The most important thing of the day: The Cubs' title defense could end, meaning the 1998-2000 Yankees would remain the last team to repeat as World Series champs.
ALCS Game 5: Astros at Yankees (series tied 2-2)
The stakes: The winner moves to the doorstep of the World Series, the loser to the brink of elimination. No pressure. But seriously, of the 58 previous best-of-seven postseason series that were tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner has gone on to win the series 41 times (70.7 percent). It's hardly hyperbole, then, to say the series could hinge on Wednesday's game.
If the Yankees win: The noise level inside Yankee Stadium will be ear-splitting. The Yanks will be one win from reaching the World Series for the 41st time in franchise history and the first since 2009 -- and they will have two cracks at getting it at Minute Maid Park.
If the Astros win: Everyone will forget all about their eighth-inning meltdown in Game 4. The Stros will be one win from reaching the World Series for only the second time in franchise history. With ace Justin Verlander expected to start Game 6 and the series shifting back to Houston, they will love their chances.
One key stat to know: Keuchel threw an average of 11 changeups per start this season. In Game 1, he threw only one. The reason: His two-seamer and slider had enough late movement to keep the Yankees' hitters in check. Now, as he faces them again only four days later, he might be able to feature his changeup more prominently.
"Through the course of the game, pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, it seemed like there was no need to change up what was working," Keuchel said, pun unintended. "I'm a big stickler, if I can go with Plan A and they don't make adjustments or I don't need to make adjustments, then I'm not going to show Plan B. The changeup is usually the second- or third-best pitch, and for me not to use it, hopefully it will come into play for me [in Game 5]."
The matchup that matters most: For the Yankees, it's all about getting Keuchel out of the game and forcing the Astros' combustible bullpen to get as many outs as possible. In Game 4, Houston relievers gave up five runs and recorded six outs, an implosion that manager A.J. Hinch kindly described as "not a great visual from my side of the dugout." It wasn't an isolated performance either. In eight postseason games, Astros relievers have combined for a 6.20 ERA, 1.42 walks/hits per inning pitched and 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Don't be surprised if starter Brad Peacock plays a role out of the bullpen in Game 5.
The prediction: The Astros talked a good game Tuesday night, but Game 4 was a crusher. The Yankees had the best home record in the AL during the season and are 5-0 in the Bronx in the postseason. Even with their nemesis, Keuchel, on the mound, it would be foolish to bet against the Baby Bombers now. Yankees win a close one, 3-2.
NLCS Game 4: Dodgers at Cubs (Dodgers lead 3-0)
The stakes: The Dodgers are trying for the sweep while the Cubs are trying to stay alive. For Arrieta, barring a miracle comeback in the series, it's also probably his final game in a Cubs uniform. He's a free agent, he wants to get paid and the Cubs will probably let him walk -- the Jose Quintana deal seemed to seal that fate. If it is his final game, it was quite a run: Over the past four seasons, Arrieta went 64-29 with a 2.67 ERA. Only Clayton Kershaw had a better ERA among starters.
If the Dodgers win: They head to their first World Series since 1988 and would have five days of rest before Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday. The days off didn't seem to be an issue heading into the NLCS, but Kershaw would be starting the World Series opener on nine days' rest. Pitchers are creatures of habit, so you worry a little bit about all the extra time off, but it probably beats heading into the World Series with a pitching staff that was worked hard in the NLCS.
If the Cubs win: Hey, if anybody knows about comebacks it would be Theo Epstein. Only one team has bounced back from a 3-0 series deficit: His 2004 Red Sox in the ALCS against the Yankees.
One key stat to know: Alex Wood hasn't pitched since Sept. 26, and since he faded a bit in the second half after making the All-Star team, it's easy to forget how good he was this season. After giving up two home runs in 80⅔ innings before the break, he gave up 13 in 71⅔ innings after the break. So if the Cubs are to beat him, they're going to have to do it with the long ball.
Wood has kept busy throwing a couple of simulated games, including an 85-pitch game late last week. He says he's ready to go and that maybe the layoff will help. "I felt pretty consistent in my last two starts, the sim games I've thrown. I think my command and the consistency of my stuff has been pretty good. So I feel good. Honestly, all that stuff's out the window at this point. It's the playoffs and it comes down to who wants it more and who executes when they need to execute. I feel like I'm going to do both those things."
The matchup that matters most: Arrieta versus his pitch count. The Cubs just haven't gotten any length from their starting pitchers all postseason. After Kyle Hendricks went seven innings in the playoffs opener, they've gotten 6, 5⅔, 4, 4, 5, 4⅔ and 5. The results haven't been bad -- a 2.40 ERA and five home runs given up in 41⅓ innings -- but the short outings have meant a lot of work from a bullpen that has had trouble throwing strikes, as best witnessed by Carl Edwards Jr. walking Yu Darvish on four pitches with the bases loaded in Game 3, or Mike Montgomery's wild throw on a strikeout that Willson Contreras couldn't corral before it ended up in the Cubs' dugout, helping the Dodgers score their last two runs.
Arrieta gave up only one run in his NLDS start but walked five batters in four innings. He says the hamstring issue that sidelined him much of September isn't an issue. "I think the leg issue is pretty much behind us," he said Tuesday. "I think the extra days we had leading up to my first start were very necessary. So I don't see it as being a factor anymore."
The prediction: Sorry, Cubs fans, it's going to be a sweep. Wood alluded to how, "We're kind of back to being the fun Dodgers now the way we've played and the energy is back in the clubhouse." This is obviously not the Dodgers team that lost 16 of 17 games. The Dodgers are locked in, they have the better bullpen and the Cubs aren't hitting. Dodgers win 5-3.