Mike Matheny

Looking ahead to a full slate of division series action today


Four games, two possible eliminations. Let’s see what the playoffs have in store for us today:

Cardinals vs. Nationals, 1:07 PM, MLB Network

The Nats and Cards split in St. Louis and now play a best of three in Washington, which will host its first playoff game since 1933.  The back-from-the-dead Chris Carpenter faces off against Edwin Jackson, whose last posteason win came in the 2011 NLDS for the Cardinals. The Cards offense exploded in Game 2, and Jackson needs to stop them or else the “why did they shut down Stephen Strasburg?” chorus will grow even louder.

Giants vs. Reds, 4:07 PM, TBS

An extra innings win last night was nice, but the Giants still have their backs up against the wall, facing elimination. They are also facing an offensive drought, having scored a mere four runs in three games while hitting .126. Barry Zito takes the hill for San Francisco. And if anyone says they would have predicted that he, rather than Tim Lincecum, would be the go-to guy in an elimination game, they’re lying like a cheap rug. With Johnny Cueto out, the identity of the Reds starter is still up in the air. It could be Mike Leake or Mat Latos.

Orioles vs. Yankees, 7:37 PM, TBS

This one has the feel of a series that is going to go all five, with each team beating the other’s brains out. The Yankees have the presumed pitching advantage here, with Hiroki Kuroda — perhaps their most reliable starter all year — facing off against Miguel Gonzalez. Of course, thanks to the New York media narrative, all eyes will be on and most announcer words will be about Alex Rodriguez, who has struggled mightily of late. Never mind that the entire team has struggled to some degree — Rodriguez didn’t strand all ten of those baserunners himself on Monday night — but that’s how it is when A-Rod is involved.

Tigers vs. Athletics, 9:37 PM, TBS

Speaking of cold bats, the Tigers have them now, as the A’s pitchers carved them up last night, cutting Detroit’s series lead to 2-1. A.J. Griffin will take the ball in the do-or-die game for Oakland. The very-banged-up-but-now-allegedly-healthy Max Scherzer goes for the Tigers. If he is on, the A’s may be in trouble. Scherzer’s second half performance was the stuff of aces. The last time we saw Griffin pitch, he was digging a hole for his teammates in game 162 against the Rangers.  If he does that again, he can’t count on being bailed out like he was last time. The rookie has pitched a lot more innings this year than he expected to, and he may be running out of gas.

Get your snacks ready and watch baseball all day long. I doubt your spouse or your boss will mind one bit. Tell them I said it’s cool.

Playoff Reset: The AL Wild Card Game

Wild Card

Each day throughout the playoffs we’re going to be doing what we’ll call a reset. Not always a preview, not always a recap, but a generalized summary of where we stand at the moment and what we have to look forward tonight.

Today, of course, is Day One of the playoffs so we can really only look ahead, so let’s look ahead to what’s on tap in tonight’s one and only game.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees, American League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern. Or thereabouts.
The Place: Yankee Stadium, New York
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Dallas Keuchel vs. Masahiro Tanaka

The Upshot:

  • Dallas Keuchel is the Astros’ ace and may very well win the Cy Young Award, but he’s (a) pitching on three-days’ rest; and (b) not in Minute Maid Park, where he is clearly superior compared to how he does on the road. At the same time, (a) the Yankees haven’t figured him out this year, going scoreless against him in 16 innings and striking out 21 times, including a poor performance against him in the Bronx a month or so ago; and (b) lefty sinkerballer types are basically the platonic ideal of a pitcher you want to throw against the Yankees to drive them crazy. While, historically, pitchers going on short rest in the playoffs fare poorly — in the past 20 years they are 18-37 — sinkerballers and extreme groundball pitchers fare much better than most. It ain’t a perfect setup for him, but you gotta like Keuchel here.
  • Meanwhile, Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka has made one career start vs. the Astros: this year, back on June 27. He got beat up, allowing six runs in five innings, receiving no decision. Those disclaimers about past performance not being indicative of future results you see in financial services commercials should apply to this and all other past matchup stats you see in the postseason, however. One random start here or there — or two in Keuchel’s case — doesn’t tell us a ton. This is baseball and tomorrow is always another day. At least if you don’t lose the Wild Card Game. More of a concern for Tanaka: rust. He has pitched only once since tweaking his hamstring against the Mets on September 18 and it wasn’t a good outing. At least he’s rested?
  • Both teams are dependent on the longball but both teams have struggled at times on offense down the stretch, with the Yankees’ bats being particular quiet in the season’s last month or so. Someone needs to wake up A-Rod. And Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Brian McCann for that matter too. Of course, all of that firepower may not matter. The playoffs often see offenses go quiet and pitching come to the fore. Both teams have decent bullpens — the Yankees’ far, far more than decent — and given Tanaka’s rust and Keuchel’s short rest, this one is very likely to come down to multiple innings of hard-throwing relief. That favors the Yankees if they can keep it close.
  • Both teams are basically stumbling into the postseason, with the Yankees having lost six of their last seven games. They’re also under .500 since the end of July. The Astros swooned themselves in the second half, going 11-16 in September before rebounding in the season’s last week. Good thing momentum generally isn’t a thing in the playoffs — remember those 2000 Yankees losing 15 of 18 before the playoffs started and then won the World Series! — because neither team here has much of it.

This is the Astros’ first playoff game in a decade. While the Yankees haven’t been in the postseason since 2012, there is a lot of playoff experience here, making this an interesting study in contrasts from a storyline perspective. At least if you’re into storylines. Personally I’m not. I’m more into baseball games and in this baseball game I think Keuchel is a tough draw for the Yankees, even on short rest. For New York to advance they’re gonna have to be a team they haven’t been for weeks and maybe months: one that lays off junk down low and hits the ball hard.

Mike Scioscia will return as Angels manager in 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 21:  Manager Mike Scioscia #14 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 21, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

It was assumed already, but Mike Scioscia made it official during Monday’s press conference for new general manager Billy Eppler that he will return as Angels manager in 2016.

Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in the majors, has been at the helm with the Angels since 2000. There was a clause in his contract which allowed him to opt out after the 2015 season, but he has decided to stay put. He still has three years and $15 million on his contract, which runs through 2018.

Jerry Dipoto resigned as Angels general manager in July amid tension with Scioscia, so there were naturally questions today about what to expect with first-time GM Eppler in the fold. According to David Adler of MLB.com, Scioscia isn’t concerned.

“I think we’re going to mesh very well,” Scioscia said. “If we adjust, or maybe he adjusts to some of the things, there’s going to be collaboration that’s going to make us better.”

Eppler is the fourth general manager during Scioscia’s tenure with the team.

After winning the AL West last season, the Angels finished 85-77 this season and narrowly missed the playoffs. The team hasn’t won a postseason game since 2009.