The Astros keep winning, like it or not; don’t taunt Bryce Harper

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The Dodgers have been ousted, the Phillies clapped back, and there will be World Series games played in Texas (whether they’re on the I-30 or I-45 is yet to be determined). I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to the Windup!

Diamondbacks going to NLCS

“Snakebite drags you under

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Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and the Diamondbacks made quick work of the Dodgers. (Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)

In retrospect, the Dodgers’ rotation has really seemed snakebit for months. Last night, the Diamondbacks made it official, chasing Lance Lynn with a postseason-record four home runs in the third inning en route to a 4-2 win to advance to the NLCS.

The storyline was similar in all three games — the Diamondbacks jumping out to an early lead and never looking back. Look at these lines from the Dodgers’ starting pitchers:

  • G1 starter Clayton Kershaw: 6 runs, 1/3 inning
  • G2 starter Bobby Miller: 3 runs, 1 2/3 innings
  • G3 starter Lance Lynn: 4 runs, 2 2/3 innings

In case you have forgotten, here is a list of starting pitchers currently employed by the Dodgers who are on either the injured list or administrative leave: Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin.

That’s not to make excuses for the Dodgers. The super-duo of Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman went a combined 1-for-21 for the series. As a team, they managed just four extra-base hits (and just one home run) in the series. They simply did not play well enough to win. And their swift exit means once again, Kershaw is left to contemplate his future.

And let’s be honest: the Diamondbacks went out and won another playoff series. Rookie Brandon Pfaadt was perfectly sufficient last night, going 4 1/3 innings and allowing two hits before turning it over to the Arizona bullpen, which has been stellar. And likely NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll is hitting .412 (1.389 OPS) this postseason to lead a team that is looking like a lot of fun.

They’ll get a break now to wait for the winner of the Phillies/Braves series. More on that later.

Ken’s Notebook: The Astros are doing something right

Many fans will never forgive the Astros for the sign-stealing scandal, and I’m not about to suggest they should. But the more the Astros win, the more they distance themselves from their transgressions in 2017 and ’18 and warrant grudging admiration for their continued dominance.

The Astros are headed to their seventh straight American League Championship Series, and yes, the first two were tainted. But this will be the fourth consecutive ALCS appearance since commissioner Rob Manfred penalized them in January 2020 for using electronic means to steal signs illegally — and perhaps not coincidentally, their fourth straight under manager Dusty Baker, who turned 74 in June.

In the wake of the scandal, the league instituted new rules to crack down on such misconduct. The Astros fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and hired James Click and then Dana Brown to run baseball operations. Several key position players from the 2017 and ’18 teams, including Carlos Correa and George Springer, joined other clubs.

Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are the only remaining position players from the 2017 club, Kyle Tucker and Martín Maldonado the only other current players who were members of the ’18 team. Some fans remain suspicious the 2019 club also cheated, but the league did not find sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

However one might view ’19, this is the fourth season since the league’s crackdown, and the Astros remain a superior force. Which brings us to Baker, who took over for A.J. Hinch in the 2020 season that was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, then led the team to an American League title in 2021 and a World Series title in ’22.

The Astros, after looking vulnerable at various points this season, won the AL West for the third straight year. Baker has had differences with Brown, just as he had differences with Click, whom owner Jim Crane fired after winning the Series. But if the Astros win their second straight World Series title, it will be difficult for Crane to move on from Baker. Heck, it might be difficult for him to move on based solely on the team qualifying for baseball’s final four for the fourth straight year.

The all-Texas ALCS is certain to evoke strong emotions in both the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston markets. Rangers fans, like many fans around the country, will continue to boo and taunt the Astros, as is their right. But the bottom line is this: Under stricter rules, the Astros continue to win. Evidently, they’re doing something right.

Phillies one win away

“Thinking I’m not afraid of you now

The Phillies certainly didn’t let the momentum of Game 2’s magnificent and shocking end get to them. Behind a strong performance from Aaron Nola, they came back with a resounding 10-2 win in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the five-game series. If the Braves don’t win tonight, their magical season is over.

We love a good mini-drama here at The Windup. In Jeff Schultz’s column about Brian Snitker’s bullpen usage, this little nugget can be found:

There was fallout after (Orlando) Arcia — hardly a smack talk kind of guy — was overheard in the background of another player being interviewed in the clubhouse following Game 2, saying,  “Atta boy, Harper” — a jab at (Bryce) Harper’s base-running gaffe that led to the game-ending double play. It was meant to be a private joke with teammates. Problem was, it was recorded, heard and chronicled.

Not that Harper has ever needed more motivation to maintain his edge, but after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning that put the Phillies up 4-1, he made sure to let Arcia know he had heard the comment with a stare-down as he rounded second. In the fifth inning, he did it again after a solo home run made it 7-1.

It’s silly and a little childish, and honestly, I love it. Stare-down aside, the two-homer night was just the latest in what is becoming a long line of big postseason moments for Harper.

If this all feels familiar, it should. Last year, the Phillies scored six runs in the third inning of Game 3 at home en route to a 9-1 win, eliminating the Braves the following day. Last night’s third-inning outburst? Of course it was six runs.

The good news for the Braves: They have Spencer Strider lined up to start tonight’s game (preview here), with Max Fried waiting in the wings, should the series make it to Saturday.

Rangers-Astros ALCS will be intense

“Don’t test my patience; you’re always up to no good”

Ken touched on this a bit, but man oh man, it is about to get tense in the Lone Star State. The Rangers and Astros have a long history of chippy interactions, going back the better part of a decade. But in recent years, we have a few notable examples.

Like in 2021, when slugger Adolis García homered, then turned around and said something to Martín Maldonado before rounding the bases. That incident didn’t boil over, but one this July did, and García and Maldonado were again at the center of things. That game got chippy enough that even mild-mannered Marcus Semien got into it, giving a pointed “shhh” signal to Maldonado.

It hasn’t been just the friction between players. The Rangers beat up on the Astros for years when Houston was undergoing a rebuild and Texas was a perennial contender. The Astros have gotten their revenge in recent years — the Rangers didn’t win a single game in Minute Maid Park between Sept. 16, 2020 and May 20, 2022.

We could go on. There was the time when Marwin Gonzalez broke up a Yu Darvish perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning. Remember 2015, when Cole Hamels spurned a trade to the Astros, only to accept one to the Rangers? When Texas roared back to snatch a division win from the Astros later that year? Or when the Astros did the same to the Rangers just a couple of weeks ago?

The Phillies/Braves, as Jayson Stark wrote recently, might be “baseball’s best rivalry.” But by this time next week, the Rangers and Astros might put that title to the test.

Here’s your series preview. Buckle up.

Handshakes and High Fives

Fare thee well to the Twins, who hope to remember the feeling of coming up short to channel it into better results in the future.

Hal Steinbrenner spoke at a conference on Wednesday and said changes were coming for the Yankees. Chris Kirschner and Brendan Kuty investigate what those might be.

It’s always a good read when Tim Britton starts poking around with payroll budgets. He makes the case for a few different options for the Mets in 2024.

Speaking of the Mets, it turns out that Francisco Lindor was playing through an injury. He had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and is expected to be back in time for spring training.

The defining moment in Seiya Suzuki’s 2023 season wasn’t the horrid slump, but how he snapped out of it, says Sahadev Sharma. Sahadev also has insights into what the Cubs are looking for as they aim to replace two coaches.

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(Top photo of Jose Altuve : Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)

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