After witnessing an incredible, four-game playoff slate on Friday, baseball fans will watch a great afternoon of American League baseball on Saturday with two ALDS games.
It begins at Yankee Stadium with the Minnesota Twins hoping to reverse their poor postseason fortune in New York and steal a game from the Yankees. MLB will cap off its Saturday action when 2018 Cy Young recipient Blake Snell faces potential 2019 Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole and the Houston Astros.
While it might be a smaller slate of action, the two playoff games will deliver everything baseball fans love this time of year. Now let’s take a look at the six things everyone should know before Saturday’s playoff action begins.
Gerrit Cole is coming off a historic season
Baseball fans watched in awe as Justin Verlander tore through the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 with seven shutout innings. Now the Rays have to face Cole, who is performing at a level no one in baseball history has ever reached.
Cole’s 2.50 ERA, 20 wins and 0.89 WHIP are absurd. The record-breaking achievements come via strikeouts in a season that saw him record 326 in 212.1 innings. Cole set MLB records for starting pitchers with a 13.82 K/9 and a 39.9 percent strikeout rate this year, surpassing Hall of Famers like Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. It’s no wonder Houston won 13 consecutive games with him on the mound and 19 of his last 21 starts. Oh, he’s also the top free agent this offseason.
Blake Snell isn’t at Cy Young form
Tampa Bay’s rotation trio actually could have stacked up with Houston this postseason if things had gone better. Unfortunately for the Rays, Tyler Glasnow is still building his arm back up after a four-month absence and Snell isn’t his best self.
A two-month recovery from elbow surgery plays a significant role. Of course, Snell struggled on the mound even before that with a 4.70 ERA in his first 18 starts. He also lasted just 2.1 innings in his last start before the postseason. Snell will be limited and his 5.82 ERA on the road suggests he could be in even more trouble at Houston.
Tommy Pham is Tampa Bay’s Game 2 X-Factor
Unless Snell taps into his 2018 form and works surprisingly deep into the game, Tampa Bay must find a way to scrape out a few runs against Cole and the Astros’ bullpen. Pham could be the key to keeping this series competitive.
Pham is one of the game’s most underrated hitters and he seems to love facing Cole. In the 18 at-bats against Houston’s co-ace, Pham has nine hits and a 1.278 OPS. If the Rays can put a few base runners on in front of him, he could propel the Rays to a Game 2 victory.
Gio Urshela is one of MLB’s best stories in 2019
Urshela seemed destined for a career bouncing between around minor-league teams in 2018. Designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays, everything changed when the Yankees acquired him for cash in May 2018.
It’s already proving to be one of the team’s best bargain deals this decade. Urshela filled the void at third base when Miguel Andujar went down and became one of New York’s best hitters. The 27-year-old’s .889 OPS finished below only Aaron Judge and MVP candidate DJ LeMahieu. Urshela represents New York’s “Next Man Up” motto perfectly and is an inspiration to countless players who struggle early in their careers.
Luis Arráez is Twins’ unheralded star
This series not only features two historically-powerful lineups, but it also promotes wonderful stories of young men rising from the unknown to become impact players. Arráez entered the season as a sleeper prospect in Minnesota’s farm system and is now a core part of its future.
The 22-year-old is a hitting machine with an incredible approach at the plate. Arráez made his MLB debut after posting a .348/.397/.409 slash line and a jaw-dropping 2.7 percent strikeout rate in the minors. Now he’s a regular in Minnesota’s lineup with a .334/.399/.439 slash and only 29 strikeouts in 326 at-bats. Arráez excels at hitting the baseball and it will make him a fixture in the lineup for years to come.
Masahiro Tanaka can save the Yankees from historic embarrassment
The Yankees are in danger of going a decade without a World Series appearance. If they want to avoid hitting that mark for the first time since the 1910s, Tanaka will play a critical role in snapping the organization’s ugly streak.
Fortunately for New York, the 30-year-old loves this kind of pressure. Despite all of his struggles in the regular season in recent years, he owns October. Tanaka enters with a 1.50 ERA and 0.80 WHIP across 30 postseason innings. The Yankees have the lineup and bullpen to win it all this year. Now they need Tanaka to bring his best once again in October.