LADIKA: MLB Championship Series primer
Los Angeles Dodgers ace Max Scherzer trotted out from the Oracle Park bullpen for the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night, and of all the accolades, milestones and awards he had accrued throughout his Hall of Fame career, a professional save was not one of them.
Scherzer induced a lineout to left field for the first out and worked around a Justin Turner error at the hot corner with two consecutive strikeouts of LaMonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores to clinch the NLDS for the boys in blue by a 2-1 final score.
The second punchout was marred with controversy, because to many, it did not appear that Flores’ check-swing broke the plane of home plate. First base umpire Gabe Morales’ call was final, though, and the Dodgers eliminated their rival San Francisco Giants in five games to advance to the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves.
After a regular season that finished with the Giants going 10-9 against their rivals while being outscored by only two runs, 80-78, the Division Series between the two teams was every bit as tight.
The Giants shut Los Angeles out 4-0 in Game 1 and the Dodgers countered with a 9-2 Game 2 win. San Francisco earned another shutout win in Game 3, 1-0, and the Dodgers again counterpunched with a 7-2 Game 4 win.
The two winningest teams in baseball this season entered the decisive Game 5 each with 109 victories on their resume and nine total runs worth of separation. It all came down to an arbitrary check-swing call in the bottom of the ninth inning of a one-run game. We may never see such a high level of balance between two powerhouse teams again.
As the NL West Champions finalize their offseason plans in the coming days, the Dodgers will now shift their focus to the Braves, a team that dispatched of the Milwaukee Brewers three games to one.
Atlanta figures to be the underdog in the series after falling in four of its six regular-season meetings with Los Angeles and owning an inferior offense and pitching staff to the Dodgers by Fangraphs’ wRC+ metric, a park-adjusted offensive scale where 100 is league-average and higher is better, and wins above replacement (fWAR), an all-encompassing value estimation.
The Braves are not without hope. Two of their three NLDS wins over the Brewers came via consecutive shutout efforts by the combinations of Max Fried, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith in Game 2, and Ian Anderson, Jesse Chavez, Matzek, Jackson and Smith in Game 3.
The team will rely on its pitching staff to stifle the Dodgers’ potent lineup, and hope to eke out just enough against Los Angeles’ star-studded rotation that includes Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urìas to compete with a Dodgers team making its fifth NLCS appearance in the last six years.
In the American League, we are met with a rematch of the 2018 ALCS with the Boston Red Sox making their first appearance since, and the Houston Astros participating for the fifth consecutive year.
The Astros overcame an impressive 12-run Game 3 outburst by the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS and outslugged the South-Siders 31-18 in four games. Outfielder Kyle Tucker emerged as one of the Astros’ leading offensive talents in the series, going 5-for-17 with a double, two home runs and a slugging percentage of .706. Infielders Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and designated hitter Yordan Álvarez each joined Tucker with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) of at least 1.000 in the four games.
Boston boasts its own high-powered offense to match, having outscored the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays 26-20 in four games to advance to the LCS. The Sox clubbed 11 home runs off the Rays’ stingy pitching staff and 20 extra-base hits overall, led by Enrique Hernández’s incredible 10-for-23 effort.
We are down to the last four, and the two series that will decide the Fall Classic participants promise plenty of excitement.