The MLB The Show Players League World Series is set, and what a matchup it is.
Top seed Blake Snell and sixth seed Lucas Giolito play each other today at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, with the winner of the best-of-five series being crowned the first MLB The Show Players League champion.
Snell dropped his first semifinal series game against fourth-seeded Jeff McNeil, but Snell’s Rays responded with a pair of homer-powered blowout victories over McNeil’s Mets to earn a berth in the final.
Giolito clinched his spot in the World Series by prevailing in the winner-take-all third game of his all-Chicago semifinal series against seventh-seeded Ian Happ. Giolito snuffed out a late bases-loaded rally and won, 3-1. It was Giolito’s second series win of the day after he eked out a two-games-to-one victory over No. 3 Bo Bichette in the quarterfinals.
(1) Blake Snell def. (4) Jeff McNeil 2-1
For about the first half hour of the semifinal telecast, Snell engaged in the pleasantries and the chitchat. He asked McNeil about playing behind Jacob deGrom. He laughed about a Kevin Kiermaier play in center field. He bantered about the trade that brought Nick Anderson to Tampa Bay.
That meant the time for fun and games was over. Snell sat up a little straighter, his eyes narrowed and he clammed up — and his Incredible Hulk-like transformation into the ruthless hitting machine that terrorized opponents during the regular season was complete. McNeil couldn’t hold back the floodgates as Snell unleashed innings of two, six, four and three runs in Games 2 and 3 to win a pair of 8-0 and 7-0 blowouts and set up his championship showdown against Giolito.
“I just stopped talking,” Snell said. “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.”
It might not have made for the most engaging discussion, but there’s a championship on the line now, especially with host Robert Flores teasing the existence of a grand trophy for the eventual champion.
Snell was clearly a little off in the first game, as he first struggled to make solid contact before his hard grounders and line drives would later find the gloves of Mets defenders. McNeil took advantage for a 4-1 win as Snell prepared to buckle down.
McNeil wasn’t ready for what followed in Game 2. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, but Snell broke the seal with a two-run homer by Yandy Diaz in the second inning.
“If we can keep it 2-0, we’re OK,” McNeil said. “2-0? We’re good. It’s like those five-run innings where you’re like, ‘Oh no.'”
About that. It wasn’t a five-run inning that followed, but a six-run frame, as Snell pelted McNeil to his doom with a flurry of singles and homers, and he didn’t stop until he’d put the result out of any question by the middle of Game 3.
“I think he was just missing those pitches in the first game that he should have hit,” said a dejected McNeil after Game 3. “Then, he didn’t miss anything. I made some good pitches, but I left a lot over the plate. He did what he had to do with those pitches.”
(6) Lucas Giolito def. (7) Ian Happ 2-1
Giolito came into the MLB The Show Players League with low expectations, considering that he had not played the video game a lot prior to the league. Now, the White Sox hurler is just three wins away from being crowned the champion after eliminating Happ in the virtual Crosstown Classic.
“It’s crazy,” Giolito said. “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.”
Giolito was powered by his offense in Game 1, beating Happ, 8-3. Giolito scored four runs on seven hits in the first two innings and added four more in the second to create some separation. All of Happ’s runs in Game 1 came thanks to a three-run home run with himself, earning him a chance to talk about his gains.
“He is yoked!” Happ screamed, appreciating the biceps given to him by the game creators. “It’s the biceps!”
Happ’s biceps didn’t earn him a win in Game 1, but he was able to protect home field in Game 2, beating Giolito, 1-0, at Wrigley Field. That win set up a winner-take-all Game 3 on the South Side, and it was quite the battle.
Happ took the early 1-0 lead in the first, but Giolito quickly responded with a Yasmani Grandal two-run home run, giving him a 2-1 lead. In the second inning, Giolito got a much-needed insurance run on a solo home run by Luis Robert.
“That’s his first homer,” Giolito said as he raised his arms. “That’s his first career homer right there.”
“I’m so glad you hit it right now,” Happ said, sarcastically.
Now with a 3-1 lead, Giolito turned to his bullpen to secure the final three outs. But Happ, who made the playoffs despite a 9-9 start to the season, wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Happ made a critical baserunning mistake to open the inning, helping Giolito, who had all kinds of problems fielding fly balls in the semifinals, record the first out of the inning. To Happ’s credit, he shook off the mistake and was able to load the bases with just one out. But Giolito was able to retire Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras to end the game and start the celebration on the South Side.
“Very, very good series right there,” Giolito said, as he recorded the final out. “Those were good games. You guys can’t see it because I’m wearing a black shirt, but I am sweating bullets.”