The 2019 American League Championship Series has been a tale of two contests.
In Game 1, the New York Yankees lived up to their Bronx Bombers moniker and belted three home runs en route to their 7-0 statement victory over the Houston Astros. In Game 2, it was a test of wills and bullpen depth, as the two teams needed extra frames to decide the Astros' 3-2 nail-biter secured by Carlos Correa's walk-off shot in the bottom of the 11th.
With the series shifting to the Empire State for Tuesday's Game 3, we're breaking out the crystal ball to help make multiple bold predictions, including the final tally.
Luis Severino Goes Six Innings
The 2019 campaign was nearly one to forget for Luis Severino. An inflamed rotator cuff and subsequent lat strain delayed his debut all the way until mid-September.
New York's prized pitcher made three starts down the stretch, only allowing two runs but also never pitching past the fifth frame. His fourth start came in the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins, whom he limited to four hits and no runs but exited after the fourth inning.
The Yankees' leash appears predictably (and understandably) short, but he did throw a season-high 83 pitches his last time out. While rust could be a concern whenever there's a layoff this lengthy, it's possible that not having a year's worth of wear and tear on his arm could be a positive.
"I feel strong," Severino told reporters. "Sometimes I feel too strong and let the ball go too hard, but I'm on the right track and am looking forward to keeping it going."
The 25-year-old has already appeared sharper than he has in past postseasons. His ALDS outing was only his second scoreless playoff outing (seven starts), and his postseason ERA is still an unsightly 5.33.
But with his pitch count climbing, his confidence growing and his arm potentially being as fresh as ever, plenty of signs are pointing up for the rising star. When he's on his game, he's as good as anyone.
Severino will need to be efficient to earn a longer leash, but we're forecasting six scoreless frames with fewer than five hits and at least seven strikeouts.
Gerrit Cole Joins Bob Gibson in the Record Books
Anyone remember the Astros' 9-8 loss to the Texas Rangers on July 12? Texas scored five runs between the seventh and ninth innings to wiggle out of a four-run hole and escape with the victory.
So, why are we bringing up that game now? Because it's the last time that Gerrit Cole took the mound, and Houston didn't win. That's more than three months if you hadn't done the math, and if you want to back to his last recorded loss, it's almost five months (May 22).
This isn't a good run, folks; it might be baseball's equivalent of a sub two-hour marathon.
"He's got every pitch in every quadrant of the zone," Alex Bregman told reporters. "He's just special. ... He came over here and said I need to learn to strike people out. And I think he's done a pretty good job of that."
That might be the understatement of the season. Cole has double-digit strikeouts in each of his last 11 starts. In Game 2 of the ALDS, he had 15 strikeouts over 7.2 scoreless innings. Only Bob Gibson (17) and Kevin Brown (16) have ever punched out more batters in a playoff game, per MLB Stats.
Maybe this is too ambitious, but we're boldly predicting Cole matches Gibby with 17 strikeouts in Game 3. That should fall under the realm of absurdity, but given the 29-year-old's sorcery over the past several months, it somehow seems reasonable.
The Astros Seize Control
With the series knotted at one win apiece, Game 3 offers both clubs a chance to gain a critical advantage in this now-best-of-five series.
The two starters embrace the stakes and sizzle in a way that makes you forget the Yankees and Astros were first and third, respectively, in scoring this season.
But New York doesn't get as much length from Severino as Cole gives Houston, and even with the day of rest, the Yanks feel the burn from getting just 2.1 innings out of James Paxton in Game 3.
The potential hitting heroes for Houston are too numerous to mention, but how can we not go with Bregman answering the call? He was the Astros' regular-season leader in homers (41), runs (122) and RBI (112), and his hot bat has stayed with him into October.
Roberto Osuna is the only reliever needed behind Cole, and he delivers a clean ninth to give Houston a tidy, efficient and thankfully speedy Game 3 win.
Final Score: Astros 2, Yankees 0