Game Five. Game Five. Game Five.
The divisional series has been around since 1995, and only once before have three of the four matchups gone to a fifth and deciding game. That was in 2001, and three of the teams involved were the Yankees, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks.
This time around, those three each have a chance to advance to the League Championship Series, by winning their respective games on Thursday at home against the Tigers, and on Friday in Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
The Yankees have confounded expectations on a nightly basis. They blasted Doug Fister in the continuation of the Justin Verlander-C.C. Sabathia rainout, then struggled to get a hit off Max Scherzer, whom Jim Leyland had wanted to start in Comerica in light of his 10.80 ERA this season at Yankee Stadium.
Sabathia labored in game three, walking six and allowing seven hits in five and a third innings; the Yankees lost despite scoring four runs off Verlander. Then the dreaded A.J. Burnett had a relatively easy time in the fourth game, aided hugely by the first of two fine catches by Curtis Granderson, a centerfielder with a negative defensive rating from both baseball-reference.com and Fangraphs.
It will be Fister versus Ivan Nova tonight in the fifth game, and anyone who thinks they know what will happen hasn’t been paying attention.
Fister was outstanding for the Tigers after arriving from Seattle, going 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA, but only two of his eleven appearances came against teams with a winning record.
Nova’s won-lost record (16-4) was far better than his peripheral stats, but in the second half of the season he had an ERA of 3.18 in 73.2 innings. On the other hand, he’s 24 and has thrown more than 180 innings this season, the heaviest workload of his professional career.
Don’t be surprised if the game is decided in middle relief, with the Tigers turning to Scherzer to get them into the LCS.
In Friday’s NL showdowns, two very different brands of baseball will be on display.
The Phillies and Cardinals have played three tight, tense games, featuring Philadelphia’s starting rotation versus St. Louis’s revolving bullpen door. Tony LaRussa used six and five relievers in the Cardinals’ two wins; the Phillies’ starters all worked at least six innings, long enough for Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt to give up five runs and lose.
Matt Holliday returned to the St. Louis lineup Wednesday, adding a third bat behind Pujols and Berkman – though the hitting hero of the night was David Freese, with a double and a home run for four RBIs.
The Game Five pitchers will be Chris Carpenter, pulled after three innings of Game Two, and Roy Halladay, who went his usual eight in winning the opener. The Cards rode a hot streak through September just to get to the playoffs, and Carpenter sealed the berth with a two-hit shutout on the last night of the season. But Halladay is Halladay, and should be enough to see the Phillies through.
The interesting question for Friday night is, which total will be higher: hits in the Phillies-Cardinals game, or runs for the Brewers and Diamondbacks?
The winners’ totals in the last three games of this series have been eight, nine, and ten. Arizona manager Kirk Gibson revealed his expectations when he sent up a pinch-hitter for starter Joe Saunders in the third inning Wednesday – with the Diamondbacks already leading 5-3.
Gibson was certain that five runs wouldn’t be enough, and when the pinch-hitter Collin Cowgill singled home two more runs, Arizona had what it needed to hang on for a 10-6 victory.
The series heads back to Miller Park, where the Brewers were 57-24 in the regular season. The pitchers will be Yovani Gallardo and Ian Kennedy, a rematch of the opener won by Milwaukee, 4-1.
Like the Brewers, Arizona is significantly more potent at home, scoring 4.93 runs per game at home and 4.09 on the road. Expect Gallardo and the Brewers to hold serve, and advance to take on the Phillies beginning Sunday night.