Associated Press

The Nationals look to avoid yet another first round exit

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The Cubs won Game 1, the Nats Game 2 and the Cubs took Game 3. The Nats look to hold serve tonight, but this time their entire season is on the line. A loss would mean the fourth first round exit in the club’s four postseason appearances.

A lot will be made of that in the hours leading up to this evening’s game — I’ve already joked about it on Twitter because I can’t help myself — but it’s easy to make more of it than is really warranted. Baseball is a random game in the best of times, but almost anything can happen in three to five games.

Stuff like the Nationals offense — which was near the top of the National League — going cold as ice over a four day period. The team is hitting a collective 11-for-91 and a line of .121/.200/.231. There is no shame in this, mind you: the Cubs are hitting a collective 15-for-84 and a line of .179/.274/.298. Yesterday their hits just came at better times. Stuff. Just. Happens.

Tanner Roark will take the mound for Washington. He’s no ace, but he’s pitched much better in the second half than the first. Roark, who grew up just outside of Chicago, is 4-2 in seven career starts against the Cubs and is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA against Chicago this season. He’ll face off against Jake Arrieta, who has been given some extra rest to allow his bum hamstring to get a bit stronger. Arrieta got beat badly in his only start against the Nationals this season, giving up six runs – five earned – in four innings of work. That was in late June, of course, which might as well be a year ago. He hasn’t pitched since September 26. Roark hasn’t gone since October 1. Both should be fresh.

Really, though, this game is going to be about the hitters. Someone, eventually, is going to heat up, right? They have to eventually, no? If the Nats’ bats don’t do something they’re done. And if they do get eliminated in the first round once again, I presume many people will question Dusty Baker’s job status and talk about curses and futility and mental blocks and stuff. They shouldn’t — the Cubs are pretty good, after all, and remember, it’s baseball and anything can happen in baseball — but they will.

That’s just something that happens in baseball too.

 

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).