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Fantastic Friday: All eight playoff teams are in action today

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For the past few years Major League Baseball has done a wonderful thing: scheduled all four Division Series to play games on the same Friday. It may not be quite as amazing as the first weekend of March Madness because most of us don’t have money riding on this thing, but if you’re into baseball it’s about as close as it gets.

The games get going at 2:05PM Eastern with the Rays taking on the Astros. At 4:37PM Eastern the Cardinals and Braves play Game 2 of their series (here’s hoping everyone plays it the right way!). At 7:07PM the Twins and Yankees become the final two teams to see their first postseason pitches. At 9:37PM West coasters will sit down to dinner and east coasters will be pounding coffee as they watch the Nats and Dodgers in their second NLDS contest.

Make sure you have your snacks within arm’s reach, your beer fridge stocked and — most importantly — stay off social media if you called in “sick” to work to watch all this stuff, because that’s how The Man gets ya.

THE GAMES:

Tampa Bay Rays @ Houston Astros, ALDS Game 1
The Time: 2:05 PM EDT
The Place: Minute Maid Park
The Channel: FS1
The Starters: Tyler Glasnow (Rays) vs. Justin Verlander (Astros)

The Upshot:

This one is being cast as the most David vs. Goliath of the Division Series matchups. And it’s also being cast as “innovative team that used Openers vs. Team with frontline starting pitchers.” That’s not really applicable in this particular series, though, as the Rays are using Tyler Glasnow here, Blake Snell in Game 2 and Charlie Morton in Game 3. Seems pretty old fashioned to me. And, despite Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke all being certifiably amazing, it’s not quite the Baltimore Colts vs. the New York Jets in 1969, because Glasnow, Snell and Morton are pretty good themselves. The Rays’ offense is certainly no match for the Astros’ offense but the dirty secret of baseball is that the offenses don’t literally face one another. It’s true! They face opposing pitchers. Which, yes, is a kind of annoying way to say that I have some weird feeling this series will be more competitive than people want to say. The Astros may be the clear favorites of all the eight teams remaining, but the Rays are better than your usual Wild Card team.

 

St. Louis Cardinals @ Atlanta Braves, NLDS Game 2
The Time: 4:37 PM EDT
The Place: SunTrust Park
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jack Flaherty (Cardinals) vs. Mike Foltynewicz (Braves)

The Upshot:

A must-win for Atlanta, really. You just can’t go down, and go on the road, down 0-2. Which is sort of a problem for them given that they’re facing the most dominant pitcher in the National League in the second half. He has faced the Braves twice this year — both early in the season when he was not as sharp — but he won one game and took a no-decision in the other while throwing six scoreless innings and striking out seven. While he has not been as dominant as Flaherty, over his last seven starts Foltynewicz is 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA. Both starters did a good job last night only to see mistakes by fielders, baserunners and bullpens turn the game kind of ugly. Because playoff baseball is inherently chaos, it would not shock me at all if both of these guys get shelled. Remember how I said people don’t bet on this stuff like they do on March Madness? That’s kinda why.

 

Minnesota Twins @ New York Yankees ALDS Game 1
The Time: 7:07 PM EDT
The Place: Yankee Stadium
The Channel: MLB Network
The Starters: José Berríos (Twins) vs. James Paxton (Yankees)

The Upshot:

The only teams in baseball history to hit 300 homers face off in a hitter friendly park. Should be fun. That bit of history is more important than the history you’ll probably see pounded over and over by the broadcast. Specifically: the Yankees’ historical dominance over the Twins in the postseason. Yes, the Yankees beat the Twins in the ALDS in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010, but even old people like me who hear “20 years ago” and think “oh, the 1980s” should realize that that has no bearing on anything but some misguided broadcast’s production notes. Berríos’ loss to the Yankees in the 2017 Wild Card game is a tad bigger a deal as far as these things go, but it was two years ago and he’s a more mature pitcher these days. More relevant: how many innings James Paxton can give the Yankees. After him the starting pitching is a bit thin, so Aaron Boone is going to need to rely on his formidable bullpen a great deal this postseason. If Big Maple can give him big innings when it’s his turn, the remainder of the series will be more easily managed. For the Twins it’s about preventing Yankees dingers. They were excellent at not allowing longballs all year, but the 2019 New York Yankees are a tad better than the AL Central competition against whom the Twins played so many games.

 

Washington Nationals @ Los Angeles Dodgers NLDS Game 2
The Time: 9:37 PM EDT
The Place: Dodger Stadium
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Steven Strasburg (Nationals) vs. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)

The Upshot:

Strasburg vs. Kershaw is a great on-paper matchup, but Nats fans probably have reason for concern, even if they weren’t already in an 0-1 hole. Strasburg, you’ll recall, was used for three innings in relief during Tuesday’s Wild Card game. He had not been used as a reliever before that and he’s never made a start on three days of rest in his 10-year career. If he wasn’t up to it I doubt the Nats would do it — they’re characterizing it like it was a between starts bullpen session — but even the best of us don’t always respond well to changes in routine. For the Dodgers, Kershaw ain’t what he used to be, but (a) no one is; and (b) what his is now is still one of the best pitchers in baseball. As we saw last night, the Dodgers have no trouble scoring runs, so he doesn’t need to be 2014 Clayton Kershaw to win anyway.

 

Report: Some MLB teams using outside labs for COVID-19 testing

MLB COVID-19 testing
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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Zach Buchanan report that the Diamondbacks are one of several teams that have used labs other than the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Utah to process COVID-19 testing. MLB has encountered delays with its testing, despite promising 24-hour turnaround time, so teams have tried other avenues — with the league’s endorsement — in order to get faster results.

The SMRTL had processed performance-enhancing drug screenings for MLB. The league converted it to process COVID-19 tests amid concerns that having a season and all of the testing that would be required throughout would take away testing resources from the general public. That some teams are utilizing labs other than the SMRTL suggests the league, indeed, is usurping those resources.

In prospect Seth Beer’s case, he tested positive for COVID-19. He needed to test negative twice consecutively to be cleared to return to play. Beer went to a third-party site in the Phoenix area. He received his second negative test and was cleared to return on July 9.

The Diamondbacks said that the labs they have used have assured them that they are not taking away tests from the public. That seems like a claim MLB and the D-Backs should demonstrably prove. Per Rosenthal and Buchahan, the D-Backs have gone to an outside lab about 20 times, which accounts for less than one percent of COVID-19 tests taken by players and staff. Still, those are 20 tests that could have been used by the general public. And if the D-Backs and a handful of other teams already are using outside labs, then the rest of the league likely already is or soon will be doing the same. In the end, there will be a lot more than 20 tests taken at outside labs by MLB players and staff. Considering that “Tier 1” players will be tested every other day throughout the season, the total of third-party tests taken — if things continue the way they are now — could easily reach into the thousands by the end of October.

We all want baseball back, but the players, coaches, and all other staff are no more important than cashiers, teachers, and delivery drivers, so they shouldn’t have more access to COVID-19 testing simply by virtue of being associated with Major League Baseball and all of its influence and financial muscle. It would be unethical for MLB to be cutting in line ahead of other people who need testing just as much as if not more than the players.