Four teams faced elimination from the MLB playoffs on Monday, and three lived to play another day, including the Tampa Bay Rays, who have their season on the line again tonight.
What’s on tap
7:07 p.m. ET: Astros-Rays Game 4
The most important thing of the day: We get the chance to see a future Hall of Famer at the top of his craft with an opportunity to close out a playoff series. And who is Justin Verlander’s foe in Game 4 of the Astros-Rays ALDS? Diego Castillo, a fine reliever with nasty stuff, but a pitcher who has maxed out at two innings this season and come out of the bullpen in 59 of his 67 appearances. This is baseball in 2019, not exactly what we’ve seen through the years but fascinating all the same.
The view from inside the ballparks
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Rays have momentum, and as Kevin Kiermaier said after Tampa Bay’s 10-3 win in Game 3, they feel like they “have nothing to lose.” You can’t really say that of the Astros, who, after Zack Greinke’s clunker, will turn to Verlander on Tuesday to close it out on short rest. The Astros remain loose and confident because those are their defining traits. But Game 4 will be played in an even more raucous setting than Game 3 on Monday. — Bradford Doolittle
A stat to impress your friends: To advance to the American League Championship Series, the Rays will likely need to beat Verlander in Game 4 and Gerrit Cole in Game 5. The two aces have started consecutive games 28 times this year, and the Astros lost both games twice (April 2-3 vs. the Rangers, June 18-19 vs. the Reds).
Tense, terse and tight. That’s what we’re in for. The Rays, on a bullpen day, will not leave any bullets unfired. Astros 2, Rays 1 — Doolittle
Verlander hasn’t allowed more than four runs in a game all season, and he won’t in this one. The Rays will go with Castillo to start the bullpen game, and their top relievers are all in good shape after the Game 3 blowout. The issue for Tampa will be bridging the gap from Castillo to the other relievers. Lefty Ryan Yarbrough is actually a reverse platoon guy, so he might be the key. Here’s saying the Rays find a way and send the series back to Houston. Rays 3, Astros 2 — David Schoenfield
About last night
Stud of the night: With tips of the cap to Yadier Molina and Ryan Zimmerman, the image of Max Scherzer gutting through seven innings after pitching in relief two nights before won us over. He closed out his night by working out of a bases-loaded jam, striking out Chris Taylor and getting Joc Pederson on a grounder to second when one swing of the bat could have changed the game. After throwing 109 pitches, Scherzer admitted, “I was just gassed.”
Dud of the night: Sorry, Twins, but nothing screams “dud” like getting swept out of the playoffs with a 16-game, 15-year postseason losing streak intact. Of the four teams facing elimination in front of their home crowds, the Twins were the only ones who sent their fans home for the winter.
Highlight of the night:
Zimmerman obliterates three-run homer in the fifth
The Nationals take a 5-1 lead over the Dodgers when Ryan Zimmerman belts a three-run home run to center field.
Off the diamond
Social media says:
THIS is a bleeping bat flip pic.twitter.com/NSUrzg2r8m
Quote of note: “But anything can happen in between those white lines, and I don’t want anyone to tell me or any of my other teammates that you don’t have a shot at this. We know what Houston’s capable of, Verlander, his résumé and all that. At the end of the day, we’re out there competing, trying to win a ballgame each and every day. We don’t care who’s on the mound.” — Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier
Best of the playoffs so far …
Our running postseason MVP: We said it was Verlander’s title to lose after he became a verb by blanking the Rays for seven innings in ALDS Game 1. But after Cole’s 15-strikeout tour de force in Game 2, it looks like the two Astros aces are co-MVPs.
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: Braves-Cardinals Game 3. An old-school pitchers’ duel between Mike Soroka and Adam Wainwright had Atlanta down 1-0 entering the ninth. With St. Louis one out from taking a 2-1 series lead, the Cards intentionally walked Brian McCann, Dansby Swanson ripped a double to tie it, and pinch hitter Adam Duvall followed with a two-run single that gave the Braves a 3-1 win.
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