Previewing AL Wild Card Game

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Last night two teams who had to play, and lose, a tiebreaker faced off in the N.L. Wild Card Game. Tonight two teams which would, if they were in the National League, enjoy home field advantage throughout the playoffs are forced into a one-and-done scenario. Life ain’t fair and no one said it was. Just know that the 100-win Yankees and the 97-win Athletics are not your typical Wild Card teams.

And this will not be a typical game either. For the first time we’ll see an “opener” used in a postseason game as the A’s will begin the bottom of the first with a relief pitcher on the hill. The Yankees will use a starter but he will have the shortest of leashes.

The A’s and Yankees will be playing this one as if the world is going to end tomorrow. That’s not going to happen but, for one of them, the season will end tonight. As such it makes sense that they will pull out all the stops.

 

The “starting” pitchers:

The quotes are for Hendriks who, as we noted yesterday, will be the opener for the A’s and will pitch for only one inning most likely. Which, as we also noted yesterday, would be longer than Severino lasted in last year’s Wild Card game, in which he got shelled. All of which suggests that you should not get too hung up on starting pitching tonight, because, at most, we’ll see a “starting” pitcher go maybe four innings, and that’s if Severino is electric. The A’s are certain to go to a reliever early, although it could be a starting pitcher in relief. The Yankees will be taking an all-hands-on-deck approach as well.

 

The bullpens:

This is what this game will be all about, folks.

The A’s used an opener nine times in September, with Hendriks taking eight of those “starts,” going one inning seven times and one and two-thirds innings once. In each of them a guy who is usually a starting pitcher came in for the second inning, though it’s quite possible that Bob Melvin goes all-relievers here. Among those options tonight are Lou TrivinoShawn KelleyYusmeiro Petit and Ryan Buchter. Those guys will be expected to be the bridge to setup men Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia before the closer Blake Treinen ends the night, one way or another. It’s a good bullpen — it has had to be given how many injuries the A’s starters have experienced — but not quite as good as the Yankees’ relief corps.

As for that Yankees bullpen, it’ll be some combination of Zach Britton, Chad Green, Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman. Some of those guys have struggled at times this year and, especially in Yankee Stadium, one errant longball can change the complexion of the game, but it’s a near-historically good set of relievers with whom the Bombers will ride or die.

 

The lineups:

Contending with all of those relief arms are the number two (Yankees) and number four (A’s) run-scoring offenses in all of baseball this year. The longball is key, obviously. New York led the majors by hitting an all-time record 267 homers. The A’s were third in baseball with 227, 48 of which came off the bat of Khris Davis. The A’s are pretty right-handed heavy, and Severino deals with right-handed pitching pretty well, so that’ll be a plus for the Yankees. The A’s have actually hit right-handed hitting pretty well, however, so maybe that plus is negated? Again — and I feel like I say this 100 times when talking about the Wild Card games — those kinds of numbers really don’t matter in a single elimination scenario. As we saw last night from the Cubs, one cold-bat evening can end a season. For all of the heavy hitting on display here, this could be decided by a Brett Gardner bloop single or a .291-OBP-having Jonathan Lucroy drawing a bases-loaded walk.

The teams split their six regular-season meetings this year with the Yankees taking two of three in mid-May and the A’s taking two of three in early September. That doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters but the heat from the relievers and the timing of the pitching changes. We won’t predict the outcome because who really knows, but expect to see high velocity and high drama, with every pitch carrying with it a weight and an effort that only 21st century relief pitchers and bullpen strategy can provide.

Cards’ Pujols hits 700th career home run, 4th to reach mark

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 700th career home run on Friday night, connecting for his second drive of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming the fourth player to reach the milestone in major league history.

The 42-year-old Pujols hit No. 699 in the third inning, then launched No. 700 in the fourth at Dodger Stadium.

With the drive in the final days of his last big league season, Pujols joined Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.

It’s been a remarkable run for Pujols. This was his 14th home run since the start of August for the NL Central-leading Cardinals, and his 21st of the season.

Pujols’ historic homer was a three-run shot against Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford. The ball landed in the first few rows of the left-field pavilion, the same location his two-run shot touched down the previous inning off left-hander Andrew Heaney.

Pujols received a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd – he finished out last season while playing for the Dodgers. He took a curtain call, raising his cap in acknowledgment.

The fans chanted “Pujols! Pujols!” They finally sat down after being on their feet in anticipation of seeing history.

Pujols snapped a tie with Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the list when he hit career homer No. 697 against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11.

Reaching 700 homers seemed like a long shot for Pujols when he was batting .189 on July 4. But the three-time NL MVP started to find his stroke in August, swatting seven homers in one 10-game stretch that helped St. Louis pull away in the division race.

“I know that early in the year … I obviously wanted better results,” Pujols said after he homered in a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 22. “But I felt like I was hitting the ball hard. Sometimes this game is going to take more away from you than the game (is) giving you back.

“So I think at the end of the day you have to be positive and just stay focused and trust your work. That’s something that I’ve done all the time.”

Pujols has enjoyed a resurgent season after returning to St. Louis in March for a $2.5 million, one-year contract. It’s his highest total since he hit 23 homers for the Angels in 2019.

He plans to retire when the season ends.

Pujols also began his career in St. Louis. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft and won the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year award.

The Dominican Republic native hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons. He helped the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.

He set a career high with 49 homers in 2006 – one of seven seasons with at least 40 homers. He led the majors with 47 homers in 2009 and topped the NL with 42 in 2010.

Pujols left St. Louis in free agency in December 2011, signing a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Angels. He was waived by the Angels in May 2021, and then joined the Dodgers and hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.