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Cody Bellinger leads Dodgers into NLCS with 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks

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Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger had a terrific ballgame both offensively and defensively, contributing to his club’s 3-1 victory over the Diamondbacks in Game 3 of the NLDS at Chase Field on Monday night. After sweeping the D-Backs in the NLDS, the Dodgers return to the NLCS. They dropped the NLCS in six games to the Cubs last year and are certainly looking to improve on that.

D-Backs starter Zack Greinke didn’t have his best stuff and that was apparent right out of the gate. He gave up a leadoff double to Chris Taylor in the first inning, then walked Corey Seager. After Justin Turner lined out to center field, moving Taylor to third base, Bellinger brought Taylor home with a ground out. The Dodgers would continue threaten over the next three innings but Greinke was able to navigate his way out of danger.

In the fifth, Bellinger added to the Dodgers’ lead, ripping a 3-1 Greinke change-up to left-center field for a solo home run. In the bottom half, Bellinger secured the final out of the inning when Jeff Mathis popped out in foul territory. Bellinger tipped over the railing in front of the visitors’ dugout and managed to hold onto the ball.

The D-Backs answered in the bottom of the fifth as Daniel Descalso smacked a solo home run to right field off of Yu Darvish. The Dodgers, though, got the run right back in the sixth on a leadoff Austin Barnes homer to left field off of Greinke.

Darvish came out for the bottom of the sixth but it was clear his command was starting to elude him. He just barely missed hitting pinch-hitter Christian Walker, then hit him on the bill of the helmet with his eighth pitch of the at-bat. Thankfully, Walker was in good enough shape to take his place at first base, but that was it for Darvish. Tony Cingrani came in and induced a 3-6-3 double play on a terrific play by Bellinger. Brandon Morrow came in and got the final out of the sixth on another fine defensive play by Bellinger, this time making a diving effort for a 3-1 putout.

Morrow worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning before giving way to… Kenta Maeda in the eighth. Yep, Kenta Maeda. Not that seeing a starter used in a relief role is exactly strange anymore. Anyway, Maeda worked a 1-2-3 frame of his own with a pair of strikeouts. Kenley Jansen got the ninth, as expected. He fanned pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco, then gave up a single to David Peralta to give the D-Backs the opportunity to bring the tying run to the plate. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity. Ketel Marte grounded back to Jansen and Paul Goldschmidt struck out on a 3-2 count to end the game, sending Dodgers pouring onto the field to celebrate advancing in the playoffs.

The Dodgers will have a few days off, awaiting the winner of the Cubs/Nationals side of the NLDS. The Cubs lead that series 2-1. The NLCS will begin on Saturday.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).