Saturday’s Game 1 NLCS matchup between Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay was billed as one of the best postseason pitching matchups ever. It didn’t turn out that way, of course. That’s just not how this game works. And so, Cliff Lee could have given up four runs over six innings tonight and most rational baseball fans wouldn’t have been surprised. That’s why there’s something to be said for someone who comes out and does exactly what he was hyped to do: Completely dominate.
Lee held the Yankees to two measly hits over eight shutout innings tonight, striking out 13 and walking just one, leading the Rangers to an 8-0 win and a 2-1 lead in the ALCS. The southpaw is now 7-0 with a ridiculous 1.31 ERA and 67/7 K/BB ratio over 64 1/3 innings in eight career postseason starts. He and Bob Gibson are now the only pitchers in major league baseball history to strike out 10 or more batters in three straight postseason starts. Lee is the first to do it in a single postseason.
There was a question of whether Lee would come back out after throwing 122 pitches through eight innings, but the Rangers saved Ron Washington a difficult decision by scoring six runs in the top of the ninth. Considering that Washington ended up using Neftali Feliz with an eight-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, we probably shouldn’t trust his judgment, anyway.
Andy Pettitte was overshadowed by the brilliance of Lee, but his lone blemish was the two-run homer by Josh Hamilton in the top of the first inning. Otherwise, he was excellent, allowing five hits over seven innings while striking out five and walking none. It was fair to wonder how the veteran left-hander would bounce back after missing most of the second half of the regular season with a left groin injury, but his first two starts during the postseason have effectively put those concerns in the rear view.
As fans poured out of Yankee Stadium in the top of the ninth inning, the immediate assumption was that there was no way A.J. Burnett would pitch Game 4 on Tuesday night. Wrong. Joe Girardi announced after the game that he would stick with Burnett instead using of CC Sabathia on short rest, even though the Yankees are down 2-1 in the series. It sounds crazy on the surface, but maybe not so much when Tommy Hunter is starting on the other side. Looking past a deceptive 3.73 ERA during the regular season, Hunter averaged just 4.78 K/9 and served up 21 homers in 128 innings. If the Yankees can hit him like they are capable of doing, they could probably absorb a mediocre start from Burnett. That’s clearly the plan.
The Rangers now have the series advantage and they may very well hold the mental advantage, too. Lee obviously looms pretty large in a potential Game 7 in Arlington. It would be silly to look that far ahead, though. If the Yankees can’t take advantage of favorable matchups in the next couple of days, they may not see Lee again until he goes out in search of a well-deserved king’s ransom this winter.
After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.
The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).
Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.
With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.
Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.
With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:
So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).
Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.