7 snapshots from 1st day of 2020 postseason

September 30th, 2020

This was the appetizer, the warmup act. This one was about Lucas Giolito flirting with history and the Yankees getting the best of Shane Bieber and the Astros coming back on the Twins in the ninth inning.

As we prepare for The Greatest Day of Postseason Baseball There Has Ever Been, here are seven snapshots from the four American League Wild Card Games on Tuesday:

1. The Ray Way

Pete Fairbanks was one of two Rays relievers on the active roster all season who didn’t save a game. What’s that they say about timing being everything? Fairbanks got his first save of the season in a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays in Game 1. That’s because manager Kevin Cash used his late-inning relievers, Diego Castillo and Nick Anderson, to get seven outs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Did we mention Fairbanks has a 100-mph fastball and a slider that vaporizes at home plate?

He’s the first pitcher in 29 years to have zero saves in the regular season, then get one in his team’s first postseason game. Last to do it was Bob Walk for the Pirates in 1991, according to Stats LLC.

Pitching roles come and go for the Rays. This season, 12 different pitchers got saves, and four of those 12 also started at least one game. According to Stats LLC, 13 pitchers getting at least one save is a Major League record, passing the 2019 Rays (12), 2003 Red Sox (12) and 1973 Rangers (12).

2. The Yankees may be who we thought they were

The Yankees played us, right? We should have seen this coming. All season, we defined them, in part, by their injuries. That’s on us. And their injuries were significant with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu all landing on the injured list.

What got less attention: It barely slowed them down. They scored more runs (315) than any other AL team. They were second in home runs (94), first in walks (251) and first in OPS (.789). The Yankees had the Major League batting champ (LeMahieu, .364) and home run leader (Luke Voit, 22).

Healthy again, this is what they are: a team that pounded the expected 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner, Shane Bieber, for seven runs (that’s what he allowed in his last three regular-season starts combined) on their way to 15 hits and a 12-3 victory.

Judge, Stanton, Gleyber Torres and Brett Gardner homered. Torres had four hits. Gerrit Cole was at his postseason best in a seven-inning, 13-strikeout performance that smothered the Indians. Way back in February or March, Dodgers-Yankees seemed an almost inevitable 2020 World Series matchup. Stay tuned.

3. After 961 regular-season games, José Abreu reminded the White Sox (for about the 1,000th time) of his value

The White Sox first baseman has been overlooked a time or two as a tidal wave of young talent has arrived. Here’s what pretty much every member of the organization will tell you: In terms of leadership, production and setting an example, no one has been more important to this turnaround.

The White Sox saw him as a huge building block when the 26-year-old Cuban was signed in October 2013. It hasn’t happened overnight, but Abreu has been the rock on which the White Sox clubhouse was built.

Abreu played his first postseason game on Tuesday, and his two-run home run in the third inning gave right-hander Lucas Giolito a 3-0 lead with which to work as Chicago went on to a 4-1 win over the A's.

4. Astros piggyback starters and pull off an upset

Astros first-year general manager James Click put his first notable imprint on the franchise in Game 1 of a 4-1 victory over the Twins. If one starting pitcher is good, isn’t two better?

The Astros got four innings from their ace, Zack Greinke, and five from one of their best youngsters, lefty Framber Valdez, on a combined four-hitter.

Greinke, one of the best and most durable pitchers of his generation, was removed despite trailing 1-0 and having thrown 79 pitches.

Here’s why: This season, opposing hitters batted .208 against Greinke the first time through the lineup, .283 the second time and .298 the third time.

Greinke faced his 17th hitter to finish the fourth inning, and that was that. Astros manager Dusty Baker turned to Valdez, who finished the game and kept Baker from using a bullpen that had a 4.52 ERA in September.

5. A’s offense could use a spark

White Sox ace Lucas Giolito was close to unhittable, so this probably isn’t a fair time to mention Oakland’s problems scoring runs. But it has been a problem for weeks now, and down the stretch, the A’s hit .216 and averaged 3.8 runs per game over their last 15 games. They scored three or fewer runs in nine of those 15 games.

If it was one hitter, he could be replaced. Other than Tommy La Stella, almost no one is hitting for the A’s. They were hoping the postseason would amount to a reset of sorts. Maybe it will come against White Sox lefty Dallas Keuchel.

6. Fans back in the stands. Well, sort of

In Minneapolis, they cheered and waved their homer hankies just like the good old days. Same thing in Cleveland and Tampa Bay, where those in the crowd made all the noise their numbers allowed. Never mind that these were team employees and family members and only a few dozen of them scattered throughout the ballparks.

This was a step in the right direction, potentially a big step as Major League Baseball plots a course to get fans -- cutouts are nice, but we're missing the real thing -- back in the ballpark at some point in the postseason.

7. Stat of the day

Blake Snell had a no-hitter through five innings for the sixth time in 69 starts since 2018, including postseason. That's tied with the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty for most in MLB since the start of 2018 (including postseason). He’s also excellent on Zoom calls.