Major League Baseball (MLB) in the spotlight as playoffs begin

Albert Pujols took his final swing in October and Julio Rodriguez stepped in for the first time. Max Scherzer faces Manny Machado and Juan Soto.

Bryce Harper is finally back. Jose Ramirez and his Cleveland teammates are trying to break a long drought with a new name.

Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts and other top stars are coming next week.

The entire MLB playoff picture is finally in focus, with matchups and a new postseason, expanding from last year’s 10 teams to this season’s 12, arriving Friday.

All four series were the best two of the three series — three days in a row, no breaks, and each game was hosted by a higher seed.

In the National League, it’s the Padres-Mets and the Phillies-Cardinals. In the American League, it’s the Mariners-Blue Jays and Rays-Guardians.

At Citi Field, New York intends to throw ace Scherzer in San Diego, including big hitters Machado and Soto. The Mets will reportedly keep DeGrom for Games 1 and 5 of the NL Division Series if they advance. The Mets’ effort to win the NL East ended when they were beaten by the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves, so New York ended up being the top NL wild card team.

“We’ve got to hit the road, play with a tough team and beat some of the best pitchers in the game,” Machado said. “It’s about going out and enjoying the moment.”

At Busch Stadium, retiring St. Louis stars Adil Molina and Pujols host Harper and Philadelphia. The Cardinals won the NL Central, but didn’t get the benefit of an early bye as the No. 3 seed.

A two-time Cardinals champion, Puyols, 42, looked like his 24-year-old self, hitting 700 home runs in his career and passing Babe Ruth as the RBI’s 2nd place list in history.

A two-time MVP, Harper is in the playoffs for the first time since playing for Washington in 2017. He missed two months midseason with a broken thumb, but he’s ready to play for the Phillies.

In Cleveland, Ramirez led a young team that included rookie spark plug Steven Kwan and hard pitcher Emmanuel Clase as AL Central champion host Tampa Bay.

This will be Cleveland’s first playoff appearance as the Guardians. The team hasn’t won a World Series since 1948. Randy Arrosarena will work to propel the Rays to their first championship in franchise history. The Guardians beat the Rays 4-2 this year, winning two of three last week at Progressive Field. All three games in the series were decided by one game, two of which were in overtime.

“It’s going to be a great environment,” said Tampa Bay second baseman Tyler Walls. “It’s a good thing we just went there. …I know these guys are amplified. We’re ready to go there.”

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

All four games are scheduled to end on Sunday. The best five-division series in both leagues will begin on October 11.

Judge just hit his 62nd homer to set an AL record as the Yankees host the Tampa Bay-Cleveland champions in Game 1. Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros host the Seattle-Toronto championship.

In Holland, the Betts and the Los Angeles Dodgers set a team win record, hosting the Mets-San Diego winners in the opener. Ronald Acuna Jr. and the defending champion Warriors will host the St. Louis-Philadelphia champions.

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