Both American League Division Series took a day off on Wednesday, and after those two games, it’s fair to say they probably needed one. (Their fans sure needed one.) But they both have pivotal Game 2s on Thursday.
Here’s a look at the primary storyline for each team in each game.
Mariners at Astros (Astros lead 1-0)
Luis Castillo vs. Framber Valdez
3:37 p.m. ET, TBS
Mariners: Can they possibly recover from that brutal loss?
There are postseason losses and there are postseason losses. The Mariners inflicted that kind of loss on the Blue Jays with their stunning comeback in Game 2 of their AL Wild Card Series, and the Astros threw it right back at Seattle in Game 1 of the ALDS. Everything you could have wanted from Game 1, for the Mariners, essentially happened.
They knocked around Justin Verlander. They got Julio Rodríguez going. They kept the Minute Maid Park crowd quiet. They got through the first seven innings with a seemingly comfortable 7-3 lead. It was all laid out there in front of them … and then it all fell apart at the end in the most gruesome possible way. Welcome back to postseason baseball, Seattle! The Mariners are a young(-ish) team and may be green enough to slough off such an agonizing loss, especially with their ace on the mound. But if they have a late lead -- really, a lead of any amount -- there won’t be a single fan that’s comfortable. And they probably shouldn’t be.
Astros: Don’t squander that home-field advantage you worked so hard for
The Astros were this close to losing Game 1, ultimately walking it off with Yordan Alvarez’s incredible three-run homer, arguably one of the biggest postseason home runs. It’s totally reasonable to soak in all those good vibes afterward, but there were some causes for concern in this one, first and foremost Verlander, who looked downright mortal for the first time in a while.
The Astros were fortunate to claw their way back in Game 1, but it’s just as vital that they take Game 2 and hold onto home-field advantage, especially considering what the crowd at T-Mobile Park in Seattle is going to be like in the Mariners’ first home playoff game since 2001. Houston is facing one of the best pitchers in baseball down the stretch in Castillo, so it will want to do what it can to build up his pitch count and wear him down, particularly considering what the Astros just did to the Mariners’ bullpen. It’s going to be a maelstrom in Seattle over the weekend. The Astros best make sure they’ve got a 2-0 cushion when they arrive there.
Guardians at Yankees (Yankees lead 1-0)
Shane Bieber vs. Nestor Cortes
7:37 p.m. ET, TBS
Guardians: But seriously, where will the offense come from?
Cleveland is seven wins away from the World Series, which is quite a thing to say about a team that, in three postseason games, has scored just four runs in 33 innings. We all knew the Guardians’ weakness was their lineup -- specifically, their power -- and that has absolutely played out this postseason. Steven Kwan’s homer was the only moment where Cleveland made anything happen at all in Game 1; it only had six other baserunners the entire game. Needless to say, that’s not going to work against the Yankees, even if its pitchers do strike out Aaron Judge three times every game like they did in Game 1. (And they’re not going to strike out Judge three times every game.)
Not all Yankees starters are Gerrit Cole, but Cortes was an All-Star in his own right, and the Guardians have really struggled against lefties this year, finishing 28th in MLB in OPS against southpaws. It was José Ramírez who hit the big homer off Rays lefty Shane McClanahan in Game 1 of their Wild Card Series, and Cleveland will probably need the switch-hitting star to come through with a big hit off of a lefty again. You can probably count on Bieber to stifle the Yanks' offense somewhat. But he can’t stifle them entirely. The Guardians need to start figuring out something on offense, or this series is going to be over very quickly.
Yankees: Is the Bronx going to sound like that all October?
For the last, oh, 100 years, Yankee Stadium, in both its incarnations, has basically been the manifestation of October baseball: When you close your eyes and think of autumn nights, playoff intensity, extreme closeups of the pitchers face as he peers in at the batter, raucous crowds roaring with every pitch, you think of The Bronx. But, you know, it has been a while.
The Yankees lost in the AL Wild Card Game in Boston in 2021, and their ALDS against the Rays in 2020 was played in San Diego with no fans in attendance. So, in case you forgot: It gets wild and loud in The Bronx this time of year. The Yanks seemed to ride their crowd’s enthusiasm to a smooth Game 1 win -- Cole in particular was buoyed by it -- and it’s only going to get louder as the Bombers continue to advance. It’s a vibrating, soaring Yankee Stadium in October. Welcome back.