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MLB playoffs: Ace pitcher matchups, big bats launch postseason schedule

Shane Bieber, who led MLB in wins, strikeouts and ERA this season, will start for the Cleveland Indians against the New York Yankees in an American League wild card game Tuesday in Cleveland. File Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI
Shane Bieber, who led MLB in wins, strikeouts and ERA this season, will start for the Cleveland Indians against the New York Yankees in an American League wild card game Tuesday in Cleveland. File Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 29 (UPI) -- American and National League teams will send their best pitchers to the mound Tuesday and Wednesday to begin the wild card round of the 2020 MLB playoffs.

Sixteen teams -- eight from each league -- emerged from the MLB's coronavirus pandemic shortened 60-game regular season to form the expanded playoff field.

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They will compete in best-of-three wild card series through Oct. 10, starting a month-long journey toward the World Series, which will be played Oct. 20 to 28 in Arlington, Texas.

The third-seeded Minnesota Twins will battle the sixth-seeded Houston Astros in the first game of the postseason at 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday in Minneapolis.

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The Oakland Athletics will host the Chicago White Sox in the second game of the day.

The top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays will host the No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays in the third game Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The No. 4 Cleveland Indians will host the No. 5 New York Yankees in the nightcap at 7 p.m. EDT in Cleveland.

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"We know we'll have our hands full," Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters Sunday. "We look forward to going there and the challenge of hopefully having a good series."

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New York and Tampa Bay are among the betting favorites to win the American League pennant and clinch a World Series berth. The Los Angeles Dodgers -- the National League's top seed -- are favored to emerge as the National League's World Series representative.

The No. 2 seed Atlanta Braves will host the No. 7 Cincinnati Reds in the first game Wednesday in Atlanta. The Astros will take on the Twins in Game 2 of that series in Wednesday's second game.

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"We clawed to get back to .500 for so long throughout the course of these 60 games," Reds pitcher Sonny Gray said of the team's regular-season push to the playoffs.

"The 60 games were a whirlwind. It was something none of us had ever been a part of or experienced. Ending the season above .500. ... we feel very good with where we are at."

The No. 3 Chicago Cubs will host the No. 6 Miami Marlins in the third game of the day. The No. 2 Athletics and No. 7 White Sox play the second game of their series at 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday.

The Blue Jays and Rays will face off in Game 2 at 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday. The San Diego Padres will host the St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of that wild card series at 5 p.m. EDT Wednesday. The Indians will host the Yankees in Game 2 at 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday. The Dodgers will host the Brewers in the final game at 10 p.m. EDT Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.

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Postseason format

Like the pandemic-shortened regular-season schedule, the 2020 MLB postseason will look different this year than it has in the past.

The 2020 MLB playoff field features an increase of six teams from 2019 and begins play with a new, best-of-three wild card series. Eight teams from each league will battle at the higher-seeds' home stadiums for the first round before four teams advance from each league to play best-of-five division series at neutral sites.

The American League Division Series will be played from Oct. 5 to 9 in San Diego and Los Angeles. The National League Division Series will be held Oct. 6 to 10 in Arlington, Texas, and Houston.

Two teams from each league will advance to their respective best-of-seven league championship series.

The American League Championship Series is from Oct. 11 to 17 in San Diego. The National League Championship Series is from Oct. 12 to 18 in Arlington. The World Series remains a best-of-seven format.

Pitcher matchups

Twins ace Kenta Maeda and Astros pitcher Zack Greinke will take the mound for the first game of the playoffs.

Maeda had a 2.70 ERA and a 6-1 record in 11 regular-season games. Greinke -- the 2009 Cy Young award winner -- was 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA in 12 starts. The third-seeded Twins are favored to win Game 1 over the No. 6 Astros.

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The Athletics have yet to announce a starter for Game 1 of their wild card series against the White Sox. Chicago will send Lucas Giolito to the hill. Giolito -- who pitched a no-hitter in August -- had a 4-3 record and 3.48 ERA in 12 starts this season. No. 2 Oakland is favored to beat No. 7 Chicago in Game 1.

The Rays -- the top seed in the American League -- will send 2018 Cy Young award winner Blake Snell to the mound against the No. 8 Blue Jays. Snell had a 4-2 record and 3.24 ERA in 11 starts this season.

The Blue Jays have yet to announce a starter, but are expected to hand the ball to Hyun-Jin Ryu. Ryu had a 2.69 ERA and 5-2 record in 12 starts this season. The Rays are favored to win Game 1.

Gerrit Cole and 2020 Cy Young award favorite Shane Bieber should produce the best pitching matchup Tuesday when the Indians host the Yankees.

Cole was 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA this season for the Yankees. Bieber achieved MLB's pitching triple crown, with a league-best eight wins, 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 12 starts. The Yankees are slight favorites to beat the Indians at Progressive Field.

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The Braves are favored to beat the Reds in Game 1 of that series, despite Cincinnati ace Trevor Bauer getting the start. Bauer -- a National League Cy Young favorite -- had a 5-4 record and National League best 1.73 ERA in 2020.

The Braves will send Max Fried to the mound. The left-handed pitcher posted a perfect 7-0 record and a 2.25 ERA in 11 starts this season.

The Marlins and Cubs each have several strong options for Game 1 starters, but have not announced who will pitch. Chicago is favored to win the first game of the series.

The Padres and Cardinals have not revealed their Game 1 starters, but the Padres are favored to win Game 1.

Walker Buehler will man the mound for the Dodgers in their postseason opener against the Brewers. Buehler had a 1-0 record and 3.44 ERA in eight starts this season. The Dodgers are heavy favorites to win Game 1.

Top hitters

Juan Soto, 21, became the youngest player to ever win a National League batting title on Sunday, but the All-Star outfielder and reigning World Series champions failed to make the playoffs. That leaves Braves hitters Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna as the top hitters in the National League playoff race.

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Freeman hit .341 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs this season. Ozuna swatted a league-high 18 homers and hit .338 on the season. Freeman and Ozuna each played in all 60 regular-season games. The Braves also had the best team batting average in the National League at .268 for the season.

The Dodgers led MLB in home runs and ERA and boast several big bats. Corey Seager hit a team-best .307 and had 15 home runs this season. Mookie Betts and A.J. Pollock swatted 16 home runs apiece for the Dodgers.

The White Sox are the top hitting team in the American League. The White Sox hit a league-best 96 homers this season. They also had a .261 team batting average. Shortstop Tim Anderson led Chicago with a .322 average. He also hit 10 home runs.

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu slugged 19 home runs and hit .317 in 60 regular-season games. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez also brings pop at the plate. He hit 14 homers this season.

Yankees second baseman D.J. LeMahieu was one of the best hitters in baseball all season. He hit an MLB-best .364 and paces a potent Yankees lineup. Yankees first baseman Luke Voit led MLB with 22 homers and hit .277 on the season.

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Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Clint Frazier are among the other Yankees hitters who should put pressure on Indians pitchers in the wild card round.

MVP candidate Fernando Tatis Jr. and his Padres teammate Manny Machado, Indians infielder Jose Ramirez, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz and Astros designated hitter Michael Brantley are among the other top hitters in the playoff field.

Braves outfielders Adam Duvall and Ronald Acuna Jr., Blue Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, Padres outfielder Wil Myers and Reds sluggers Eugenio Suarez and Nick Castellanos are among the top home run hitters who made the playoffs.

MLB wild card round (all times EDT)

Tuesday

Game 1: Astros at Twins at 2 p.m. on ABC

Game 1: White Sox at Athletics at 3 p.m. on ESPN

Game 1: Blue Jays at Rays at 5 p.m. on TBS

Game 1: Yankees at Indians at 7 p.m. on ESPN

Wednesday

Game 1: Reds at Braves at noon on ESPN

Game 2: Astros at Twins at 1 p.m. on ESPN2

Game 1: Marlins at Cubs at 2 p.m. on ABC

Game 2: White Sox at Athletics at 3 p.m. on ESPN

Game 2: Blue Jays at Rays at 4 p.m. on TBS

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Game 1: Cardinals at Padres at 5 p.m. on ESPN2

Game 2: Yankees at Indians at 7 p.m. on ESPN

Game 1: Brewers at Dodgers at 10 p.m. on ESPN

Thursday on ESPN/TBS

Game 2: Brewers at Dodgers at TBD

Game 2: Reds at Braves at TBD

Game 3: Yankees at Indians (if necessary) at TBD

Game 3: Astors at Twins (if necessary) at TBD

Game 3: White Sox at Athletics (if necessary) at TBD

Game 3: Blue Jays at Rays (if necessary) at TBD

Game 2: Cardinals at Padres at TBD

Game 2: Marlins at Cubs at TBD

Friday on ESPN/TBS

Game 3: Reds at Braves (if necessary) at TBD

Game 3: Marlins at Cubs (if necessary) at TBD

Game 3: Brewers at Dodgers (if necessary) at TBD

Game 3: Cardinals at Padres (if necessary) at TBD

ALDS

Oct. 5 to 9 on TBS

NLDS

Oct. 6 to 10 on FS1

ALCS

Oct. 11 to 17 on TBS

NLCS

Oct. 12 to 18 on Fox/FS1

World Series

Oct. 20 to 28 on Fox

This week in Major League Baseball

Miami Marlins players pose for a picture after defeating the Chicago Cubs 2-0 in the National League Wild Card Game to win their first playoff series in 17 years in Chicago on Friday. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI | License Photo

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