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New-look MLB playoff picture is set: The 4 best-of-3 wild-card series begin Friday

Albert Pujols taking his final swings in October, Julio Rodríguez stepping in for the first time. Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom facing Manny Machado and Juan Soto.

Bryce Harper, back at last. José Ramírez and his Cleveland Guardians teammates trying to break a long drought — with a new name.

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And Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts and other top stars looming next week.

The Major League Baseball playoff picture came into focus Tuesday night. The matchups were set just before the last day of the regular season.

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The postseason, expanded from 10 teams last year to 12 this season, begins Friday with a newly created wild-card round. All four series are best of three — three days in a row, no breaks, with the higher seed hosting every game.

In the National League, it’s San Diego Padres-New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies-St. Louis Cardinals. In the American League, it’s Seattle Mariners-Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays-Guardians.

At Citi Field, the Mets figure to throw aces Scherzer and deGrom at the Padres, featuring big-hitting Machado and Soto. The Mets’ bid to win the NL East ended when they were beaten out by the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves, so they wound up as the top NL wild-card team.

Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer delivers against the Braves during the first inning Saturday in Atlanta.
Padres third baseman Manny Machado motions to teammate Jurickson Profar after Profar hit a double against the Giants on Tuesday in San Diego.

“We have to go on the road and play against a tough team and beat some of the best pitchers in the game,” Machado said. “It is about going out there and enjoying the moment.”

At Busch Stadium, soon-to-be retired Cardinals stars Yadier Molina and Pujols host Harper and the Phillies. The Cardinals won the NL Central but as the No. 3 seed don’t get the benefit of an early bye.

A two-time champion with the Cardinals, Pujols, 42, has looked like a 24-year-old version of himself down the stretch, topping 700 career home runs and passing Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time RBI list.

A two-time MVP, Harper makes his first playoff appearance since 2017 with the Washington Nationals. He missed two months in the middle of the season because of a broken left thumb but is ready to swing away for the Phillies.

Bryce Harper celebrates after the Phillies beat the Astros to clinch a wild-card playoff spot Monday in Houston.

In Cleveland, Ramírez leads a young team that includes rookie spark plug Steven Kwan and hard-throwing closer Emmanuel Clase as the AL Central champs host the Rays.

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This will be Cleveland’s first postseason appearance as the Guardians. The team hasn’t won the World Series since 1948. Randy Arozarena, already established as a playoff star, will try to boost the Rays to the first championship in franchise history.

The Guardians went 4-2 against the Rays this season, winning two of three last week at Progressive Field. All three games in the series were decided by one run, with two going to extra innings.

Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez watches his three-run home run against the Royals on Friday in Cleveland.

“It will be a good environment,” Rays second baseman Taylor Walls. “It’s a good thing that we just went there. ... I know the guys are amped up. We’re ready to be there.”

In Toronto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the top AL wild-card Blue Jays take on the Mariners and their rookie sensation, Rodríguez. The series also matches Robbie Ray, who won the Cy Young Award with the Jays last year, against his former team.

Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. watches his two-run home run against the Red Sox during the third inning Friday in Toronto.

All four matchups are scheduled to end Sunday. The best-of-five Division Series in both leagues begin Tuesday.

Judge, fresh off hitting his 62nd home run, and the Yankees will host the Rays-Guardians winner in Game 1. Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros start at home against the Mariners-Blue Jays winner.

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In the NL, Freddie Freeman, Betts and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who set a franchise record for wins, host the Mets-Padres winner in the opener. Ronald Acuña Jr., injured last fall when the Braves won the World Series, will start at home against the Cardinals-Phillies winner.


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