Road to the World Series: Oct. 4, 2013
Thursday brought Game 1 of both National League Division Series, and it brought offensive explosions and a pair of memorable pitching performances from two of the best at their craft.
In other words, too bad for the Pirates and Braves.
The Cardinals got the first round started in earnest with a dominant 9-1 victory over Pittsburgh, sparked by a seven-run third inning and a gem from ace Adam Wainwright in a rocking Busch Stadium.
The Dodgers followed suit in the nightcap, beating Atlanta, 6-1, behind early scoring and another incredible outing from their Cy Young Award frontrunner, left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
The Road to the World Series got a bit easier for the Cardinals and Dodgers, who take 1-0 leads in their best-of-five series, and it was because of the all-around games that led both teams to win their divisions in the regular season.
St. Louis didn't seem to have much of a problem quieting the Pittsburgh team that looked so inspired in front of its sellout home crowd in the team's Wild Card Game victory over Cincinnati.
Of course, it helps when you have Wainwright on the mound. And it helps when you have Carlos Beltran in October.
Beltran's three-run blast off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett got the crowd going in the third, gave Wainwright all the cushion he'd need (even though they'd add four in the frame), and the Cardinals earned a rare postseason laugher by the time it was all said and done.
"Our offense, seemingly, once we get something going, it's very hard to stop us," Wainwright said. "We score a lot in bunches. So when we get one of those innings going, nobody wants to make the first out. We just keep everything going and try to ride that no-out train as long as we can."
Meanwhile, the Dodgers didn't take long to silence the pro-Braves crowd in Turner Field. Atlanta starter Kris Medlen struck out the side in the first inning and got the familiar tomahawk chops going in the stands, but that turned out to be the sole clip on the highlight reel for a team that was outhit and outpitched.
The Dodgers scored twice in the second and third innings and once more in the fourth and sixth. Adrian Gonzalez homered. A.J. Ellis, Mark Ellis and Yasiel Puig added two hits apiece.
And Kershaw? Well, he was Kershaw.
Now 6 in a row retired courtesy of the K for Clayton Kershaw. #Dodgers- Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 4, 2013
Kershaw retired six consecutive batters via the strikeout at one point, and the total rose to 12 by the end of his seven innings of three-hit ball on 124 pitches. It was an October statement if there ever was one.
"Giving [Kershaw] a four-run lead made us feel really comfortable," Gonzalez said. "We know he's the best pitcher in baseball, and he showed it tonight."
The Road to the World Series gets going again in a Major League way Friday. The Braves and Pirates will get cracks at revenge right away on what should be one epic day of playoff baseball.
All four Division Series are in swing, with Games 2 of the NLDS going and the two American League Division Series opening in Boston and Oakland.
The action will get started with Pirates-Cardinals at 1 p.m. ET on MLB Network, with Pittsburgh throwing rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole at St. Louis, which will counter with Lance Lynn.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle realizes how damaging it would be to fall behind 0-2 in the series, which is why he didn't try to get too philosophical about the Game 1 drubbing.
"We had a rough game," he said. "Game 164 was rough. That's one of the things we've been real good at, is we don't overcook things when we don't play well. We go in there, honestly self-evaluate what we have to do tomorrow. We're down one game in the series, and we'll move on."
In the first ALDS opener at 3 p.m. ET on TBS, the Rays will try to win yet another game on the road, this time in Fenway Park, against a Red Sox team that had the best record in the AL this year.
Rays manager Joe Maddon continues to be impressed by his club's fortitude in winning a tiebreaker in Texas and then the Wild Card Game in Cleveland.
"I really believe our players deserve a lot of credit, I do," Maddon said. "And moving forward, I want to believe it's going to create some kind of different form of momentum going into this series, because we've been playing. We've been playing under duress, and we're not tired."
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are well rested, and they're getting the services of Jon Lester on the mound to go up against Rays lefty Matt Moore. Lester has been prolific in the playoffs, particularly the first round.
"The body of work compares pretty consistently to whether it was '08, '09 or '10," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "One of the top starting pitchers in the league. He's done a great job of righting his own ship, so to speak, after a late May-early June stretch of starts where things didn't work out as well. He finished this year extremely strong, powerful, with good performance. And we're looking at him to lead the way here in October."
The Braves will try to bounce back in the third game of the four-pack at 6 p.m. ET on TBS, and they'll need a huge effort from young left-hander Mike Minor, because the Dodgers' No. 2 pitcher in this series, Zack Greinke, is another former Cy Young winner who just happened to have a terrific second half of the season.
"He's a tough pitcher," Minor said. "He's proven that. He's been in the league for a while, and he's dominated for a while. But I think anything can happen. We have big hitters. ... Hopefully I can hold them off for a while and let our guys do their work."
The last game of this memorable day on big league diamonds all across the country brings about the only Division Series rematch from last season.
The A's fought the Tigers to five games in 2012 and just got a bit too much Justin Verlander for their liking. This year, Oakland begins the series at home (9:30 p.m. ET on TBS) and has the rejuvenated Bartolo Colon on the mound to combat the Tigers' 21-game winner and AL Cy Young hopeful, Max Scherzer.
Both teams know how good the other one is and how amped their crowds will be. That's what happens when you meet in consecutive Octobers.
"This is one of the rowdiest baseball experiences I've ever been a part of," Scherzer said of Oakland. "The fans here go absolutely nuts from the first pitch to the last, and that's just something you got to deal with. The crowd noise is going to be loud. ...
"It's just going to be an unbelievable baseball experience, something I'll never forget."
Friday's Division Series games
Pirates (Cole) at Cardinals (Lynn), 1 p.m. ET Preview >
Rays (Moore) at Red Sox (Lester), 3 p.m. ET Preview >
Dodgers (Greinke) at Braves (Minor), 6 p.m. ET Preview >
Tigers (Scherzer) at A's (Colon), 9:30 p.m. ET Preview >
2013 MLB POSTSEASON MATCHUPS
Division Series: Rays at Red Sox | Tigers at A's
Division Series: Pirates at Cardinals | Dodgers at Braves
2013 postseason schedule
NL Division Series
Game 1: Cardinals 9, Pirates 1, Cardinals lead series, 1-0
Game 2: Pirates at Cardinals, Friday, 1 p.m. ET
Game 3: Cardinals at Pirates, Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Game 4*: Cardinals at Pirates, Monday, TBD
Game 5*: Pirates at Cardinals, Wednesday, TBD
* - if necessary
Game 1: Dodgers 6, Braves 1, Dodgers lead series, 1-0
Game 2: Dodgers at Braves, Friday, 6 p.m. ET
Game 3: Braves at Dodgers, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
Game 4*: Braves at Dodgers, Monday, TBD
Game 5*: Dodgers at Braves, Wednesday, TBD
* - if necessary
AL Division Series
Game 1: Rays at Red Sox, Friday, 3 p.m. ET
Game 2: Rays at Red Sox, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: Red Sox at Rays, Monday, TBD
Game 4*: Red Sox at Rays, Tuesday, TBD
Game 5*: Rays at Red Sox, Thursday, TBD
* - if necessary
Game 1: Tigers at A's, Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Game 2: Tigers at A's, Saturday, 9 p.m. ET
Game 3: A's at Tigers, Monday, TBD
Game 4*: A's at Tigers, Tuesday, TBD
Game 5*: Tigers at A's, Thursday, TBD
* - if necessary
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23