There has been much talk about how each team in the League Championship Series will deal with not having any off-days in each of their series. But you know what? What about us fans? These games are so jam-packed and intense that it sort of feels like we need a day off.
We’re not going to get one. Two more big ones tonight. Here are three questions facing each team heading into Wednesday’s action.
Game 3: Braves vs. Dodgers, 6 p.m. ET, FOX
FAQs: Lineups, pitchers, more
• NLCS presented by Camping World, Game 3: 6 p.m. ET on FS1
1. Has everybody caught their breath yet? In case the Braves needed any reminder that they’re facing a Dodgers team with one of the highest winning percentages (.717) of all time, the Dodgers, after falling behind 7-0 in the seventh inning, almost came all the way back, falling just short, 8-7, after a four-run ninth. Atlanta sports teams always make you sweat a little bit, and blowing that lead would have felt like the 28-3 of baseball. The Braves would have been happy with a split of the first two; a sweep feels like manna from the gods. But after that, their hearts are still going to be pounding out of their chests once first pitch comes around.
2. Can Wright do it again? With all the pitching injuries that have befallen the Braves this season, they’ve been fortunate that they’ve required only three starting pitchers this postseason so far: The top duo of Max Fried and Ian Anderson, and Kyle Wright, who threw six scoreless innings in his lone start. With those first two pitchers out of the way -- and likely done until hypothetical Games 6 and 7 -- the Braves will need Wright to pitch not only well, but also with considerable length.
The Braves used seven in Game 2, which means Wright needs to take some of the pressure off that bullpen, with no days off this series. No one knows who’s starting Game 4 yet, but it’ll likely be a bullpen arm. Wright needs to give that pitcher a breather. The Braves won both games in which they had a starter they trust. Can Wright make that duo of trust a triad?
3. Can they really go up 3-0 on the Dodgers? If there was any point the vaunted Dodgers were looking ahead to the World Series, that has long passed. The Braves are one win away from having a nearly insurmountable lead over, again, an all-timer of a team. The Dodgers would still seem to have an advantage in this game: They’ve got the better starter, Julio Urías, a deeper lineup and more postseason history. But all the Braves have to do to put the fear of God into them is to sneak out this little win. The Braves have a history of snatching postseason failure from the arms of victory. If this is really different, they’ll do their best to extinguish all doubt, and immediately.
1. Did the triple get Cody going? Cody Bellinger had a perfectly fine season, but it wasn’t another MVP season, and he almost felt diminished, even lost in this lineup full of stars. He also started this series 0-for-8, with the Dodgers in desperate need of runs. And then, in the bottom of the ninth of Game 2, Bellinger smashed a triple into the right-field corner, one that he almost hit too hard to leave the park. When he slid into third base, his primal scream made you think the Dodgers were going to pull this comeback off. They didn’t quite make it, but maybe it’ll spark Bellinger, who isn’t the only Dodgers star not hitting this series, but one who could carry the team if he starts rolling. The Dodgers’ offense finally woke up late. Bellinger will have to lead the next charge.
2. Can Urías get it to Kershaw? It’s looking like Clayton Kershaw might be able to pitch in Game 4, which automatically gives the Dodgers an advantage in that game, particularly because he’ll surely be facing a Braves bullpen game. But it’s up to Urías to get the Dodgers there without being down 3-0. This is actually Urías’ first start of the 2020 postseason, but he has thrown eight scoreless innings, with 11 strikeouts and two walks. Five innings would probably do the trick here, and more might be needed: The Dodgers have used 13 pitchers in two nights. Urías has plenty of postseason experience for a 24-year-old: This will be his 15th postseason appearance.
3. Are everybody’s pants starting to get as tight as Walker Buehler’s? The Dodgers have been specifically constructed for this season, an incredible collection of top-shelf superstars, perfectly placed role players and unprecedented depth. It’s a team and a franchise that has been bedeviled by postseason pain for nearly a decade now, and the expectation was that this was the year all that would end.
And now they’re down 2-0 in the NLCS. There are still reasons to feel good about the Dodgers. The offense finally arrived late in Game 2, they’ve got the pitching advantage in the next three games (and maybe the next five, all told) and they are still the team that won so many games this year. But still: They are down 2-0 in the NLCS. The margin of error is gone. There is no time left for messing around. If the Dodgers don’t figure it out soon, this series will be over before the Dodgers ever quite got started.
Game 4: Rays vs. Astros, 8:30 p.m. ET, TBS
FAQs: Lineups, pitchers, more
• ALCS presented by GEICO, Game 4: 8:30 p.m. ET on TBS
1. Is anyone going to start hitting other than Arozarena? Randy Arozarena, the suddenly otherworldly Rays outfielder, is hitting everything you throw at him this ALCS, and really this postseason: He’s bashing fastballs, and he’s bashing off-speed pitches. He’s probably bashing a pitch right now, wherever he is, wherever you are. But otherwise? There was that Mike Zunino homer, and a couple of Yandy Díaz hits, but the rest of the Rays just aren’t hitting, particularly Brandon Lowe, who is now 1-for-13 in the series and only avoided goat status in this game because of a Jose Altuve error. Arozarena, it turns out, only gets his one turn in the lineup. Who’s going to step up? Maybe that huge Joey Wendle hit will end up getting him, or anybody, going.
2. How’s Kiermaier’s hand? That hit by pitch from Enoli Paredes made the sort of smack that sounds worse because there weren’t any fans in the stands … but not that much worse. It sounded like a break, but it turns out it wasn’t, amazingly. The X-ray was negative, center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is still day to day, and that’s not an academic concern. The Rays’ outfield has saved several runs this series, and Kiermaier, as always, has been right there in the middle of it all. Kiermaier is also the longest-tenured Rays player, drafted two years after their only World Series appearance in 2008. It sure would feel right if he were on the field when (if!) they clinched a trip to their next one.
3. Can they finish this off right now? There are six teams in baseball who have never won the World Series: The Padres, Rockies, Mariners, Rangers, Brewers and Rays. The Rays have reached only one World Series, and it’s one they were never in much danger of winning. It was also their first playoff appearance ever and felt, if we’re being honest, like it came a little bit out of nowhere. That’s not the case anymore: This is the breakthrough the Rays have been pushing toward for years. They’ve got a wobbly, exhausted, frustrated Astros team on the ropes. It’s time to finish them off.
1. Is Altuve going to settle down in the field? Altuve had a lousy year at the plate, but he has started to come around a bit this series, and just in time. But you’ve never had to worry about him in the field the way you do right now. His error in the sixth inning, on a ball that should have been a double play to keep the Astros up, 1-0, led to a five-run inning and, inevitably, to a whole bunch of closeups of Altuve throughout the inning. That was his third throwing error in two games, which implied some sort of mental block for him. Down 3-0 in the series, needless to say, the damage has very much already been done. But you still want to avoid more.
2. Can Greinke stave off elimination? All told, if you’re trying to keep your season alive, there are worse guys to have throwing for you than a potential future Hall of Famer. But Zack Greinke’s arm issues are well-documented, and, with all the pitchers the Astros have used this series, they are probably counting on him for more than he can give. Greinke is 36 years old and pitching in his 19th postseason game. He has one year left on his deal, pitching for an Astros team that may be going through some radical changes this offseason.
3. So, is this it? Here’s a fun fact: If the Astros lose this game, a game they are playing in the American League Championship Series … they will finish the season with a losing record. (Seriously: They’ll finish 34-36.) Bet you didn’t see, in last year’s World Series, both teams finishing with losing records in 2020 … especially when one team came within one series win from returning to the Fall Classic. The Astros have had just about as tumultuous of a 12-month span as a team can have, and if it ends Wednesday night, it feels like it will be the end of something larger, the end of the stretch where the Astros were the team in baseball, for better and for worse. You may not miss this era of the Astros. But this may be your last chance to say goodbye.