The National League Division Series resume on Sunday in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, respectively, for the crucial Games 3, which, with both series tied 1-1, will put two teams on the brink of elimination and two teams on the brink of the National League Championship Series.
Start time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Series: Series tied 1-1
Starting pitchers: Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 ERA) vs. Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA; 1-0, 1.29 ERA in postseason)
Despite their Game 1 loss, this series has gone according to plan for the Pirates. The key to that plan, however, is this game, in which the Pirates have their ace pitching at home with a chance to put Pittsburgh just one win away from the NLCS. Liriano went 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA at PNC Park during the regular season and then held the Reds to one run over seven innings while earning the win in the Wild Card Game, sending the Pirates to this series.
Liriano has dominated the Cardinals in all three of his starts against them this season regardless of location, going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA and 0.63 WHIP while averaging eight innings pitched per start in those games. With Allen Craig out for the season due to a sprained foot, St. Louis is down one of its best righthanded hitters against the lefthanded Pirates ace, and have been forced to play lefthanded rookie Matt Adams in Craig's place. Adams is one of the Cardinals' leading hitters in this series so far, but Liriano held lefties to a .131/.175/.146 line this season, and the resulting .321 OPS stands as the lowest lefthanded split since 1916 among pitchers to face at least 100 lefties.
Looking to keep pace with Liriano in front of the boisterous PNC Park crowd will be sophomore Joe Kelly, who went 9-2 with a 2.32 ERA in 14 starts this season, all of them coming in July or later. Among those 14 starts were three strong performances against Pittsburgh, all lasting exactly six innings, and none seeing Kelly surrender more than one run (3-0, 1.00 ERA combined). This will be Kelly's first postseason start, but he made seven relief appearances for St. Louis last October and enters this game with a 2.35 postseason ERA in 7 2/3 innings.
The hitters to watch in this game are the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez, who homered in both games at Busch Stadium, added a double and a walk in Game 2 and matches up well with the righty Kelly, and the righthanded Yadier Molina, who has been the Cardinals' best hitter thus far in this series (3-for-7, 2B, HR, BB).
Also worth noting: The only relief pitcher on either team to allow a run in this series is St. Louis' Shelby Miller, who is normally a starter. Pittsburgh has received 11 scoreless innings of relief from its bullpen (thanks in large part to Jeanmar Gomez's excellent four-inning outing in Game 1), while the Cardinals' bullpen has allowed just the one run charged to Miller (a Starling Marte solo home run) in 6 2/3 innings of work.
Start time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Series: Series tied 1-1
This is a fascinating pitching matchup for the rubber-game of this series as it features a pair of rookie pitchers who had almost identical seasons for their respective teams. As you can see above, their records were the same, and when you adjust their ERAs for their ballparks you get 121 for Teheran and 119 for Ryu. What's more, with Yasiel Puig in rightfield for the Dodgers, this matchup puts three of the top four rookies in the National League this season on the field.
However, Teheran and Ryu are very different pitchers. Teheran is a 22-year-old righty from Colombia with a 93 mph fastball which he compliments with a sinker and slider and the rare curve or change. Ryu is a 26-year-old lefty from South Korea who relies heavily on his 80 mph changeup in combination with his 91 mph fastball and mixes in a curve and slider. Ryu is a groundball pitcher. Teheran is a fly ball pitcher. Teheran has struck out more than a man per inning since mid-May. Ryu has struck out just 6.3 men per nine innings since the beginning of May.
The Dodgers have never faced Teheran, though Michael Young went 0-for-3 against him as a Phillie this year. Ryu faced Atlanta twice in the regular season, allowing just three runs in 12 1/3 innings, including a 7 IP, 1 R, 6 K performance in Los Angeles. The Brave with by far the most success against Ryu in those games was Freddie Freeman, who went 3-for-4 with a double and two walks. One might not expect that from a lefty-on-lefty matchup, but because Ryu is a changeup artist, he has a bit of a reverse split. This is a crucial game for both teams, but with Freddy Garcia scheduled to start Game 4 for Atlanta and Clayton Kershaw lurking for a potential Game 5 for the Dodgers, the Braves are the team that can least afford to lose Sunday night.