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MLB Division Series Day 1 takeaways: D-backs rough up Kershaw, Phillies blank Braves and more

It was a Super Saturday in the 2023 MLB playoffs.

After four wild-card sweeps on Wednesday, all eight remaining teams were in action Saturday, starting with Game 1 of the American League Division Series. The visiting Texas Rangers defeated the Baltimore Orioles to start the day, followed by the Houston Astros beating the Minnesota Twins at Minute Maid Park. In the openers of the two National League Division Series, the Philadelphia Phillies downed the Atlanta Braves, followed by the Arizona Diamondbacks thumping the Los Angeles Dodgers in the shortest start of Clayton Kershaw‘s career.

We’ve got you covered with our takeaways from each series opener and what to know for Game 2.

Key links: Everything you need to know | Full postseason schedule | Picks

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Takeaways | Relive the day


Arizona Diamondbacks 11, Los Angeles Dodgers 2: Clayton Kershaw entered this postseason as the only member of the Dodgers’ Opening Day rotation still standing, which makes his performance — five earned runs before recording his first out, an exit before completing his second — all the more troubling. The Dodgers’ postseason pitching plan consisted of a lot of rookies, a lot of relievers and a lot of unconventionality. They needed consistency and effectiveness out of Kershaw, who was able to provide that over the last two regular-season months despite a noticeably ailing shoulder.

Now one has to wonder if the Dodgers can count on Kershaw in any capacity this month. They might still win this series (there’s a reason they won 16 more games this season, of course). But the additional off-day allows the D-backs to start Kelly and Zac Gallen, their two aces, four times in five days on normal rest. And some of the swings from the likes of Corbin Carroll, Tommy Pham and Alek Thomas, the latter of whom homered to cap a 14-pitch at-bat in the seventh inning, lets you know that some of Arizona’s key hitters are on point.

The Dodgers officially have their hands full — especially if Kershaw is not healthy enough to be reliable. — Alden Gonzalez

One thing to know for Game 2: Road teams that take the first two games of a best-of-five series have won said series 28 out of 31 times. The D-backs can put a death grip on these Dodgers. But they’ll need a Kelly-like reversal from Gallen, a Cy Young contender who also struggled against the Dodgers this season, allowing 11 runs in 10 innings through two regular-season starts. The Dodgers will turn their hopes to Bobby Miller, a rookie who stands as their most talented pitcher at the moment. Miller, 24, throws his fastball in the triple digits and features a devastating curveball. The Dodgers also believe he has the type of confidence to thrive in these scenarios. We shall see.

Philadelphia Phillies 3, Atlanta Braves 0: With neither Zack Wheeler nor Aaron Nola available, the Phillies leaned on Johnny Wholestaff to secure a win, Voltron-ing Ranger Suarez‘s 3⅔ innings with a revolving door of relievers into an ace-level performance: 4 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts. All this against the best offense in years, if not decades, limiting the Braves to zero runs.

Spencer Strider was very good for the Braves, but Bryce Harper delivered a knockout blow, going deep off of a Strider backfoot slider in the sixth to make it 2-0. Controversy erupted in the eighth inning as Sean Murphy was called for a catcher’s interference that led to a run and was upheld on replay, making it 3-0. Dozens of beverages landed in the outfield from irate Braves fans.

The narrative has now shifted from if the favored Braves will deliver on their regular-season domination in the postseason to if the Dave Dombrowski/Rob Thomson/Harper/Wheeler-led Phillies simply have more postseason mojo than the Braves. — Kiley McDaniel

One thing to know for Game 2: Game 1 felt like a game the Braves had to have in this series. Playing at home, with Strider going against a pitcher not named Wheeler or Nola. Now the next two games will provide a big test for an Atlanta team hoping to avoid a second straight October disappointment, as the Braves will be up against Philly’s two aces, starting with Wheeler, while their own Game 2 starter, Max Fried, has been hampered by a blister problem late in the season.

Houston Astros 6, Minnesota Twins 4: The last time the Houston Astros lost an American League Division Series home game was to Kansas City on Oct. 12, 2015. Since then, they have won a dozen consecutive games, including their 6-4 victory Saturday afternoon to kick off their division series showdown against a game Minnesota Twins team.

Perhaps this does not come as a surprise, seeing as the Astros are seeking their seventh consecutive AL Championship Series berth, but even the best of teams stumble at home now and again. Not the Astros. Two wins in 2017, two in 2018, three in 2019, two in 2021, two in 2022 and the latest Saturday, when Justin Verlander threw six shutout innings, Jose Altuve led off the game with a home run and Yordan Alvarez added a pair of homers. The Astros are a nightmare for opponents because of those three and a cast of other characters, including the Minute Maid Park crowd that remains among the most raucous in the game all these years later. — Jeff Passan

One thing to know for Game 2: The last time we saw Alvarez in the postseason, he was taking a 99 mph fastball from Jose Alvarado out to dead center field, 450 feet into the night, to put the Astros ahead in the World Series-clinching Game 6. He’s back this year, as good as ever, with a pair of home runs in Game 1 of the division series against Minnesota, and if there are any questions about the Astros’ ability to make another deep run this October, they begin and end with Alvarez. He’s so good that he quietly puts together absurd months like September, when he batted .294/.441/.620 with eight home runs, 20 RBIs and more walks (19) than strikeouts (18). The ability to single-handedly carry a team is a rarity in baseball. Alvarez is capable of it, and while he struggled in 25 plate appearances against the Twins in the regular season, his propensity to go on series-defining heaters has Minnesota wary of what lies ahead.

Texas Rangers 3, Baltimore Orioles 2: Game 1 between the Rangers and Orioles featured some excellent defense, some intriguing bullpen decisions, a pumped-up Orioles crowd and, most of all, two Texas rookies who stole the headlines. Evan Carter continued his rise to stardom with an RBI double and two more walks, while Josh Jung blasted a home run to center field. Then the Rangers’ bullpen held on for a one-run victory.

The bullpen was the biggest question for both teams heading into the series, and Rangers manager Bruce Bochy asked his to get 16 outs. Texas relievers gave up just one run and faced a couple of tense moments — like when Aroldis Chapman walked the first two batters in the bottom of the eighth but escaped with a double play (Jung made a nice play at third base to start it) and a strikeout. Jose Leclerc gave up a leadoff single in the ninth to Gunnar Henderson, but Henderson got caught stealing to quickly stifle a looming rally.

Indeed, the much-maligned Texas bullpen seemed to pick up some of that magic Bochy always had in October when he managed the Giants to three World Series with his bullpen always stepping up big. One game is hardly a definitive answer, but the ‘pen has delivered in three playoff games so far. If that continues, the Rangers can go a long way. — David Schoenfield

One thing to know for Game 2: Game 1 turned into a matchup of bullpens, and Rangers manager Bruce Bochy certainly got the better of Orioles manager Brandon Hyde — not that Hyde did anything wrong, but the Orioles platoon at a couple of spots in the lineup and Bochy pretty much got the matchups he wanted.

Game 2 will be a little more conventional with Jordan Montgomery starting, but that leaves the Orioles in the same position as Game 1: Henderson slides down in the order since he’s worse against southpaws, and Ryan O’Hearn starts the game on the bench. Given the roll Montgomery has been on — two runs over his past 34 innings, including seven scoreless against the Rays in the wild-card series — the Orioles’ best chance might be to once again just keep it close and hope to beat the Texas bullpen late in the game. And not to get caught stealing.

Relive the day

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