Baseball's tight wild-card races a prelude for October
Four teams left fighting for that World Series trophy. Now everybody can take a break for a couple of days before the playoffs resume Sunday night.
Nick Castellanos became the first player to hit multiple homers in consecutive postseason games, and the Philadelphia Phillies eliminated the Atlanta Braves for the second straight year with a 3-1 victory Thursday night in Game 4 of their NL Division Series.
Trea Turner singled twice, doubled and hit a solo homer in the fifth inning for a 2-1 lead as the defending NL champions make another run at their first World Series title since 2008.
They advance to an all-wild card NL Championship Series and will play the Arizona Diamondbacks, making their first trip since 2007 after a surprising sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Game 1 is Monday night in Philadelphia.
“We feel good, there’s no question about it,” Castellanos said.
The best-of-seven ALCS starts first, when Houston hosts rival Texas on Sunday night in a Lone Star State showdown. Three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander is scheduled to pitch for the defending World Series champion Astros.
None of baseball's eight playoff series so far have gone the distance. There have been six sweeps and two best-of-five Division Series that ended in four games.
The Astros are the current betting favorites to win the World Series at +180, followed by the Phillies (+195), Rangers (+290) and Diamondbacks (+500), according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
After getting five days off, the top four playoff seeds went a combined 2-6 on their home fields to start the division round.
Two of them were eliminated in three-game sweeps: the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers. Atlanta, which led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season, was bounced in four games by Philadelphia.
“We thought we did everything possible during the delay, recreated things the best we could. And we can do everything right and all that and you start a series, and you know what, your offense doesn’t get traction. I mean, it could happen anytime,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t know that we could have done anything any better or been more thorough in what we did with our time off to get us ready to play.”
But clearly, the time off did those clubs little good. Which begs the question: Is it time to say goodbye to the bye?
“It’s not ideal,” Snitker said. “I’m not going to say that’s an excuse for us. I look at the Astros. It didn’t bother them. They kind of kept hitting on all cylinders.
“I never liked two days off as a team or whatever. I think one day is plenty,” he added. “But you know what? It's what it is, and we've got to figure it out.”
Turner went 4 for 4 in Philadelphia’s clinching victory over Atlanta. He doubled in the first inning, singled in the third, homered in the fifth and singled again in the seventh.
The 30-year-old shortstop is batting .500 (12 for 24) with two homers, three RBIs and four steals in six playoff games this year.
Turner is playing in his first postseason with the Phillies after signing a $300 million, 11-year contract in December. The two-time All-Star struggled at the beginning of the year, but he found his form at the end of the regular season and carried it over to the playoffs.
“It’s been different I would say for sure, but I’ve enjoyed it,” Turner said of his transition to Philly. “My family has enjoyed it. I don’t think I’d have it any other way than how it’s turned out. And I trust myself. I trust my family to make the decisions we’ve made. And it’s been awesome. It’s been fun. This group is special, and I love it. It’s been great.”
Evan Carter is 6 for 14 (.429) with three doubles, one home run and three RBIs in five playoff games for Texas — all wins. The outfielder has walked six times and has a .619 on-base percentage and .857 slugging percentage.
At 21 years, 40 days old, he became the youngest player to reach base 12 or more times in his first four postseason games. He is the second-youngest to achieve the feat in any four-game span in the postseason behind Freddie Lindstrom, who was 18 years, 319 days old in 1924.
The four sons of Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Dodgers, in honor of their mom Nicole Hazen, who died from brain cancer in 2022.
Hazen’s four sons are Charlie (17), John (16), Teddy (15) and Sam (13).
Should the Phillies win the World Series, save a spot at the end of the Broad Street parade route for Calum Scott.
The British singer with the pop hit about loneliness and heartbreak insists he’s coming to Philly and wearing the jersey the team sent him last season as a thank you for his part in making “ Dancing On My Own ” a staple of the postseason soundtrack at Citizens Bank Park.
Scott is as amazed as anyone the song has improbably bloomed into a playoff anthem for the Phillies, who won the National League pennant last year before losing to Houston in the World Series.
“They win the World Series, I’m there, man,” Scott said. “I think at that point, you’ll have to hold me back.”
HOW TO WATCH
TBS will broadcast the NLCS. Fox and FS1 will carry the ALCS.
League Championship Series: Oct. 15-24
World Series: Oct. 27-Nov. 4
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB