After the marathon of the MLB regular season, the sprint to the World Series begins on Tuesday night with the American League Wild Card Game between the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins.
Wednesday night sees the National League Wild Card Game, which pits the Colorado Rockies against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Tuesday and Wednesday's Wild Card games will provide plenty of drama and intrigue, even for the fans who didn't pay attention to all of the 162-game regular season.
For the baseball purists who are looking for more drama after most divisional and wild-card races were locked up in advance of the final weekend of the regular season, the winner-takes-all showdowns to start the playoffs should provide them with excitement as well.
Both the American and National Leagues had five teams qualify for the postseason. Three division winners automatically advanced to the ALDS and NLDS, respectively. The two wild-card teams in each league will play on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the fourth position in the divisional series in both leagues on the line.
The AL and NL Wild Card Games winners will play in the divisional series against the teams with the best records from their respective leagues. The winner of the Yankees-Twins wild-card game will take on the AL Central champion Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, as Bleacher Report MLB noted on Twitter:
Bleacher Report MLB @BR_MLB
The American League playoffs are set: Wild Card Game: Twins vs. Yankees ALDS: Min/NYY vs. Indians Red Sox vs. Astros https://t.co/9vEBvHZpdH2017-9-30 20:36:52
For the one-off contest in the American League, the Yankees will start Luis Severino, while the Twins will pitch Ervin Santana, per Phil Miller of the Star Tribune:
Phil Miller @MillerStrib
Yankees informed Twins this morning that RHP Luis Severino will start Tuesday, as expected. Twins will use Ervin Santana, of course.2017-10-1 17:46:18
Colorado and Arizona will take the stage on Wednesday night at Chase Field with the opportunity to face Los Angeles Dodgers on the line. The first game of that series will take place on Friday at Dodger Stadium, as Bleacher Report MLB noted via Twitter:
Bleacher Report MLB @BR_MLB
The National League playoffs are set: Wild Card Game: Rockies vs. DBacks NLDS: Col/Ari vs. Dodgers Cubs vs. Nationals https://t.co/FxqIEEpxXm2017-9-30 23:39:58
Divisional Series Format
The divisional series in both leagues are best-of-five affairs, with the top seed in each series hosting Games 1, 2 and 5, while the team with the worst record of the two participants hosting Games 3 and 4.
The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros are set to start in their series on Thursday at Minute Maid Park. The Red Sox won the AL East, and the the Astros captured first in the AL West. In a scheduling oddity, the two teams played each other to close out the regular season, with the Astros taking three of four from the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
After their tremendous 22-game winning streak, the Indians took the top seed in AL Central and home-field advantage. They will have to wait for their opponent to be determined by the AL Wild Card Game. The Indians are carrying an impressive pitching staff into the postseason, per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian:
Jordan Bastian @MLBastian
Indians pitching staff set single-season MLB records in WAR (31.8, Fangraphs), strikeouts (1,614) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.1)2017-10-1 23:50:49
Over in the National League, NL Central winners the Chicago Cubs and NL East winners the Washington Nationals are facing off, with the first game taking place at Nationals Park on Friday.
After struggling during the first half of the season, the Cubs enter the postseason with some terrific post-All-Star break marks, per their official Twitter account:
Chicago Cubs @Cubs
#Cubs since the All-Star break (@MLB rank): 49-25 (2nd) 423 runs scored (1st) +127 run differential (2nd) https://t.co/yPXYi6MYOn2017-10-1 22:14:37
Thanks to a 103-58 record in the regular season, the Dodgers earned the top seed in the NL. They await the winner of Wednesday's NL Wild Card Game on Friday night.
The Dodgers are guaranteed to face an NL West foe in the NLDS. The Dodgers went 41-35 against the NL West in 2017, while the Diamondbacks went 45-31 and the Rockies were 42-34. Two divisional opponents did not face off in the 2016 Divisional Series, but the St. Louis Cardinals and Cubs squared off in 2015.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.