MLB playoffs winners and losers: The return of playoff Clayton Kershaw (sort of), Justin Verlander dazzles and more

For the first time this year, four MLB postseason games were played during a single day. Each year the schedule aligns once, maybe twice, to bring us four games in one October day. Friday was that day for baseball fans. Here's a look at the final scores:

Thanks to those Braves and Nationals wins, we will have another four-game day on Monday. Those will be the two ALDS Game 3s and the two NLDS Game 4s. 

Here are some winners and losers -- one of each from each game -- from Friday's MLB postseason action:

Winner: Stephen Strasburg 

One of the big questions facing the Nationals in their series against the Dodgers was how would Strasburg bounce back on short rest after a 34-pitch relief outing on Tuesday.

The answer: just fine.

Strasburg was perfect entering the fifth inning before Will Smith hit a blooper to center field. Otherwise, he was about as nasty as ever, striking out 10 over six one-run frames and showing high-grade secondaries in addition to mid-90s fastballs. Strasburg generated 20 swinging strikes on 85 pitches, with 15 of those coming on either his changeup or breaking ball.

The Nationals and Dodgers will now traverse to D.C. for Game 3 with an even series. Strasburg, as much as anyone, deserves credit for the National getting this far.  

Loser: Clayton Kershaw

You know, Clayton Kershaw was not that bad in NLDS Game 2. Three runs in six innings is a winnable start, as far as I'm concerned, especially with the Los Angeles offense. It just didn't come together Friday.

Kershaw gets saddled with the loser label here because he lost the game, and turned in yet another subpar postseason performance. He went into NLDS Game 2 with a career 4.32 ERA -- he had a 4.66 ERA in his last eight postseason games -- and the Dodgers are now 3-6 in his last nine October appearances. That's hard to believe.

As a baseball fan, I hope Kershaw one day shakes the postseason choker label because he's a great pitcher and a great person who does tremendous charity work. Guys like that deserve to be rewarded. David Price shed the label last year. Maybe Kershaw will soon? It didn't happen Friday night. I know that much.

Winner: Justin Verlander

The Astros won Game 1 against the Rays in convincing fashion behind Verlander's historic start -- he recorded just the 13th game in postseason history wherein the starter tossed seven-plus shutout innings and allowed one hit or fewer. Verlander also fanned eight and issued just three free passes.

Verlander threw 100 pitches on the game, more than half of those being heaters. He averaged 94.5 mph on his fastball and induced 14 swinging strikes -- with 10 of those coming on his breaking balls. In other words, it was a mostly standard Verlander outing.

The Astros are one of the few teams in baseball with the luxury of having three aces -- No. 1 delivered, and Houston could be on its way to the ALCS if Nos. 2 and 3 do as well. Gerrit Cole will try to make that a reality by doing his part on Saturday night against the Rays.

Loser: Twins bullpen

The Twins bullpen: The Yankees and Twins have a lot in common. They both won 100-plus games, they both won their divisions, they both hit a lot of home runs, and they both have really good bullpens. New York's bullpen was second in baseball with 7.4 WAR this season. The Twins bullpen was right behind them with 7.3 WAR in 91 fewer innings. 

On Friday though, Minnesota's bullpen melted down spectacularly in the ALDS Game 1 loss:

BULLPEN UNITIPHRERBBKHR

Minnesota relievers

4

4

7

7

5

5

2

N.Y. Yankees relievers

4 1/3

3

1

1

4

5

1

Cody Stashak allowed solo homers to LeMahieu and Brett Gardner, and starter-turned-reliever Kyle Gibson was tagged for three runs in the seventh inning to break the game open. Neither Jose Berrios nor James Paxton was good in Game 1. Once each team turned it over to the bullpen, it was advantage Yankees. Minnesota's relief crew really took one on the chin Friday.

Winner: Mike Foltynewicz

Foltynewicz failed in his attempt to replicate his 2018 All-Star effort this year, and he ended the regular season with a 4.54 ERA and a 10-game stint in the minors. Still, he delivered when called upon in Game 2, and spared the Braves from an elimination game on Sunday.

Foltynewicz fired seven shutout innings, scattering three hits and no walks while registering seven strikeouts. He recorded 13 swinging strikes on 81 pitches, with 10 of those resulting on his slider. That'll play.

To Foltynewicz's credit, he's performed well since returning from the minors in August. In 10 regular-season starts since, he'd posted a 2.65 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 17 walks. If the Braves are to make a legit run at the pennant, they'll need him to keep it up.

Loser: The bottom of the Cardinals lineup

Foltynewicz shut the Cardinals down thoroughly and authoritatively in NLDS Game 2. It was close to a must-win game for Atlanta too. The Braves didn't want to go back to St. Louis down 0-2 in a best-of-five series.

Pretty much no one in the Cardinals lineup had a good day Friday, but the bottom of the order was especially bad. No. 6 hitter Kolten Wong went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. No. 7 hitter Paul DeJong went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. No. 8 hitter Harrison Bader went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts. That's 0 for 10 with seven strikeouts not including the pitcher's spot. Ouch.

Furthermore, Wong and Bader had two of the team's three at-bats with runners in scoring position, and were unable to come through. Granted, the top of the lineup wasn't much better (1-2-3 hitters went 1 for 12 with two strikeouts), but gosh, the Cardinals received no help from the lower portion of their batting order Friday.

Winner: DJ LeMahieu

The Yankees started LeMahieu at first base and batted him leadoff and it worked out just fine.

By night's end, LeMahieu had collected three hits and drove in four runs as part of a New York victory. LeMahieu scored the first Yankees' run of the night, then delivered a solo home run to push New York's lead to 6-4. An inning later, he busted the game wide open with a double that plated three runs and made it 10-4 Yankees -- that, as everyone knows, doubled as the final.

LeMahieu obviously had a fantastic regular season for the Yankees, posting a 136 OPS+ and notching 26 home runs. It doesn't seem like he's ready to stop now that it's October, either.

Loser: The third time through the order

Maybe more so than any other team, the Rays do not allow their pitchers to go through the lineup a third time. It makes sense too. Hitters perform better the more times they see a pitcher -- this year the MLB averages were a .729 OPS the first time through the lineup, a .777 OPS the second time, and an .807 OPS the third time. Tampa pitchers faced only 591 batters after two turns through the line this season, third fewest in baseball.

Well, in ALDS Game 1 on Friday, Rays manager Kevin Cash stuck with starter Tyler Glasnow against the lineup a third time, and Jose Altuve clobbered a go-ahead two-run home run:

Not a terrible pitch! Altuve had to go up and get the elevated 96.6 mph fastball. He also hit that pitch like he knew it was coming, maybe because Glasnow fed him similar elevated heaters in their two previous at-bats. Cash usually doesn't let him starter stay in as long as Glasnow did in Game 1, and it came back to the bite the Rays.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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