Wild Card Games pack more pressure. Clinchers carry more clout. World Series games will always reign supreme.
But man, the first Friday of the postseason is always awesome, isn’t it?
After all, it’s the only day on the postseason schedule guaranteed to feature four games — in this case, Game 2 of the two AL Division Series (Rays vs. Red Sox and Astros vs. White Sox) and Game 1 of the two NL Division Series (Giants vs. Dodgers and Brewers vs. Braves).
This is a day to cancel everything you were naïve enough to schedule in the first place. Call in sick, stand up your blind date, get a sitter to watch the kids — there’s playoff baseball on the tube, all afternoon and all night. The only commitment we must honor is a commitment to our couches.
Here’s a look at what’s in store today:
White Sox at Astros, Game 2 (MLBN, 2 p.m. ET)
• RHP Lucas Giolito (11-9, 3.53 ERA) vs. LHP Framber Valdez (11-6, 3.14)
• Game 2 FAQ
The Astros struck first with a convincing 6-1 win in Game 1 of a series featuring two clubs in very different phases of the contention cycle. The Astros are well-established among the AL elite, with four division titles, five playoff appearances, two AL pennants and a World Series championship in the last five years. The White Sox, on the other hand, have been building up to this moment. They reached October in the expanded format last year but are coming off their first division championship since 2008. So while Houston is trying to put a bit of punctuation on what has been a strong run of success, the Sox are just getting started and, as evidenced by what happened in Game 1, still have to prove themselves.
Yet it’s the opposite dynamic in the managerial seats. Dusty Baker compared himself to Thomas Edison the other day because of his long and inexhaustible attempt to get the World Series ring that has eluded him in 10 previous postseason appearances. Edison eventually invented the incandescent light bulb, so perhaps this is the year the light will go on for the 72-year-old Baker. Tony La Russa, on the other hand, is back after a decade layoff to try to take a third franchise to the Promised Land and vie for ring No. 4.
Oct 7, 2021
The stakes here aren’t exactly the same as they were when the Astros and Sox last met in the postseason (in the 2005 World Series, when Houston was still a ringless member of the National League and Chicago was trying to end an 88-year championship drought), but they are pretty darn high. And Game 2 at Minute Maid Park features two pitchers who, over the last two seasons, rank inside the Top 15 in the Majors in ERA.
Braves at Brewers, Game 1 (TBS, 4:30 p.m. ET)
• RHP Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.34) vs. RHP Corbin Burnes (11-5, 2.43)
• Game 1 FAQ
This series has the fun distinction of being the first playoff meeting between the Braves and Brewers, but not the first time the Braves’ franchise has played a postseason series in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Braves played in consecutive World Series in 1957-58. They won it all in ’57, then eventually moved to Atlanta ahead of the ’66 season.
They won’t exactly be stretching “Welcome Home” banners across American Family Field. The Braves will face the wrath of a passionate Brew Crew fan base that has been rooting for a home club with the fourth-best winning percentage in franchise history. And the pitching the Brewers have lined up is pretty good, too. Burnes will make his first postseason start (he appeared out of the bullpen a few times in 2018) on the heels of an NL Cy Young Award-worthy regular season. Milwaukee lost stud setup man Devin Williams to a regrettable wall punch that broke his hand. But if they can get a lead in the hands of Josh Hader, they’ll feel pretty good about it. He hasn’t allowed a run since July 28, after all.
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Sep 18, 2021
Of course, the Braves aren’t here by accident, either. Two games below .500 and five games back in the NL East standings going into the July 30 Trade Deadline, with star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. done for the season, they swung what turned out to be impact deals for Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario to reform a position player group that had earlier added Joc Pederson. They also added Richard Rodríguez to their bullpen before they went 37-19 in their final 56 games to seize their fourth straight division crown. And Morton, who turns 38 next month and has a 2.10 ERA in his last six postseason starts, is a big reason why they’re here.
Sep 28, 2021
Red Sox at Rays, Game 2 (FS1, 7 p.m. ET)
• LHP Chris Sale (5-1, 3.16) vs. RHP Shane Baz (2-0, 2.03)
• Game 2 FAQ
If you really want an October contrast, this is as good as it gets. Sale is 32 years old, earned the final out of the 2018 World Series and has made a triumphant return from Tommy John surgery to help push the Red Sox into this position. He is one of the game’s most accomplished aces.
Sep 22, 2021
Baz, on the other hand? This is his fourth career start.
That contrast is really the perfect window into how these clubs are primarily constructed — the Red Sox with established stars, the Rays with more of a blossoming brood. Tampa Bay’s pitching staff is almost unrecognizable from the unit that guided it to the AL pennant a year ago, and Baz, whose electric fastball not only features elite velocity (97 mph average), but devastating movement (11.2 inches of drop and 9.7 inches of horizontal break) is evidence of the developmental depth that carried it to the AL’s best record.
So now, with the Red Sox trying to avoid an 0-2 hole after Game 1 (otherwise known as the Randy Arozarena Show), which will win out in Game 2 — experience or upside?
Dodgers at Giants, Game 1 (TBS, 9:30 p.m. ET)
• RHP Walker Buehler (16-4, 2.47) vs. RHP Logan Webb (11-3, 3.03)
• Game 1 FAQ
These two ballclubs were formed in the 19th century. In the modern era (dating back to 1901), they have played 2,374 games against each other and darn near split them. And in 2021, they either matched (Dodgers) or broke (Giants) their franchise wins record.
Now, for the first time in the modern era (not counting the 1951 and 1962 tiebreaker series that were considered part of the regular season), they are playing each other in the playoffs.
That’s a lot of history and a lot of weight. In fact, this is the first time in AL/NL history that two teams with 105 wins or more will meet in the postseason. The Giants stormed up the standings this season to win the NL West by a single game, stopping the Dodgers’ division title streak at eight and forcing L.A. into a captivating do-or-die Wild Card Game against the Cardinals. Los Angeles sweated out that 3-1 win to earn this date with its longtime rivals.
Both teams will be without their first baseman and home run leader in this series (Brandon Belt for the Giants, Max Muncy for the Dodgers) and that puts all the more onus on the pitching staffs. L.A. has won seven of Buehler’s 11 postseason outings, as he has compiled a brilliant 2.35 ERA in that stretch. The Giants won 18 of Webb’s final 20 starts and he hasn’t lost since May 5. And these two teams had the two top relief ERAs in the Majors (2.99 for San Francisco, 3.16 for Los Angeles).
You couldn’t dream up a better battle. Or a better ending to what is going to be an eventful day in MLB.
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Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.