⋅ Last year marked the first expanded playoff. Three National League teams – Dodgers, Braves and Mets – won 100-plus games. They went an aggregate 3-8 in postseason. The NLCS paired the 87-win Phillies against the 89-win Padres.
⋅ The exception to the upheaval has been Houston. The 106-win Astros rolled through the 2022 playoffs, going 11-2. This year’s team had to scramble in the season’s final week to qualify for postseason. With four games remaining, the Astros held a half-game lead over Seattle for the final wild card. They beat the Mariners that night and swept the Diamondbacks – all four wins came on the road – to take the West and claim the No. 2 seed. Houston leads Minnesota 2-1.
⋅ There’s growing thought that having to play in Round 1 is a boost. (Provided you win. If you lose, you go home mighty early.) You head into Round 2 off the emotion of a series victory. You’re facing an opponent that hasn’t played for almost a week. In sum, you have momentum.
⋅ Wait a second. Isn’t baseball the sport where momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher? Don’t the teams with byes have a chance to set their rotations? Aren’t Round 1 winners disadvantaged by not having their top starters available until the middle of Round 2?
⋅ Well, Clayton Kershaw recorded one out in Game 1 before being pulled against Arizona. Spencer Strider yielded one earned run over seven innings against Philadelphia, but Ranger Suarez and six relievers allowed zero runs. Baltimore’s Kyle Bradish, fourth among MLB pitchers in ERA, surrendered two runs on seven hits and was gone after 4-2/3 innings, trumped by Texas journeyman Andrew Heaney and five relievers.
⋅ It’s the playoffs. Weird stuff happens. Have we mentioned that before?
⋅ The best team in baseball awoke not having announced its Game 3 starter. Shortly before noon, Bryce Elder, an All-Star who wasn’t the same after the All-Star break, got the nod. The Phillies will deploy Aaron Nola, who didn’t have a great season but who has, over the past several years, been a Philly mainstay. Despite working the closeout Game 2 against Miami last week, Nola is on six days’ rest.
⋅ Zack Wheeler, who started Game 2 and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, was on full rest despite working in Round 1. That off-day between Games 1 and 2 of this series was a big deal for the Phillies.
⋅ Why was there an off-day between Games 1 and 2? To keep MLB from staging a full slate of playoff games on an NFL Sunday. We note that Game 2 of the attractive Braves-Phillies series started at 6:07 p.m. EDT and was done 45 minutes after the Packers-Raiders Monday night kickoff.
⋅ Back to pitching. On paper, the Braves should have the edge in Game 4 – Strider on four days’ rest against somebody, maybe Suarez. If there’s a Game 5, it figures to pair Wheeler against Max Fried again. It’d be tough for Wheeler to be better than he was Monday. It’d be difficult for Fried, who needed 95 pitchers to negotiate four difficult innings, to be less precise.
⋅ Prediction: The Braves-Phillies winner wins it all.
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