The most exciting thing about the MLB postseason is that every game, every inning, every pitch opens up a font of new potential storylines. Everything you think you know heading into a particular moment can be upended in a matter of seconds. All storylines are temporary; everything is transient.
That said, what are stakes and context without storylines? We have four games, involving eight teams, all day on Tuesday, and each team comes into their matchup with one major storyline. As you sit in front of your television all day, soaking all this in, let this serve as your primer: Here’s the biggest storyline for each team, heading into this game … and the rest of this postseason. Absorb each of these, and then prepare for them to be immediately eradicated after the first pitch.
Marlins-Braves (2 pm ET, FS1)
Marlins: Can they keep the most absurd streak in professional sports alive?
The Cleveland Indians have gone 71 years since they won a championship. The Detroit Lions have gone 62. The Mariners, Brewers, Padres, Rockies, Rays and Rangers have never won one. Meanwhile, the Marlins, coming into this season, have reached the postseason twice … and won the World Series both times. That is taking advantage of your opportunities!
This Marlins team has almost nothing in common with those teams, but the streak continues after the quick sweep of the Cubs (a team with all sorts of haunted postseason history with the Marlins) in the Wild Card Series round. No one expected these “bottom feeders” to be here, but no one expected those other Marlins teams to go far, either. The Marlins have an exciting young pitching staff -- led by Game 1 starter Sandy Alcantara -- and an impressive flock of veterans in their lineup. If that sounds familiar … that’s sort of what they were in 1997 and 2003, too.
Braves: How far can the big three carry them?
Marcell Ozuna came incredibly close to winning the Triple Crown this year … and he might be the third-most frightening hitter in this lineup. The Braves were ransacked by starting pitcher injuries this year, but they overcame it, partly because of a weak division, but mostly because that trio of Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Ozuna is absolutely terrifying. The Braves have two solid starters in Max Fried and Ian Anderson, and while they’ll run out of innings not long after that in this short series devoid of off-days, so will the Marlins. And that should give those three bats ample opportunities to pounce.
The Braves have already ended their postseason victory drought with their Wild Card Series win over the Reds. These three could carry them to heights they haven’t seen since they had a different triumvirate leading them: Maddux/Smoltz/Glavine.
Astros-A’s (4:30 pm, TBS)
A’s: Can they tighten it up?
There have been two things A’s fans have been able to count on all season: terrific defense and a truly dominant bullpen. Both things went sideways on them in their Game 1 loss to the Astros. The bullpen gave up seven runs, and that outburst came on the heels of a pivotal Marcus Semien error that would have gotten the A’s out of the sixth inning. The A’s do not have their star in Matt Chapman (out with an injured shoulder), and ace Chris Bassitt did not come up with another incredible start like the ones he’d been delivering throughout September, which means they have to count on that defense and bullpen to do the heavy lifting -- they need them to be perfect. They were far from it in Game 1.
If either springs a leak again, the A’s will find themselves in a hole that may be impossible to get out of. The have closer Liam Hendriks -- arguably the best reliever in baseball -- at the ready, and they’ll need him to get some big outs.
Astros: Can the renaissance continue?
You would never know it, but this was actually a pretty disappointing season for longtime Astros stalwarts Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and (especially) Jose Altuve. In Game 1, though, it was just like old times. Correa homered twice, Bregman launched a bomb and Altuve had maybe the key hit in the game. It is probably very confusing for anyone who has not watched a baseball game in a year to see these three guys bashing away and seeing all the rest of us, who have seen all that has happened since then, looking so surprised.
This Astros team had a losing record this year and looked entirely different than their World Series teams, but during the postseason, they've sure looked awfully familiar with those guys, smashing the ball all over the place.
Yankees-Rays (8 pm, TBS)
Yankees: Is the Death Star fully operational?
For two years now, we have all been positing, “What happens when the Yankees get all those hitters healthy and hot at the same time?” You’re seeing the answer right now. Aaron Judge is launching moon shots, Giancarlo Stanton is hitting grand slams, even Clint Frazier, who had a nice year but struggled late, is smacking big homers. If Frazier is piling on top of everything else, it almost doesn’t seem fair.
The Yankees have scored 31 runs in their three postseason games, and they have made it look unusually easy, as if it would be more surprising if they didn’t score 10 runs a game. These hot streaks tend to compound on top of each other, and the postseason is short enough that they don’t even need to keep this going that much longer. Of course, this might not be a hot streak at all -- this might just be who the Yankees are right now.
Rays: How do you piece together innings for five games in five days against this lineup?
The Rays, with good reason, were widely considered to be uniquely designed to succeed in the postseason. They have three terrific starters, a versatile and deep bullpen and a defense that’s the envy of the rest of baseball. But what did Mike Tyson say about everybody having a plan until you get punched in the face? The Rays just got punched in the face, and hard.
Now Blake Snell’s probable lone start is over, four of those bullpen arms have already been used (including John Curtiss, who threw 42 pitches and is surely out for a couple of days, at least) and they still haven’t figured out how to slow down these Yankees' bats. Tyler Glasnow is a fantastic weapon as Game 2 starter, but this bullpen is already under stress -- and this series just got started. He’s going to have to be perfect, and lengthy, and durable … and even that might not be enough.
Padres-Dodgers (9:30 pm, FS1)
Dodgers: Will all this be for naught?
The Dodgers are one of the most storied franchises not just in baseball, but all of sports. And this team, this one, which added Mookie Betts over the winter, has the best winning percentage of any Dodger team ever. Part of that is a short season, of course, but you didn’t have to watch too much of the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers to be blown away by their talent in pretty much every aspect of the game. It has put them in a terrific position to finally win their first World Series since 1988, after winning nearly a decade of division titles in a row. This season might be the pinnacle achievement of this Dodgers regime … and it will mean absolutely nothing if things go wrong for them three out of the next five nights.
The Dodgers are better than the Padres. The Dodgers are better than everyone. But, alas, this is baseball; it really might not make a difference.
Padres: How far and wide will the Tatis Show play?
Players go their entire careers waiting for a moment like the one Fernando Tatis Jr. provided in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Cardinals, launching a mammoth homer and flipping the bat roughly 450 feet in the air. (I’ll need to check Statcast to know for sure.) Tatis might not be the best player in baseball right now -- he might not be the best player on his own team? -- but he’s unquestionably the most dynamic, and he seems genetically engineered to provide immortal October moments.
As we saw in Game 2, he’s the sort of talent who can electrify his whole team when he gets going. When he hit his first homer, the Padres were still behind … but you immediately knew they were going to win that game. You can’t take your eyes off him. And he’ll have his biggest stage yet.