It’s Day 2 of MLB’s wild card round, a new addition to the postseason slate this year as part of the updated collective bargaining agreement. And I must say, these best-of-three series are a bit of an adjustment. All four series began yesterday. All four could end today. And three of the four could result in sweeps by the visiting, lower-ranked team.
Funny things can happen when you only need to win two games to advance. Any team is capable of winning two out of three games against any other, so it’s hard to consider either team the favorite in such a short series. The best-of-three format is a little more forgiving than the now-defunct, winner-take-all Wild Card Game...but only slightly. There’s almost no room for error. One bad inning, like the Cardinals suffered yesterday, could put you on the brink of elimination barely after you’ve begun.
So now four teams are on their heels, needing to win two games in a row to survive, while a quartet of clubs can advance to the Division Series with a victory today. It’s another day of wall-to-wall postseason action, beginning at noon and continuing until the end of the 8:30 PM game.
12:07 - Rays at Guardians, Game 2, ESPN2 (Guardians lead, 1-0)
Starting pitchers: Tyler Glasnow (TB) vs. Triston McKenzie (CLE)
The only home team to win yesterday, the Guardians did what they’ve been doing for the past two months or so: pitch extremely well and pick up some timely hits. Former Cy Young winner Shane Bieber was masterful, outdueling fellow ace-named-Shane (McClanahan) with 7.2 superb innings, striking out eight. Perennial MVP candidate Jose Ramirez provided the margin of victory with a two-run homer.
Today brings another excellent pitching matchup, with Cleveland’s McKenzie — who broke out with a 2.96 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP in 30 starts this season — taking on Tampa Bay’s talented but oft-injured Glasnow, who made only two regular season starts after returning from Tommy John surgery. The Rays need to hope Glasnow won’t be rusty. Their season depends on it.
4:07 - Mariners at Blue Jays, Game 2, ESPN (Mariners lead, 1-0)
Starting pitchers: Robbie Ray (SEA) vs. Kevin Gausman (TOR)
As someone with a strong rooting interest in this series, I watched with great delight as the M’s immediately silenced the raucous Toronto crowd with a three-spot in the top of the first yesterday, ultimately cruising to a shutout win behind sensational trade-deadline acquisition Luis Castillo. The Mariners certainly showed no ill effects from their 21-year postseason hiatus, and now could finish off the Jays to assure a couple of home games in front of the Seattle fans in the next round.
To do so, they’ll turn to Ray, the former Blue Jays ace now in his first year of a big-money deal with the Mariners. Ray didn’t match the form that won him the AL Cy Young with Toronto in 2021, this year posting just a league-average 100 ERA+, but he still strikes out a lot of dudes (10.1 K/9). Ray didn’t make any regular season starts at Rogers Centre this year on account of being unvaccinated, but Canada dropped its vaccination mandate on Oct. 1. In a bit of intrigue, he’ll be opposed by Gausman, whom the Blue Jays signed to replace Ray atop their rotation. Gausman, the former Oriole, is good to go despite exiting his last regular season start with a cut in his right middle finger.
7:37 - Padres at Mets, Game 2, ESPN (Padres lead, 1-0)
Starting pitchers: Blake Snell (SD) vs. Jacob deGrom (NYM)
If any of yesterday’s outcomes could be considered the biggest upset, it was the Padres — who struggled offensively down the stretch — bashing four home runs off future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer en route to a 7-1 blowout. Former Oriole Manny Machado was among the quartet who dingered, handing his former manager Buck Showalter an 0-1 deficit in his first playoff series as Mets’ skipper.
The Mets inexplicably had been considering bypassing deGrom in this series if they had won Game 1, but that’s out the window now, and the two-time Cy Young winner will indeed take the hill as the Mets fight to stay alive. DeGrom was not his usual dominant self in the season’s final month, posting a 6.00 ERA in his last four starts, but still with 39 strikeouts. Fellow Cy Young winner Snell, meanwhile, was at his very best in September, finishing with a 0.72 ERA in his final four outings.
8:37 - Phillies at Cardinals, Game 2, ESPN2 (Phillies lead, 1-0)
Starting pitchers: Aaron Nola (PHI) vs. Miles Mikolas (STL)
What a turn of events in Game 1. The Cardinals were two outs away from a 2-0 shutout victory when disaster struck, as two Cards relievers imploded, their infield forgot how to play defense, and rookie manager Oli Marmol made a number of questionable decisions in the ninth amidst a stunning six-run Phillies rally. The Cardinals, who had been 93-0 in franchise postseason history when leading by two or more runs in the ninth, saw that streak end in painful fashion in front of a shellshocked Busch Stadium crowd of 45,911.
Now it’s up to Mikolas to rescue them. He’s a good candidate, at least, coming off an All-Star campaign in which he posted a 3.29 ERA and came within one strike of a no-hitter. But Nola, a former All-Star himself with a 117 career ERA+, is a formidable opponent. The Cardinals can at least take comfort in the fact that they tagged Nola for five runs in his lone start against them this season.