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Cubs eke out 2-1 win in Game 3 of NLDS against Nationals, take 2-1 series lead

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Nationals ace Max Scherzer made his postseason debut on Monday. The Nationals held him back to give him more time to heal from a “tweaked” hamstring suffered during his last start of the regular season. It worked, as he tossed six no-hit innings against the Cubs, issuing three walks while striking out six.

The Nationals gave Scherzer a 1-0 lead to work with in the top of the sixth. Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber botched a catch on a Daniel Murphy fly ball, then scooted it away with his glove trying to get it back. With Murphy on third base with two outs, Ryan Zimmerman ripped a double to right-center field off of Cubs starter Jose Quintana to give the Nats a 1-0 lead.

Scherzer lost the no-hit bid in the bottom of the seventh when Ben Zobrist swatted a one-out double to left-center field. That brought manager Dusty Baker out to the mound who, after a 30-second conversation with his pitcher who pleaded to stay in, brought in lefty reliever Sammy Solis to face lefty Kyle Schwarber. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon countered by bringing Albert Almora, Jr. in as a pinch-hitter. Almora — a fantastic hitter against lefties — drilled a 3-2 fastball from Solis into left field for an RBI single, knotting the game up at 1-1. Solis gave up another single to Jason Heyward, but was bailed out of trouble when Addison Russell lined out on a nice play by Michael Taylor in center field. Heyward was way too far off the bag and was doubled off first base to end the inning.

For a franchise that, until last year, had been famous for its bad luck, the Cubs had some luck go their way in the bottom of the eighth. Tommy La Stella led off the frame by drawing a walk against Nats reliever Brandon Kintzler. Jon Jay then moved Leonys Martin, who pinch-ran for La Stella, up to second with a sacrifice bunt. Kintzler struck out Kris Bryant for the second out, but Baker opted to bring in lefty Oliver Perez to face Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo blooped a first-pitch slider from Perez into shallow left-center field, almost exactly between left fielder Jayson Werth, Taylor in center, and shortstop Trea Turner, which plated Martin for the go-ahead run. Rizzo ventured too far off the first base bag in the action and was caught in a rundown to end the inning.

Closer Wade Davis took the hill to start the ninth. As he did so often during the regular season, he nailed the game down with ease. He struck out Murphy, got Zimmerman to ground out, then got Werth to pop out to Rizzo just behind the first base bag for a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Cubs will try to punch their ticket to the NLCS on Tuesday at home, starting at 5:30 PM ET. They’ll send Jake Arrieta out to the mound to face the Nationals’ Tanner Roark.

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

Associated Press
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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.