The postseason has begun, and this year more than ever before, the schedule can be very overwhelming. I’ve decided to breakdown the starting pitching matchups daily every day until the end of the World Series, including which one I think should be the highest priority to watch.
2:08pm EDT: Max Fried, Braves vs. Sandy Alcantara, Marlins
Max Fried continued his 2020 breakout in NLWCS Game 1 against the Reds, tossing 7 shut out innings with 5 strikeouts and 0 walks while scattering 6 hits. Including the Postseason start, Fried now has an ERA of an even 2.00 in 63.0 IP this year, with 55 K (7.86 K/9) and 19 BB (2.71 BB/9). While some of his success is to be attributed to an unsustainable 4.9 HR/FB% in the regular season, his contact quality management is undoubtedly excellent, with every one of his Statcast measures in the area ranking at least 83rd percentile, highlighted by 98th in exit velocity, 88th in xwOBA. This adds up to a stellar 2.99 xERA, showing that the results are for real, and Fried’s dominance should continue in his opening start against the Marlins.
Taking the mound for the upstart Marlins is sinker-balling righty Sandy Alcantara. In his NLWCS Game 1 start, Alcantara gave up just one run to the Cubs in 6.2 IP, yet the results suggest he may have gotten lucky; Alcantara struck out only 4 and walked 3 in the game. Outperforming his peripherals has been a trend for Alcantara in 2020, as he had a 2.77 ERA including his Postseason start. Compared to his regular-season estimators of 3.72 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, and 4.03 xERA, Alcantara might be due for the nastiness that takes form in regression. The potential saving grace for Alcantara in shutting down the powerful Braves lineup would be his .343 xwOBACON. He’s significantly better than average at limiting damage on balls in play, perhaps due to the -7° launch angle on his sinker, a good thing considering a lot of balls are put in play against him.
Where to watch: FS1
4:37pm EDT: Sean Manaea, Athletics vs. Framber Valdez, Astros (HOU leads 1-0)
Despite his hot streak to end the season (2.77 ERA, 3.27 FIP in his last 7 starts) and his solid peripherals, Sean Manaea was absent from the mound in the ALWCS due to fear of the White Sox pounding a soft-tossing lefty. And soft-tossing Manaea is, as he holds the dubious distinction of having a higher opponent exit velocity, at 90.6 mph, than average four-seam velocity, 90.4mph. Luckily, the fastball isn’t Manaea’s only weapon, nor is it a particularly ineffective one, with the .318 xwOBA against it still quite manageable. His better pitches, however, are his changeup and slider. The former is used heavily against right-handed batters, and it’s deadly, with a .253 xwOBA. The slider is thrown only 3.6% of the time, but opponents mustered just a paltry .131 xwOBA against it, and increased usage would benefit Manaea greatly against an Astros offense that is starting to look like its old, historic self. These off-speed pitches are going to be key to Manaea helping to avoid another early Postseason exit from the Athletics.
Meanwhile, Framber Valdez should change absolutely nothing that he’s doing. In a dominant 5 inning, 5 strikeout, no-run relief performance in ALWCS Game 1, Valdez showed why he will be the ace the Astros need in order to make another deep postseason run. Including that outing, he has a 3.33 ERA in 2020, but his peripherals are even better, as he posted sub-3 marks in FIP and xFIP in the regular season. Batters do hit the ball very hard against Valdez (he’s a frightening 5th percentile in exit velocity), but they drill it into the ground, with a -0.8° launch angle. Much of Valdez’s success can be attributed to his high spin curve, one that ranked 10th in MLB in RPM. Batters produced just a .138 xBA and .188 xwOBA off of the curve, with a 41.9 Whiff%. Facing a deep and potent A’s lineup, Valdez will need to continue to rely heavily on this pitch, one he already throws more than a third of the time, to pitch the Astros to being just a game away from a fourth straight ALCS appearance.
Where to watch: TBS
8:10pm EDT: Tyler Glasnow, Rays vs. Deivy García, Yankees (NYY leads 1-0)
Given the onus of preventing the AL’s top seed from going down 2-0 to a dangerous Yankee team is the big bad figure of Tyler Glasnow. The enormous fireballer had a typical start in ALWCS Game 2, with 6.0 IP, 8 K, and 2 HR, though a lower-than-usual 1 BB. Glasnow is the pitcher in baseball who looks most unhittable as a fan watching games. He’s 6’8″ and seems to stride halfway to the plate. Then the ball explodes out of his hand, as his four-seam averaged 96.9mph, and routinely reached triple digits with above-average rise. His other, filthier, pitch, is his curve. It spins at nearly 3000 RPM and batters whiffed at it 52.8% of the time, good for a .141 xwOBA. Oh, by the way, the results were excellent too, to the tune of 2.75 xFIP and 3.13 xERA. The Yankees have seen Glasnow already this year, but no amount of preparation or experience can truly ready hitters for the experience of facing Glasnow’s remarkable stuff.
To take a commanding 2-0 series lead and counter a towering flame thrower, the Yankees turn to a shorter soft-tosser in rookie Deivi García. García made just 6 starts in 2020, and the results were quite mixed. His overall ERA of 4.98 looks horrendous. It was bettered by his estimators, but they were no great shakes either, with a 91 FIP- and 104 xFIP-. In his limited innings, García has shown very good control, walking just 1.57 per 9 innings. Unfortunately, he’s been hit hard and hasn’t struck out enough batters to make up for it. His pitches have shown good movement vertically, but not horizontally, and against a deep, likely lefty-heavy Rays lineup, García could really struggle.
Where to watch: TBS
9:38pm EDT: Walker Buehler, Dodgers vs. TBA, Padres
The results have been mixed in 2020 for Walker Buehler, mostly due to blister issues, but they were quite good in a 4 inning stint in NLWCS Game 1 against the Brewers when he set down 8 batters on strikes. The stuff for Buehler is brilliant, so long as he can throw it. This has notably been shown in the difference in results against Buehler’s curve from 2019 to 2020; last year opponents had a .255 xwOBA against it, and this year it’s been a ludicrous .423. The pitch has lost nearly 5 inches of drop. Blisters prevent Buehler from getting the proper grip and release on his curve. If this pitch is on, Buehler will give the Padres a tough day, but without it, the Dodgers may need a piggyback performance again.
As for the Padres, they’ve yet to announce a Game 1 starter. The likely reason is because of the unclear health of Mike Clevinger. If he’s healthy, Clevinger would immediately be the team’s best starting pitcher. Despite having a down year (4.15 FIP, 4.71 xERA), Clevinger showed ace-level performance as recently as last season (2.49 FIP, 3.03 xERA). Unfortunately for his team, he hasn’t pitched since September 23, putting his health in question. If Clevinger isn’t available, Chris Paddack should get the ball. Paddack got shelled in NLWCS Game 1 against the Cardinals, with 2.1 IP and 6 ER. In fact, he got shelled all year, with 5.02 FIP and 5.11 xERA. Thankfully, the Padres have a long and talented bullpen, one that could bail out the team for a few games once again, so long as the dynamic offense performs to their talent level.
Where to watch: FS1
Must-Watch Game of the Day
It’s time the A’s got some attention. They’ve been great all season and were shafted in game scheduling for both rounds. Plus, both pitchers are under heralded yet highly effective guys with interesting arsenals. And I just can’t bring myself to pick another game involving the Yankees. Fighting their bitter rivals who have a newly awakened offense, the AL West battle is the game most capturing my fancy for Tuesday.