April 14, 2024

It’s a two-game Thursday in the league championship series as the 2023 MLB playoffs roll on.

Will the Houston Astros even the ALCS after a big Game 3 win in Arlington? Can the Arizona Diamondbacks find some home cooking against the Philadelphia Phillies after a rough start to the NLCS in Philadelphia?

ESPN MLB experts Alden Gonzalez, Buster Olney, Jeff Passan, Jesse Rogers and David Schoenfield break down where both series stand going into Thursday’s games, and we’ll have all the action covered with live updates and takeaways from Texas and Arizona as the games play out.

Key links: Full playoffs schedule and results

Philadelphia Phillies at Arizona Diamondbacks

Game 3: 5:07 p.m. ET (Ranger Suarez vs Brandon Pfaadt)

Phillies lead series 2-0

Are the Phillies as unstoppable as they’ve looked in the first two games?

Schoenfield: Given the importance of home runs this postseason (teams that out-homer their opponents are 17-3), I asked Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo if his team will have to find a way to out-homer the Phillies to have a chance in the series. His response: “Obviously with you making that statement, I will definitely agree with you. It’s like having a team full of 3-pointers against somebody that only shoots 2s.” Right now, the Phillies have all the 3-point shooters. Unless the Diamondbacks suddenly sign Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, this series looks over.

Rogers: The short answer is yes — but remember the Phillies have lost one of their two road games this postseason. Getting them away from Citizens Bank Park is Arizona’s best chance, but even that providing enough of a boost might be wishful thinking considering how the Phillies are playing right now. Let’s face it, the Diamondbacks will be more than happy with their season even if they lose in the NLCS. Bottom line, it’ll be a victory in itself for the D-backs if the series returns to Philadelphia.

Passan: Well, they are playing about as close to immaculate baseball as exists. Their offense wallops home runs. Their starters strike out hitters and limit walks. Their relievers throw gas and pump strikes. Their defense operates cleanly and efficiently. Seriously, it’s hard to find a flaw with the Phillies right now, and they’ve been playing that brand of baseball since the postseason began. But unstoppable? This is baseball. There is no such thing as unstoppable. Brandon Pfaadt could shut down Philadelphia in Game 3 or Ranger Suarez could implode, and suddenly the Phillies’ vibes would feel plenty different.

How much will getting out of Philadelphia, and home to Chase Field, help the D-backs?

Schoenfield: Well, I have a feeling there may be a lot of red at Chase Field — and I mean with a maroon tint. The “get-in” price before the Phillies won the first two games was $115 and that has now dropped to $15. Any transplant from the greater Philadelphia area can now pick up tickets on the cheap. According to TickPick, the “get-in” price for Philly was $467, so we may even see some Phillies fans taking a little three-day vacation to soak in some sun in the desert. Oh: And Bryce Harper is hot. Kyle Schwarber is hot. Nick Castellanos is hot. Trea Turner is hot. Game 3 starter Ranger Suarez is hot.

Rogers: Let’s put it this way, if Game 3 starter Brandon Pfaadt had to pitch in Philadelphia, it would likely go even worse than what we saw happen to Arizona pitchers in the first two games. He has a fighting chance at home — especially if he can get past the first inning, when the Phillies love to jump on the opposing starter. Without a true stat to prove it — other than their home record — there’s little doubt the Philly crowd is having an impact. Every fan base could learn something: There is such a thing as a 10th man in baseball.

Passan: That’s like asking how getting out of jail will help the man who yearns for freedom. For the past two games, the Diamondbacks have been playing in the loudest, most hostile, unrelenting, unforgiving stadium in baseball — a shop of horrors for visiting teams, particularly in the postseason. Chase isn’t Citizens Bank Park West, by any means, but at least every run the Phillies score won’t be followed with some ear-splitting cheering. It’s incumbent on Phoenix-area fans to give their team at least a sliver of the advantage Philadelphia fans do theirs.

Houston Astros at Texas Rangers

Game 4: 8:03 p.m. ET (Jose Urquidy vs. Andrew Heaney)

Rangers lead series 2-1

Now that the Astros have won a game in Arlington, how likely is this series to go the distance?

Gonzalez: I don’t know if it’ll go the distance, but it lines up with my overarching thought going into Game 3: that this series is far from over. Losing the first two home games in a best-of-seven series is usually a death sentence, especially in this stage. But these Astros exist in their own stratosphere. They’re in the ALCS for the seventh straight season. And for some inexplicable reason, they were far better on the road this season (51-30) than they were at home (39-42). They’re especially comfortable at Globe Life Field, where many of their hitters say they see pitches particularly well. One can easily see them taking at least two of three to send this back to Houston. And that’s where it’d get interesting.

Olney: I don’t think it’ll go that far. One team or the other will seize momentum in Game 4 — if the Astros win, they’ll run the table. If the Rangers win Game 4, I think they’ll finish it off here in Arlington. The pitching depth of both teams is going to be challenged, and in particular, so much is going to fall on the shoulders of Rangers lefty Andrew Heaney, who has made only one appearance this month. They need him to be the stopper who attempts to slow the Houston hitters after they beat up Max Scherzer and the relievers who followed in Game 3.

Passan: The Rangers still own home-field advantage. They still can finish off the ALCS at Globe Life Field. They still have a No. 8 hitter (Josh Jung) who can homer off the most unhittable postseason pitcher we’ve ever seen and a No. 9 hitter (Leody Taveras) who got on base six of his first seven times this series and stole a homer from Yordan Alvarez in Game 3. And they still have Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi scheduled to start Games 5 and 6, a back end of the bullpen that got rested up the past two days and a lineup that has been the best in the American League this postseason. Only fools count out the Astros, but the advantages remain with the Rangers, and the odds still say this series is more likely to end in five or six than seven.

How should the Rangers approach facing the red-hot Yordan Alvarez for the rest of this series?

Gonzalez: Clearly, there is no real answer here. If there was, I trust Bruce Bochy and all of the coaches and analysts around him to find it before we do. But it’s interesting to see that, while putting up incredibly gaudy numbers throughout these playoffs, Alvarez is also chasing at a 37% rate, nine percentage points higher than the major league average during the regular season and more than 10 percentage points higher than his own mark. It’s a relatively small sample size, of course. But there might be something to him trying to force action with other Astros hitters struggling behind him. So there you go — make him chase. But you best not miss.

Olney: Alvarez is the best hitter on earth, on the moon, in another galaxy, wherever he happens to be swinging a bat. After the damage he did in Game 3, you have to believe a sleepless Bruce Bochy is going to think about giving him the Barry Bonds treatment for the rest of this series, especially with Jose Abreu and Kyle Tucker aligned behind him. At this point, the question of whether you pitch to Alvarez or not is like choosing between risking a home run allowed for the possibility of an out. Your best chance of retiring seems to be installing three Leody Taverases at the fence and hoping for a robbery.

Passan: Thankfully, Buster, a cloning machine to triple Leody Taveras doesn’t exist, because the Astros would use it to nonuple Yordan Alvarez and just pummel opponents into oblivion. For now, one is plenty for Bruce Bochy to handle. And if anyone managing today knows something about intentionally walking left-handed sluggers, it’s Bochy, who saw opponents do it to Barry Bonds 43 times in 2007. Alvarez does have a history of falling into funks in alternating postseason series, but his efforts in Games 2 and 3 suggest that is ending here — and if a leverage situation comes up (and Jordan Montgomery isn’t on the mound fooling Alvarez with Death Balls), Bochy shouldn’t be afraid to call for the autowalk and take his chances with someone who isn’t one of the best hitters alive.

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