Even before the playoffs started, 2019 had been a special season for Gleyber Torres. After Saturday, this year’s a little more memorable. The New York Yankees took the ALCS opener 7-0 in Houston thanks to an offensive outburst from Torres and a strong outing from Masahiro Tanaka.
Hours earlier, the Washington Nationals took a 2-0 NLCS lead over the St. Louis Cardinals thanks to a dominant pitching performance from their ace. One day after Anibal Sanchez took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, Max Scherzer carried one of his own into the seventh on the way to a 3-1 Nationals win. Now the Cardinals now head to D.C. in trouble after scoring just once in two games at home.
The pitching promises to be just as compelling Sunday, when Justin Verlander will face James Paxton in Game 2 of the ALCS. In the meantime, these moments from Saturday’s games merit a closer look…
Torres trade looks better and better
With each passing year, the Aroldis Chapman trade looks better for the Yankees. That’s not to say the Chicago Cubs are complaining – they won the 2016 World Series thanks in part to Chapman, of course. But Torres, the centrepiece of the four-player package the Cubs sent back to the Yankees, just keeps impressing.
Last year as a rookie he hit 24 home runs with an .820 OPS. This year, he hit 38 homers on his way to an .871 OPS and 3.9 wins above replacement.
Now the 22-year-old’s adding to those numbers with a memorable post-season performance. He doubled home a run to get the Yankees on the board in the fourth inning and homered off of Zack Greinke in the sixth.
But in some ways his third hit of the game was most impressive. With the bases loaded and the Yankees leading 3-0, Torres fell behind 1-2 to Ryan Pressly, the Astros’ live-armed setup man. Pressly made two potential out pitches – a 96 m.p.h. fastball up and a 93 m.p.h. slider away – only to see Torres take both for balls. Then, on the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Torres reached out to send a sinking breaking ball over the Astros’ infield for a two-run single. It added up to a three-hit day for Torres, who drove in five of the Yankees’ seven runs.
The way he’s playing, the Yankees have as much reason to like the Chapman trade as the Cubs do. Torres looks like a perennial all-star who could eventually place atop MVP ballots. And right now, he’s the main reason the Yankees are ahead in the ALCS.
Tanaka out-duels Greinke
Though he arrived in New York to plenty of fanfare, Masahiro Tanaka’s been easy to overlook in recent years. Maybe it’s because his lifetime 3.75 ERA is more good than great, or because the Yankees have so many other stars.
Regardless, he looked like an impact pitcher Saturday. Facing the Astros’ deep lineup, he allowed just one hit and one walk over six scoreless innings. That performance allowed Aaron Boone to keep his bullpen relatively well rested.
It’s not the first time Tanaka has pitched well in the playoffs, either. In seven post-season starts he has a 1.32 ERA with 36 strikeouts compared to just nine walks.
As for Greinke, he was his usual crafty self while allowing three earned runs over six innings. The most memorable sequence of his night came when he threw Giancarlo Stanton a 61 m.p.h. eephus pitch in the top of the sixth inning. Stanton pulled that one foul, but homered on the 92 m.p.h. fastball Greinke threw four pitches later.
The ace and the former ace
On days Max Scherzer pitches, you’re never surprised to see an 11-strikeout performance. On days Adam Wainwright pitches? Safe to say they’ve been more rare. It had been more than five years since Wainwright last whiffed that many, but the 38-year-old was at his best Saturday, striking out 11 while walking just one and pitching into the eighth inning.
Aside from a Michael A. Taylor home run, the Nationals had trouble generating offence against Wainwright, who quietly enjoyed a bounce-back season in St. Louis.
Yet the way Scherzer was pitching, the Nationals hardly needed any offence at all. Though his pitch count climbed quickly, you couldn’t help but wonder if Scherzer would join Don Larsen and Roy Halladay as the only pitchers in baseball history to throw a post-season no-hitter. Ultimately it didn’t happen, but the Nationals could hardly have asked for more from Scherzer, a St. Louis native who grew up rooting for the Cardinals.
One way to limit the running game
It’s unfortunate for the Cardinals that they didn’t reach base more often, because if they had they could have created some chaos on the bases. Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki has had throwing trouble all year, leading to a 90 per cent success rate for opposing base stealers. Kolten Wong stole successfully Saturday, but otherwise Scherzer made sure the Cardinals didn’t get many chances to run.
If more opportunities emerge later in the series, the Cardinals should take them.
Support from Hudson’s teammates
When Daniel Hudson missed Game 1 of the NLCS to go home for the birth of his daughter some questioned the decision.
"Unreal that Daniel Hudson is on paternity list and missing game 1 of NLCS," former Marlins president David Samson tweeted. "Only excuse would be a problem with the birth or health of baby or mother. If all is well, he needs to get to St. Louis. Inexcusable. Will it matter?"
Ultimately it didn’t, as Sanchez and Sean Doolittle combined to shut the Cardinals out in Game 1. But of course even if Hudson’s decision had somehow led to a Nationals loss, going home would still have been the right call. The baseball traditionalists who might argue otherwise are missing the bigger picture.
As Doolittle said afterwards, "If your reaction to someone having a baby is anything other than, ‘Congratulations, I hope everybody’s healthy,’ you’re an a**hole."
By Saturday morning, Hudson was back to baseball following the birth of his daughter. With one out in the ninth inning of Game 2, the Nationals called on him for the save and he came through. Win-win.