The baseball playoffs have arrived — here’s a look at the American League contenders


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Baseball’s post-season is underway. At our publish time, Texas and Tampa Bay were playing Game 1 of their American League Wild Card Series, while Toronto and Minnesota were getting set to open theirs at 4:38 p.m. ET. The National League matchups — Arizona vs. Milwaukee and Miami vs. Philadelphia — begin tonight. 

All four series in the wild-card round are best of three and will be played entirely in the ballpark of the higher-seeded team (listed second above) from today through Thursday. The winners advance to a best-of-five Division Series against one of the top two seeds from their league, who are currently enjoying a bye. In the AL, those teams are top-ranked Baltimore and reigning World Series champion Houston. In the NL, it’s Atlanta and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In yesterday’s newsletter, we previewed the Blue Jays-Twins series, whose winner will meet Houston. Today, let’s take a quick look at all six American League playoff contenders:

Baltimore: The Orioles’ long and painful rebuilding project finally paid off as they went 101-61 (an 18-win improvement from last season) to capture their first AL East title in nine years. Baltimore won baseball’s toughest division with a young batting order that lacks a big star but is full of tough outs.

Houston: The reigning champs’ September swoon nearly cost them a playoff spot. But they recovered in time to win the AL West and now have a chance to reach their seventh consecutive AL Championship series — a run that includes four World Series appearances and two titles. Longtime ace Justin Verlander, 40, was reacquired in August after his big-money move to the Mets didn’t pan out.

Minnesota: The balanced Twins led the AL in home runs despite not having anyone crack the majors’ individual top 50, and they feature a pair of top-notch starting pitchers in Pablo Lopez and Sonny Gray. But the AL Central champs won fewer games than any other AL playoff team, despite playing in baseball’s softest division. And, oh yeah, Minnesota has lost an incredible 18 consecutive post-season games, dating back to 2004.

Tampa Bay: The Rays shot out of the gates with 13 consecutive wins and a 20-3 start before settling into the top AL wild card at 99-63. They lost All-Star shortstop Wander Franco, who was placed on administrative leave amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a minor, but Tampa Bay always seems to have more talent waiting in the wings. Their deep lineup is led by MVP-calibre first baseman Yandy Diaz, and Tampa’s bullpen is the best in baseball.

Texas: Injuries to key hitters cooled the Rangers’ hot start to the season, but those guys are back now. That includes All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who batted .327 and clubbed 33 home runs despite missing 43 games. He forms a hard-hitting middle infield with former Blue Jays star Marcus Semien, who racked up 29 homers, 100 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. Texas will need those guys and outfielder Adolis Garcia (39 homers) to continue mashing, because the pitching is shaky with big names Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom sidelined.

Toronto: The Blue Jays have some big names (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer) in their batting order, but it was the pitching rotation that carried them to a wild card. Ace Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios and Chris Bassitt will give Toronto a chance to win every game of its series vs. Minnesota, while Yusei Kikuchi will move to the bullpen to put out fires when needed.

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