In a season full of baseball firsts, Wednesday will hold another: eight playoff games in one day. Depending on your perspective, it’s set to be either gloriously chaotic, or a total mess. (MLB’s trying to play into the idea of the former by invoking a March Madness vibe with its chosen moniker for this week, “Fall Frenzy,” but… it’s not hard to see the latter.)
It’ll be impossible to watch all of these games in their entirety. But with best-of-three series, every game is potentially important, and so there are some hard choices to make. What to watch? How? When? Here’s your viewing guide.
Game 1: Cincinnati Reds (7) at Atlanta Braves (2), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Pitching Match-Up: Trevor Bauer vs. Max Fried. It’s the best pairing of the afternoon, with both pitchers enjoying career seasons and Bauer a favorite for the Cy Young.
One Thing to Watch Out for: This whole series has a bit of an immovable-object-meets-unstoppable-force vibe. The Braves’ offense has been one of the most potent in the game; they were first in home runs, second in runs scored, and fifth in OPS+. The Reds’ pitching, meanwhile, boasts baseball’s best strikeout rate and third-best ERA+. And while their whole rotation is strong, Bauer, of course, has been their best starter. It should be a treat to watch him go up against Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, Ronald Acuña Jr., et al. For some perspective? Atlanta’s averaging 5.8 runs per game. Bauer’s averaging 5.1 hits per game. One of them will have to give.
Feel Free to Change the Channel If…: The Braves jump out to an early lead and the Reds aren’t threatening much.
Game 2: Houston Astros (6) at Minnesota Twins (3), 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2. (Houston leads series, 1-0.)
The Pitching Match-Up: TBA vs. José Berríos. Dusty Baker’s decision to use Framber Valdéz in long relief on Tuesday took him out of contention to start on Wednesday. It worked splendidly. (Valdéz, who was the team’s best pitcher in the regular season, became the first reliever to throw five scoreless innings in a postseason game since Madison Bumgarner in 2014.) But it obviously has ramifications for their potential rotation for the rest of the week, and after Game 1, Baker declined to name a starter for Game 2. His choice is José Urquidy or Lance McCullers Jr., and given that the latter would be starting on short rest, it seems likely that it’ll be Urquidy, probably with long relief available from Cristian Javier.
One Thing to Watch Out for: How many times the broadcast mentions that the Twins have lost 17 consecutive playoff games. (Now a record not just for MLB but for all of North American major professional sports!)
Feel Free to Change the Channel If…: Berríos can be a lot of fun to watch at his best (his curve can be positively otherworldly), but he can also be inconsistent. If he’s not on, and the offense isn’t slugging, you might want to check in elsewhere.
Game 3: Miami Marlins (6) at Chicago Cubs (3), 2 p.m. ET, ABC
The Pitching Match-Up: Sandy Alcantara vs. Kyle Hendricks. This could be a fun one, too: Hendricks is having his best season since his breakout 2016, with a killer changeup, and Alcantara has found success this year by relying more on his sinker.
One Thing to Watch Out for: Offense has not been a particularly strong point for either of these teams this season, which is what tends to happen when Kris Bryant and Javier Báez are having serious slumps and when, uh, one of baseball’s weakest projected lineups needs an emergency makeover after getting struck by illness. (For the record, the former ended up being worse than the latter, with a 90 OPS+ for Chicago versus 92 for Miami.) The bullpens aren’t great, either, though the Cubs fare better there than the Marlins. So what is a playoff-quality sight worth watching for here? The Marlins’ speed. They were second in baseball with stolen bases; Jon Berti, Lewis Brinson, Starling Marte and Magneuris Sierra all sit in the 90th percentile or above for sprint speed. They just have to, you know, get on base.
Feel Free to Change the Channel If…: It’s far into either ‘pen.
Game 4: Chicago White Sox (7) at Oakland Athletics (2), 3 p.m. ET, ESPN (Chicago leads series, 1-0.)
The Pitching Match-Up: Dallas Keuchel vs. Chris Bassitt. As far as the White Sox’ rotation goes, Lucas Giolito (who took a perfect game into the seventh inning on Tuesday) has rightfully gotten most of the attention this season, but Keuchel has been sneaky good, too. He’s fully rebounded from his middling performance last year: 1.99 ERA (224 ERA+), with his lowest walk rate since 2015. For Oakland, meanwhile, Bassitt has also had a solid season and was named AL pitcher of the month in September.
One Thing to Watch Out for: Oakland’s bullpen has been one of the better relief corps in baseball. Their 2.72 ERA in the regular season was the lowest in the game, as was their left-on-base percentage of 82% and batting average of .205. But they had to use four relief arms on Tuesday (JB Wendelken, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria and Jake Diekman), which might slightly complicate their choices for a do-or-die game in which they can’t afford to stall on a call to the ‘pen when needed.
Feel Free to Change the Channel If…: This, frankly, should be one of the most fun matchups! It’s a bit of a shame that it comes right in the middle of this loaded afternoon. If you’re looking for a default option to put on and switch off just for exciting situations as needed, Chicago-Oakland is a solid choice for that.
Game 5: Toronto Blue Jays (8) at Tampa Bay Rays (1), 4 p.m. ET, TBS (Tampa Bay leads series, 1-0.)
The Pitching Match-Up: Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. Tyler Glasnow. The Jays had the most surprising choice of starter on Tuesday, with the decision to get a few innings from Matt Shoemaker, which means that they’ll have their best starter, Ryu, on the mound for this do-or-die contest.
One Thing to Watch Out for: Ryu’s a lefty, and while his handedness splits aren’t huge, they’re certainly present: .250 OBP against left-handed hitters versus .293 against right-handers. So it’s worth registering that Tampa Bay’s righty-heavy lineup can mash lefties. They’re exactly league-average against righties (100 OPS+) and significantly better against lefties (112). Will this be a major factor? Most likely not. But it should be a factor.
Feel Free to Change the Channel If…: You’re not getting the fun spots from either team: Willy Adames on defense for the Rays or Alejandro Kirk at the plate for the Jays.
Game 6: St. Louis Cardinals (5) at San Diego Padres (4), 5 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Pitching Match-Up: Kwang Hyun Kim vs. Chris Paddack. You might notice that this isn’t the Game 1 starter that anyone had expected to see from San Diego. But Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet both suffered injuries last week that put their postseason chances in jeopardy, which leaves the Padres with Paddack.
One Thing to Watch Out for: Due to the week it spent sidelined by the coronavirus, St. Louis has played 10 doubleheaders in the last 45 days (and still didn’t manage to get through a full schedule). That adds up to a pretty exhausted team—and it doesn’t help that this playoff format favors clubs with sturdy rotations, of which they are currently not one, especially not with the recent news that Dakota Hudson would miss the postseason to undergo Tommy John surgery. Does that make a win here impossible? Definitely not. But the odds are against them more than you might think from a No. 4-vs-No. 5 matchup. (Which, in and of itself, is a somewhat misleading quirk of the seeding mechanism here: San Diego finished with the second-best record in the NL!)
Feel Free to Change the Channel If…: The Cardinals look wiped and you’re not getting any fun antics from Fernando Tatis Jr.
Game 7: New York Yankees (5) at Cleveland Indians (4), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN (New York leads series, 1-0.)
The Pitching Match-Up: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Carlos Carrasco. While Tuesday’s game in Cleveland did not live up to expectations as a pitching duel (by a long shot), there’s another opportunity to deliver one from Tanaka and Carrasco.
One Thing to Watch Out for: How much might this Yankees lineup change from Tuesday? Game 1 featured Brett Gardner over Clint Frazier and Kyle Higashioka over Gary Sánchez; both of those choices could be different for Game 2. And while Cleveland will need a strong performance from Carrasco, it’s worth noting that the blowout on Tuesday allowed it to save the most important members of its bullpen, Brad Hand, James Karinchak, Nick Wittgren and Cal Quantrill, as well as Triston McKenzie—which should give it some flexibility in trying to guarantee two games in a row.
Feel Free to Change the Channel If…: Well, now that we’re into the (largely) one-game-at-a-time portion of the day, there should be less impulse for channel-changing. But we’ll offer a reason anyway. This Cleveland offense is, er, less than formidable (86 OPS+), and if it’s not clicking, feel free to move on.
Game 8: Milwaukee Brewers (8) at Los Angeles Dodgers (1), 10 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Pitching Match-Up: Brent Suter vs. Walker Buehler. The Brewers would have liked to have Corbin Burnes for Game 1, but their top starter is out with an oblique strain, which has left them with swingman Suter. (Expect a lot of bullpen action behind him.) The Dodgers, meanwhile, will have a careful eye on Buehler: He had a chance to make only one start after coming off the injured list with a blister this month, and in that one start, his pitch mix looked significantly different than normal, with much less of his slider and cutter.
One Thing to Watch Out for: On paper, this should be a snooze. The Dodgers are incredible; they were the best team in baseball, again, by a wide margin, again, with a remarkably deep roster that allows them the flexibility to rise to any occasion. Meanwhile, the Brewers are not just one of the first teams ever to make the playoffs with a losing record, but they’re also a team that did not have a winning record at any point this season for more than a day. This should be so lopsided! And yet… it’s three games (at most). This could be anything! How can you not watch?
Feel Free to Change the Channel If…: You need to get some sleep. Because, don’t forget, depending on how everything shakes out… there could be eight games on Thursday, too.