The Astros’ win over the Rangers on Wednesday night assured that Thursday will not, in fact, be the last day of the season with two games on the schedule: We get to do this again on Friday. But the Rangers’ loss makes Thursday that much more pivotal. The D-backs are trying to avoid a harrowing 3-0 series deficit, and the Astros, the defending champs, have a chance to tie a series that already looks dramatically different than it did Tuesday.
We get four games in two days. Here's a look at the first two and three key storylines for each LCS game on Thursday.
Storyline No. 1: Is it time to start considering the Phillies’ rotation a Big Three?
Suárez has 29 career wins and a 3.41 career ERA in 134 games, including 66 starts. He has one career shutout as well as four saves. He’s been around long enough that he was once teammates with Pat Neshek and Jake Arrieta on the Phillies. He has had a perfectly respectable, if not entirely remarkable career, all with Philadelphia. But in the postseason? In the postseason, Suárez becomes an absolute monster.
This postseason, he has a 1.04 ERA in two starts, both Phillies victories. His lifetime ERA in the postseason is 1.16, with a 3-0 record and a save. He has, in fact, been better than Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. There has been a sense that the D-backs will get a little bit of a reprieve now that they’re not facing Wheeler or Nola. That sense may not be correct.
Storyline No. 2: Can the D-backs get up off the mat?
It was very much to the D-backs’ credit that, in Game 1, after falling behind 5-0, they fought all the way back to have a chance to tie the game in the late innings. It was a sign of a team that was resilient, and one that would not be overwhelmed by the intensity of the Citizens Bank Park crowd. Well, in Game 2 they lost 10-0. To be fair, that game was still 2-0 until it got away from the D-backs in the sixth and seventh innings, but it was also rather definitive -- the Arizona dugout was full of a lot of slumped shoulders by the time that one ended, and the team’s misery was capped off by an infield popup that dropped helplessly between a trio of fielders.
It would really help if the D-backs’ bats could do something early. They haven’t scored in 11 innings now, and outside of Ketel Marte (who is 3-for-8), the whole team has only five hits. The D-backs have been flattened so far. Do they have it in them to get up?
Storyline No. 3: Is this Series going back to Philadelphia?
For all the success of the Rangers in the ALCS and the fun of their intrastate rivalry, not to mention the D-backs’ stomping of both the Brewers and the Dodgers to reach the NLCS, the unquestioned story of this postseason so far has been the nightly parties that are happening at Citizens Bank Park. There have been some crazy Phillies crowds over the years, but this is new even for them.
There is the usual Philadelphia raucousness, and there are all sorts of sneering (and amusing) chants, but there’s also an unusually, and impressively, positive vibe: It’s as if the fanbase is tapped into the culture of the team itself. It’s an incredible scene.
Chase Field has only hosted one playoff game so far this postseason -- remember, they swept the Brewers in Milwaukee and then finished off the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS -- and while it was certainly loud, it can’t match that Philadelphia intensity. (Not much could.) Right now, everything is trending against the D-backs. They need to win two of these next three just to send it back to that asylum. Can they?
Storyline No. 1: Will the Astros ever lose on the road?
You can understand why the baseball world might have been too quick to write off the Astros heading into Game 3. The Rangers had reversed a whole season of Astros dominance in two games, winning twice at Minute Maid Park before handing the ball over to Max Scherzer in front of a Globe Life Field crowd ready to get this series over with sooner rather than later. But then the Astros -- as they tend to do, particularly on the road -- got back to the business of winning. They were 51-30 on the road during the regular season and are now 3-0 this postseason.
They knocked around Scherzer, got timely pitching, were relentless top to bottom in the order and, just like that, they thrust themselves back into this series. Even though the Astros have made the ALCS every year for seven consecutive seasons, they have not actually won the World Series every year. Sometimes they lose. But the one thing they never do is get swept. There will be no sweep. There was never going to be a sweep.
Storyline No. 2: Will the Rangers’ stars get going?
There will be two Rangers in the top 10, maybe the top five, of AL MVP voting this year: Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. These two are the big free agents brought in two years ago to signal a new era of Rangers baseball, and they’ve been the center of everything this team has done all year. Nothing really happens without those two. So it should be noted that, uh … they really haven’t done anything in this ALCS. The two are a combined 4-for-25 with no extra-base hits this series, a particular problem considering they do, in fact, bat atop the order every night.
If they’re going to finish this off, the Rangers need their stars to start playing like stars. Because if those two go 4-for-25 over the next three games, the Rangers are going to be in some trouble.
Storyline No. 3: Do the Rangers start hearing the footsteps?
We postulated this when discussing the D-backs-Phillies series a couple of days ago, but the theory remains true: What happens when a team has been undefeated an entire postseason and then, suddenly, they realize they are not immortal. We called it the “Wile E. Coyote Theory,” in that sometimes you’re running so fast that you don’t realize you just ran off a cliff until you look down.
The Rangers, before Wednesday, hadn’t lost since Oct. 1, a run that has been one of the most thrilling in franchise history and one that has them two games away from the World Series. But now that streak has ended. The Rangers are no longer the unbeatable October story: They’re now just a team that lost Game 3 to the defending champions. Those defending champions had the look on Wednesday of a team that is not ready to give up that crown anytime soon. If the Rangers thought this was going to be easy, they know better now.