Major League Baseball's final weekend of the regular season will include some sweaty palms and intense games as a handful of teams jockey for limited spots in the postseason bracket.
Consider it a prelude for what's coming in October.
Many of the postseason spots are already decided, and there are a lot of familiar faces, particularly in the National League. The speedy and strong Ronald Acuña Jr. — the one and only member of the 40-70 club — will lead the Atlanta Braves as they try to win their second title in three years. Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and the Los Angeles Dodgers also look like a tough out.
Over in the American League, the upstart Baltimore Orioles will try to build on their 100-win season with a deep run in the playoffs. The franchise lost 110 games just two seasons ago.
MLB's regular season ends Sunday, and the playoffs begin just two days later with wild-card games in both leagues scheduled for Tuesday to Thursday.
It remains to be seen whether the defending champion Houston Astros will get a chance to try and make it back-to-back titles — they're still fighting for a playoff spot as the season winds down.
Here's a look at what's coming as October approaches:
The best-of-three wild card format is in its second season. The format was changed in 2022 from the sudden death one-game format that was in place since 2012 with the exception of the COVID-19 pandemic-affected 2020 season.
Six teams each from the American League and National League will qualify for the postseason, including the three division winners in each league. The three wild-card teams in each league will be the teams with the best record that didn’t win their division.
The top two division winners with the best records in each league will get a bye and don’t have to play in the wild-card round. Those four teams get a few days of rest. Right now, that would be the Orioles and Rangers in the American League and the Braves and Dodgers in the National League.
The wild-card round will feature four series: The No. 6 seed will play at the No. 3 seed in both the AL and NL. The No. 5 seed will play at the No. 4 seed.
One big advantage for the higher seed in those wild-card series is they get to host all three games.
If there’s a tie for one of the playoff spots after the 162-game regular season, mathematical tiebreakers will be used instead of an extra game. The first will be the head-to-head record between the two teams involved.
If that can’t handle the stalemate, the team with the best intradivisional record will win the tiebreaker. If that doesn’t work, the process continues with more and more convoluted solutions until a resolution is reached.
There's a chance both leagues come to a tiebreaker scenario. The Diamondbacks, Cubs, Marlins and Reds are locked in a tight race for two NL wild-card spots, while the Blue Jays, Rangers, Mariners and Astros also are fighting for two wild-card spots.
Many of baseball's recent rule changes will still be in effect during the postseason, including the pitch clock, a ban on extreme infield shifts and a limit to how many times a pitcher can disengage from the rubber. The pitch clock was a huge change for the sport and widely celebrated, cutting game times by more than 20 minutes this season.
There is one rule that won't make the postseason cut: the so-called “ghost runner” in extra innings.
During the MLB regular season, if a game goes to extra innings, a runner is placed at second base to start the 10th inning when each team bats. That won't happen in the postseason. Extra innings will be played just like the previous nine.
The Braves are the current betting favorites to win the World Series at +260, followed by the Dodgers (+420) and Orioles (+700), according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
The wild-card rounds will be broadcast on ESPN. The later rounds will be split between FS1, TBS and Fox.
Wild-card series: Oct. 3-5
Division series: Oct. 7-14
League Championship series: Oct. 15-24
World Series: Oct. 27-Nov. 4
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB