Due to the brevity of the MLB playoffs, particular plays or individual performances can influence an entire series. From each Division Series matchup of Friday's quadruple-header, there are big takeaways that could affect upcoming games.
The aim of this article is to find deeper meaning in the latest on-field occurrences and use them to project how this round of the postseason will play out in the American and National Leagues.
In the first game of the day, the Pittsburgh Pirates struck back with a 7-1 blowout to even their series with the St. Louis Cardinals on the road. Rookie Gerrit Cole had a great outing, and Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte each provided home runs.
Then, the Boston Red Sox thoroughly demolished the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park, taking the series opener by a final score of 12-2. Every Red Sox position player contributed at least one hit and one run scored, which was more than enough support for rotation leader Jon Lester.
The nail-biting 4-3 victory for the Atlanta Braves over the Los Angeles Dodgers evened their NLDS at one win apiece. It featured late-inning scoring from both sides, and ultimately, a dramatic save for superstar closer Craig Kimbrel.
Out West, the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics clashed in the only legitimate duel between staff aces: Max Scherzer vs. Bartolo Colon. Sixteen A's batters whiffed, as Detroit triumphed at the O.co Coliseum, 3-2.
Gerrit Cole has gradually improved since debuting for the Pirates in June.
Final Score: Pittsburgh Pirates 7, St. Louis Cardinals 1
Gerrit Cole is Special
We often see rookie pitchers deteriorate as the year progresses. That's why many are shut down, relegated to a bullpen role or removed from the active roster as the summer expires.
Cole, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, is clearly an exception.
Coming off an undefeated month of September, the powerful right-hander tamed the National League's toughest offense on Friday afternoon. Cole went six strong innings against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing only three baserunners while striking out five.
It wouldn't be at all surprisingly if skipper Clint Hurdle trusted the 23-year-old with the starting assignment in Game 5 (should the series require it).
Carlos Beltran Can't Be Silenced
As HardballTalk's Aaron Gleeman and countless others pointed out after Game 1, the veteran switch-hitter has insane career numbers in the postseason.
The most impressive aspect of Beltran's career performance in October is his slugging ability. Including a first-inning double in this contest, he now has 26 extra-base hits in 36 MLB playoffs games.
All indications are that Beltran will continue making an enormous offensive impact for the remainder of this NLDS.
Cards Hitless with RISP
St. Louis collectively batted .330 with runners in scoring position during the regular season, but the Cards went hitless in five such situations during Game 2.
There's no doubt that the lineup misses Allen Craig, who finished 2013 with a team-high 97 runs batted in. Unfortunately, a nagging foot injury will sideline him for this series, if not the entire postseason.
The Cardinals can still rely on production from Beltran and Yadier Molina (who homered for their only run), but failing to cash in when given golden opportunities leaves them at risk of being upset by the Bucs.
Jon Lester bullied a deep Rays lineup.
Final Score: Tampa Bay Rays 2, Boston Red Sox 12
Jon Lester Bringing the Heat
Boston's steady veteran attacked every quadrant of the strike zone, but he also had enough velocity to get away with mistakes down the middle. Besides the solo home runs surrendered to Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist, the lefty allowed only one other hit.
Lester set a new career high with 213.1 innings pitched this summer, yet he can still reach for mid-90s fastballs to escape jams. That suggests there's enough fuel in his tank for a few more quality starts this October.
Jacoby Ellsbury Uses His Wheels
The dynamic leadoff man missed most of September with a compression fracture in his foot. What frightening news for someone whose value hinges on baserunning and fielding.
However, Red Sox Nation can breathe a sigh of relief after Ellsbury's performance on Friday.
He recorded two hits, stole a base with ease and scored from second on a single. Prior to that, the 30-year-old had completed only one game in the previous four weeks.
Baseball's deepest lineup becomes even more potent when Ellsbury can run at full speed (or close to it).
Defensive Issues for Rays Corner Outfielders
Wil Myers abruptly peeled away from a deep fly ball in the fourth inning despite being the only player in position to make the catch. It's easy to forget that he's merely a major league rookie.
Across the field, Sean Rodriguez misplayed several hits in his direction, including this double off the Green Monster. You can tell that the utility man only started 10 career games in the outfield prior to this season.
Their rawness won't be so evident at Tropicana Field, but after dropping Game 1, the Rays need a win at Fenway Park to advance past this series. That's not going to happen unless Myers and Rodriguez do even more at the plate to compensate for their defense.
*Highlights courtesy of MLB.com.
Final Score: Los Angeles Dodgers 3, Atlanta Braves 4
Hanley Ramirez Looks Like His Old Self
Ramirez literally limped into the playoffs with an irritated nerve in his back.
He failed to record an extra-base hit in any of his final four starts of the regular season. That was troubling considering how much the Dodgers had relied on him to solidify the heart of their lineup (NL-best 1.040 OPS among those with 300 PA).
Fortunately for L.A., his outstanding offensive impact on Friday night—Ramirez drove in three runs and single-handedly kept the game competitive—erased all concerns.
Andrelton Simmons is Worth the WAR
MLB fans can agree that the 24-year-old is an excellent defensive shortstop. Then there's a sabermetric subgroup that insists he's among the best in the history of the sport.
Rather than getting into that debate, let's just hold hands and appreciate what Simmons accomplished in Game 2.
He was a central figure in all three double plays turned by the Braves, most notably this beautiful 1-6-3 in the seventh inning. The combination of a quick release and great arm strength helped him nab the speedy Carl Crawford by a split-second in a situation where Atlanta's lead was being threatened.
Hanley can only take up one spot in the Dodgers lineup. Although Simmons won't make plays on his booming line drives to the warning track, he sure does irritate every other batter on the opposition.
We Need More Instant Replay
Dee Gordon's sole purpose on the Dodgers roster is to pinch-run, and manager Don Mattingly utilized him perfectly.
Inserted for A.J. Ellis in the ninth inning and representing the tying run, the speedster moved himself into scoring position by stealing second base. Umpire Bill Miller, however, had an obstructed view of the tag and called him out.
Naturally, Gordon was upset (h/t Chad Moriyama).
Again, we can pat Simmons on the back for selling the tag, but this is an injustice that could've been easily overturned if the officials had access to the television cameras. With the play occurring at such an important phase of the game, it reignited the conversation about how baseball is modernizing at a glacial pace.
*Highlights courtesy of MLB.com.
Final Score: Detroit Tigers 3, Oakland Athletics 2
Max Scherzer Makes In-Game Adjustments
Through live interviews and social media, Scherzer seems like an intelligent guy. Of course, that would all be for naught if he didn't apply it to his pitching.
On Friday, however, the American League Cy Young Award candidate schooled Oakland with spontaneity.
Scherzer noticed early on that he had a sharp changeup. Therefore, he made it account for 39 percent of his two-strike pitches, according to Brooks Baseball, compared to his usual rate of 21.2 percent.
If the A's are lucky enough to drag this series out for five games, prompting Scherzer to make another start, he'll likely find a completely different way to beat them. That's what makes him such a nightmare matchup.
Miguel Cabrera is Still Hurting
Miggy came out for a defensive replacement in the bottom of the eighth inning, and it's painful just to watch him run.
His lingering abdominal strain impairs him in all facets of the game. A .333 September slugging percentage showed that Cabrera wasn't driving the ball effectively. Despite a run-scoring single in Game 1, he didn't seem any closer to returning to MVP form.
The Tigers had their best pitcher on the mound and barely eked out a win. How can they expect to bury the A's if their lineup's engine remains in such a compromised state?