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: Ian Anderson, Braves vs. Pablo López, Marlins (ATL leads 1-0)
With a 1-0 lead, the Braves turn to a breakout star of the first round to put the series practically out of reach for the Marlins. In just 7 starts (including NLWCS Game 2), Ian Anderson has been nothing short of dominant as a rookie. He’s posted a 1.64 ERA in 38.1 IP, along with 50 K (11.74 K/9). These numbers aren’t merely a small sample fluke either, as in the regular season Anderson maintained a 2.54 FIP and 2.58 xERA, the latter of which was 95th percentile in MLB. Anderson achieves his dominance largely due to having two excellent secondary pitches. Batters managed a .249 xwOBA against his changeup with a 39.8 Whiff%, and were even worse against his curve, with just .211 xwOBA. They swung through that offering 40.5% of the time. Together, Anderson throws these two pitches a shade over half the time, aiding the very low spin rate (9th percentile) yet high-octane fastball he throws for the other half.
The Marlins look to rebound from a late collapse in Game 1 by handing the ball over to the steady Pablo López. López broke out in 2020, with a 3.61 ERA over 57.1 IP. Under the hood, he looks even better, with a 3.09 FIP and 3.30 xERA. His new success is evidenced best by an increased strikeout rate, going from 7.68 to 9.26 K/9 from 2019 to 2020. López is also inducing much softer contact, as his average exit velocity is down from 88.2 to 85.7mph. The main culprit is an increased usage of López’s changeup, his best pitch, and the incorporation of a highly effective cutter. Against these two pitches, batters put up xwOBAs of .224 and .169 respectively. He’ll need to continue this trend of excellence for the Marlins to continue their Postseason winning streak.
Where to watch: MLB Network
3:35pm EDT: Jesús Luzardo, Athletics vs. Jose Urquidy, Astros (HOU leads 2-0)
It was a shaky first full season and first Postseason start for Jesús Luzardo. In the former, he failed to live up to the hype his minor league and relief numbers had netted him, hovering just around league average in all of ERA, FIP, xFIP, and xERA. As for the ALWCS Game 1 start, he was rocked, giving up 3 ER in 3.1 IP, including allowing 2 HR. Now, with the A’s in an elimination game, Luzardo will have to tighten up. The most obvious solution for Luzardo to better himself would be to ditch his largely ineffective sinker. He throws in over a fifth of the time, yet it yields a .367 xwOBA and just a 9.2 Whiff%. The Astros lineup is showing shades of its 2019 self the past two games, and abandoning his worst pitch would help Luzardo in a must-win game against them.
In his clinching start of the ALWCS against the Twins, Jose Urquidy continued to do what he’s done all season. That is, he got good results despite clearly poor peripherals. Urquidy managed a 2.65 ERA in 2020, including Postseason, yet the rest of his numbers are uninspiring. He put up a 4.71 FIP, 5.36 xFIP, and 5.25 xERA in the regular season. The only potential solution for Urquidy is to rely less on his four-seamer, a pitch he throws over half the time and batters bash with a robust .372 xwOBA. The other pitches aren’t great, but they’re better than the fastball. This is a great chance for the A’s to get back in the series, and Urquidy mixing up his arsenal could slam the door on them.
Where to watch: TBS
7:10pm EDT: Charlie Morton, Rays vs. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees (Series tied 1-1)
After being a Cy Young contender in 2019, 2020 has been a bit of a step back for Charlie Morton, though not nearly as much as his 4.74 ERA would indicate. The estimators are mixed, with a 3.45 FIP, 4.01 xFIP, and 3.92 xERA. Morton still strikes out a good amount, though down from in 2019, and walks very few. His average exit velocity is up 2.5mph from 2019, however, up to 89.4. The primary reason for this seems to be a decline in his fastball velocity, from 94.7 to 93.4mph. Batters now tag him for a .338 xwOBA on the pitch. His curve is still excellent, of course, but would be better if paired with his former four-seamer. Against a terrifying Yankees lineup, Morton will need every bit of velocity he can muster; the Postseason adrenaline his teammates have exhibited could aid him here.
Falling behind to Rays deep bullpen in a series is a death knell, and it will be largely up to Masahiro Tanaka to ensure this doesn’t happen to the Yankees. Previously outstanding in the Postseason, Tanaka was tattooed in ALWCS Game 2 versus Cleveland, surrendering 6 ER in 4.0 IP, This could be regression finally coming for a starter who, on the whole, has been unspectacular as far back as 2017. The 97 FIP- and 4.03 xERA he put up in 2020 are the pitcher he’s been recently. Tanaka does a good job of prioritizing his best pitches, a slider and splitter, that yield .224 and .302 xwOBAs, respectively. His fastball, on the other hand, gets hammered, with a gaudy .448 xwOBA in 2020. He still throws this a quarter of his offerings, something he may need to change when treading carefully through the gauntlet of solid Rays hitters.
Where to watch: TBS
9:08pm EDT: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers vs. Pitchers?, Padres (LAD leads 1-0)
After a vintage Clayton Kershaw season, he reminded the world why he’s a GOAT candidate by mowing down the Brewers in NLWCS Game 2, striking out 13 and walking 1 in 8 shutout innings. Now against a far more dangerous Padres offense, Kershaw will look to do the same, and put his Dodgers within a game of yet another NLCS. Nothing has to change for Kershaw, who, including the Postseason, had a 1.90 ERA in 2020, the fourth sub-2 season of his career. This is thanks to increased four-seam velocity and customary wipeout sliders and curves. I don’t need to go into detail. Everyone knows about Kershaw’s pitch arsenal and his Postseason narrative. Tonight, he sets out to use the former to rewrite the latter.
As for the Padres, I’m not even going to try anymore. They haven’t had a real start all Postseason. It’s their bullpen that will take up the bulk of the innings for them to try to even the series, as they have all October. Which pitchers these will be is anyone’s guess.
Where to watch: FS1
Must-Watch Game of the Day
The most fun series, the NL West showdown, also features the playoff’s two protagonists today, in the tragic hero Kershaw, and the bat flipping Padres superstar. This will be a fun one.