Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees

Wednesday’s Wild Card matchup preview


161 games down. One to go. And we have ties for the Wild Card in both the American League and National League. Is this fun or what? OK, well for most of us, anyway.

Here’s what to look for in Wednesday’s matchups:

American League Wild Card

Boston – Jon Lester (15-9, 3.49 ERA)
Baltimore – Alfredo Simon (4-9, 4.85 ERA)

New York – TBA
Tampa Bay – David Price (12-13, 3.35 ERA)

The Red Sox (90-71) and Rays (90-71) remain tied for the AL Wild Card after both teams won Tuesday night.

Jon Lester will be starting on three days’ rest Wednesday for the third time in his career. He threw just 55 pitches in his last outing Saturday against the Yankees, when he was chased for a season-high eight runs over 2 2/3 innings. The southpaw has allowed four runs or more in each of his last three starts. Simon is coming off a solid start against the Tigers last week, allowing three runs over eight innings, but has a 6.52 ERA in five starts this month. He gave up three runs on eight hits and three walks over 4 2/3 innings in his only appearance against the Red Sox this season back on July 9.

The Rays are in pretty good shape Wednesday, even though it isn’t confirmed who they’ll be facing. Either way, the Yankees are expected to rely heavily on their bullpen, primarily with pitchers who will not be on the postseason roster. However, Yankees manager Joe Girardi is expected to have most of his regulars in the starting lineup, at least for a couple of innings. David Price is winless over his last five starts, but has a 3.03 ERA this month and a 2.86 ERA since the All-Star break. He is 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA and a 17/8 K/BB ratio in four starts against the Bombers this season.

If the Red Sox and Rays remain tied following Wednesday’s action, they will meet a one-game playoff Thursday at 4:07 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field. Nothing official yet, but the Rays would likely use Jeff Niemann or possibly Matt Moore while the Red Sox could go with either John Lackey or Tim Wakefield.

National League Wild Card

Philadelphia – Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.03 ERA)
Atlanta – Tim Hudson (16-10, 3.23 ERA)

St. Louis – Chris Carpenter (10-9, 3.59 ERA)
Houston –  Brett Myers (7-13, 4.31 ERA)

The Braves (89-72) and Cardinals (89-72) are now in a flat-footed tie for the Wild Card after Atlanta lost Tuesday night and St. Louis beat up on the Astros.

After starting the final game of the regular season to help secure the Wild Card last year, Tim Hudson will attempt to do it again Wednesday. He allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings in his last start Friday against the Nationals before leaving due to a cramp near his neck. The veteran right-hander is 1-1 with a 3.48 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this season. Joe Blanton, who is currently auditioning for a spot in the bullpen for the postseason, is making his first start since May 14. However, he is only expected to go a couple of innings. While this sounds like advantage Braves, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley could also see some work Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals will turn to their de facto ace Chris Carpenter with the season on the line. The veteran right-hander has been excellent recently, posting a 1.45 ERA and 21/6 K/BB ratio over his last four starts. He took a no-decision in his lone start against the Astros this season back on July 27, allowing two runs over seven innings. Brett Myers has been equally brilliant lately, allowing exactly one earned run in each of his last five starts dating back to late-August. He has a 5.14 ERA in two starts against the Cardinals this season. One significant development to watch is that Matt Holliday won’t start after aggravating an injury to his right hand, though his replacement Allen Craig did homer and drive in four runs in Tuesday’s victory.

If the Braves and Cardinals remain tied following Wednesday’s action, they will meet in a one-game playoff Thursday at 8:07 p.m. ET at Busch Stadium. The Braves would use Brandon Beachy while the Cardinals would counter with Kyle Lohse.

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.