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Top reasons to watch MLB’s wild-card games this week

Sep 18, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) throws a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) throws a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball’s brand-name franchises will square off in sudden-death games this week.

The New York Yankees will visit the Boston Red Sox in the American League wild-card game on Tuesday, and the Los Angeles Dodgers will host the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League wild-card game on Wednesday.

Here are five reasons to watch the two winner-take-all contests:

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BASEBALL’S BEST RIVALRY REVISITED

The Red Sox eliminated the Yankees the last time they met in the postseason, winning the 2018 AL Division Series in four games. Boston posted one-run victories in Games 1 and 4 and took Game 3 by a 16-1 count.

The high points of this rivalry came in 1978, when the Yankees won a one-game playoff in Boston, and in 2004, when long-suffering Red Sox fans saw their team rally from their 3-0 series deficit against the Yankees to win the AL Championship Series and then win their first World Series since 1918.

That Boston breakthrough came after the Yankees defeated them in the 1999 ALCS and 2003 ALCS.

This season, the rivals finished with identical 92-70 records. The Red Sox won the season series 10-9 to earn home-field advantage for the wild-card game.

“They’re a great team,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone told the YES Network. “We’ve obviously had many battles with them over the years. I’m sure it will be a battle Tuesday night. We look forward to the challenge.”

YANKEES CALL ON THEIR MONEY PITCHER

New York ace Gerrit Cole had a 7.64 ERA over his last three starts. However, the franchise gave him a nine-year, $324 million contract to pitch the big games and it doesn’t get much bigger than an elimination game against the Red Sox.

That’s why Boone decided to start Jameson Taillon in Sunday’s regular season finale instead of Cole.

“The hope is that we can put ourselves in a good position for Tuesday,” Boone said.

It worked. Taillon and five relievers blanked the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0, and Cole will pitch on five days’ rest Tuesday.

RALLYING BEHIND MAD MAX

Max Scherzer ranks among the most maniacal competitors on sports. He’s the guy you want on your side for a do-or-die game.

Scherzer is postseason-tested, most notably from his World Series championship run with the Washington Nationals in 2019. He has pitched at a Cy Young Award level at age 37 this season, initially for the Nationals (8-4, 2.76 ERA) and then for the Dodgers (7-0, 1.98).

He limited his hometown Cardinals to one run, which was unearned, in 14 innings over two starts this season, striking out 22 batters. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gladly picked him to start Wednesday.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Roberts said. “I think he’s the best pitcher in baseball.”

Scherzer struggled in his past two starts, allowing 11 runs (10 earned) on 17 hits in just 10 1/3 innings. But that did not give his manager pause. “He’s still the guy,” Roberts said.

GEESH, IT’S YOU GUYS AGAIN

The Dodgers will be heavily favored to defeat the Cardinals. Except… they’re the Cardinals.

Back in 2013, the Dodgers had championship visions, but they fell to the Cardinals in six games in the NL Championship Series. Los Angeles had a powerhouse team the next season, too, but it lost to St. Louis in four games in the NL Division Series.

Now, these teams square off again. Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright was on those 2013 and ‘14 teams. So were catcher Yadier Molina and utility player Matt Carpenter.

And the Cardinals are riding high after their 17-game September winning streak.

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THE UNTIMELY INJURY FACTOR

Wild-card teams kept sustaining injuries right up through Sunday’s games.

Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez played right field against the Nationals in the NL ballpark. En route to his position in the fifth inning, he tripped over second base and sprained his left ankle.

Also on Sunday, Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy sustained a serious elbow injury when Milwaukee Brewers baserunner Jace Peterson collided with him.

Also missing the wild-card games will be Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw (forearm discomfort), Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu (sports hernia), and Yankees first baseman Luke Voit (knee inflammation). Voit was shut down for the remainder of 2021.

–By Jeff Gordon, Field Level Media