Welp. After the Yankees won yesterday’s decisive Game 5 of a rain-disrupted Division Series against the Guardians, the ALCS is set, and...it’s not ideal. Yankees vs. Astros may be the least desirable ALCS that could have resulted from the six-team AL postseason field (only Yankees vs. Blue Jays might have been worse). It’s the third time since 2017 that New York and Houston have squared off in the Championship Series.
Blegh. As Orioles fans, we pretty much have to root for the Astros — what with Trey Mancini on their roster, and the fact that the Yankees are the Yankees — but it feels a little bit gross. Nobody would blame you if you decided to skip watching this series and catch up on some TV instead.
Things are more fun in the National League, where the Padres are making their first NLCS appearance since 1998 and the Phillies their first since 2010. Last night’s opener was a barnburner, a sensational pitcher’s duel between Yu Darvish and Zack Wheeler that was decided by a pair of Phillies solo homers. And the game was completed in a crisp two hours and 43 minutes! That kind of pace is almost unheard of even for a regular season game, let alone postseason. Let’s keep it up.
4:35 - Phillies at Padres, Game 2, FOX/FS1 (Phillies lead, 1-0)
Starting pitchers: RHP Aaron Nola (PHI) vs. LHP Blake Snell (SD)
It’s the Nola brothers showdown! Phillies righty Aaron Nola, 29, will square off against his older brother Austin, 32, the Padres’ starting catcher. They have faced each other in six previous plate appearances — and, presumably, hundreds of times in the backyard growing up — but certainly never with this much at stake. On Aug. 21, 2021, Aaron retired Austin twice and walked him once. Earlier this season, on June 24, Aaron again retired Austin twice before the elder Nola ripped an RBI single in his final at-bat.
One Padre who has seen plenty of Aaron Nola in the bigs is Juan Soto, his former NL East adversary, who has three home runs, 14 walks, and a 1.096 lifetime OPS in 47 PAs against the right-hander. Soto may be in line for a rebound after an 0-for-3, two-strikeout performance in Game 1. Historically, though, Nola has held the Padres in check, with a career 3.11 ERA in eight starts against San Diego.
Meanwhile, Blake Snell will look to build on his solid performance against the Dodgers in the NLDS — 5.1 innings, one run, six strikeouts — after a rough, six-walk outing against the Mets in the Wild Card Series. Snell has faced the Phillies four times over the past two years and has never beaten them, giving up home runs to Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto along the way.
7:37 - Yankees at Astros, Game 1, TBS
Starting pitchers: RHP Jameson Taillon vs. RHP Justin Verlander
The top-seeded Astros have the advantage of being well-rested coming into this series. They’ve had three days off since completing a sweep of the Mariners in the Division Series, allowing them to set up their rotation however they want and giving their bullpen ample rest after their 18-inning shutout in the Game 3 clincher. The Yankees, on the other hand, had to play four games in the last five days, and their only “day off” was a rainout in which they had to report to the park anyway. (I don’t feel bad for them, mind you.)
As a result, this pitching matchup is skewed heavily in favor of the Astros, who send their ace and Cy Young frontrunner Justin Verlander to the mound. This will be the 33rd career postseason appearance for the 39-year-old, nine of which have come against the Yankees. He faced them in the playoffs in 2006, 2011, 2012, 2017, and 2019 and has a cumulative 2.75 ERA. That includes a breathtaking 2017 ALCS in which he held the Yanks to one run in 16 innings, for which Verlander was named series MVP. His prior start of this postseason, though, was a four-inning, 10-hit mess against the Mariners.
The Yankees, who used up all their best starters in the past four days, will counter with Jameson Taillon for his first career postseason start. He made a relief appearance in Game 2 of the ALDS and didn’t record an out, giving up three hits and two runs in a 10-inning loss to the Guardians. The Yankees likely aren’t counting on Taillon for an extended outing, but their options are limited until Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, and Nestor Cortes Jr. have gotten enough rest. In an outing against the Astros earlier this year, Taillon was ripped for 10 hits and six runs in 5.2 innings, coughing up dingers to Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez.