Oh, just another day with four playoff games, hours upon hours of hours of baseball excitement, and plenty of offense. Both series in the American League were extended to a fifth game as the Kansas City Royals staged an unlikely late-game rally to stun the Houston Astros 9-6 and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Texas Rangers 8-4. At Wrigley Field, Jake Arrieta had his worst game since June but the Chicago Cubs slugged a record six home runs to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-6. Then the New York Mets bashed around the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 13-7 victory. A fun day that reminds us: You can't predict baseball.
1. That five-run eighth inning. Kansas City's dramatic rally highlighted a strength and weakness of both clubs: The Royals' ability to battle at-bats, avoid strikeouts and put the ball in play and the Astros not having a flamethrowing reliever or two like every team seems to have today to extinguish those late rallies. Will Harris, Tony Sipp and Luke Gregerson combined to throw 56 pitches in the eighth inning and induced just seven swings-and-misses. They threw 24 pitches with two strikes and got just one swing-and-miss. The fastest pitch of the inning was just 92.9 mph -- pedestrian by 2015 standards -- and closer Gregerson came in, trying to keep the game tied, and didn't throw one pitch that clocked 90 mph. Against a team that had the lowest strikeout rate in the majors in the regular season, it was a perfect storm of a shaky bullpen and an offense doing what it does best.
In the inning, Alcides Escobar singled with two strikes against Harris. Eric Hosmer fell behind two strikes against Sipp, laid off a couple of tough sliders to get to 2-2 and then lined a 90.6 mph fastball to right field for a single, snapping a 1-for-15 skid in the series. Gregerson came in to face light-hitting backup catcher Drew Butera, who was in the game after Ned Yost had run for Salvador Perez in the seventh inning. Butera is maybe the worst hitter in the majors who has had a career of significant length, with a .185 lifetime average. Gregerson threw him sinkers and sliders, Butera fouled off four pitches with two strikes and walked to load the bases. Alex Gordon's groundout plated the go-ahead run.
The Houston bullpen was outstanding all season, until the final month, when it went 3-10 with a 5.63 ERA. You can't really fault the moves Astros manager A.J. Hinch made in this game, going into the seventh inning and 110 pitches with rookie starter Lance McCullers and matching up his relievers the best he could. They just didn't do the job, and Houston is now two bad bullpen innings from being up 4-0 in a three-game series.
Game 5 goes back to Kansas City with Collin McHugh likely starting against Johnny Cueto. I wouldn't be shocked to see Dallas Keuchel, who would be pitching on two days' rest, make an appearance at some point; maybe not the five innings Madison Bumgarner threw on two days' rest in Game 7 of the World Series last year, but he could probably go a couple innings or until he gets into trouble. Scott Kazmir could also be available as a lefty out of the pen. Yost will also have an all-hands-on-deck game, and showed in Game 4 that he's willing to use closer Wade Davis for two innings. Cueto struggled early in his Game 2 start before settling down, but Yost can't hesitate to use his pen if Cueto doesn't have it early on.
2. Cubs slug six home runs. How many times had a team hit six home runs in a postseason game? None! With a 17 mph win gusting out, the Cubs launched six over the ivy -- Kyle Schwarber, Starlin Castro, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Dexter Fowler -- and needed them as the Cardinals touched up an erratic Arrieta for four runs in 5⅔ innings. Arrieta was shaky enough that Joe Maddon pulled him after 97 pitches for Clayton Richard, a pitcher the Cubs purchased in July from the Pirates, where he had been pitching in the minors.
A big story for the Cubs has been rookie right fielder Soler. Here's how his plate appearances have gone this series:
That's nine plate appearances, nine times on base. He's suddenly morphed into Barry Bonds. It's only three games, of course, but imagine if this is a breakout performance. Soler has huge offensive tools and if he puts it all together to go alongside Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber and Addison Russell ... wow. Not that the Cubs need more wow for their future.
If there was a questionable move in the game it was Mike Matheny's decision to let Michael Wacha hit in the top of the fifth with one out and the game tied 2-2. Wacha had scuffled through four innings, after coming off a terrible September in which he posted a 7.88 ERA and had 18 walks and just 19 strikeouts. Considering he threw 74 more innings than last season and more than he's ever thrown as professional, that reads "fatigue" all over it. This is where Carlos Martinez's injury hurt the Cards. Martinez would have been in the postseason rotation, probably pushing Lance Lynn to the pen and giving the Cards another long man. Matheny still has a very deep bullpen and should have used it here, as Wacha got just one more out before giving up a hard single to Soler and a long home run to Bryant.
Yeah. Good luck, National League.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 13, 2015
3. David Price gets the win in relief. The Blue Jays pounded Derek Holland early with six runs over two-plus innings as Josh Donaldson, Chris Colabello and Kevin Pillar all homered -- leading to second-guessing on why Colby Lewis didn't get the start for the Rangers -- but the big story coming out of the game was John Gibbons' decision to use Price in relief for three innings and 50 pitches, putting his availability for Game 5 in question. The weird part wasn't necessarily using Price, but that he came on in the fifth inning with a 7-1 lead. Gibbons' explanation: "One thing I've learned over the years: Sometimes the best way you win games is don't let the team get back into it."
Well, as we learned from the Royals, no lead is safe. But the Blue Jays do have a deep bullpen, even with Brett Cecil out for the series (and the season) after tearing a calf muscle. And the Blue Jays do have Marcus Stroman to start Game 5 on regular rest. It makes sense, however, to have had Price ready to start that game, considering that with Adrian Beltre fighting a back injury, the Rangers' best hitters right now are all left-handed: Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, Rougned Odor, Mitch Moreland. Stroman pitched well in his start, but I'd still rather have Price starting the game.
It seemed that Gibbons was determined to get Price into this game, however. When the Rangers got two base hits in the first inning, he quickly had Price and Stroman warming up. R.A. Dickey -- making his first postseason appearance at the age of 40 -- got out of the inning and pitched into the fifth before Gibbons brought on Price to face Choo with two out and a runner on. Once he committed to Price, he was going to leave him in. The funny thing, Price didn't actually pitch that well, even if he did get credit for the win since Dickey didn't go five innings, allowing six hits and three runs in three innings.
Gibbons said after the game that Price won't pitch in Game 5. Price said he can pitch if asked. For the Rangers, Beltre was back in the lineup and did deliver two hits. Yovani Gallardo won't pitch deep into Game 5, so the Rangers will have to rely on their bullpen. Their key guy, however, might be Fielder, who like Price hasn't exactly been Mr. October in his career. He went 1-for-4 in Game 4, is hitting .125 in the series, and has now gone 84 postseason at-bats in a row without an RBI. He's due.
Is John Gibbons relaxed? RT for yes, Fav for no. pic.twitter.com/KodHa4V3t5— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) October 13, 2015
4. Win one for Ruben. When the Dodgers scored three runs off Matt Harvey in the top of the second inning, Mets fans let the boos rain down on Harvey. One fan on Twitter said Harvey was now his least-favorite Met ever. Those boos soon turned to cheers, however, as the Mets scored four in the bottom of the inning, with Curtis Granderson hitting a two-out, three-run double off the wall in center field for a 4-3 lead against Brett Anderson. Travis d'Arnaud then clocked a two-out, two-run home run in the third and Yoenis Cespedes crushed a three-run shot off Alex Wood into the second deck in the fourth inning to make the score 10-3. All that was left was for Mets fans to chant "We want Utley."
Which sets up Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 in a must-win game on three days of rest. And if that doesn't get you pumped up, you don't like baseball.
Yoenis Cespedes' 4th inning home run was calculated at 440 feet, his longest home run in 2015. pic.twitter.com/QxxZzm3rYG— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 13, 2015
5. Carlos Correa. It came in a losing effort, but Houston's rookie shortstop went 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double and four RBIs. He should have been the hero who sent the Astros into the American League Championship Series. Instead, his error in the eighth -- a tough ruling since the ball had first deflected off Sipp's glove -- played a key role in the Royals' go-ahead rally. Luckily, Correa is too young to know much about the Astros' tortured playoff history. Here's Jerry Crasnick's report from Houston on Correa and the Astros.
Carlos Correa stood at locker after loss and answered questions in English, then Spanish, then English, then Spanish again. He's 21. Pro.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 12, 2015