By Andrew Kahn
Two teams have moved to within one step of the World Series, while two more could join them as early as today. Here is what you need to know.
1. Strasburg Playoff Controversy, Part II
The Washington Nationals, and not Stephen Strasburg, received the bulk of the criticism when the pitcher was shut down before the 2012 playoffs. He may not be as fortunate this time around. Tuesday's rain-out in Chicago, which pushed Game 4 to this afternoon, figured to be a boon for the Nationals. They could skip starter Tanner Roark and pitch Strasburg on full (four days) rest in today's must-win game, then go with Gio Gonzalez in Game 5. Instead, they're sticking with Roark because Strasburg is "under the weather," according to Washington manager Dusty Baker.
In a somewhat bizarre press conference after yesterday's game was called, Baker said much of his team was not feeling well, blaming the change in weather, the air conditioning in the team hotel and at the ballpark, and Chicago "mold." He also said Strasburg threw a bullpen session earlier in the day, but a team spokesperson later clarified the session occurred on Monday.
The bottom line is that Roark, and not Strasburg—a Cy Young candidate who pitched seven innings in Game 1, striking out 10 while not allowing an earned run—will get the ball with Washington's season on the line. Should the Nationals lose, their fans will be right to question the point of spending $175 million for an asset not deployed in a situation like this.
2. Game 5 in Cleveland
Through four games, the ALDS between the Indians and Yankees has pretty much had it all at various times: dominant pitching, offensive outbursts, massive comebacks, critical home runs hit and robbed, extra innings, questionable managerial decisions, and blown calls. The final chapter will be written tonight in Cleveland. That's where it all began for the pitcher who will take the ball for the Yankees. CC Sabathia finished second in the 2011 Rookie of the Year voting for Cleveland and won the Cy Young in 2007, the year before he was dealt to Milwaukee in advance of becoming a free agent and landing in New York.
Though it was easy to forget by the 13th inning, Sabathia also started Game 2 of this series at Progressive Field. As he did that night, he'll oppose Corey Kluber, who had an uncharacteristically bad outing, failing to get out of the third inning. After last year's World Series, for the Indians to lose in the first round when holding a 2-0 series lead would be devastating.
3. Astros advance
Whichever team survives tonight's showdown will face the Astros, a team that won 101 games and scored the most runs in baseball during the regular season and kept hitting through a 3-1 series win over Boston. If Chris Sale figured to be some sort of an equalizer for the Red Sox, that thought was extinguished in the first inning of Game 1, when the Astros took him deep twice. For the series, the Astros hit .333 as a team. Justin Verlander earned two victories; he's won all seven games (six starts) he's appeared in since coming to Houston.
4. Dodgers dominate
On the National League side, the Dodgers swept divisional foe Arizona to advance. Clayton Kershaw's postseason results have been well documented—he is now 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA—but the four home runs he allowed in Game 1 didn't prevent the Dodgers from getting the win. The Los Angeles offense is a well-oiled machine right now. The Dodgers tallied a combined 17 runs and 24 hits in the first two games against Arizona. They're not relying on one or two players; they're not waiting for a three-run homer. In Game 2, 11 of their 12 hits were singles. Justin Turner—who had five RBI in Game 1—is establishing himself as one of the best postseason hitters in the game.
5. Pitching in
These playoffs have been about the bullpens. So far, relievers have thrown more innings than starters. Not a single starter has thrown a pitch in the eighth inning—at least not the starter who began the game; they have contributed out of the bullpen. Robbie Ray appeared in relief in the wild card game and started Game 2 against the Dodgers. Sale and Verlander, the Game 1 starters in Houston, each came out of the pen in Game 4 in Boston. It was Verlander's first relief appearance ever; he said he had no problem getting warm but didn't like the mound he inherited. Feeling it wasn't his place to delay the game as a reliever, he allowed a home run to the first batter he faced. Boston's Rick Porcello started that game after pitching the final inning of Game 1. Plus, typical starters Josh Tomlin, Jaime Garcia, and David Price all appeared out of the bullpen this postseason (though they didn't start).
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
for more features.