The possibility of cursed franchises meeting for baseball’s ultimate prize got only slightly closer. Cleveland is halfway to the World Series after taking the first two games of the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field.
Chicago, however, wasn’t able to pull off the same result. The Cubs stirred the Wrigley Field faithful with a dramatic Game 1 win, but were thwarted by the Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez one night later. Aside from the results that took place, let’s take a look at a few other things we learned from the weekend’s games.
6. Francisco Lindor has arrived
If you didn’t know his name before, you do now. Lindor was one of baseball’s rising stars, but the postseason has a way of expediting that climb up the MLB hierarchy — and this latest stretch of games is showing that the 22-year-old shortstop is wise beyond his age.
As good as he is on the field, he’s been even better at the plate. Lindor went 2-for-4 with a double in the ALDS clincher at Fenway Park, which really got him going. Two more hits came in the ALCS opener, including a two-run homer in the sixth—which proved to be the difference in a 2-0 Indians victory. His third inning Game 2 single to center broke a 1-1 tie and, once more, provided the game-winning run.
5. …So has Javier Baez
Lindor isn’t the only young middle infielder who’s jumped onto the national scene. Over the past few weeks, the remarkable baseball intelligence from Baez has been readily displayed—never more so than the double play he initiated in Game 2 versus the Dodgers.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 17, 2016
Whether it’s on the field or at the plate (note his NLDS Game 1 homer off Johnny Cueto), Baez’ impact has been tremendous. The Cubs most likely boast the regular season MVP in Kris Bryant. But as far as this month is concerned, their No. 1 performer is the 23-year-old from Puerto Rico.
4. There’s a power outage in Toronto
While immense praise should be cast upon the Indians pitchers that have held them in check (and we’ll highlight one Tribe arm just ahead), it’s perplexing to see the Blue Jays—who are coming off a pasting of Texas hurlers in the ALDS sweep—get so cold so quickly.
Toronto scored 22 runs and drilled eight homers over the three games with the Rangers, looking very much like the team that led the league in scoring in 2015. In the two ALCS losses to Cleveland, it’s managed to produce just one run and ten hits (no homers), appearing more like the team that stumbled out of the AL East race in September. Struggling the most is Jose Bautista, who’s 0-for-6 in the series with five strikeouts and 0-for-14 in the postseason.
3. The Kershaw critics have been silenced
For a time, the negative judgement based on Clayton Kershaw’s shortcomings in the playoffs was justified. Even as recent as Monday, many weren’t completely convinced that the Dodger ace was consistently measuring up to his incredible regular season efforts.
But if Thursday’s NLDS Game 5 rescue mission against the Washington Nationals didn’t convince you that Kershaw can be just as superb in October, then Sunday night’s seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the NLCS certainly did. On just 84 pitches, he allowed only two hits and one walk while striking out six as Los Angeles escaped the Windy City with a split.
2. The Dodgers aren’t going away quietly
The fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers evened the series on Sunday doesn’t mean the Chicago Cubs aren’t still the favorites to win the NL pennant. It does mean that Dodgers—in the least—won’t make it easy for the team with baseball’s best record.
Game 1 appeared to be all Chicago until the eighth, when Los Angeles rallied against the opposing bullpen. Of course, the Cubs again came through in the late innings (a theme this month) in the form of a Miguel Montero grand slam. Heroic efforts by their top starter may be the only hope for the Dodgers, yet a win in Chicago and three games upcoming on the west coast provide some hope.
1. It’s Miller time
Forget trying to get runs off him. Just consider yourself lucky if you can put the ball in play. In the postseason, Andrew Miller has faced 28 batters. He’s fanned 17 while allowing just three hits. In the ALCS alone, he’s faced 12 Blue Jay batters—and has struck out 10 of them.
I have been in many postseasons and hadn’t seen anybody dominate like Andrew Miller.
— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) October 15, 2016
It took a July 31st trade, which forced the Indians to ship four highly-rated prospects, to get Miller from the Yankees. That’s a steep price for any player, much less a relief pitcher. But if anything has been proven this postseason, it’s that a reliever (such as Miller or L.A.’s Kenley Jansen)—especially one who is willing and able to go more than one inning—can be worth that price.