Major League Baseball’s postseason began Tuesday with the American League Wild Card Series. Those AL series consist of four best-of-three matchups. (The National League side of things will get started on Wednesday.) Every game will be hosted at the higher-seeded team’s home ballpark. There will be no days off during this round, meaning teams won’t be able to strategize with their pitching staff the way they have in the past.
Below, you’ll find updated scores of every game as well as some of the day’s biggest storylines.
Valdez comes up big in Astros’ Game 1 win
Coming into the opener of the Wild Card Series between the Astros and Twins at Target Field, 26-year-old Houston lefty Framber Valdez was in the discussion for starting Game 2. Veteran ace Zack Greinke started the opener, and Lance McCullers Jr. was lined up for a Game 3 start, if necessary. If those were the plans for Valdez, however, then Astros manager Dusty Baker audibled decisively and tabbed Valdez to come in out of the bullpen after Greinke had four somewhat shaky innings of one-run ball.
Valdez justified the decision and then some:
Just two of the 18 batters that Valdez faced managed hard-hit balls off of him, and he didn’t give up a hit until the Twins scratched out back-to-back opposite field singles with one out in the ninth. At that point, Baker showed even more faith in Valdez. With the potential tying run at the plate, closer Ryan Pressly warmed up in the pen, and the right-handed Willians Astudillo slated to pinch hit, Baker stuck with Valdez. One curveball at the bottom of the zone later, Valdez had secured the crucial Game 1 with a game-ending double play.
In his first relief appearance since Aug. 10, Valdez leaned heavily on his sinker and curve, and he obviously got the biggest outs of the Astros’ season to date. Speaking of which, please enjoy the Framber Hammer:
His usage means that Jose Urquidy will likely start Game 2 on Wednesday, and so far the aggressive use of Valdez is looking like a masterstroke on the part of Baker. As a result, the Twins endured their 17th straight postseason loss, and the Astros are one win away from a first-round upset.
Giolito dominates for White Sox
The White Sox won their first playoff game since 2008 with a 4-1 victory over the A’s on Tuesday afternoon. The ChiSox got homers from Jose Abreu and Adam Engel, but their starter stole the headlines. Lucas Giolito, who threw a no-hitter in the regular season, was perfect for the first six innings against Oakland. He lost his perfect game (and no-hitter) in the seventh inning, but finished by allowing just one run on two hits while striking out eight in seven innings. You can read more about his performance here.
No. 5 Yankees vs. No. 4 Cleveland (7:08 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why is Higashioka starting?
Yankees manager Aaron Boone has elected to continue using Higashioka as Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher. Those two were paired together over Cole’s final four starts this season, and the results were quite impressive: in 27 innings, they accumulated a 1.00 ERA and a .147 average against. For reference, Cole had a 3.91 ERA and a .224 average against in six starts with Sanchez behind the dish.
While some of the difference can be attributed to a small sample size, there are two other aspects worth mentioning here. For one, Cole seems more willing to throw breaking balls with Higashioka behind the plate, ramping up the usage of his bendy pitches by about four percentage points relative to his usage with Sanchez back there. For another, Higashioka is the superior framer, giving Cole’s pitches a better chance of being called strikes. It probably doesn’t hurt that Higashioka has outhit Sanchez at the plate this season, either.
Boone can only hope that Higashioka’s defense is a factor on Tuesday. The Yankees will need all the help they can get to scratch out a win against Shane Bieber.