Mike Moustakas homers in 11th inning to lead Royals past Angels in Game 1 of ALDS

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Thanks to a go-ahead solo home run from Mike Moustakas, the Royals topped the Angels 3-2 in 11 innings in Game 1 of the ALDS this evening at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

The Royals grabbed the early lead in this one after Alcides Escobar hit an RBI double off Jered Weaver in the top of the third inning, but the Angels quickly responded with a Chris Iannetta solo homer against Jason Vargas. Omar Infante put Kansas City back in front on a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth, but David Freese homered in the next-half inning to tie the score again. It would remain tied until Moustakas’ blast in the 11th.

The Angels had chances to put this game away, but the Royals were bailed out by a pair of circus catches from Nori Aoki in the sixth and seventh innings. Royals manager Ned Yost made some interesting decisions in this game, most notably by hanging with Vargas in the sixth and using — and sticking with — Tim Collins in the ninth and Danny Duffy in the 10th, but it didn’t come back to bite him. Then came the decisive blow from Moustakas, who led off the 11th with a home run against Fernando Salas. It was actually the first hit for the Royals since way back in the fifth inning. It was also Moustakas’ first home run since August 25. Greg Holland, who probably should have been used earlier in the game, pitched a perfect bottom of the 11th to lock down the victory for the Royals.

Including their win over the A’s in the Wild Card Game this week, the Royals are just the third team to begin the playoffs with two extra-inning wins. The 1979 Pirates and the 1969 Orioles are the only others. I hope you have stocked up on antacids, Royals fans.

The Royals and Angels will meet at 9:37 p.m. ET on Friday night for Game 2. Yordano Ventura will start for Kansas City and Matt Shoemaker will pitch for Los Angeles.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.