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MLB Playoffs 2019: Updated Championship Series, Bracket, Schedule, Predictions

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 17, 2019

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 15: Carlos Correa #1 of the Houston Astros pops out during the first inning against the New York Yankees in game three of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 15, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals made short work of the St. Louis Cardinals to secure their first-ever World Series berth.

Now, the Nats need an opponent.

The Houston Astros hold a 2-1 advantage over the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, which had an unexpected day off Wednesday due to heavy rain. The series resumes Thursday and now features a mad dash to the finish line.

                      

Updated Championship Series Bracket, Schedule

National League

Nationals defeat Cardinals 4-0

Game 1: Nationals 2, Cardinals 0

Game 2: Nationals 3, Cardinals 1

Game 3: Nationals 8, Cardinals 1

Game 4: Nationals 7, Cardinals 4

                     

American League

Astros Lead Yankees 2-1

Game 1: Yankees 7, Astros 0

Game 2: Astros 3, Yankees 2 (11)

Game 3: Astros 4, Yankees 1

Game 4: Thursday, Oct. 17⁠—Astros at Yankees, 8:08 p.m. ET

Game 5: Friday, Oct. 18⁠—Astros at Yankees, 7:08 p.m. ET

Game 6: Saturday, Oct. 19⁠—Yankees at Astros, 8:08 p.m. ET (if necessary)

Game 7: Sunday, Oct. 20⁠—Yankees as Astros, 7:38 p.m. ET (if necessary)

                    

ALCS Predictions

Yankees Even Things Up in Game 4

Starting pitching is key in every series, but it winds up front and center when names like Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Zack Greinke and James Paxton are involved.

But the proverbial ace up the sleeve might not come from that quintet. Rather, it's Yankees' Game 4 starter Masahiro Tanaka and his absurd 1.32 career postseason ERA that arguably strikes the most fear in opposing batters.

The 30-year-old may not have the flashiest stuff or the biggest name, but time and again he has proved himself under the brightest of lights.

"I think he does a good job clearly of not necessarily making more of the moment, but really I think the guys that can lock in and are in command of their body and their mechanics have a chance to be better when the stakes are high," Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters. "And he's very good at that."

Tanaka has thrown 11 frames this postseason, including six against the Astros in the ALCS opener. He has surrendered just four hits, two walks and one run while punching out 11.

His opponent in Game 4, Zack Greinke, has a far less flattering playoff narrative. His career 4.58 playoff ERA is more than a run higher than his regular-season mark of 3.35. It's been even worse this year, as he's allowed nine earned runs across 9.2 innings over two starts.

While Houston has the momentum after back-to-back wins, Tanaka looks like New York's key to evening up the score.

                 

Astros Take Series in 6

There is hardly any separation between these squads.

The Astros led all of Major League Baseball with 107 wins and a plus-280 run differential. The Yankees were third overall and second in the AL in both categories at 103 and plus-204, respectively.

New York can do anything Houston can do, but the Astros do most things a tiny bit better.

Playoff Tanaka aside, the Yankees don't have a starter on the level of Cole or Verlander. Both offenses can mash, but Houston arguably has the top two hitters in MVP candidate Alex Bregman and former MVP winner Jose Altuve. New York has an advantage in bullpen depth, but even then, Houston gets a ton of length from its starters and has reliable options like Roberto Osuna, Will Harris and Joe Smith behind them.

Giancarlo Stanton's perpetual injury problems aren't helping the Yankees. Neither are the untimely slumps of Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner. Severino, who couldn't pitch until September due to injuries, hasn't thrown more than five innings in any start. Paxton hasn't gone a full five in either of his postseason starts.

The Yankees have enough talent to overcome certain issues, but maybe not in a series like this. Not when they're already facing a (slight) disadvantage in that department against an Astros team seeking its third World Series title in three years.

Houston already has two wins in the book. That could mean it's merely one start each from Verlander and Cole away from making the Fall Classic. If Cole goes on short rest in Game 6, our crystal ball says that's when the series stops.

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