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Like a fine French dish served to uncultured American swine, baseball’s playoffs take a long time to prepare and vanish in an instant. And they start tonight, so pay attention. Following a 162-game* season that started when we were all basically as children way back in March, two teams that managed to make the playoffs will be gone after a single playoff game. And things don’t slow down much from there. It’s not like the NBA, where nearly every single series takes multiple weeks -- because baseball players don’t really exert themselves much (sorry, it’s true), they don’t need days off between games (except for travel). So! What’s about to happen, and who’s going to win? Read on.


Real Quick Q: How Does This Work?

  • Major League Baseball has two “leagues,” the American League and the National League, each of which has three divisions. Five teams from each league make the playoffs: the three division winners, plus the two teams with the next best records regardless of division, aka the “wild card” teams.

  • The Wild Card round pits against each other the -- you guessed it -- two wild card teams from each league. Drama is high, and because it’s just a one-game “series” and a loss means the end of the season, you see fascinating pitching strategies. Whereas normally you could expect starting pitchers to pitch at least five innings even if they didn’t bring their A game, in the Wild Card round they’ll get yoinked at the first sign of trouble.

  • The Division Series features, in each league, the three -- you guess it again -- division winners, plus the surviving wild card team. They play best-of-five-game series, so even those series can be over in the blink of an eye, if blinking an eye takes you four days.

  • The winners advance to the best-of-seven Conference Series, with the winners of that advancing to the hallowed, best-of-seven World Series. The winner of that advances to the Parade Round, aka their city throws them a parade, because they are the champions.

Who’s Going To Win?

We have no idea, you have no idea, and anyone who tells you they know is a vile and contemptible liar. This is partly because, in baseball, the margin for error is so thin -- a round bat hitting a round ball just one centimeter away from the optimal spot is the difference between a towering game-winning home run and a harmless fly out. Wild card teams win the World Series all the time. But if you had to pick the favorites -- and every sports fan does -- here as some non-crazy options:

  • The Regular Season's Best Team: The Boston Red Sox. The Sox kept up a record-setting pace for much of the season, and while they didn't set the all-time record for wins, they coasted into comfortably the best record in baseball this year. They boast two MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, and the best odds to win the Series according to Vegas gamblers.
  • The Defending Champs: The Houston Astros. Led by the smallest star in sports, 5'6" Jose Altuve, they also feature the only player married to Kate Upton: star pitcher Justin Verlander.
  • The Hottest Team: The Milwaukee Brewers. They're on an eight game winning streak, needing all eight to barely win their division. Their star: slugger extraordinaire Christian Yelich
Will Any Teams Find Sweet Release From Constant Failure?
The last three World Champs all ended painful, decades-long championship droughts, and there's a decent chance that happens again this year: the Brewers and Colorado Rockies have never won in their franchise history, but their young-ish status means their winless streak isn't even close to the longest. That honor/shame belongs to the extremely unfortunately-named Cleveland Indians, championship-less since 1948.

* Technically, 4 teams played 163 games -- for the first time ever, two tiebreaker games were needed to determine division champs. That's why your co-worker was watching baseball during the day yesterday, if that happened.
"Baseball's playoffs are always total chaos, but the Red Sox look like the team to beat."
David Dahl made this crazy grab in a losing effort in yesterday's division tiebreaker game. No matter -- his Colorado Rockies get another chance in tonight's Wild Card matchup against the Chicago Cubs.
The win-or-go-home, one-game, no-holds-barred, etc.-etc., Wild Card games are upon us. Tonight it's the National League matchup between the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs, 8 PM ET on ESPN.

Wednesday is the American League Wild Card game: the Oakland Athletics vs the most successful sports team of the last 100 years, the New York Yankees, 8 PM ET on TBS.
The Cubs' starting pitcher for tonight's Wild Card game is Jon Lester. He's good at pitching in the playoffs. Real good.
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