Tanaka heading into the ALCS. It’s time for any lasting doubt to disappear in New York, Tanaka thrives in the playoff atmosphere. He came into tonight with a 1.54 ERA in six career postseason starts and improved those numbers on Saturday.
Houston could never figure Tanaka’s stuff out. Now, its hitters aren’t entirely at fault. The 30-year-old painted corners all night and seemed to put every single pitch exactly where he wanted it. Tanaka allowed one hit, a single in the third inning, over six shutout innings on only 68 pitches. He’ll carry a 1.32 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP across 41 career postseason innings into his next start and will probably throw another gem.
Houston, we have a run-scoring problem
There’s just no getting around it for the Astros. One of the league’s best lineups in the regular season is cold at the worst possible time. When Houston’s hitters aren’t taking advantage of the opponent tipping his pitches, this team doesn’t score many runs.
Outside of the four-run inning off Tyler Glasnow in Game 5 of the ALDS, the Astros have scored nine runs in their past four games. George Springer, who typically dominates in October, is 3-for-25 this postseason with six strikeouts. This team also isn’t getting the big hits it needs to on the rare occasions it gets runners in scoring position. If things don’t change, the Yankees’ bats will have no problem knocking the Astros right out of the postseason.
Gleyber Torres is becoming New York’s best player
It’s hard to imagine there could be a player better than Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Yet, watching Torres leaves you with the impression that he will soon be this team’s best player.
When New York couldn’t score and needed a big hit with DJ LeMahieu in scoring position, Torres delivered a double. When the lineup went cold again, Torres launched a solo home run. He delivered once more in the seventh with a two-run single to give the Yankees a five-run lead. Torres is the youngest second baseman in MLB history with five extra-base hits in a single postseason and the youngest with five RBI in a postseason game.