Batter-pitcher showdowns to watch in DS

These are the faceoffs that can win or lose a series

October 4th, 2020
Tom Forget /

Every pitch means so much in the postseason. Seasons can end on one hanging breaking ball, or be saved with a fastball that just bites the outside corner. That intense one-on-one between pitcher and batter which the sport is built on becomes all-encompassing in October when everything is on the line.

With eight teams left standing and the Division Series set to begin Monday, it’s time to look at some of the biggest, boldest and most important matchups we’re looking forward to watching. It's not a stretch to say that these head-to-head faceoffs could be the difference between advancing to the next round and heading home for the winter.


Blake Snell vs. Aaron Judge

The 2018 AL Cy Young winner vs. the strongest man in baseball. If you want a marquee matchup, you’ve got it. Unfortunately for Yankees fans, Snell has come out ahead in this one. In 16 at-bats, Snell has flummoxed Judge by giving up just one base hit and striking him out 10 times. And if Snell gets to a two-strike count, watch for him to go to the curveball. Seven of the 10 K’s have come on the bender.

Fortunately for New York, while Judge struggles against Snell, Gary Sánchez doesn’t. Sánchez is 6-for-20 against the Rays ace with five dingers.

Gerrit Cole vs. Ji-Man Choi

Cole is expected to start Game 1 for the Yankees, and a key could be how he attacks Choi. The Yankees ace has struggled against the Rays, going 0-3 with a 4.07 ERA against Tampa Bay. But remove Choi from the ledger and it’s a different story.

That’s because Choi has demolished the ace, doing 8-for-12 with three home runs. No batter in the game has faced Cole at least six times and has posted an OPS as high as Choi's 2.400.

Perhaps even stranger, Choi has laced extra-base hits against Cole’s slider, changeup and fastball. Sometimes a guy just has your number.

After the Yankees went just 2-8 against the Rays in the regular season, New York will really hope that Cole can give them the 1-0 advantage in this one.


Ramón Laureano vs. Zack Greinke (and, really, any Astros pitcher)

One of the season's biggest stories was the benches-clearing incident between the A’s and Astros after Laureano was hit by Humberto Castellanos. So, yeah, get ready for highlights from that moment to be shown all series long. There’s plenty of bad blood between the two teams, and you know Laureano will want to make his impact felt in this series.

Though Laureano doesn’t have a ton of history going up against Houston, he’s had success against their ace, Zack Greinke. He’s done well, going 5-for-9 with a home run, two doubles and a triple.

Liam Hendriks vs. Alex Bregman

The A’s rely heavily on Hendriks. That’s obvious from the 49 pitches the A’s asked him to throw in Game 2 against the White Sox before having him come back out the next day to close out the Wild Card Series. That should put close-and-late situations in the A’s favor as Hendriks has allowed just two runs in 12 1/3 innings pitched while striking out 16 against Houston over the last two seasons.

But there is some reason for concern as many of Houston’s star players have hit well against Hendriks. Bregman is 6-for-11 with a home run, while Jose Altuve and Josh Reddick are each 5-for-15 off the closer.

The reason for Bregman’s success? Maybe he got a little inside info when the two became chummy at last year’s All-Star Game.

"Bregman was like ... 'What do think about four-seamers over two-seamers?'" Hendriks said. "That was interesting because I'd never even thought about it. I'd always thought guys either liked fastballs or offspeed."

Still, Hendriks couldn't have put up those solid numbers if every 'Stro hit well against him. George Springer, the Astros' best hitter in 2020, is just 2-for-14 with five strikeouts against Hendriks.


Pablo López vs Freddie Freeman

Sixto Sánchez might be the most exciting pitcher on the Marlins' staff, but López's performance could be crucially important to the Marlins' success. The right-hander led the Marlins in innings this season and dominated the Braves in his final start of the season, throwing five shutout innings while striking out six. But just two weeks earlier, López was the starter when the Braves put up 29 runs-- one shy of the modern MLB record. That day, López was tagged for seven runs in just 1 2/3 innings. Perhaps he was just off his game that day, or maybe the Braves were able to key into something in his scouting report.

It'll be interesting to watch how López does against Freddie Freeman. The Braves first baseman set career highs in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and he led the Majors in doubles and runs scored this season. Many peg Freeman as a favorite for the NL MVP Award. But López has the edge so far, limiting the star to five hits in 21 at-bats, with just one going for extra bases (a double).

Max Fried vs. Corey Dickerson

Right now, the Braves' rotation features two impressive young starters in Fried and Ian Anderson, and then there are a lot of question marks. With only seven innings pitched against the Fish this season, there's not much history to investigate, so what makes Fried effective? A strong fastball and a killer curve with a lot of break that he keeps to the edge of the strike zone.

That's a tough combination for plenty of batters, but the Marlins have perhaps the perfect counterattack in Corey Dickerson. Dickerson is excellent at hitting curves -- he was fifth in the Majors last year against curves, and tied for eighth this season -- and he's perhaps the best hitter in the game on pitches out of the strike zone.

Fried has only faced Dickerson twice -- throwing only a single curve in the two at-bats -- and has struck him out and given up a home run. If you're someone who loves watching how players adjust to each other, this is a fun matchup to highlight.


Clayton Kershaw vs. Trent Grisham

Listen, I get it. You’re shocked this doesn't say Fernando Tatis Jr. Yeah, that matchup is going to be one to stay glued to your seat for: A surefire future first-ballot Hall of Famer against the biggest superstar in the game right now. It’s the kind of thing that we could end up looking back on one day if both meet up in Cooperstown.

But there’s a narrative when Kershaw faces Grisham. The two have only played against each other just once: On Sept. 14, when the Padres and Dodgers were battling for first place. In Grisham’s first at-bat against Kershaw, he struck out looking. In his second, he homered to tie the game at one. Grisham celebrated wildly and drew the ire of the Dodgers' bench.

“I don’t mind guys admiring a homer; certainly it’s a big game, big hit,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after the game. “Really like the player. But I just felt to overstay at home plate, against a guy like Clayton, who’s got the respect of everyone in the big leagues for what he’s done in this game, I just took exception to that. There’s a certain respect that you give a guy if you homer against him.”

How will Kershaw and the Dodgers react now? Are they even still thinking about this? Plus, after Kershaw threw perhaps the best start of his postseason career against the Brewers, can anyone hit him right now?

Mike Clevinger vs. Mookie Betts

Clevinger’s health will play an important role in if the Padres have a realistic shot of hanging with the Dodgers -- especially after the Padres already used two bullpen games to get past the Cardinals. Fortunately, there's good news on that front: Clevinger threw on Friday, and it's looking like a good possibility that he'll return for the Division Series.

Still, he’ll be a wild card. The Trade Deadline acquisition has thrown only one inning since Sept. 13 and has only faced two Dodgers batters in his career: Max Muncy for one plate appearance, and Mookie Betts for nine. Unfortunately for San Diego, Betts has crushed him to the tune of 4-for-7 with a triple and two walks. Small sample? Sure. All came before this season? Sure. But also, that's simply what Betts does to everyone.

If Clevinger pitches but gets lit up by L.A.’s superstars, expect the heavily taxed Padres bullpen to get called in early. Against the best team in baseball, that's probably not enough.