If the two wild-card games are any indication of the drama the 2017 Major League Baseball playoffs will have, we're set for one wild ride over the next month.
The New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks outlasted the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies, respectively, with their bats and standout performances from their bullpens.
Now the focus turns toward the American League Division Series and National League Division Series, where all of the heavy hitters begin their respective postseason campaigns in search of the, in some cases, elusive World Series trophy. The full playoff bracket can be found here.
Division Series Matchups
New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians
Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Washington Nationals vs. Chicago Cubs
The Yankees and Diamondbacks enter their respective series with a ton of momentum, and with some concerns in certain areas after facing odd situations in the wild-card games.
The Yankees come into the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians with a bullpen that was forced to pitch over eight innings after Luis Severino's shortcomings as a starter. Getting every key reliever except for Dellin Betances into the game should help Joe Girardi's team in the long run since their postseason jitters have been quelled.
The bats came alive for the Yankees as well, and Aaron Judge showed no sign of slowing down as he belted a home run in the victory over the Twins.
The Indians know they'll face a difficult opponent in the resurgent Yankees, who are looking to win a playoff series for the first time since the 2012 ALDS. Cleveland has set itself up in good position to thrive at home, as Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber will start the first two games. The process of choosing starters for Games 1 and 2 wasn't an easy one, but MLB.com's Jordan Bastian pointed out how it went down through Kluber's words:
Jordan Bastian @MLBastian
Corey Kluber, on the Indians' decision to go with Bauer in Game 1 and the ace in Game 2... https://t.co/kemh37dkxl2017-10-4 21:36:59
The other ALDS matchup starts with a thrilling pitching matchup between Boston's Chris Sale and Houston's Justin Verlander. Verlander sounded off on the showdown, via Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle:
Jake Kaplan @jakemkaplan
Justin Verlander on matching up against Chris Sale https://t.co/btmn2pSVyy2017-10-4 20:13:23
Sale is thrilled for Game 1, and for the rest of the series as well. He laid out on Wednesday that he'd be willing to pitch at any time in the series for the Red Sox, including on only three days rest, according to NBC Sports Boston's Evan Drellich:
Evan Drellich @EvanDrellich
Chris Sale: "Three days rest? I'm in. This is what I live for. I'm throwing til my arm falls off."2017-10-4 20:43:17
All eyes will be on the starting pitchers, but there's plenty more layers to this series. The young core of the Astros led by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer is looking to lead the team to the promised land after going through the rebuilding process. The Red Sox have a young group as well with Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts leading the charge, but they have a wily veteran in the middle of the lineup in Hanley Ramirez.
Over in the NL, the Cubs-Nationals series is one worthy of a World Series if it were possible. The Nationals have been waiting to get over the NLDS hump for quite some time, but there's no guarantee they'll do so against the Cubs.
There was concern that Max Scherzer would not be able to pitch in the NLDS for the Nationals, but he's in good shape and will pitch at some point in the series, as Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post:
Jorge Castillo @jorgecastillo
Rizzo reiterated what Scherzer said yesterday: Scherzer is definitely pitching in the NLDS. The question is when.2017-10-4 16:25:29
The Cubs are coming into the postseason with plenty of confidence after winning it all last season. Pitcher Jon Lester admitted the club has nothing to lose, per ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers:
Jesse Rogers @ESPNChiCubs
Jon Lester: "Moving forward, we have nothing to lose. We're in a good place."2017-10-4 17:43:20
The looseness the Cubs will play with throughout the postseason may end up helping them, especially as they run into a Nationals team with the weight of the world on their shoulders. The same can be said about the Dodgers, who are looking to cash in on a great season with their first World Series since 1988.
L.A. open play on Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Although the team comes into the playoffs with the league's best record, that mark is irrelevant once the postseason starts. Anything can happen to the Dodgers, but they're still the favorites to win the series, especially with Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Yu Darvish starting in the first three games.
The Diamondbacks are still in the process of figuring out their rotation after Zack Greinke's poor start and Robbie Ray's relief appearance in the win over the Rockies. Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said one of three pitchers could start Game 1, and Greinke and Ray could be candidates for Game 2, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:
Bill Shaikin @BillShaikin
Lovullo: Taijuan Walker or Zack Godley or Pat Corbin will face Kershaw in Game 1 of NLDS. Ray and Greinke "candidates" for Game 2.2017-10-5 04:29:42
With a rotation in a bit of disarray at the moment, the Diamondbacks might not be able to match up with the Dodgers even though they have familiarity from being in the same division.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.