Two Game 163s. Isn’t this free baseball great? It sure is, although not necessarily for the first reasons that come to mind, such as the thrill of sudden-death baseball. With the field already set for the NL playoffs, of course it makes more sense to just seed the teams and send them to their respective division series. MLB doesn’t look at it that way, even though no matter what happens in the tiebreakers Monday, among the Cubs vs. Brewers and Rockies vs. Dodgers, everyone will live to see tomorrow. It’s not win-or-go-home, but it is lose-and-it-gets-pretty-inconvenient.
The league doesn’t want to crown a division champion because it had a better regular-season head-to-head record or because of any other statistically relevant tiebreaker. They prefer to use a… another kind of tiebreaker. The kind that when 162 games aren’t enough, you play one more. So here we are, playing two Game 163s in the same season for the first time ever. It might not be the best possible method in terms of logic, fairness and the players—but aren’t they here for our amusement anyway?
Milwaukee Brewers (probably Jhoulys Chacin) at Chicago Cubs (Jose Quintana), 1 p.m. ET on ESPN
First up, it’s the Cubs hosting the Brewers. Unquestionably, the two neatest possibilities on 163 Day come from this game, mostly. For one, Brewers slugger Christian Yelich can still win the NL Triple Crown. He leads with a .323 batting average (13 points ahead of Scooter Gennett), is tied for second with 36 home runs (one shy of the leader, Nolan Arenado) and is tied for second with 109 RBIs, two shy of leader Javier Baez. Yelich might win NL MVP, but he is overdue against the Cubs this season, having gone 10 for 57 with no homers.
The other neat possibility is, the Cubs and Brewers could see each other again in the Division Series, if the loser of Game 163 wins the Wild Card. There’s still a lot at stake here, tactically; having to play the Wild Card on Tuesday puts much more stress on the loser, while the winner gets Tuesday and Wednesday off, plus home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. How hard does Brewers manager Craig Counsell ride reliever Josh Hader, considering it’s not an elimination game?
Because of the regular-season results (see—they’re good for something!), the venue is Wrigley Field. The Cubs (95-67) went 11-8 against the Brewers this season, including 6-3 at home. The Brewers have taken seven of the past 10. The best news for the Cubs is that left-hander Jose Quintana takes the ball. Quintana. Dios mio, man, for a trip to the NL semis. He was slightly better than average in 31 starts overall, but Quintana against the Brewers really got on a roll, posting a 2.17 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 37 ⅓ innings over six starts—with the Cubs winning five times. The Brewers hit .177/.246/.323 in 142 plate appearances against Quintana, with Yelich going 1 for 11 with three strikeouts. Lorenzo Cain had the most success, going 6 for 15 with a double. Ryan Braun hit two homers in going 3 for 16.
Jhoulys Chacin led the Brewers in innings and finished 15th in ERA in the NL, though he rarely goes deep into games (seven innings four times, at least six innings 10 times). He’s also done well against the Cubs, posting a 1.59 ERA with 27 strikeouts and seven walks in 22 ⅔ innings. Only one home run allowed: to Daniel Murphy on Sept. 5.
The Cubs have the home field (for the moment) but the Brewers have been playing better this month, making up five games in the standings. Milwaukee has the deeper bullpen. Nobody on the Cubs has hit like Yelich. These factors might tip the scale toward the Brewers in a series, but anything can happen in one game—and whichever team wins this game gains big advantages in the case of a rematch in the NLDS. One nagging detail about the Cubs: They seem to make things harder for themselves. If they’re true to form, the Brewers win this game, which would make things a lot tougher for the Cubs in the playoffs.
Colorado Rockies (German Marquez) at Los Angeles Dodgers (Walker Buehler), 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
The NL West remains on the line, even after 162 games, despite the Dodgers going 12-7 vs. the Rockies.
The pitching matchup is so awesome, MLB should put it on a plate and sop it up with a biscuit. German Marquez and Walker Buehler are two of the very best young in Major League Baseball. Marquez hasn’t faced the Dodgers since June 30, but hoo-boy, what a performance that was in a 3-1 win. Pumping 99.9 mph gas in the eighth inning, he struck out Kiké Hernandez to avenge a home run in the sixth that broke up a perfect game.
Marquez comes in 10th in K% in MLB and has allowed a line of .200/ .257/ .332 on the road. He’s a stud, but so is Buehler, who has been positioned to be turned loose after the Dodgers were conservative early with his workload.
The Dodgers didn’t have Manny Machado yet when they faced Marquez in June; Machado hit .274/.339/.490 with 13 homers in 292 plate appearances for L.A. They also didn’t have Justin Turner raking like he is now; he batted .359/ .451/.626 in the second half. The Dodgers have a strong lineup throughout, but Machado and Turner are the deadliest ones.
Expect to see Tony Wolters behind the plate for the Rox; in 22 starts paired with Wolters, Marquez has a 2.99 ERA with 162 strikeouts and 34 walks, with opponents batting .237.
The Rockies bullpen will be rested after Tyler Anderson went 7 2/3 scoreless innings Sunday. The Dodgers have 15 arms in the pen. Will it be enough? Well, the bullpen has been a sore spot at times, even closer Kenley Jansen. Former starter Kenta Maeda has pitched a lot in high-leverage situations, and Alex Wood might be used that way—unless Dave Roberts holds him out for a Wild Card start.
The Rockies collectively slugged .503 at Coors Field but only .370 on the road. In order to give themselves a real chance at going deep in the playoffs, winning this game is a must. Buehler has thrown as many as 105 pitches in a game twice, so, if can combine effectiveness with efficiency again, he can give the Dodgers a couple of days off before they play again. Buehler, giving the Dodgers days off. Get it? Buehler? Buehler?
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