Toronto Blue Jays (Happ 20-4, 3.18) vs. Texas Rangers (Darvish 7-5, 3.41) Toronto leads series 1-0
1pm ET Friday on TBS
The Blue Jays knocked the snot out of the Rangers last night, winning 10-1, behind 8 ⅓ innings from Marco Estrada, and an onslaught of offense from Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki. In the 3rd inning, Donaldson doubled home Ezequiel Cabrera, then Bautista came up two batters later to single home Donaldson, and subsequently Tulo ripped a bases-clearing 3-run triple. Bautista would later put Texas out of its misery with a 3-run bomb that would make it 10-0 in the 9th.
On the hill for the Jays tonight is J.A. Happ, a 33-year-old lefty looking to put the finishing touches on a career year. Happ’s 20 wins this year is 8 more than his previous high, achieved back in 2009, when he finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting, behind only Chris Coghlan. In his sole appearance against Texas this year, Happ went 7, giving up just 1 run on 6 hits and a walk, while fanning 5. Texas was actually slightly better against lefties than righties this year, so will see if Happ can do it again. Happ was tough down the stretch, when the Jays needed him most, posting a 2.35 ERA over his last 5 starts. In 8 playoff appearances with the Phillies in 2008 and 2009, Happ had a 4.82 ERA in 9 ⅓ innings, giving up 12 hits and 8 walks. The Jays are gonna hope for more than that tonight.
The start of Yu Darvish’s season got delayed by a neck injury that flared up after just 3 starts, causing him to shut it down for another five weeks. When he finally got back to work, he appeared to be his old self, Striking out 62 with just 11 walks in 51 ⅔ innings, with a 2.98 ERA. But come September, he had two disastrous outing, giving up 12 runs in just 9 innings – giving that he gave up just 43 runs all year, this was significant. But he closed out strong, fanning 21 and walking just 2 in 13 innings covering 2 starts, hearkening back to Peak Yu.
Boston Red Sox (Price 17-9, 3.99) vs. Cleveland Indians (Kluber 18-9, 3.14) Cleveland leads series 1-0
4:30pm ET Friday on TBS
The Indians took control of this series with a 5-4 last night, getting to Sox starter Rick Porcello in the 3rd with a trio of solo homers in the span of 4 hitters, as Roberto Perez, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor each went yard to give the Tribe a 4-2 lead they would never relinquish. The Sox would answer in the 5th with a solo shot from catcher Sandy Leon, but Kipnis would drive in Perez with a single in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-3, rendering meaningless Boston’s final home run, by Brock Holt in the 8th.
The only thing more frustrating than watching David Price in 2016 was being David Price in 2016. In the history of baseball, qualifying starters with a SO/BB of 4.5 or better have had an ERA of 2.88, but Price had a SO/BB of 4.56 and an ERA of 3.99 – what happened? Well, in addition to leading the AL in starts, innings and batters faced, he was also tops in hits allowed, thanks in part to a BABIP of .314, 26 points above his previous average, and his home runs were up from 1.9% of plate appearances to 3.2%. Come the end of June he was 8-5 with a 4.74 ERA, but he’s been much better since then, going 9-4 with a 3.33 ERA. His playoff track record, however, is almost uniformly awful, as he’s gone 2-7 with a `5.12 ERA.
The Indians have an excellent chance to take a commanding 2-0 lead in this series as they send to the bump staff ace and Cy Young contender Corey Kluber, who will be making his postseason debut. Kluber was brilliant in the second half, going 10-0 with a 2.41 ERA and 113 strikeouts over 101 innings. In 2 starts against Boston this year he went 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA.
Los Angeles Dodgers (Kershaw 12-4, 1.69) vs. Washington Nationals (Scherzer 20-7, 2.96), series tied 0-0
5:30pm ET Friday on FS1
Clayton Kershaw is the greatest pitcher of his generation, and before his back betrayed him he was in the midst of what would’ve been his greatest season, as he was on pace to set the record for SO/BB at 15.64 and WHIP at .725. But the knock against him has been that he can’t get it done in the postseason, a charge difficult to dispute. In 13 playoff appearances, Kershaw’s gona 2-6 with a 4.59 ERA in 64 ⅔ innings, though his peripherals have been very good: 77 K’s, 1.16 WHIP, 1.1 HR/9IP. There have been stinkers, for sure, like Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS against St. Louis (7 runs on 10 hits in 4 innings), but there have been gems, too, like Game 1 of the 2013 NLDS against Atlanta, when he fanned 12 over 7 innings of 1-run ball. Kershaw hasn’t missed a beat since returning on September 9, with a 1.29 ERA over 28 innings - maybe the rest will do him good this fall.
Thanks to Kershaw’s ailment, Max Scherzer has a shot at joining the small fraternity of pitchers who’ve won CY Young Awards in both leagues. Scherzer led the league in wins, starts, innings, strikeouts, WHIP and SO/BB – there’s not much more he could’ve done, except maybe strikeout 20 in a game – no, wait, he did that, too. Like Kershaw, Scherzer has disappointed on the big stage, though not as egregiously, going 4-3 with a 3.73 ERA in 62 ⅔ innings.
The Nats and Dodgers are pretty evenly matched offensively, though things would tilt toward Washington if Bryce Harper ever got back to form (or healthy, maybe?), but the Nationals starters in this series, Scherzer, Tanner Roark, and Gio Gonzalez, aren’t quite a match for the Dodgers trio of Kershaw, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda. Advantage: LA.
San Francisco Giants (Cueto 18-5, 2.79) vs. Chicago Cubs (Lester 19-5, 2.44), series tied 0-0
9pm ET Friday on FS1
Part of the genius of the Wild Card game is that while it throws a bone to a lesser team, it exacts a high price. In the case of the Giants, they were invited to the dance, but had to use their best pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, in the one-game playoff. MadBum was his typically insane-o-pants amazing playoff self, shutting out the Mets 3-0, but leaving himself able to pitch only Game 3 against the Cubs. Ouch.
Johnny Cueto is a great fallback plan for the Giants in Game 1. Cueto was brilliant in September, going 4-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 35 ⅓ innings, including 7 innings of 1-run ball in his lone start against the Cubs on September 4. Which version of postseason Cueto takes the hill is anybody’s guess, however. Last season, while helping the Royals win it all, he threw 8 innings giving up just 2 runs against Houston in the deciding game of the ALDS, and going the distance while giving up just 1 run against the Mets in Game 2 of the Series, but he also got rocked for 8 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks against the Blue Jays in Game 3 of the ALCS.
Max Scherzer’s only real competition for the NL Cy YOung is Jon Lester, who was the most valuable pitcher in the best starting rotation in baseball this year. Lester is no stranger to the playoffs, having been here six times previously, winning two World Series titles with the Red Sox, in 2007 and 2013. In ‘07, at the age of 23, he clinched the Series for the Sox with 5 ⅔ shutout innings against the Rockies, and in ‘13, were it not for David Ortiz singlehandedly carrying the offense, Lester might have won the World Series MVP, giving up just 1 run in 15 ⅓ in Games 1 and 5 against the Cardinals. He is unbowed by fall baseball. Hell, the guy’s even beaten cancer.
Without Bumgarner available to go twice, Giants are simply no match for the Cubs, who scored 97 more runs this season, while allowing 75 fewer runs, thanks in large part to a historically great defense.