No sweeps! The Houston Astros beat the Kansas City Royals 4-2 behind their ace and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Texas Rangers 5-1 in Sunday's nightcap to give us another four-game day of baseball on Monday. That's a very good thing. Let's just hope all slides are clean and that we get plenty of drama.
1. Blue Jays stay alive. Marco Estrada had one of the quietest excellent seasons of any player in the majors, going 13-7 for the Blue Jays with a 3.13 ERA, leading the American League in lowest opponents' batting average at .203. Look, maybe there was some good fortune or good luck or whatever you want to call it built into his season -- he held batters to an insanely low .211 average on balls in play, one of just three major league starters to have a BABIP under .245 (Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta were the other two) -- but he also showed what has made him so effective.
Estrada is primarily a fastball-changeup guy, throwing 57 fastballs and 17 changeups out of his 89 pitches. What makes Estrada tough is that he can pitch backward, often using the changeup early in the count and then going to the fastball. Only one plate appearance ended with a changeup, but he threw the fastball a lot with two strikes. Out of 23 pitches with two strikes, 17 were fastballs. The fastball, which averaged only 88.9 mph, is effective because his changeup can be so good.
"It's a plus-plus pitch for him. He had it going tonight," Rangers manager Jeff Banisters said.
R.A. Dickey gets the nod for the Blue Jays in Game 4 over David Price on short rest. At 40 years old, Dickey will be making his postseason debut. We'll have to see if Adrian Beltre is healthy enough to start for Texas. Josh Hamilton did get two hits to break out of his postseason hitless streak of 31 at-bats. John Gibbons wasn't afraid to use his bullpen in Game 3 after leaving in Marcus Stroman one batter too long in Game 2. Derek Holland goes for the Rangers. Just another day at the ballpark.
God bless baseball robot Troy Tulowitzki. And Marco Estrada - master of changeups, saver of seasons.— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) October 12, 2015
2. Dallas Keuchel, Astros. The key out of Houston's 4-2 victory against Kansas City was Keuchel's final one. Leading 3-1 in the top of seventh, Lorenzo Cain -- who had homered earlier for Keuchel's only blemish -- stepped up with a runner on third base and two outs. Keuchel was at 118 pitches. Since 2010, only 13 times had a starting pitcher in a postseason game thrown as many as 120 pitches, and six of those pitchers were named Justin Verlander. So Keuchel was getting into rare territory. This is probably the toughest decision managers have to make in the postseason: How long do you stick with your ace? Because it's difficult to pull the guy who is the likely Cy Young winner and has carried your pitching staff.
A manager can get into trouble. Even aces can be left in a batter too long. And Cain destroys lefties: He hit .335 with a .959 OPS against southpaws compared to .292 with a .777 OPS versus right-handers. It would have made perfect sense for A.J. Hinch to pull Keuchel and bring in a right-hander to get the platoon advantage. Hinch's decision: Riding with Dallas Keuchel. Maybe it was the wrong decision, but it worked. Keuchel fell behind 2-0 with a fastball and changeup. He came back with another changeup, that pitch he seems to throw with absolute precision to the low outside corner to right-handed batters or just off the corner. This one may have been off the black; Cain fouled it off. Keuchel threw another changeup, a couple miles per slower than the previous two; Cain swung through it. Another changeup was high and out of the zone. Full count, pitch No. 124, Cain digging. Fastball. Low and away. Off the plate. Swing and a miss.
Keuchel is 16-0 at home this season. He has won his two playoff starts, allowing one run in 13 innings with 14 strikeouts. The Astros need one more win to move on to the American League Championship Series.
3. Chris Carter, Astros. Carter's first three innings in this game weren't good: He made a bad throw in the field, didn't run hard out of the box on a hit and got thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. He redeemed himself with a double and a run scored in Houston's two-run fifth inning and a home run in the seventh. He's getting hot at the right time. Carter is hitting eighth in the lineup, while Evan Gattis -- who had some terrible swings, including striking out and three swing-and-misses with a runner on third after being ahead in the count 3-0 -- is hitting fifth. You always hate overreacting to a few games, but with Carter swinging the bat well in the past month and Gattis not looking good, it may be worthwhile to switch the two in the lineup.
Chris Carter has seven home runs in his last 16 games since Sept. 18, including playoffs. He's batting .378/.451/.933 in that span.— Brian McTaggart ⚾️ (@brianmctaggart) October 12, 2015
You might say that Chris Carter's exit velo trend tells a story. 92 mph first half, 96.6 mph second half. pic.twitter.com/kKSfQcoP1C— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 12, 2015
4. Chase Utley suspended for two games. I applaud MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre for taking a stand in the middle of the postseason. Utley will appeal the suspension, with MLB's decision likely to be finalized before Monday's game at Citi Field.
5. Wilmer Flores and Matt Reynolds, Mets. You probably remember Flores from the trade deadline, when it was believed he had been traded to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez and he started crying while in the field in the middle of the game. He'll be in the spotlight now replacing Ruben Tejada at shortstop for the Mets. The good news for the Mets is that Flores is probably the best backup shortstop in the postseason, in part because he spent much of the season starting for the Mets at shortstop (96 games) or second base (30 games) and hit .263/.295/.408. He doesn't have the range of Tejada but with 16 home runs, has a lot more power. Reynolds, who has yet to appear in a major league game, becomes the backup as he replaces Tejada on the roster. He hit .267/.319/.402 at Triple-A Las Vegas. Reynolds could become the second player in modern history to make his MLB debut in the postseason if he gets into a game, joining Mark Kiger of the 2006 A's. Kiger got into two games as a defensive replacement at second base, but never batted and never again appeared in a major league game.