By Andrew Kahn
The Cubs fought off elimination on Wednesday to force tonight’s Game 5. Clayton Kershaw will face Jose Quintana at Wrigley Field. The Yankees won their third straight to take a 3-2 lead against the Astros. That series moves back to Houston, with Game 6 on Friday.
1. No place like home
No team in the American League had a better home record than the Yankees this season (51-30). After Wednesday’s 5-0 win over the Astros, New York is now 6-0 at Yankee Stadium in these playoffs. The atmosphere in the Bronx has been undeniably electric. It’s easy to cheer positive results, but the Yankee fans have remained loud and encouraging when things haven’t been going so well. Joe Girardi said this series has been as loud as he’s heard this park, which opened in 2009. Chase Headley compared it to a college football game, with fans going crazy throughout.
It helps that the Yankees have taken advantage of the homer-friendly environment. They hit five home runs in the three games at Yankee Stadium this series; the Astros have not hit any. Of course, the series goes back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday. The Astros have also not lost at home yet this postseason (4-0), and the Yanks were the only playoff team to post a losing record on the road this year. Home field advantage in the World Series is based simply on regular season record; the Yankees would start on the road no matter their opponent; Houston would have the edge over Chicago but not Los Angeles.
2. Turner’s time
Entering yesterday’s game, only two players with at least 90 postseason plate appearances had a better OPS than Justin Turner: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Turner is behind only Gehrig in on-base percentage for anyone with more than 60 plate appearances. This is the same player who was nothing more than a solid utility man for the Mets for three years before they gave up on him. The 32-year-old has become a star in Los Angeles. Turner hit a walk-off home run in Game 2 and reached base four times yesterday, adding another home run. It’s been a team effort for the Dodgers in this series and all season, but Turner is their best hitter.
3. Baby Bombers
The Baby Bombers—Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird—have certainly not been overwhelmed by October’s bright lights. The trio drove in four of the Yankees’ five runs on Wednesday. Judge and Sanchez were right in the middle of New York’s big comeback in Game 4. With the Yanks down 4-0, Judge homered to lead off the seventh, and Sanchez hit a sac fly. Judge’s double tied it the next inning and Sanchez’s double gave them the lead. Bird walked three times in the game. They are young (25 or under), large (Sanchez is the shortest at 6’2”; Bird the lightest at 220), and love playing together. They have not performed flawlessly—through 11 playoff games, the trio has struck out a combined 56 times, with Judge accounting for 24—but what Yankee fans once viewed as the future core has proven to be a very productive present.
4. Seager’s subs
Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager getting left off the NLCS roster because of a back injury could have been a devastating blow. His replacements have made sure it hasn’t been. Charlie Culberson played short the first two games against the Cubs. He hit a sac fly to tie Game 1 and later doubled and scored a run. He doubled and scored the tying run in the fifth inning of Game 2. Chris Taylor filled in with right-handers on the mound, homering and tripling in Game 3 and drawing a couple of walks in Game 4, while playing very good defense. Seager, last season’s Rookie of the Year, could return if the Dodgers make the World Series.
5. Not done yet
That the Dodgers were unable to pull off the sweep last night was not surprising. In the wild card era, only two teams have swept their way into the World Series (the Royals in 2014 and the Rockies in 2007). They’ll send Kershaw to the hill to try and win their 23rd pennant, which would tie them with the Giants for most in National League history. The Cubs will likely need their starter, Quintana, to go deep in the game to give them a chance. Their best reliever, Wade Davis, is unavailable after throwing 48 pitches last night, and the rest of the bullpen has been shaky. The potentially good news for Chicago is that its star hitters, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, are a combined 4-for-29 in this series with no extra-base hits. Bryant in particular has been struggling (eight strikeouts in 14 plate appearances), but if he and/or Rizzo can get right in a hurry they could carry the offense.
Houston has been swallowed by the Yankees’ momentum but their aforementioned success at home is comforting. Plus, the Astros will have one of the best pitchers in baseball on the mound in Justin Verlander. The late summer acquisition threw a complete game against the Yanks in Game 2. Of course, their bats will have to be better to win two in a row. The best offense in the regular season has stalled a bit in this series; the Astros have scored just nine runs in five games. Josh Reddick has been in the two-hole for four of the games and is 0-for-17.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn