The all-or-nothing wild-card round is behind us, and now it’s time for teams to take the field knowing they’re guaranteed to stick around for a little while as the National League Division Series start up Thursday.
What’s on tap
The most important thing of the day: We’ll certainly be eager to see if the Nationals are able to carry the momentum from their wild-card win across the country to Dodger Stadium, but Game 1 feels particularly important for the young Braves in their return to the playoffs after being shrugged off by L.A. last year. With the red-hot Jack Flaherty waiting in the wings to start Game 2 for St. Louis, if the Cardinals can pull out a win Thursday, Atlanta will be standing on the edge of a cavernous hole.
The view from inside the ballparks
ATLANTA — The Cardinals enter their division series against Atlanta as loose as any team, but it remains to be seen if the offense can carry over from their last game, when St. Louis finally broke out in a 9-0 win over the Cubs to clinch the NL Central. Meanwhile, Game 1 Braves starter Dallas Keuchel is on a mission, admitting Wednesday that being at home in April and May, without a contract, fuels him. — Jesse Rogers
LOS ANGELES — For the Dodgers, the 2019 regular season acted merely as a buildup to the playoffs. Nothing that occurred over the summer — their 106 wins, 12 walk-offs and 279 home runs — mattered anywhere near as much as what might take place in October. At times, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, keeping his team focused on the monotony of the regular season proved difficult. But that struggle is over. The moment has arrived. The Dodgers are looking to join the 1923 New York Yankees as the only teams to lose back-to-back World Series and come back to win it the following season. The players believe the heartaches of prior Octobers have made them better. — Alden Gonzalez
A stat to impress your friends: We recommend sticking around until the end of the Nationals-Dodgers games. Washington and L.A. each had 29 blown saves this season, tied for most in the NL. Dodgers relievers had a considerably better ERA (3.78 to the Nats’ 5.66), but things could get interesting late.
Game 1: Cardinals-Braves (5:02 p.m. ET, TBS)
The Braves offense is deep and has to get to Miles Mikolas as the step up in class for the Cardinals’ starting pitchers is coming. Braves 6, Cardinals 3 — Rogers
I’m a little worried about the health of Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr., but Mikolas had a 5.40 ERA on the road, so the Braves should be able to score some runs off him. With Jack Flaherty ready in Game 2, Mike Shildt would be wise to almost treat Game 1 as a bullpen game with a quick hook on Mikolas. Braves 5, Cardinals 3. — David Schoenfield
Game 1: Nationals-Dodgers (8:37 p.m. ET, TBS)
The Dodgers have been much more adept at handling lefties this season, and Walker Buehler is especially dominant at home. Dodgers 8, Nationals 2. — Gonzalez
The last time we saw Walker Buehler he allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings in the World Series. I have a feeling we might see something close to that effort again. Dodgers 4, Nationals 2. — Schoenfield
About last night
Stud of the night: Yandy Diaz set the tone, Charlie Morton skillfully walked the tightrope, but how about Rays reliever Nick Anderson? Or should we just call him “Nasty Nick”? After giving up a leadoff single in the eighth, Anderson struck out the other four batters he faced, looking more and more unhittable along the way. Since joining the Rays at the trade deadline, Anderson had 41 strikeouts and two walks, allowing 12 hits in 21 1/3 innings. His matchups with the Astros will be fun to watch.
Dud of the night: For the wild-card record crowd of 54,005 at the Coliseum, the game itself was the dud. When Oakland starter Sean Manaea gave up a home run to Diaz on the fifth pitch of the night, the fans were knocked on their heels and never had the chance to reach full volume. As for Manaea, he gave up four runs in two-plus innings after yielding four runs total in his five starts this season.
Highlight of the night:
Yandy Diaz smacks a solo home run to right field in the third inning, his second dinger of the game.
Off the diamond
Social media says:
Charlie Morton in winner-take-all playoff games:
2017 ALCS Game 7 – win
2017 World Series Game 7 – win
2019 AL Wild Card Game – win
— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) October 3, 2019
Quote of note: “That’s in the past. It happens, it happens. You think about your girlfriend that broke up with you like 20 years ago? Probably not. So, no.” — Washington’s Anthony Rendon on whether the Nationals’ loss to the Dodgers in the 2016 playoffs sticks in his memory
Best of the playoffs so far …
Our running postseason MVP: Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz. Two homers in two at-bats, including one to lead off the first inning, set the tone of the American League wild-card game and took the A’s and their huge crowd out of it.
The play of this October: Juan Soto’s single/Trent Grisham‘s error with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth inning of the NL wild-card game, which turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 Washington lead. Unfortunately for Grisham, the play will be part of those postseason blunders lists — and it could take on a life of its own if the Nationals end up winning it all.
Game of the postseason so far: Brewers-Nats. The first game of this postseason set the bar pretty high, with a truly unexpected comeback via an unusual turn of events. What a start to October.