Key storylines for a thrilling 3-game slate of postseason action

October 11th, 2023

As a result of the Rangers finishing off the Orioles in a three-game sweep in their ALDS -- here is your reminder the Rangers have yet to lose a postseason game this year -- we have three games on Wednesday, rather than four. And what a slate of games it is! We’ve got the defending champs trying to reach their seventh straight ALCS against a team that isn’t ready to say goodbye yet; a vaunted, deeply experienced juggernaut trying to avoid a second consecutive NLDS disappointment; and two intense division rivals facing off after an absolute classic of a Game 2.

Also: This is the last time we will have three games on one day until Spring Training. Soak in all of this while you can.

Here’s a look at the big storylines for each team in the three Division Series games on Wednesday.

Braves at Phillies
Series tied 1-1
Bryce Elder vs. Aaron Nola
5:07 p.m. ET, TBS

Braves: Is the power back on?

Admit it: There’s a little part of you that wondered if the Braves were ever going to wake up this postseason. One of the best offenses of all time -- seriously, one of the best offenses of all time -- had been shut out for the first 14 innings of this series, and it’s not like their pitching or defense looked particularly sharp either. This Braves team is better than the one that won the 2021 World Series. But with the Phillies holding a 4-0 lead and Zack Wheeler taking a no-hitter into the sixth of Game 2, it sure looked like the 2023 version of the Braves, for all its regular-season dominance, just didn’t have that same pizzazz as those pearl-wearing Bravos of two years ago. And then … the Braves remembered who they were. Travis d’Arnaud’s two-run homer in the seventh brought them within one, but it was Austin Riley’s mammoth two-out, two-run homer in the eighth that will be replaying for a long, long time … though Atlanta fans may be watching that game-ending double play for even longer.

In all the excitement, it should be noted that the Braves still have a lot of work to do: They’ve lost home-field advantage, they’re facing a pitcher in Game 3 who beat them in this exact spot last year and that Citizens Bank Park crowd is going to have its collective hair on fire. But for 14 innings, the Braves felt tight, sleepy and downright flat. They feel like … the opposite of that right now.

Phillies: Can Nola make them forget the end of Game 2 ever happened?

It really is worth harkening back to Oct. 14 of last year, when these two teams were tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 of the 2022 NLDS. The Braves had just pulled off a late-inning victory over Zack Wheeler -- who had been fantastic before tiring and giving up three runs in his final inning -- to even up a series heading back to Philadelphia. The Phillies had two things going for them: That electrifying crowd, and Aaron Nola. That was all they needed: They won Game 3 easily by a score of 9-1 behind a six-inning, zero-earned-run performance from Nola, and all that momentum the Braves had from their stirring Game 2 win was gone.

The next night the Phillies scored three runs in the second, and they were off to the NLCS and, eventually, the World Series. As crushing as Monday night’s loss was -- and it was extremely crushing, staggering-listlessly-around-your-living-room-for-an-hour-afterward crushing -- it was just one loss. These are fierce, hated division rivals who have a tendency to bring out the best in each other, and this sure has the feel of a series that’s going to go the distance, with one face-melting moment after another. The Phillies lost a gut punch on Monday. But at home, with Nola pitching, they’re more than capable of a few gut punches of their own. And if the Phils can pull it off, the parallels to last year’s series will be downright eerie.

Astros at Twins
Astros lead 2-1
José Urquidy vs. Joe Ryan
7:07 p.m. ET, FS1

Astros: Is another ALCS inevitable?

This is what the Astros are supposed to look like. Frankly, their Game 3 win over the Twins was awfully familiar. Excellent start. Steady, tidy bullpen, protecting an early lead. A seasoned postseason team that made it clear they’ve been here before and will be here again. They were … the Astros. The defending champs are now one game away from their seventh consecutive ALCS by sticking with the tried and true, and why wouldn’t they? It clearly works. They’ve wrestled back home-field advantage in this series by silencing yet another raucous home crowd. Are they going to finish this off Wednesday afternoon? They usually do, don’t they?

Twins: Can they pounce on Urquidy early?

You can totally understand why the Astros wouldn’t want to start 40-year-old Justin Verlander on short rest for Game 4. They have a 2-1 lead! Why get desperate? They will hope Urquidy, J.P. France and the rest of the bullpen can give them the next three days off. But if you’re the Twins, you have to feel relieved that Urquidy, the guy with a 5.29 ERA this year in 10 starts, is who you’re facing when you’re staring down elimination.

The Twins actually have the starting pitcher advantage in this game, and they clearly are feeling more urgency. In front of their home crowd -- which, after a miserable Game 3, is desperate to find something to cheer about – they have a very reasonable chance to win this game. Will they be favored in a Game 5 against Verlander, in Houston? No. But the Twins will worry about that when they get there. If they can get the crowd into this with an early lead, this series could be tied, and essentially a coin flip, instantly. This is far from over.

Dodgers at D-backs
D-backs lead 2-0
Lance Lynn vs. Brandon Pfaadt
9:07 p.m. TBS

Dodgers: Wait, is it the offense that’s the problem?

The Dodgers’ starting pitching woes so far this postseason are well-documented, to say the least: Starters Clayton Kershaw and Bobby Miller have given up a stunning nine runs in two innings, putting the Dodgers in a bottomless chasm before they even took swings at the plate. But it has to be said: It’s not like they’re doing much with those bats. The Dodgers have put up a meager .159/.254/.254 batting line and scored just a total of four runs. Mookie Betts is 0-for-7; Freddie Freeman is 1-for-6; Max Muncy is 1-for-7.

All told, manager Dave Roberts has done as well with his bullpen as can reasonably be asked of a guy who has gotten two total innings from his starters, and the bullpen kept them in Game 2 in impressive fashion. With the day off, the relief group should be well-rested to do so again in Phoenix. But none of that means anything if the Dodgers don’t hit. They need to start hitting. Or this thing will be over.

D-backs: Can the home crowd secure an enormous upset?

The D-backs haven’t historically been known for having a big home-field advantage, but don’t tell that to the fans in attendance on Wednesday. The D-backs will play in front of a sellout crowd that will have two opportunities to see their team advance to their first NLCS since 2007 … and of course vanquish their longtime tormentors from Chavez Ravine.

It will also be an opportunity for the Chase Field crowd to see something they haven’t witnessed in more than two decades: A series clinch at home. That’s right: The last time the D-backs won a series at home was when Luis Gonzalez hit that bloop off Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. (To tell you how long it has been, Corbin Carroll was 13 months old at the time.)

This D-backs team has surprised everyone, and they are now on the cusp of one of the grandest moments in this franchise’s history. The noise at Chase Field is very much going to reflect that.