Decision not to start Cliff Lee in Game 4 could doom Rangers
Wade Davis starts Game 4 of the ALDS for the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday
The Braves have the momentum and their ace, Tim Hudson, on the mound
The Cincinnati Reds could be beaten even before facing the Phillies in Game 3
Cliff Corcoran breaks down each of the days' games everyday during the postseason.
Series: ALDS, Game 4, Rangers lead 2-1
Time: 1:00 p.m. EST
Starters: Wade Davis (12-10, 4.07 ERA) vs. Tommy Hunter (13-4, 3.73 ERA)
The Rays scored just one run through the first 23 innings of this series, then scored six in the final four innings of Game 3 to stave off elimination. That changes everything. If the Rays have found themselves at the plate, we have a series on our hands, particularly with Ron Washington unwilling to start Cliff Lee on three days' rest.
Were Lee to start today, the Rangers would greatly increase their chances of wrapping up this series without having to return to Florida to face David Price, and Lee would still be on full rest for Game 1 of the ALCS. However, Lee has never started on three days' rest in his major league career, not in the regular season and not in the postseason, and skipped a start in early September due to lower back stiffness, making it difficult to criticize Washington too much for his decision. As for the Rays not using Price to push the series back to Tampa, Price has not only never started on three days' rest, but he's a very valuable 24-year-old arm that the Rays are reluctant to risk, even with the Division Series on the line.
As for the pitching matchup we do have, sophomore Hunter, who is a year younger than his rookie mound opponent, missed the first two months of the season with an oblique strain, then went 8-0 with a 2.31 ERA in his first 10 starts back thanks primarily to luck on balls in play (.227 BABIP). The correction came thereafter, as he went 5-4 with a 5.07 ERA over the remainder of the season as opposing batters hit .285/.330/.517 against him including a still favorable .285 on balls in play. Hunter faced the Rays once during each stretch, pitching a one-run complete game against them in his first start of the season, then giving up four runs on three walks, three singles, a double, and two triples in just three innings of work at Tropicana Field in mid-August.
Davis's season took the opposite course, with him struggling early, then going 7-1 with a 3.22 ERA in his final 13 starts, nine of them quality and one of them rain-shortened. Davis was also the lone member of the Rays' postseason rotation to have a lower ERA on the road than at home during the regular season. In his lone start in Arlington this season, he gave up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings, but that was back on June 4 and was his last disaster start of the season.
Series: NLDS, Game 2, series tied 1-1
Time: 4:30 p.m. EST
Starters: Jonathan Sanchez (13-9, 3.07 ERA) vs. Tim Hudson (17-9, 2.83 ERA)
The Braves' comeback win in Game 2 has swung this series in their favor as they now return home to Atlanta and send their ace, Hudson, to the mound. Hudson, the National League's Comeback Player of the Year, struggled down the stretch, going 2-4 with a 5.32 ERA over his final seven starts, but his last two regular season outings were solid. In the penultimate one, he held the Marlins to one run over six innings, and in his final start, with the Braves battling for a playoff spot on the final day of the season, he held the Phillies to just two hits over seven innings, though thanks to a hit by pitch and a walk, those two hits, both home runs, plated four runs. Prior to September, Hudson was 15-5 with a 2.24 ERA including two strong starts against the Giants, the more recent coming at home on August 7. In that start, Hudson held San Francisco scoreless on a walk and three hits over eight innings.
Sanchez also came up big on the final day of the season with his team battling for a postseason berth. Sanchez held the Padres scoreless on three hits over five innings that day, adding a triple at the plate that led to the game's first run. That marked Sanchez's seventh straight start in which he allowed no more than two runs. He went 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA over that stretch, striking out 48 men in 43 2/3 innings, albeit with considerable fortune on balls in play. Sanchez didn't fare as well in his lone start in Atlanta this year, giving up four runs in four innings on five hits, two of them homers, and three walks on August 8 against a lineup that not only lacked Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, but Derrek Lee and Jason Heyward as well.
Friday night's comeback woke up the Braves' bats, made Troy Glaus an unlikely hero in the field, and tipped the momentum in the Braves favor, but it also cost them their closer. Billy Wagner strained his left oblique in that game and will be unable to pitch for the remainder of this series. The Braves can replace him on the roster, but if they do, they won't be able to reinstate him until/unless they reach the World Series as baseball's rules require that a player removed from one series due to injury also miss the next. For that reason, the Braves are contemplating playing the rest of this series a man short. The performance of the remainder of their bullpen thus far (combined line: 9 1/3 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 Ks) suggests that they will get by just fine without Wagner or a replacement.
Series: NLDS, Game 3, Phillies lead 2-0
Time: 8:00 p.m. EST
Starters: Cole Hamels (12-11, 3.06 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (12-7, 3.64 ERA)
Watching the Twins go down meekly against the Yankees Saturday night makes one wonder just how often teams are defeated between the ears before they lose between the lines. After blowing leads in each of the first two games of the ALCS, the Twins' history of playoff failures, particularly those that have come against the Yankees, not to mention their overall struggles against the Yankees in recent years (2-16 over the last two years, postseason combined, entering Saturday night's Game 3), seemed to defeat them before the Yankees did.
The same might be true of the Reds entering Game 3. The Reds were embarrassed in the Game 1, becoming just the second team ever to be no-hit in the postseason, and embarrassed themselves in Game 2, committing four errors, hitting three batters, and having one runner picked off first base. In the process, they blew a 4-0 fifth-inning lead by allowing five unearned runs and handing the loss to the pitcher who was supposed to be their bullpen's silver bullet, Aroldis Chapman. Throw in how heavily-favored the Phillies were to start this series and that the Reds' Game 1 starter, Edinson Volquez, was bounced in the second inning of that contest, and one finds it hard to believe that the Reds aren't going to take the field tonight expecting to get swept, no matter what they might say to the press.
Not only do the Reds have to overcome all of that mental and emotional baggage, but they have to go out and beat Cole Hamels. Hamels went 5-1 with a 1.63 ERA over his final eight starts of the regular season, threw 7 2/3 shutout innings against the Reds back in July in his only start against them this year, had a lower ERA on the road than at home this year, and is 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four career starts at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Johnny Cueto was the Reds ace this season and held the Phillies to just three runs over 15 innings in two starts against them this year. That, returning home, and the fact that the Phillies have hit just .203/.325/.234 with two extra-base hits in this series should give the Reds and their fans hope, but this game will probably be over before it starts.