PHOENIX (AP) — Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson and the hard-hitting Atlanta Braves have earned a couple days of rest and relaxation after Major League Baseball’s long 162-game regular season.
So have Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander and the defending World Series champion Houston Astros — who won the AL West on the season’s final day — along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and feel-good story Baltimore Orioles.
As for the other eight teams that qualified for Major League Baseball’s 12-team October showcase?
The action comes in a hurry.
MLB’s postseason bracket is set, with the American League and National League wild-card matchups beginning Tuesday. It’s the second year for the new October format, which includes an opening round, best-of-three series with all of the games at the higher seed’s ballpark.
In the AL, the No. 6 seed Toronto Blue Jays will face the No. 3 Minnesota Twins and the No. 5 Texas Rangers travel to the No. 4 Tampa Bay Rays. The NL features the No. 6 Arizona Diamondbacks against the No. 3 Milwaukee Brewers and the No. 5 Miami Marlins at the No. 4 Philadelphia Phillies.
The Braves, Astros, Dodgers and Orioles will get about a week off before the division series begin.
It’s a postseason bracket missing some of the sport’s marquee franchises. Slugger Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees will spend October at home. So will the big-spending New York Mets and San Diego Padres.
But for those who remain, the road to the World Series begins soon. Here’s a look at the qualifiers:
THE WILD CARD MATCHUPS
No. 6 Diamondbacks at No. 3 Brewers
The season series: D-backs won 4-2.
The skinny: Arizona is back in the postseason for the first time since 2017 despite losing its final four games of the regular season. Rookie speedster Corbin Carroll leads a versatile lineup while right-hander Zac Gallen is among the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award. The Brewers’ lineup is led by 2018 MVP Christian Yelich, while the pitching staff has a solid top three in Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta.
No. 5 Marlins at No. 4 Phillies
The season series: Marlins won 7-6.
The skinny: The Marlins have been an under-the-radar success story and dealt with a weather mess in New York during some of the most important games of the wild-card race. Luis Arraez won the NL batting title with a .354 mark while Jesus Luzardo and Braxton Garrett are at the top of the rotation with ace Sandy Alcantara sidelined for the rest of the year by an elbow injury. The Phillies are trying to make it back to the World Series — they lost to the Astros last year — and have a deep lineup with Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos and Trea Turner.
No. 6 Blue Jays at No. 3 Twins
The season series: Tied 3-3.
The skinny: The Blue Jays are a tough No. 6 seed with one of the deepest lineups in baseball, including Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Matt Chapman, George Springer and Whit Merrifield. They’re also deep on the mound with Chris Bassitt, José Berríos, Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi. The Twins were easily the best team in a weak AL Central. They’re hoping that some of their best players — like shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Royce Lewis — will be healthy after fighting injuries in the season’s final weeks.
No. 5 Rangers at No. 4 Rays
The season series: Rangers won 4-2.
The skinny: The Rangers are led by the stellar middle infield combo of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, who could both finish in the top 5 of AL MVP balloting. Outfielder Adolis Garcia also had a big year. The pitching staff doesn’t have a lot of big names who are healthy but has been steady with Dane Dunning, Andrew Heaney and Nathan Eovaldi. The Rays were the hottest team in baseball in the early weeks but got caught by the Orioles around midseason. Tampa Bay continues to thrive despite one of the lowest payrolls in the league. The balanced lineup includes Yandy Diaz, Isaac Paredes and Randy Arozarena. Zach Elfin and Tyler Glasnow lead the pitching staff.
THE TOP SEEDS
No. 1 Atlanta Braves. They’ve got the best lineup in baseball, led by Acuña’s speed-power combo. But their biggest strength is depth. Olson just wrapped up a 54-homer season while Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies ad Marcell Ozuna all have at least 30 homers. The pitching staff has struggled with injuries, but hard-throwing Spencer Strider led the majors with 281 strikeouts. They won the World Series in 2021. Acuña was hurt during that playoff run in 2021, and is eager to make his mark this fall.
No. 2 Los Angeles Dodgers. They looked like they might struggle to win the NL West for much of the season, but caught fire with a 24-5 record in August and haven’t looked back. The lineup revolves around stars like Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and J.D. Martinez while three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw anchors the pitching staff. They won the World Series in 2020.
No. 1 Baltimore Orioles. They’re arguably the best story in baseball, winning more than 100 games just two seasons after losing 110. They’ve got a young, balanced lineup, led by catcher Adley Rutschman and shortstop Gunnar Henderson. The pitching staff leans on the trio of Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish, who have been solid most of the season.
No. 2 Houston Astros. They stumbled in September, but righted the ship just in time to have a shot at defending their World Series title and even rallied late to win the AL West. Franchise stalwarts Altuve, Alex Bregman and Kyle Turcker lead the lineup while the rotation includes Verlander — a three-time Cy Young winner — and Framber Valdez.
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