Both League Championship Series could be settled on Monday night, so prepare for some drama. And more home runs.
Starting at 4:07 p.m. St. Louis time, the Phillies face the Diamondbacks in Game 6 of the NLCS. The Phillies lead the series 3-2, and the scene has shifted back to Philadelphia. If recent history means anything, that means big trouble for the visiting Diamondbacks. We’ll return to this later.
At 7:03 St. Louis time, the Rangers, up 3-2, will try to eliminate the Astros in ALCS Game 6. The road team has won every game in this series so far. In one of the season’s weirdest mysteries, the Astros have been pushovers at home this season, going 40-45 at Minute Maid Park, postseason included.
TEXAS AT HOUSTON, ALCS
Game 6 gives us St. Louisan Max Scherzer in a lead role, making his second start of this LCS after missing the final three weeks of the regular season with a strained shoulder muscle. His reappearance in the postseason was largely unexpected.
With the Rangers taking a 2-0 series lead back home after winning the first two contests in Houston, Scherzer got the start in Game 3. Coming off a long layoff, Scherzer threw well, with his four-seam fastball averaging 94+ miles per hour and reaching 96. But too many Scherzer pitches zoomed to the middle of the strike zone, his slider wasn’t as good as he wants it to be, and the Astros got to him for five runs (and a homer) in four innings.
The Astros won that one 8-5 to begin their series comeback, sweeping all three games in Arlington to bring a 3-2 lead home to Houston. But as is their recent custom, the Astros made a mess at home, losing 9-2 on Sunday to level the series at 3-3. The Battle of Texas has been fun to watch.
Scherzer reenters the stage Monday night. This will be the eighth time he pitches in a postseason winner-take-all game, the most by any pitcher in MLB postseason history. At 39 years and 89 days, Max could become the oldest starter to emerge with a victory in a tie-breaking, series-deciding, sudden-doom showdown.
Scherzer will be opposed by Houston’s Cristian Javier, arguably the best starting pitcher in the last two postseason tournaments. In four starts over the last two Octobers, Javier is 4-0 with an 0.82 ERA. He’s allowed one homer to his 82 batters faced and burned for a 37 percent strikeout rate.
While this great game of baseball can leave our heads spinning with unexpected occurrences – especially at this time of year – I think it’s fair to say that Scherzer is more unpredictable than Javier. That isn’t a knock on Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner with 2221 victories (combined) in the regular season and playoffs.
But in his postseason career Scherzer is 7-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 28 games (including 23 starts.) As a competitor in seven winner-take-all games – four of which were starts – Scherzer is 0–1 with an identical 3.80 ERA. But I wouldn’t place much negativity on that because his teams had a 5-2 record in those seven games.
Pitching for Washington in 2019, Scherzer started Game 7 at Houston and allowed two earned runs in five innings to set the Nationals up for a 6-2 win and their only World Series championship. During the 2019 postseason Scherzer worked in six games (five starts), and pitched to a 2.40 ERA with a 30% strikeout rate. He made that Game 7 start after being sidelined for a week because of intensely painful neck spasms.
With the Rangers in position to win the first-ever World Series for the franchise, can Max do it again?
“I mean, it’s Max Scherzer,” Rangers catcher Jonah Heim said. “So you’re going to expect greatness whenever he steps on the mound. I know he’s going to come ready.”
One note of caution: Scherzer has a 5.09 ERA in his last seven postseason starts.
Game 7 looms as an evening of high theater to conclude a thrilling series. Even if Scherzer gives his team a quality start, the Rangers will have to hope that their bullpen holds up. And they’ll have to find a way to get to Javier, who has allowed a .111 batting average this postseason. And that includes a .091 average against his mystifying four-seam fastball.
Here’s what makes Javier’s fastball so problematic for hitters: it has a wicked vertical attack angle — the angle at which the ball crosses the plate — with a great ride on the pitch. It’s flat as it enters the hitting zone, and batters don’t see the drop they’re expecting. Texas hitters were perplexed by it in Game 3’s loss.
The Rangers are confident in Scherzer as he goes into the Game 3 rematch against Javier.
“He’s been in the situation before,” said Nathan Eovaldi, who got the Rangers to Game 7 with his 6 and ⅓ innings of one-run pitching in Game 6. “Max knows how to go out there and compete and pitch. I think he’s definitely going to be a lot better than his last outing … just bouncing back from start to start you continue to get better and better. And he’s been ready to go and champing at the bit. I know that last start didn’t sit so well and the competitor that he is, he is going to go out and do a great job.”
Depending on the outcome of his appeal, Astros face the possibility of working through Game 7 without their most dominant setup reliever, Bryan Abreu. The righty was suspended for two games by MLB after umpires filed a report that blamed Abreu for intentionally throwing up and in (dangerously) on a pitch that struck Texas right fielder Adolis García. A decision was expected later on Monday afternoon.
ARIZONA AT PHILADELPHIA, NLCS
In his first start of the NLCS – Game 2 at Philly – righthander Merrill Kelly was blasted by the Phillies for four earned runs in 5 and ⅔ innings. He served up three home runs to Kyle Schwarber (2) and Trea Turner (1) as the Diamondbacks absorbed a horrific 10-0 beating.
In this series the Philadelphians have nuked Arizona’s two best starters – Zac Gallen and Kelly – for eight homers and 13 earned runs in 16 and ⅔ innings.
In Game 6 Monday, Kelly will try to keep the baseball contained within the walls of the Philadelphia Zoo, otherwise known as Citizens Bank Park.
In the last two postseasons the Phillies are 12-2 at home. They’ve rocked a blistering 35 homers, slugged a preposterous .570 and averaged 5.9 runs in the 14 games at The Bank.
So far in the 2023 NL playoffs, the Phillies are 6-0 at home with 17 homers, 17 doubles and a .648 slugging percentage. They’ve broken overwhelmed pitchers for an average of 6.5 runs per game.
In this raucous and thunderous setting the Diamondbacks will attempt to buckle up and get out the NLCS alive by winning two consecutive games in Philadelphia’s predator-filled habitat. Best wishes to you, gentlemen.
In the 2023 postseason (all games) the Phillies have 23 homers and a .527 slug. In this particular NLCS, they have 10 home runs in five games and have strafed Arizona pitchers for a 5.23 ERA.
Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper each have clobbered 11 home runs for Philadelphia over the last two postseasons. Schwarber has moved into a tie for fifth place with Derek Jeter for most career postseason homers (20.) The only dudes with more are Manny Ramirez (29), Jose Altuve (26) and Bernie Williams (22).
But Schwarber has barged his way into a 20-Homer membership with significantly fewer at-bats than the other four hitters.
As Jayson Stark noted at The Athletic, Schwarber has cranked a home run every 12.6 at-bats in his postseason career. Ramirez, Altuve, Williams and Jeter have collectively homered every 23.7 postseason plate appearances.
Schwarber has five of Philly’s 10 homers in this NLCS and is slugging 1.353. Schwarber’s five home runs ties the NLCS record set by Corey Seager (Dodgers) in 2020. The major-league LCS record for most home runs in one series is held by Nelson Cruz, who walloped six in the 2011 LCS.
If Philadelphia and Texas prevail and advance to the World Series, we can expect a full-out Home Run Derby. Each team’s ballpark is a home-run driving range. Going into Monday the Rangers and Phillies have combined for 41 homers this postseason; on average they’ve gone deep every 18 at-bats. That’s crazy. During the 2023 season MLB teams averaged a homer every 28 at-bats.
Remember when Cardinals fans pleaded with the Cardinals to sign Schwarber as a free agent after the 2021 season?
Fun with numbers:
+ In his last 22 postseason games, Schwarber has 11 homers in only 77 at-bats. That’s one HR every 7.0 at-bats.
+ In their last 19 postseason games, the Cardinals as a team hit 17 homers in 635 at-bats. That’s one HR every 37.3 at-bats.
+ From 2020 through 2022, the Cardinals as a team hit four home runs in 204 at-bats over six games.
+ This postseason Schwarber has just as many homers – four – in 13 at-bats over his last four games.
+ Since the start of the 2019 playoffs, the Cardinals as a team have poked nine postseason homers. Schwarber, by himself, has 14 postseason homers over that time.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the baseball …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.