MLB Playoff Picture 2021: Keys for Dodgers, Astros to Overcome Series Deficits

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2021

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve reacts during the eighth inning in Game 3 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

If you asked them to be honest, most people would admit they didn't even know if the Boston Red Sox would make the playoffs this year, let alone be up 2-1 on the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series. 

The Astros won their division handily, going 95-67 to earn home-field advantage in the ALCS. The Red Sox, meanwhile, tied the New York Yankees 92-70 and had to get through the Wild Card Game to find themselves in their current position. 

And what position is that? How about taking Game 3 of the ALCS 12-3 behind four homers, in the process becoming the first team to hit three grand slams in a single postseason series, as MLB researcher Andrew Simon pointed out. 

Andrew Simon @AndrewSimonMLB

The Red Sox are the first team to hit 3 grand slams in a single postseason series. Only the 1998 Braves had hit 3 grand slams in an *entire postseason*.

Meanwhile, the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves is even less evenly matched, with the Braves being up 2-0 before the two teams prepare to play Game 3 Tuesday night, heading back to Dodger Stadium. 

But the Dodgers dug themselves out of a 3-1 hole in the NLCS last year against the Braves, becoming the 14th team in postseason history to come back from a deficit that large. So it's certainly not time to start counting them out yet. 

Let's take a look at what the Astros and Dodgers need to do to get back on track in the ALCS and NLCS, respectively. 


ALCS Remaining Schedule

Game 4 (Fenway Park): Tuesday, Oct. 19, 8:08 p.m. ET (FS1)

Game 5 (Fenway Park): Wednesday, Oct. 20, 5:08 p.m. (FS1)

Game 6* (Minute Maid Park): Friday, Oct. 22, 8:08 p.m. (FS1)

Game 7* (Minute Maid Park): Saturday, Oct. 23, 8:08 p.m. (Fox or FS1)

*If necessary.



Red Sox -190 (bet $190 to win $100)

Astros +160 (bet $100 to win $160)

Odds via DraftKings


Having gone up two games to one, the Red Sox have unsurprisingly become the Vegas favorite despite entering this series as 'dogs. 

And it's not hard to understand why. The Sox got hot at exactly the right time this year and have been lousy with home runs so far this postseason. In fact, Boston on Monday tied its club record for most home runs in a single postseason, with 20, and is sure to set a new high-water mark that may not again be reached for some time. 

Jason Mastrodonato @JMastrodonato

Red Sox have tied their club record for most home runs in a single postseason with 20. Also hit 20 in 2003.

The Astros have only been able to watch in horror as Boston has piled up runs and grand slams, the latter coming off J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers and Kyle Schwarber. As a team, the Red Sox put up three grand slams in the entire 2021 regular season. 

So how does Houston defend this?

For one, the Astros have to figure out a way to defuse Kiké Hernández's deadly swing. Hernandez has five homers this postseason and has struck out just four times.

Dusty Baker also needs more from his pitching staff. The Astros starters have covered five-and-a-half innings in three games so far in the ALCS, but none have remained in the game past the third inning.  

On Monday, Brooks Raley retired five of the six batters he faced. When Baker pulled him in favor of Phil Maton, the latter was the victim of a two-out, two-run J.D. Martinez homer to give the Sox an 11-3 lead. 

With ace Lance McCullers Jr. off the roster for this series, Game 2 starter Luis Garcia out with a knee injury and scheduled Game 4 starter Jake Odorizzi on short rest, there's no ideal situation for Baker heading into Game 4. A bullpen game is a tall order for an opponent that can seemingly materialize home runs at will. 

Zack Greinke wasn't meant to start any of the ALCS games, but the desperate Astros may need to change that plan. At the least, he could be called upon to play a critical role in a bullpen game scenario. 


NLCS Remaining Schedule

Game 3 (Dodger Stadium): Tuesday, Oct. 19, 5:08 p.m. ET (TBS)

Game 4 (Dodger Stadium): Wednesday, Oct. 20, 8:08 p.m. (TBS) 

Game 5* (Dodger Stadium): Thursday, Oct. 21, 8:08 p.m. (TBS)

Game 6* (Truist Park): Saturday, Oct. 23, 5:08 p.m. (TBS)

Game 7* (Truist Park): Sunday, Oct. 24, 7:38 p.m. (TBS)

*If necessary.



Braves -190

Braves +185

Odds via DraftKings


Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Vegas has also flipped on the NLCS favorite, now favoring the Braves. 

But Los Angeles, which went an astounding 58-23 at home in the regular season, finally heads back to Dodger Stadium for the first time this series. 

Earvin Magic Johnson @MagicJohnson

I'm truly excited about the @Dodgers coming home! Dodger Nation, we did an incredible job last series against the Giants but we have to be even LOUDER against the Braves at Dodger Stadium tomorrow!

The Braves needed walk-off hits to win both Games 1 and 2 of the series so far, becoming only the second ever to do so in a league championship series. At 3-2 and 5-4, the Braves haven't been shellacking the Dodgers the way the Red Sox have their American League counterparts. 

Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven went have gone on to win that series 84 percent of the time. But the Dodgers have been here before, with nearly the same roster. They know they can do this because they have done it. 

Cy Young candidate Walker Buehler is up for the Dodgers in Game 3, and the timing couldn't be better. He's coming off extra rest and boasts a 2.50 ERA in 13 career postseason starts.

The Dodgers also need to be careful with their relievers, as Games 3 through 5 will take place over three consecutive days. 

But leave it to Mookie Betts to put it plainly. Baseball analytics are complicated, but sometimes, knowing what you need to do to win is incredibly simple. 

"We got to hit, man," Betts said, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "That's all it really is. Going to be hard to win playoff games scoring three or four runs."


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