What you need to know for baseball's next playoff round
Dodgers vs. Giants highlights the four Division Series matchups
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The baseball playoffs are getting into full swing
Still upset about the Blue Jays not making the post-season, even though they totally deserved to? Fair. But the playoffs are off to a great start without them. On Tuesday, baseball's most bitter rivalry was renewed as the Red Sox beat the Yankees in a one-game wild-card showdown at Fenway. And last night, the defending World Series champion Dodgers escaped their own do-or-die thriller vs. St. Louis with a walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth.
The first full round of the post-season starts today with Game 1 of both American League Division Series. The National League matchups get going tomorrow. Here's a quick primer on each of them:
Chicago White Sox vs. Houston Astros (opens today at 4:07 p.m. ET)
Everybody hates the Astros. Their particular brand of tech-bro-flavoured villainy first surfaced during their run to the 2019 World Series, when an assistant GM was fired for making rude comments toward a group of women reporters. It reached its nadir with revelations that Houston's 2017 championship was fueled by an elaborate scheme to steal opposing teams' signals. The cheating scandal cost the Astros' then GM and manager their jobs and had players facing an avalanche of boos on the road. But, as falls from grace go, it's been a pretty soft landing for the organization, which remains among the best in baseball. Houston came within one win of reaching its third World Series in four years last season, and it just won its fourth division title in five years.
The White Sox, led by reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, captured their first division crown in 13 years and will now try to win their first playoff series since their 2005 World Series victory.
Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays (opens tonight at 8:07 p.m. ET)
Despite a payroll less than half the size of the Blue Jays', the Rays just beat them and the extra-deep-pocketed Yankees and Red Sox for the AL East title for the second straight year. Tampa Bay's brilliant front office overcomes its lack of cash (not to mention an indifferent fanbase and awful stadium) by unearthing flawed players who still possess an elite skill or two, and then deploying them in a way that maximizes their strengths and hides their weaknesses. It's not always pretty — Tampa's aggressive infield shifts and heavy bullpen usage, for instance, have helped turn baseball into a more static sport — but it works. The Rays won the AL pennant last year.
Despite having the fifth-highest payroll in baseball, Boston was Tampa-like this year in the sense that no one on the roster really knocked anyone's sox off. Third baseman Rafael Devers (38 homers, 113 homers) was probably the closest thing to a true superstar. But the Red Sox can grind opponents to death with a batting order that has almost no easy outs.
Atlanta vs. Milwaukee Brewers (opens Friday at 4:37 p.m. ET)
To be honest, this is a lacklustre matchup. Both teams are making their fourth consecutive playoff appearance, and yet they never seem to do anything memorable. To be fair, Atlanta was one win away from making it to the World Series last year until they blew the next three games to the Dodgers. Canadian (and former Blue Jays) GM Alex Anthopoulos has put together another solid Atlanta team, led by reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman. But the loss of 23-year-old superstar Ronald Acuna Jr., to a season-ending knee injury in July was a big blow.
Milwaukee is the lowest-scoring team left in the playoffs, so it needs good pitching. Luckily, ace Corbin Burnes might be the best arm out there right now. He placed fifth in the majors in strikeouts while posting a better ERA and giving up homers less frequently than anyone who worked at least 100 innings.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants (opens Friday at 9:37 p.m. ET)
The defending World Series champion Dodgers are still the best team in baseball. Everyone thought that before the season, and then they went out and tied the franchise record with 106 wins — despite stars Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw all missing significant time due to injuries and reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer on leave since July after being accused of sexual assault (Bauer and Kershaw are done for the year, but the others are back). L.A. also added three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and excellent second baseman Trea Turner before the trade deadline.
And yet… the Dodgers didn't even win their own division. The Giants stole it by somehow winning an MLB-best 107 games with a far less talented roster — though they do feature some recognizable older guys like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria, and they traded for former NL MVP Kris Bryant at the deadline. San Francisco's magic will be put to the test by the Dodgers, who are favoured to repeat as World Series champs.
Carey Price is taking a leave from the Montreal Canadiens. The star goalie will be away for at least a month after entering the player assistance program, which is run jointly by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association. It's unclear exactly what Price is dealing with. He was working his way back from surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and his wife, Angela, suggested in an Instagram post that her husband is struggling with his mental health. Read more about Price's situation here.
Christine Sinclair's team placed its GM on administrative leave as the fallout from the NWSL's abuse scandal continues. The captain of the Canadian women's soccer team plays for the Portland Thorns, who said yesterday that Gavin Wilkinson would be on leave pending the results of an investigation into fired North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who was accused of harassment and sexual coercion by two players. Before the announcement, Sinclair tweeted a statement from Portland's players in which they called for Wilkinson to be placed on leave and demanded that they be given "seats at the table" in the Portland organization. This came on the same day that players in three NWSL matches stopped in the sixth minute to join at midfield and link arms in a display of solidarity. The NWSL Players' Association said the sixth minute represents the six years it took for the abuse allegations made by players Sinead Farrelly, Mana Shim and others against coaches to be heard. Read more about the latest developments in the NWSL scandal here.
Correction from yesterday's newsletter: A draw in soccer's World Cup qualifying is worth one point, not two. Same as everywhere else. Sorry for the error, and thanks to those who wrote in to point it out. Seems like a good time to remind you that the Canadian men's national team resumes its quest to qualify for the 2022 World Cup tonight at 9:40 p.m. ET with a big away match vs. Mexico. If you missed yesterday's newsletter, get caught up on where Canada stands in qualifying here.
Coming up on CBC Sports
Beach volleyball — World Tour Finals: Canada's reigning world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes opened with a pair of wins yesterday and had today off. They're scheduled to play again Friday at 6 a.m. ET vs. Switzerland and at 2 p.m. ET vs. the United States. Watch their matches here as part of CBC Sports' all-day streaming coverage, which runs from 5 a.m. ET to 5 p.m. ET.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.