Trotting out a lineup that included just one regular, the Reds beat the Cubs 5-3 on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field and become the first team this year to clinch a playoff berth.
The Reds got Johnny Cueto his 18th victory despite fielding a lineup that included Miguel Cairo at first base and second baseman Henry Rodriguez hitting third in his first career start. Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey were in there as well, but catcher Ryan Hanigan was today’s only starter who can be safely penciled into the lineup for Game 1 of the NLDS.
The team was also missing its manager, as Dusty Baker remained hospitalized after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.
Cincinnati’s ‘B’ lineup was shutout by Jason Berken for six innings, but it busted out for five runs off Manny Corpas in the top of the seventh. That earned Cueto the win, even though he had been removed for a pinch-hitter. Coming off three straight losses, Cueto was better today, though not dominant. He allowed five hits, walked four and struck out just two.
With two starts left, Cueto still has a chance at 20 wins for the season. He’ll have an even better chance if Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are in the lineup next time he pitches.
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.