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October madness: All 4 MLB division playoff series in action

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October madness: All 4 MLB division playoff series in action

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ALDS GAME 2: TEXAS RANGERS AT TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Series: Rangers lead 1-0
Where:
 Rogers Centre, Toronto
Gametime: 12:30 p.m.
TV: MLB Network
Radio: ESPN Radio
Weather: Indoors
Starting pitchers: TEX LHP Cole Hamels (13–8, 3.65 ERA) / RHP Marcus Stroman (4-0, 1.67 ERA)

Game 1 was a letdown for the home crowd in Toronto, as David Price was rocked in a 5-3 loss. The Blue Jays now enter Friday hoping to even up the series and avoid going to Arlington in an 0-2 hole.

In order to get even, Toronto will have to beat former World Series MVP Cole Hamels. As a long-time member of the NL, Hamels hasn't pitched in Toronto since 2009. He did see the Blue Jays in Philly last season, but gave up five earned runs on 10 hits and two homers in six innings of work.

Young right-hander Marcus Stroman will pitch for the Blue Jays in only his fifth game of 2015 due to a torn ACL in the spring. He has allowed only five earned runs in 27 innings since coming back.

ALDS GAME 2: HOUSTON ASTROS AT KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Series: Astros lead 1-0
Where:
 Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City
Gametime: 3:30 p.m.
TV: FS1
Radio: ESPN Radio
Weather: Partly cloudy, 65 degrees, wind 9 mph
Starting pitchers: HOU LHP Scott Kazmir (7-11, 3.10 ERA) / KCR RHP Johnny Cueto (11-13, 3.44 ERA)

The Royals are in a similar situation to the Blue Jays after losing Game 1 at home. And, given they stole home field advantage last postseason against both the Angels and Orioles, they know very well the danger of losing Game 2.

Johnny Cueto, their big trade deadline acquisition, will be tasked with preventing that. Cueto has not been great since joining the Royals - he has a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts - and he has a rough playoff history. But, he was brought in for games like this, so we'll see if he rises to the occasion.

Scott Kazmir, who the Astros also trade for midseason, will start opposite Cueto. The veteran lefty has also been inconsistent since joining his new team with a 4.17 ERA in 13 outings. Kazmir does, however, have a 2.11 ERA against the Royals this season, having faced them three times back when he was with the A's in the AL West.

NLDS GAME 1: CHICAGO CUBS AT ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Series: 0-0
Where:
 Busch Stadium, St. Louis
Gametime: 6:30 p.m.
TV: TBS
Radio: ESPN Radio
Weather: Cloudy, 66 degrees, wind 11 mph
Starting pitchers: CHC LHP Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34 ERA) / STL RHP John Lackey (13-10, 2.77 ERA)

After taking care of the Pirates - owners of the league's second-best record - in the NL Wild Card game, the Cubs will now take their shot at the Cardinals, MLB's only 100-win team. Jon Lester will start for Chicago and look to follow up a dominant start from his rotation mate, Jake Arrieta.

Lester has lots of playoff experience to pull from having won two World Series rings with the Red Sox. He boasts a 2.57 ERA in 14 postseason games.

John Lackey has also won two World Series titles, including one as Lester's teammate in Boston. Lackey is coming off the best season of his 13-year MLB career.

NLDS GAME 1: NEW YORK METS AT LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Series: 0-0
Where:
 Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
Gametime: 9:30 p.m.
TV: TBS
Radio: ESPN Radio
Weather: Sunny, 86 degrees, wind 5 mph
Starting pitchers: NYM RHP Jacob deGrom (14–8, 2.54 ERA) / LAD LHP Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13 ERA)

There are plenty of aces in action on Friday, but if you like pitching, it would be tough to top this particular matchup. In one corner you have Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of this generation. And in the other, you've got Jacob deGrom, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year who might be the most underrated ace in the game.

Kershaw will look to overcome his playoff demons of the past. He holds a 5.12 postseason ERA which is more than double his 2.43 career regular season mark. That can't possibly continue, can it?

Kershaw may have to be dominant to outduel deGrom, who enters the playoffs with a 2.54 ERA. deGrom, however, struggled down the stretch with a 4.91 ERA in his last seven starts through August and September.

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Where is the dent in Houston’s roster? Nowhere

Where is the dent in Houston’s roster? Nowhere

What we know: Game 1 is Tuesday night in Houston. What we don’t: who will be pitching to start it.

There are reasonable guesses. Gerrit Cole is 99 percent the choice for Houston. Max Scherzer is the likely pick for Washington -- though it could tweak the whole situation by pitching Aníbal Sánchez in Game 1. Why Sánchez? Pitching Sánchez bumps Scherzer to Games 2 and 6, Stephen Strasburg to Games 3 and 7, and gives Patrick Corbin a start as well as two chances to use him out of the bullpen. The risk is two starts for Sánchez, though he has been pitching better than Corbin in the postseason.

Moving on. 

A closer look at the Astros confirms what is assumed from afar when the 107 in the wins column is viewed. They are a juggernaut. Often, that’s hyperbole. Not here.

Houston was No. 1 in Major League Baseball in OPS against right-handed pitching this season. Usually, that’s a left-handed heavy team which would suffer to a degree on the other side. Not the Astros. They were No. 2 in OPS against left-handed pitching. Rookie Yordan Alvarez carried an OPS over 1.000 against each side. George Springer is above .900 against both sides. So is Carlos Correa. 

Flip it. Maybe the Astros’ pitching has a notable problem against one side or the other. Nope. They are No. 2 this season in OBP-against by right-handed hitters (the Nationals are a right-handed heavy lineup). They are No. 1 against left-handed hitter in the same category. 

So, well, where else? The bullpen. Try there.

Roberto Osuna is the closer. He led the American League in games finished and saves. However, Osuna has not been infallible in the postseason. His ERA is 3.52. Sean Doolittle has been more than a run better, at 2.46. Daniel Hudson has not allowed a run. The key shot against Osuna came Saturday night when DJ LeMahieu hit a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth.

Osuna mixes a lot of pitches for a closer. He throws his fastball less than 50 percent of the time, his slider 18.4 percent of the time, a cutter 13.9 percent and a changeup 18.4 percent. He’s a rarity, the four-pitch closer.

Overall, the Astros’ bullpen was second in ERA.

Here’s another way to look at it: Do the Astros own the skills to get into the Nationals’ weakest point, the middle of the bullpen? Of course they do.

Houston led MLB in walk percentage and OBP. It is able to run up pitch counts, creating the gap between the high-end starter and the relievers with juice. The soft middle, as it is, for the Nationals, a place they desperately want to avoid.

So, to recap: the starting pitching is elite. The hitters operate against both sides. The bullpen is elite. The manager has been in charge of a club for three consecutive seasons of 101 wins or more, three consecutive ALCS appearances, two World Series appearances, and one title. Juggernaut, indeed.

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Nationals to host World Series watch parties at stadium for Games 1 and 2

Nationals to host World Series watch parties at stadium for Games 1 and 2

The Nationals will open the World Series on the road, traveling to Houston to take on the Astros for the first two games before heading back to the District. But the team is intent on packing Nationals Park anyway, as the stadium will host viewing parties for each of the Nats’ road games so that fans can watch their team on the jumbotron.

Admission into the park is free, but tickets must be reserved ahead of time. Parking passes will also be available.

For the first two games of the series—both of which begin just after 8 p.m. ET—the center field gate will open at 7 p.m. NATS PLUS members also have the opportunity to reserve premium seats behind home plate and at the Budweiser Brew House.

Game 1 of the World Series begins Tuesday night, when Cy Young contenders Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole will face off in an attempt to propel their respective clubs to a 1-0 series lead.

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