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The Dodgers are one win away from clinching the NLDS

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The Dodgers are one win away from securing their ticket to the National League Championship Series next week. They battled their way to an 8-5 finish in Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday, taking a 2-0 lead in the series with a smattering of base hits and productive outs against Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

Fellow left-hander Rich Hill took the mound for the first time this postseason, eking out three hits, two runs and three walks over four innings. That’s about par for the course for a Rich Hill postseason appearance: prior to Saturday’s outing, he made four appearances with the 2007 Cubs and 2016 Dodgers and only tossed a quality start once. This time, both of his runs came in the first inning when Paul Goldschmidt engineered a two-run homer. Hill didn’t allow another runner past second base for the remainder of his start and set down a perfect fourth inning before Dave Roberts yanked him for Tony Cingrani in the fifth.

That didn’t appear to faze the lefty, who started moonlighting as the club’s hype man for the rest of the night.

The real entertainment, however, lay with one Yasiel Puig, whose fourth-inning at-bat encapsulated the zaniness of playoff baseball fever. Puig did a little dance around the plate as Robbie Ray worked an 0-2 count, then drove a single into center field to load the bases. He, uh, may have gotten a little carried away in the process:

Ray, on the other hand, didn’t look like he was having quite as much fun. He barely outlasted Hill on the mound, taking his first loss of the postseason with 4 1/3 innings of four-hit, four-run, four-walk ball. Rookie right-hander Jimmie Sherfy was no better, issuing three additional runs in the fifth to boost the Dodgers’ lead to 7-2.

The Diamondbacks finally found their mojo in the seventh inning with another home run from Brandon Drury, who plated Jake Lamb and Ketel Marte with a first-pitch cutter from Brandon Morrow. That wasn’t nearly enough to overturn the Dodgers’ advantage, though, and the D-backs dropped their second consecutive game after Josh Fields and Kenley Jansen tag-teamed for a scoreless eighth and ninth.

They’ll get one more chance to stay alive in the NLDS on Monday, when Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20 ERA) goes up against Yu Darvish (10-12, 3.86) for Game 3 at 10:00 PM ET. If they manage to stun the Dodgers with three straight wins, it’ll be the first time they’ve advanced to the Championship Series since 2007. If not, however, the Dodgers will be looking at their second NLCS appearance since 2016 and fifth since 2008.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.