The best player since the start of the MLB The Show Players League is onto the championship series. Stunningly, the same cannot be said of the second-best player.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell and Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo, the only two players to record at least 23 regular-season wins, were both in action Saturday as the playoff weekend continued in the tournament.
Snell, who had a league-best 24-5 record in the regular season, advanced to Sunday’s championship series, coming from behind to top New York Mets infielder Jeff McNeil two games to one in the semifinals. He will face Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito, who topped Cubs utility man Ian Happ in three games in an all-Windy City semifinal on the other side of the bracket.
First pitch for the best-of-five championship series is set for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
As for Saturday, the most stunning results came in the first sets of games.
Gallo, who finished the regular season 23-6, opened play Saturday with a 3-2 win over Happ but dropped the next two games, 4-3 and then a 7-0 blowout in the deciding game.
It was a similar story for a player tied for the third-best record in the regular season (21-8), as budding Toronto Blue Jays star Bo Bichette hung with Giolito in three tight contests. But after losing the opener 3-2 and winning 1-0 with a run in the third inning in Game 2, Bichette dropped the rubber match. Giolito rode a Nomar Mazara three-run home run to a 5-3 win in the deciding game and a berth in the semis.
In the all-Chicago semifinal, Giolito opened with an 8-4 win. Happ took Game 2 by a 1-0 score, but Giolito — who said he had played very little of MLB The Show 20 prior to this event — booked his spot in the championship with a 3-1 win in the third game.
The highlight of the final game was an insurance home run by White Sox outfielder Luis Robert, one of the most-hyped prospects in baseball who has yet to make his MLB debut.
“That’s his first homer,” Giolito said of the 22-year-old Robert. “That’s his first career homer right there.”
“I’m so glad you hit it right now,” Happ quipped back.
“It’s crazy,” Giolito told MLB.com about advancing to the final. “I never thought I would be playing video games on ESPN. I’ve always been a big video game fan, and whenever I would turn to ESPN and see esports, I would think, ‘Oh that’s pretty cool,’ and now it’s crazy that I’m actually doing it.”
In the other semifinal, McNeil took on Snell in a matchup of Friday’s quarterfinal winners.
McNeil took Game 1 from Snell 4-1 and appeared poised to take the series with Noah Syndergaard on the mound in Game 2. But the tall right-hander — who in real life is out at least all of 2020 after undergoing Tommy John surgery — took a line drive off the head early in the game and had to exit.
It was all Rays from there, as Snell took the game 8-0 and then used home runs from Hunter Renfroe and Willy Adames to win 7-0 in Game 3 and take the series.
“I just stopped talking,” Snell said afterward on the FS1 broadcast of the difference between the first game the next two. “That was my key. Don’t talk and just focus on the game. As I did that, I started squaring it up and was on it more often and was able to put good swings on the ball.”
—Field Level Media