1 key storyline for each playoff team today

October 19th, 2021

I hope you have already started your work day for Tuesday, because you’re going to want to make sure you’re done with everything early. There are two League Championship Series games today, and each of them is packed with thrills, peril and import. And they get started early. So try to get everything done you can now. Because the games are coming on you fast today.

The most exciting thing about the MLB postseason is that every game, every inning and 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 narratives are temporary; everything is transient.

That said, what are stakes and context without storylines? We have these two games on Tuesday, and each team comes into its matchup with one major story. Let this serve as your primer: Here’s the biggest thing to watch for each team heading into this game … and the rest of the postseason. Absorb each of these, and then prepare for them to be immediately eradicated after the first pitch.

NLCS Game 3: Braves at Dodgers, Braves lead 2-0

Braves: Can Charlie Morton actually put these Dodgers away?

Look, the Braves are up 2-0 in the series right now, but let’s be honest: As much as it surely (and understandably) irritates Braves fans to hear this, the vast majority of observers, pundits and “experts” still think the Dodgers are going to win this series. That’s for two major reasons. The first is that the Dodgers won 106 games this year; the Braves won 88. (That was also the difference between the Braves and, uh, the Cubs.) But the second one, and perhaps the bigger one, is that we saw the Dodgers down two games to the Braves and come storming back just last year. So we all know it can be done, and sort of secretly believe it will be done.

One thing, however, that no one believes is that the Dodgers can come back from a 3-0 deficit. And, handily, the Braves have their best starter on the mound to put the Dodgers in this exact position. Morton was the rock for Atlanta all season, and he’s been key in the postseason so far too, pitching twice against Milwaukee, including on short rest in the decisive Game 4. He’s got plenty of rest this time, and is pitching at Dodger Stadium for the first time since clinching the World Series against them for Houston in 2017. He buried them that time. He could come awfully close to doing the same thing this time.

Dodgers: Can they finally get some big hits?

Last year, the Dodgers faced three elimination games against the Braves and won all three. They’ve had two already this postseason, against the Cardinals in the Wild Card Game and the Giants in the NLDS. But it still feels like their backs are against the wall in a deeply serious way right now. It’s not just that they lost the first two in Atlanta. It’s how they lost them -- in nearly identical fashion, losing early leads, missing opportunities to score against the Braves’ bullpen and, worst of all, walk-offs in front of a bunch of Braves fans losing their minds. They don’t have to worry about a walk-off at Dodger Stadium, but everything else is in play tonight.

Most vital for their hopes will be getting a key hit for once: They’re 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position in the series, which is a terrific way to find yourself down 2-0 despite being 6-for-6 in stolen bases. They’ve got a fully rested Cy Young contender in Walker Buehler on the mound, and considering they used Julio Urías in Game 2 and are still supposedly counting on him to pitch Game 4, they may need some innings out of Buehler. But down 2-0 is no time to get cute.

ALCS Game Four: Astros at Red Sox, Red Sox lead 2-1

Astros: Who in the world is left to pitch?

The Astros were late naming a starter for Game 4, but all told, it might not really matter: They’ll take anyone who can stand upright at this point. Houston’s staff was already in trouble for Game 4 heading into Game 3, thanks to Lance McCullers Jr.’s arm injury, Luis Garcia’s knee injury (though it looks like he’ll be back this series) and all the pitches Jake Odorizzi had to throw in Game 2. But it got worse in Game 3, with five more pitchers required after Jose Urquidy could only go 1 2/3 innings. Zack Greinke wasn’t originally going to throw more than 40 pitches in Game 4, but Dusty Baker may have no choice now.

The Astros are in the worst possible position: Desperate for a win, facing a team that is smoking-hot offensively and almost entirely out of pitching options. There might not be a right answer here.

Red Sox: So how many more grand slams are they going to hit?

I kid, a little, but the thing about hitting grand slams is that they don’t typically happen in a vacuum. You get grand slams when you’re doing a lot of other things right, and Boston’s hitters are certainly doing that. Kiké Hernández is putting up his usual comical line, but everybody’s getting in on the action the last couple of games: They’re getting on base, they’re knocking guys home, they’re sprinting around the bases like Bugs Bunny in that old Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s clearly wearing out the Astros, who are going to run out of pitchers if they are not careful. The Red Sox have a few pitching and defense deficiencies of their own, but if they keep hitting like this, those minor weaknesses absolutely will not matter.