We really hope that you are one of those very productive people in the mornings, because for the next week, you are going to have to have everything done before noon. Why? Because we’re going to have baseball – top-tier, intense, postseason baseball – all day, almost every day. And we are here to guide you along the way.
The Wild Card Series begins on Friday with four games and will continue on Saturday with another four. And if we’re lucky, there will be four more on Sunday. To get you in the mood, here’s a key story to follow for each game on Friday. They are listed in the order of the time of each meeting, starting with the one that starts earliest.
Story to follow: Will the Guardians be able to generate enough power and offense?
For all the talk about how supposedly weak the American League Central is, the Guardians are a pretty legitimate champion: They finished six games ahead of these Rays, after all. But there have been questions about his offense all year. Even when they played their best baseball earlier in the season, they were doing it in an unconventional way, essentially sacrificing power for contact, a base-by-base attack plan that paid off, but at the same time made some wonder if it would be sustainable in time.
Well, the offense tanked and his OPS in August was .655, picking up slightly in September (.719). Important part of the problem? The slump of José Ramírez, whose slugging percentage fell to .466 in August and .358 in September. The switch and All-Star fared remarkably poorly on the right, a woe the entire team suffered from. Cleveland’s OPS against lefties was 28th in the majors, ahead of only Oakland and Miami. That’s music to the ears of McClanahan, one of the best southpaws around.
But even beyond McClanahan, the Rays’ pitching staff is versatile, deep — though not as deep as in the past — and known for its ability to keep opponents’ balls in the park. And the Guardians aren’t exactly a home run team (29th in MLB in that department).
Story to follow: Which superstar at a bad time will retake his level?
Bryce Harper, the reigning NL MVP who didn’t play defense after April 16 of this year due to injuries, posted his worst OPS (.877) since 2016. And even more troubling was the way the season ended, batting just .196 with three home runs in September and October. He really hasn’t been the same since he came back after missing all of July and much of August with a left thumb injury.
Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidtwho could still be the MVP this year, did not have a physical problem to use as an excuse for his poor finish in the regular round: he hit .245 with two home runs in September and October.
These are two of the best hitters in baseball and their teams desperately need them to rediscover their thunder in these playoffs.
Story to follow: Which of the two’s inspiration will prevail?
You know where it would be really fun to be if you can’t get to the stadium this weekend? Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, which will be open for people to come watch their team play on the big screen as the club plays its first postseason games since 2001. (And trying to earn a spot in the ALDS , where they could at least host a meeting, under an electrifying atmosphere).
But as fun and happy as this Mariners’ journey has been, the Blue Jays are also tremendous history. Remember, this is a team that played in three different cities in 2021 – not being able to go home until July 30 – after not being able to play in Toronto the year before. The Blue Jays had been bringing up their best youngsters, and spending money to fill out that roster, so they could maximize their opportunities while the world was turned upside down by COVID. Is anyone surprised that in Toronto they feel that the club has not played as expected these last two years?
The Blue Jays missed the postseason on the last day of last season, and the Dominican Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (whose OPS went from 1.002 in 2021 to .818 this year), has said that this, the playoffs, was what they were waiting for, that this is the moment when the super-talented Blue Jays are going to show their class. They’re going to need him if they want to still combat that positive energy from the Mariners.
Story to follow: Is the one-two in the Mets’ rotation enough?
The Mets’ plan this year was always to get to the postseason, however necessary, and then jump on the Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom throughout October. The way the schedule is set up will make it difficult for that to happen, even if the two aces dominate. But certainly, if the Mets are going to make this postseason as memorable as the regular round in which they won 101 games, they’re going to need Scherzer and deGrom at the top of their game.
Whether that will be the case now remains to be seen: both pitchers were fine in September and October (2.38 ERA for Scherzer and a misleading 4.50 for deGrom), but it’s worth noting that Darvish – in that same span – posted a 5- 1 and EFE of 1.85.
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A story to follow in every Game 1 of the Wild Card Series