The key storylines for today's NLCS, ALCS games

October 23rd, 2022

Is Sunday going to be the last day with multiple Major League Baseball games until next March? If the Yankees can’t extend their ALCS with the Astros or the Padres can’t do the same against the Phillies in the NLCS, it will be. It’s not dark yet, folks … but it’s gettin’ there.

For now, enjoy the two games while you can. Here are the biggest storylines for each team in each game for Sunday.

Padres: Can their three starters save them?
Remember back at the beginning of this series, when we thought that the main way the Phillies could win this series was to ride their two top starters and try to stay out of their bullpen as long as possible? Well, with the series on the brink for the Padres, it’s now the exact opposite situation. The Padres' bullpen has imploded, with their bullpen game on Saturday going sideways on them twice. They still have Josh Hader out there, but getting to him is, as we saw Saturday, going to be a problem. (To be fair: It’s never easy when your starter, even if he is an opener, doesn’t get a single out.) So the Padres have to hope that Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove can help extend their season with wins in each of the next three games to recover from a daunting 3-1 deficit. Getting back to San Diego with a win today could do wonders for their mindset. But right now, that safe haven in San Diego feels even farther away from the maelstrom that is Philadelphia than it actually is. And it’s pretty far.

Phillies: Is this really going to happen?
For all the talk of Seattle’s playoff breakthrough this year, their success at reaching the postseason for the first time in 21 years, there really wasn’t that much talk about the team with the second-longest postseason drought in the Majors: These Phillies. The Phillies have been through a lot since 2011, since Ryan Howard fell while running to first base in the NLDS, ending their pseudo-dynasty. They held onto the last core longer than they should have, then hit the reset button, and they watched that reset sputter and falter and fumed as two of their NL East rivals won World Series. It looked like the engine might never turn over. Down the stretch this year, you wondered if they might choke away a ready-made playoff spot.

And then the playoffs started, and the Phillies became the best version of themselves. Rhys Hoskins is launching baseballs and having his long-deserved hero moments. The bullpen is shutting people down at the right time. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. Bryce Harper, after an immensely frustrating season, looks like the best hitter in baseball that he once was. Heck, the defense isn’t even that bad. The Phillies, impossibly, are one game away from the World Series. And they can do it in front of those fans who have been waiting, not exactly patiently, for this exact thing. If the Phillies win today, don’t expect the city of Philadelphia to get a lot of work done tomorrow.

Astros: Hey, who wants four days off?
Remember all that talk about the lack of off-days this playoff season; how teams were going to have to figure out how to manage their bullpens and starters in the postseason the way they did in the regular season? Well, it turns out there is a way to avoid that problem altogether: Just don’t lose a game. The Astros are 6-0 this postseason and are one win away from having more time to rest: The World Series, which would start in Houston, doesn’t begin until Friday night.

The World Series -- which the Astros will be playing in if they win Sunday night, just like that -- has the usual days off, the ol’ 2-3-2 set. The Astros have blitzed through this postseason, rendering all its unique challenges moot. If they win Sunday, and at this point this team doesn’t look even slightly vulnerable, they’ll have solved those problems, and their dominant pitching staff will be well rested for the Fall Classic.

Yankees: Who is going to keep this respectable?
The last time the Yankees were swept in a best-of-seven series was against the Tigers in the 2012 ALCS, and it has only happened to them three times in their illustrious postseason history -- the 2012 ALCS, the 1976 World Series and the 1963 Fall Classic.

It generally doesn’t augur great things: The last time it happened, they didn’t win another postseason game for five years. The Yankees have had an excellent year, but they’re also a team with an endless scroll of offseason questions, not least of which is what is going to happen with their AL home run-record holder. And there aren’t many Yankees fans who will care much about what happened this regular season if they get swept out in the ALCS -- and with good reason.

The Yankees probably aren’t coming back in this series. But you’d like to see them at least throw a punch. Sheesh: In their biggest game of the year -- maybe the biggest in a few years -- they could only manage three hits. (Two of which came down five runs in the ninth and were both singles.) If they don’t start landing haymakers, the long cold uncertain winter will be upon them.