By Marvin A Azrak After all of the chaos on day 186 and game 162 of the 2021 MLB regular season, we have finally arrived at the postseason, where 10 teams and their fanbases will take the off day on Monday, and sweat through what they hope an extra month of baseball as they follow their squad on a run to a World Series title. The Fall Frenzy kicks off on Tuesday with the AL Wild Card game at 8:08PM ET, and it couldn’t have been any more dramatic, with the Yankees and Red Sox renewing the biggest rivalry in all of sports in a one-game elimination for the right to survive, and advance at Fenway Park. This comes on the heels of ninth-inning rallies on Sunday by both teams that spurned the 91-71 Toronto Blue Jays, who swept the O’s, but still fell short of the playoffs by one single game.
Meanwhile, in the NL, the San Francisco Giants entered the afternoon with 106 wins, but still hadn’t locked up the NL West due to the fact the Dodgers were their division rivals. Both teams won their respective season finales, rendering the Dodgers win meaningless, except for the fact they’re the first wild card team ever with 106+ wins, and must defeat the surging ST Louis Cardinals to save their season. With this years playoff field presenting poetic, and mouthwatering storylines fitting the older and younger baseball fan, we take a deep breath and delve into the matchups, going round by round until we find a winner and sort out this madness.
Today’s installment: The WILD CARD ROUND:
AL: YANKEES(92-70) @ RED SOX(92-70)
Of course it comes down to this for two teams that have been battling all season long. Boston took the season series 10-9, but credit to the Yankees for going 9-3 in their last 12 meetings, including summer sweeps at Yankee stadium and last weeks at Fenway park. This is the biggest edition of the rivalry since 1978, when the Bombers overcame a 14 game deficit to take a two game lead, only to watch Boston take their last eight, and force a tiebreaker for the AL East which took place at at Fenway via a coin-flip. Baseball historians know what went down that day, with Bucky Dent’s late three-run bomb lifted the Yankees to a 3-2 lead, and an eventual 5-4 win, en route to their second straight World Series title.
This 2021 race though did have a 1978 feel too as Boston rallied past New York on July 25th for a 5-4 win at Fenway, taking a 10 game lead over their division rivals. But the Bombers did some maneuvering and acquired lefty stars in OF Joey Gallo from the Texas Rangers, and 1B Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs on July 30th, which instantaneously flipped the switch in the clubhouse. From there, the Yankees went 10-4, lost a Field of Dreams heartbreaker to the White Sox, and then ripped off 13 straight wins including a Yankee-stadium sweep of the Bosox, finding themselves with the three-game cushion. However, once again we were proved that baseball is a marathon not a sprint as the Yankees followed the streak by going 2-11 and A suddenly Covid-depleted Boston squad stunned their hated rivals by leapfrogging them just three weeks after falling behind themselves. The two squared off at Fenway for the final time the regular season had to offer on September 24th, with Boston holding the first Wild Card spot, leading New York by two games, while the Yankees were in a bind with the Toronto Blue Jays, only up on them by one in the loss column. Recognizing the stakes with just nine games to play, the fans brought a playoff-atmosphere to the park each night, but it was time, and time again the Yankees found the answer.
In game one, the Yankees pummeled Bosox ace Nathan Evoldi for three runs in the first(Aaron Judge RBI double, Giancarlo Stanton RBI groundout, and a Kyle Higashioka RBI single), before adding three more on a Giancarlo Stanton oppo-taco bomb the other way in the third to extend the lead to 6-0. After it became 7-0, with a Kyle Higashioka infield single on a ball misjudged by Kyle Schwarber of Boston, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole took it from there going six innings, with just one glaring mistake, a three run HR by Rafael Devers around the pesky pole. But Gleyber Torres would go deep in the seventh, and the bullpen trio of Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, and Chad Green sealed the 8-3 win.
In-game two, the Yankee bats only managed one hit through the first half of the contest, and needed some clutch pitching out of Nestor Cortes JR, Micheal King, and Luis Severino(2 Scoreless IP) to keep the score 2-0 Boston. A wild pitch in the sixth would inch the Bombers closer, but when Gio Urshela struck out for the second out of the eighth, all hope seemed lost. But then walks to Brett Gardner, and Aaron Judge forced Bosox manager Alex Cora to turn to young lefty Darowin Hernandez, who hit lefty Anthony Rizzo on a 3-1 count, bringing up the en fuego Giantcarlo Stanton. Up to this point, Stanton was 1 for 3 with a strikeout on the day, but knew he would only be remembered for this at-bat, and made the most of it depositing the first pitch over the Green Monster at Fenway Park for a game-breaking grand slam, putting the Bombers on top 5-2, which would later turn into a 5-3 victory with Aroldis Chapman nailing down the save.
Going for a sweep on Sunday night, Clay Holmes(In relief of Jordan Montgomery after 5 innings of one run ball) struck out the side on 11 pitches to maintain the Yankees 2-1 lead(On a DJ LeMahieu RBI single in the fifth). But in the seventh, Joeley Rodriguez allowed the first two men he faced to reach base, and Boston was suddenly set up with men on second and third with nobody out. A sac fly by Christian Vazquez tied the score, before two batters later a potential Kyle Schwarber pop up that would’ve ended the inning, was dropped by New York left fielder Joey Gallo, allowing Alex Verdugo to score and give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead.
However, the Yankees wouldn’t back down and found themselves with men on second and third with one out, after an Anthony Rizzo double moved DJ LeMahieu(Who walked) to third. Up came Aaron Judge against ex-Yankee Adam Ottavino. Adam had Judge at 1-2, and appeared to have gotten what he wanted with a pop up to first base side, but Bobby Dalbec couldn’t come up with it and the ball fell harmlessly to the ground. A couple pitches later, Judge had appeared to strike out swinging, but the foul tip was dropped by Vazquez behind the dish to keep the at-bat alive. Judge would then cash in, and drive a two-run a go—ahead double to left field, before another Giancarlo Stanton 448FT tank job over the Green Monster, essentially secured the sweep-clinching 6-3 Yankees win, putting them two games up over the Jays(Who went 2-2 against the lowly Twins), and a game up over Boston with just six games left to play.
Even more astonishing, the Red Sox dropped two of three of the lowly O’s in Baltimore, while the Yankees dashed the Jays(Who wound up missing the postseason at 91-71 by one game) hopes by taking two of three at Rodgers Centre. It seemed all but certain heading into the final weekend, the Wild Card game would take place in the Bronx, but the Yanks dropped two to the AL East champion Rays, and Boston staged a four run ninth for a game two win over the woeful Nationals in DC to pull even with the Bombers in the standings. With both clubs needing wins to avoid a game 163 date with the Blue Jays, Boston rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the seventh inning, capping it off with a two-out two run HR from Rafael Devers to punch the Red Sox ticket to the postseason.
With both teams finishing with identical 92-70 records, Boston takes home field advantage due to the fact they took the season series from New York as stated earlier.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Considering this will be meeting #20 of the season, there’s no secrets being kept between these two flawed teams, so it comes down to who executes in front of a rowdy crowd in these pressure-packed moments the most.
YANKEES: It’s no doubt Gerrit Cole going at least six innings. The Yankees bullpen is well rested, and have stud long relievers in Luis Severino, and Domingo German, but if Cole doesn’t give them length tonight then this team will be in a heap of trouble, especially if they advance to the ALDS which begins on Thursday. The job for Cole tonight is to keep the game close, and go deep into the affair which will allow the Bombers to flex their muscles a bit against Evoldi, and an inconsistent Red Sox bullpen.
RED SOX: Last time he faced this lineup, Evoldi was tagged for seven runs in three frames, so if Boston is going to take tonight’s game they need him work his magic just like he did in 2018 during their World Series title run. Fireballers Ryan Brasier, Adam Ottavino, Garret Richards, will all likely be asked to tame the hot bats of Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge. However, don’t be surprised if manager Alex Cora goes to starters in Eduardo Rodriguez and Nick Pivetta if he indeed needs too.
As for the offense, they must make Cole work early, and often while hunting his elevated fastball.
For the Yankees, DJ LeMahieu won’t play due to a sports hernia, while Boston will be without JD Martinez due to an ankle injury.
PREDICTION: Gerrit Cole goes seven innings of two run ball, while the Yankees receive bombs from Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Anthony Rizzo, while the bullpen holds down the fort for a 7-2 win.
NL: ST LOUIS CARDINALS @ LA Dodgers.
Something has to give in Wednesday’s NL Wild Card Game.
– Won 8 straight Adam Wainwright starts
– Won 11 straight road games(That was during their 17 game win streak that catapulted them into the playoffs)
– Won 11 straight Max Scherzer starts
– Won 15 straight home games
It’s Wainwright vs Scherzer, with the Cardinals looking at an opportunity to turn back the clock to 2011, when they overcame an 11.5 game deficit to overtake the Braves for the NL Wild Card spot, before going on an improbable World Series title run that finished with a 6-2 game seven victory against the Texas Rangers. Wainwright was there then, and will look to lead ST Louis to it’s 12th World Series title(Only trail the Yankees) in 2021. As for Los Angeles, if the World Series favorites want to take care of some unfinished business against the San Francisco Giants to keep their title defense alive, they must knock off a Cardinals bunch that has prepared all month long for a game like this. Three hours in October fighting for your season.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
CARDINALS: 2011 World Series champion Yadier Molina will need to set an example early whether it’s on the offensive or defensive side of the ball with a standout play. That will allow starts such as 3B Nolan Arenado, slugger Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O Neil, and the surging Harrison Bader to relax and play some ball. ST louis had a 3.93 bullpen ERA in the regular season, so it’s been a bit shaky. However, if Wainwright can spin that curveball effectively they should be fine.
DODGERS: What else do I need to say? We except that Justin Turner, AJ Pollock, Corey Seager, and Mookie Betsy are just some of a loaded lineup that will give Wainwright fits. They also have Max Scherzer who has been in the spot before. After all, he did help the Nationals win game seven of the 2019 World Series with his lengthy outing. As for the relief corpse, closer Kenley Jansen has bounced back this season after a rocky 2020 playoffs, (2.22 ERA, 38 saves) proving the reigning champs truly have no weakness.
The Dodgers lost 1B and MVP candidate Max Muncy to a wrist injury in the season finale, but do have Cody Bellinger who has a knack for coming up in the clutch, proving that by going deep in game 7 of the NLCS last season to send the Dodgers to the World Series, where they eventually squashed the Tampa Bay Rays in six games.
Dodgers 6 Cardinals 4.
Max Scherzer goes seven innings one run ball, while the Dodgers hammer Wainwright in a four run sixth inning to blow the game wide open. The bullpen struggles a bit, as Harrison Bader makes it close by going yard for three, but Jansen shuts the door and seals an LA win.
Rays over Yankees
Astros over White Sox
Brewers over Braves
Dodgers over Giants
Astros over Rays
Dodgers over Brewers
Dodgers oust Astros and win it all again