We were looking at two potential sweeps, but the Yankees stomped on that possibility with a big win Monday and now the Cubs hope that returning home will offer them the same results. Still, the odds are against them coming back in the series: Teams up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series are 67-13 in MLB history.
ALCS Game 4: Astros at Yankees (Houston leads 2-1)
The most important thing of the day: While the Yankees have stymied Houston's hitting in all three games of the series, limiting them to just five runs, it's ominous for the Astros that the Yankees' offense is back on track in the Bronx, with both Todd Frazier and Aaron Judge homering in Game 3. Can the Yankees continue to exploit the non-Keuchel, non-Verlander portions of the Astros' pitching staff?
The stakes: The Yankees can make Houston very nervous if they can take Game 4, which might be the most crucial game of the series. One team will leave Tuesday's game feeling as if it has the upper hand.
If the Yankees win: They will put the Astros on their heels. They will know, at the least, that they will be sending this series back to Minute Maid Park.
If the Astros win: The series will not be over, but Houston will have three shots to win just one game with two of them at home, if needed. Plus, the Astros will have their top two starters, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, available to them.
One key stat to know: It is not breaking news that Jose Altuve is very good, but what makes him so great is that there is really no way to consistently get him out. There are no holes in his strike zone. If you break the zone into nine grids, Altuve is hitting .350 or better in six of them. That is why he is almost unstoppable.
The matchup that matters most: No surprise here, it involves Altuve. Not many pitchers have good numbers against Altuve. Gray is no different. In his career, Altuve is 11-for-30 vs. Gray. That's a .367 average, which is 51 points higher than Altuve's career regular-season average of .316.
The prediction: The Yankees will take Game 4 and even the series. One added bonus of the Yankees' Game 3 blowout was that Joe Girardi did not need to use his bullpen. That means if Gray falters, the Yankees' manager will have Chad Green, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman ready to go.
NLCS Game 3: Dodgers at Cubs (Dodgers lead 2-0)
The most important thing of the day: In the first two games, the Dodgers have drawn 13 walks while striking out 12 times. The Cubs have two walks and 21 strikeouts. Given that the Dodgers' bullpen hasn't allowed a hit in eight innings, the Cubs probably need to find a way to get to Darvish.
The stakes: This is a chance for Darvish to put his stamp on a big game for the first time in his career. As he heads into free agency, that's a concern for the teams looking to potentially give him $100 million: Is this a guy you want starting the first game of a postseason series? Is he more comfortable not being the headliner on a rotation? After serving up four home runs in a playoff start last year for Texas, Darvish had a solid outing against the Diamondbacks in the division series, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts also pulled him at the first sign of trouble in the sixth inning after just 74 pitches. If he pitches well and hands the ball to the bullpen with a lead, the Dodgers can all but start printing those World Series tickets.
If the Dodgers win: Can you say sweep? The Cubs certainly looked gassed in the first two games at Dodger Stadium. They had a much tougher regular season than expected, fighting for the division title up to the final week. The final two games of the series against the Nationals stretched the pitching staff, and the bats have struggled. Mostly, however, the Dodgers played good baseball, and their bullpen is running on all cylinders right now.
If the Cubs win: Anything can happen in baseball! The Cubs are down, but not out. "We're over this game and ready to head back to Wrigley," Jon Lester said after Game 2. "We've all lost games before. We've all lost series before." They were down two games to one to the Dodgers in last year's NLCS. They were down three games to one to the Indians in the World Series. "There's no doubt in mind we can come back from this," Addison Russell said. "We just have to bring it. Going back to Chicago, we would have liked to have one win. We just have to find a way to play our best baseball."
One key stat to know: The Cubs are hitting .162 in the postseason. For all the talk about the Cubs' bullpen or Joe Maddon's decision to use John Lackey in Game 2, the Cubs haven't hit. They've scored 20 runs in seven games, nine of those coming in one game. The Cubs led the majors in runs per game in the second half, but with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo struggling in the playoffs -- they're a combined 9-for-54 (.167) with one home run -- we've seen how much they carry the offense. There are simply too many holes at the bottom. Javier Baez had a league-average OPS, but good pitchers can eat him up and make him chase, which is why he's 0-for-19. Jason Heyward and Russell are below-average hitters. Maddon could try to get Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ in the lineup, but then he loses on defense. "Imagine, you're standing in dugout right now in that little corner that I stand in," Maddon said Monday. "You look out on the field you see Jason in right, and you see Javy at second, how good does that make you feel?"
The matchup that matters most: Justin Turner versus Hendricks and the other Cubs pitchers. Turner has 10 RBIs in five postseason games, but is also now hitting .377/.478/.636 in his postseason career (92 plate appearances). We've mentioned how he cut down on his strikeout rate this year, and was the second-toughest hitter to strike out in the league. That allowed him to hit .279 with two strikes (he even hit .406 in 32 at-bats with an 0-2 count). He hit over .300 against fastballs, sliders, changeups and curveballs, so he has no obvious weakness (he was 0-for-17 against cutters, but Hendricks doesn't throw one).
The prediction: Look, Darvish could easily blow up, as you never know when his command will evaporate. But he has been pretty good down the stretch, and Roberts probably needs only five innings from him before going to his bullpen. Maybe home field spurs on the Cubs, but the Dodgers are rolling right now. Hendricks delivers a solid game, but the Dodgers score late against the Chicago bullpen to break open a tie game and win 4-3.