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Playoff Reset: Giants vs. Cubs, NLDS Game 1

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The Game: San Francisco Giants @ Chicago Cubs, NLDS Game 1
The Time: 9:00 PM EDT
The Place: Wrigley Field, Chicago
The Channel: FS1
The Starters: Johnny Cueto (Giants) vs. Jon Lester (Cubs)

The Upshot:

  • The Curse of the Billy Goat vs. Even Year B.S.! Which of these entirely baseless and ridiculous bits of superstitious nonsense narratives carry the day?! Sorry if that deromanticizes things for you, but around these parts we don’t cotton much to such hooey. If the Cubs had less feckless leadership before Theo Epstein came along they probably would’ve won a pennant at some point since 1945. If Buster Posey doesn’t break his leg in 2011 there’s a chance the whole even year thing gets broken before it even takes hold. I dunno, I just get grumpy when people attribute the successes or failures of complicated systems like baseball teams in hyper-competitive and frequently random environments like baseball seasons to black magic and the universe’s alleged preference for temporal symmetry.
  • Now that I’ve taken all of the fun out of this for you, let’s talk baseball. The Cubs are, without question, the best team in the game this year. The Giants, however, actually had the best record at the All-Star break before their second half collapse. I don’t think they’re as good as they looked in early July but I likewise don’t think they’re as bad as they looked in August and September. And, for all that was written about Madison Bumgarner‘s dominance in the Wild Card game, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the Giants are a one man team. Johnny Cueto (18-5, 2.79 ERA) gets the start tonight. He finished the season strong — bouncing back nicely from a strained groin late in the season — allowed one run on five hits, struck out five and walked just one over seven innings when he faced the Cubs on September 4. This is a two-ace club.
  • Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA) goes for the Cubs. He’s a Cy Young candidate. As is teammate Kyle Hendricks, who will go in Game two. Last year’s Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta, will go in Game 3. The Cubs have at least three aces. They’re kinda not fair. And that’s before you get to their offense, which features MVP favorite Kris Bryant and a guy who will get a lot of MVP votes himself in Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs led all of the non-Coors Field teams in the NL in runs scored this year. They even topped the Rockies — and everyone else — in team OBP and once you adjust for ballparks, they had the top OPS in the league. Their pitching staff allowed the fewest runs per game in the league as well. Their 103 wins was not a fluke. Indeed, they actually underperformed their Pythagorean record by four games. The only hope you have against them, on paper anyway, is the fact that the team with the best record in baseball frequently does not win it all in the expanded playoffs era. Cold comfort when you actually gotta play these guys, but some comfort I suppose.
  • Oh, and beyond the starters and the offense, Joe Maddon has some fun toys in the bullpen in the form of Aroldis ChapmanTravis Wood and Mike Montgomery, all of whom destroy lefties (Chapman destroys everyone, of course). The Giants struggle mightily against lefthanded pitching, so that’s not good. And the Cubs’ defense was probably the best in baseball this year, depending on how you measure it.
  • Not that the Giants should just forfeit and go home. The Giants’ certainly struggled in the second half, but they had the lowest strikeout rate in the NL this year. They put the ball in play. That has been a pretty successful formula in the playoffs for the past couple of years. Just ask the Royals. Beyond that, Cueto is a stud and they will start Jeff Samardzija in Game 2. While he has been no Kyle Hendricks this year, he’s capable of a big game at any time. The Giants could steal one of these first two games and then bring back Madison Bumgarner in San Francisco for Game 3. Suddenly, the Cubs are in some trouble, what with MadBum being invincible in October and all.

But, eh, I dunno. The Cubs are stacked. Predictions are made to look foolish, but I’m not gonna start to get into the business of picking against the Cubs.

At least until Game 3. Check back with me then.

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. LOUIS — Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.