We are entering the true business end of Major League Baseball’s post-season. By this week’s completion, there will be a mere four teams left vying for a World Series championship, and the beginning of the week will give a good sense of who those clubs will be. With three of the four divisional series starting deadlocked at one game apiece, the third contest in each will likely be pivotal. Historically, the club that’s won game three of these best-of-five series has moved on to the next round 25 of 32 times. That’s a 78 percent success rate. With so much at stake in game threes, we’ll take our crystal ball to two of those contests for our Week 28 (post-season week 2) coverage:
St. Louis Cardinals versus the Chicago Cubs: Post-season baseball returns to the hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field on Monday for the first time since 2008, and there is good news for the home team. This game three contest looks really good for the Cubs. Two words sum up why it’s so favourable for Chicago: Jake Arrieta. The club’s pitching ace has an amazing amount of metaphorical wind at his back. He currently owns a 31 consecutive scoreless inning streak and he showed just how steely he is at pressure time, when he dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates in his last outing at the National League Wild Card Game.
Beyond Arrieta, the Cubs are riding a tremendous wave of confidence. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 games, dating back to the end of the regular season and they’ve done well as of late even though stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have been slumping. Rather than this being depressing fact, the team has actually found it reassuring as the two sluggers are bound to turn the corner for the Cubs.
Also bolstering Chicago’s chances is the fact that Michael Wacha gets the pitching assignment for the Cardinals. Wacha is a top talent and has a great post-season pedigree. In six playoff games (including two in the World Series) Wacha is 4-2 with a respectable 3.48 ERA. Still, it’s recent performance that is so key in his case. Wacha has appeared fatigued to end the season. In his last five starts of the year, Wacha was 2-3 with a 7.88 ERA. Overall, he threw 181.1 innings in 2015. His previous regular season high was 107 innings last year.
Los Angeles Dodgers versus New York Mets: Monday’s game three of this series features high-profile starter Matt Harvey for the Mets against lesser-known Dodgers’ pitcher Brett Anderson. That said, it’s Anderson who comes into this game with previous post-season experience. In 2012, the left-hander delivered six scoreless innings, conceding just two hits against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series. (A year later he was tagged for a run in just 1/3 of an inning against the Tigers in another ALDS.)
In contrast, Harvey enters this game without this high leverage background but with a lot of baggage. He was embroiled in a drama at the end of the season about how many innings he would pitch (his agent worried that in his first season after reconstructive elbow surgery Harvey’s innings should be limited). Despite that disagreement, Harvey is pitching; though one would expect he’ll be a bit distracted. That said, his recent body of work suggests otherwise as he posted a 1.42 ERA with 17 strikeouts in his last two starts of the regular season.
So where does that leave us?
I’m partial to the Dodgers winning this one in a low-scoring affair. Basically, Anderson brings a key element to his game that should neutralize Mets’ hitters: he is an extreme ground ball pitcher. His rate of inducing balls on the ground 66.3% of the time was not only the best in the Major Leagues in 2015, but was also the highest rate of any pitcher since 2006. Considering the Mets relied so much on the home run this year (they finished tied for third in the NL in that category), Anderson should be able to keep New York from their preferable form of scoring. I don’t expect Harvey to roll over (he’s been particularly good at home this year, going 8-3 with a 2.23 ERA), I’m just expecting the Dodgers to just do enough.