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WILD CARD OVERVIEW: MLB playoffs get rolling with a pair of coastal clashes

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America won’t get any tiebreaker playoff clashes on Monday. Instead, all 10 postseason teams will spend the day resting up and refocusing on a postseason tournament that promises to be bananas.

There wasn’t a ton of drama to the final day of the Major League Baseball regular season, thanks to the Cardinals’ 9-0 whitewashing of the Cubs on Sunday, thus clinching the NL Central title (91-71) and claiming the No. 3 seed in the National League playoffs.

(The above result would have been rendered moot anyway, factoring in the Milwaukee Brewers’ loss to the Rockies in Colorado.)

In other words, America won’t get any tiebreaker playoff clashes on Monday. Instead, all 10 postseason teams will spend the day resting up and refocusing on a postseason tournament which promises to be bananas (at least in our minds).

How else to characterize a playoff field which includes four 100-win clubs (Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, Twins), two American League wild card teams with 96-plus wins (a first in Junior League history) and a pressure-packed NL Wild Card Game (Brewers @ Nationals) that could become a breakthrough experience for Montreal-turned-Washington D.C. franchise.

Or bring misery to apolitically charged, yet sports-mad town that’s craving a baseball champion.

And it all begins with one step, covering two nights:

WILD CARD CAPSULE

TUESDAY: NATIONAL LEAGUE

Brewers @ Nationals — 8:08 p.m EST (TV: TBS Network)

WEDNESDAY: AMERICAN LEAGUE

Rays @ Athletics — 8:09 p.m. EST (TV: ESPN)

UNDER PRESSURE

In one respect, the Nationals deserve major props for rebounding from a shaky 50-game start (19-31 on May 23) and rallying for a 72-41 finish to close the final four-plus months of the season.

However, with that success, comes a familiar pressure point: Since relocating to the Washington D.C. area, the Nationals have never advanced in the National League playoffs; and the franchise, as a whole, hasn’t prevailed in a postseason series since the 1981 Montreal Expos.

With that information, perhaps the Nationals would be better off wearing the Expos throwback jerseys for Tuesday’s must-see event, as a means of channeling good playoff karma.

(Yes, we know there’s a zero-percent chance of Les Expos duds making a cameo.)

Of course, the Nationals already own the speculative upper hand with Tuesday’s matchup, given the home-field and starting-pitching advantages of riding Max Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA, 243/33 K-BB ratio this season).

In his decorated carer (170 wins, 3.20 ERA, 2,692 Ks … three Cy Young awards), Scherzer has already logged 16 postseason starts with the Tigers and Nats; and citing his last two starts of the regular season, Scherzer rung up 21 cumulative strikeouts.

Contrast that to scheduled Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff (11-3, 3.62 ERA, 1.14 ERA, 143/30 K-BB), who has a grand total of 43 MLB starts and three playoff appearances in his career (all relief).

On paper, it seems like a mismatch in Scherzer’s favor … but then again, that’s why they play the games. Funny things habitually show up during the playoffs, especially winner-take-all affairs that are often cruel to slow starers.

IN CASE YOU CARE, PART I

The Brewers won the head-to-head series against the Nationals, taking four of the six games.

On May 6, Scherzer stymied the Milwaukee hitters, surrendering just one earned run (two total) and striking out 10 hitters in six innings of action.

And two days later, Woodruff reciprocated by being near-flawless with his six-inning stint, fanning nine Nats and allowing just one run and four hits.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

The national perception of the Brewers probably involves two rhetorical questions:

**How did Milwaukee actually get better AFTER the reigning and potential NL MVP Christian Yelich (44 HR, 97 RBI, 30 steals, .329 batting, 1.100 OPS in only 130 games) went down with a season-ending injury?

**How can the Brewers possibly win a World Series without Yelich (broken kneecap) in the lineup?

For whatever reason, Milwaukee went on 14-5 tear since the night of Yelich’s unfortunate injury; and the offense generated seven-plus six times during this prolific stretch.

NL PREDICTION

Nationals 5, Brewers 3

HELLO, OAKLAND!

With all due respect, we’re thrilled that Wednesday’s wild-card event will be at RingCentral Stadium … although it will always be Oakland-Alameda Stadium to the baseball purists.

Whatever the name, the Oakland venue remains the perfect setting for a winner-take-all matchup, from a TV and on-site fans’ perspective; and if that should praise also double as an indirect knock on the charm-challenged Tropicana Field (home of the Rays) … then so be it.

THE CHARLIE HORSE

The Rays won’t be utilizing the famed (or infamous) ‘opener’ strategy on Wednesday, relying on the playoff-tested arm of Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA, 240/57 K-BB this season).

Morton has been a solid major leaguer for 12 seasons; but he attained cult-hero status during the 2017 playoffs, helping the Astros bridge the gap to Justin Verlander and capture the first world title in franchise history.

More recently, Morton has been a certifiable workhorse for the Rays, going 8-4 with a staggering K/BB rate of 120-23 since July 2; and during this prodigious period, the right-hander posted double-digit strikeouts six times and limited opposing batters to a super-low on-base percentage of .289.

In other words, pencil Morton in for seven innings on Wednesday, barring an offensive explosion from the A’s; and that’s certainly plausible, given how Oakland finished in the American League top 5 with runs, homers, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging rate and OPS.

IN CASE YOU CARE, PART II

The Rays lost the head-to-head series against the A’s, by a 4-3 count.

On the plus side, however, Tampa Bay enjoyed a plus-4 run differential versus Oakland.

AL PREDICTION

Rays 4, A’s 3 (extra innings)

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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