MLB playoffs: Judge, Verlander join fray as eight teams remain in the tournament
(AP) – Major League Baseball’s first foray into a best-of-three wild-card round provided its share of memorable moments.
Now it’s on to the division series, which is business as usual with a best-of-five format. The four matchups are Braves-Phillies, Padres-Dodgers, Mariners-Astros and Guardians-Yankees and all of them begin Tuesday.
The Astros, Yankees, Braves and Dodgers got to rest and watch the wild-card drama round from home, thanks to superior regular season records. Now they’ll bring their own storylines to the postseason stage.
Rested Yankees slugger Aaron Judge — who set the AL record with 62 homers this season — gets his chance to swat postseason dingers. Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander and the Astros bring their ample postseason experience to the mix.
The Dodgers and their loaded lineup of Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman take the field. Then there’s the defending World Series champion Braves, who rallied to win the NL East in the final days of the regular season and look formidable once again.
Some of the game’s biggest stars are already headed home after the wild-card round: Max Scherzer, Pete Alonso and the Mets are gone after a 101-win season. The feel-good story of Cardinals veteran stars Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina is over partly because of a leaky bullpen. The Blue Jays and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. were bounced by a stunning Mariners comeback.
After the division series wrap up, the league championship series and World Series will be in a best-of-seven format. The LCS is scheduled to begin on Oct. 18 while the World Series starts Oct. 28.
HOW WAS THE NEW WILD CARD FORMAT?
MLB’s switch to a bulked-up, 12-team bracket and a best-of-three wild-card round — instead of the one-game, sudden death format that had been in place since 2012 — seemed to provide the balance the sport was seeking.
“It’s definitely interesting,” Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber said. “You know, I think it’s good for teams that we can get extra teams in there, and guys are going to be battling throughout the whole year. It’s not just that do-or-die. But still, it’s also a round of urgency, too, because it’s two wins and you’re on to the next round.
“So there’s a sense of urgency in every single game, which I think is really good.”
The Guardians were one of the teams that didn’t need three games in the wild-card round to advance, sweeping the Rays with two wins. But even after winning the first game, Guardians manager Terry Francona seemed pleased with the new format.
“I think it’s good. I think it’s better,” Francona said. “I think it’s a more true outcome. But then again, it might hurt us. I hope it doesn’t. Just think: you play 162 and then you play one and go home. That’s rough. I think this is good for the fans. I think it’s a better measure in competitive balance than a one-game play-in.”
WHY DID THE PLAYOFFS START LATE?
October’s postseason festivities will bleed into November before a champion is crowned.
That’s mostly because of the sport’s labor strife that resulted in a work stoppage over the winter. It delayed the beginning of spring training and pushed the regular season back about a week. Baseball players and owners salvaged the usual 162-game season, but to do that, they had to move opening day from March 31 to April 7.
Some of the games originally scheduled for the first week of the season were moved to the end, meaning a season that was originally scheduled to end on Oct. 2 instead ended on Oct. 5.
WHO ARE THE FAVORITES?
The Dodgers have been dominant all season with a lineup that includes Betts, Turner and Freeman. They won 111 games for one of the best seasons in franchise history.
Over in the American League, the Houston Astros topped 100 wins as well. They’ve got a loaded lineup that includes Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, along with Verlander, the potential AL Cy Young winner.
The Yankees were cruising for much of the season — led by Judge’s huge year — but haven’t played as well since the All-Star break.
Then there’s the defending World Series champion Braves, who still have a loaded lineup that includes Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Michael Harris, Matt Olson and Ronald Acuña Jr.