MLB wild-card wizardry: Hamilton, Salazar could be key


Major league teams start spring training in February, grind through 162 games — or 163, for Texas and Tampa Bay — and if they’re lucky, reach the playoffs. For wild cards, it’s a chance to become a World Series champion. Or have a whole season’s worth of work wiped out in nine innings.

Five things to know about wild-card games:

SECRET WEAPON: Looking for an X-factor? Try speedy Billy Hamilton, who debuted late this year for Cincinnati. He stole a record 155 bases in the minors last season, then swiped 13 of 14 for the Reds in September. Perhaps as a pinch-runner, his dash could decide a tight game Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Maybe it’s gamesmanship, but Reds manager Dusty Baker isn’t saying yet whether Hamilton will be on the postseason roster.

SEEN HIM?: OK, it might seem like a risk for the Indians to start rookie Danny Salazar in a winner-take-all game Wednesday night at Cleveland. But, the 23-year-old righty throws a 100 mph fastball and struck out 65 in only 52 innings. Remember, too: No batters from the Rays have seen him.

C’MON, UMP!: Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves found out last fall how risky it can be to let an entire season tilt on one play. Umpire Sam Holbrook’s infield fly call sent fans running for the rule book and set off a huge debate on what constitutes “ordinary effort.” A bad hop, a blooper or a missed ump’s call such as the one in the Rays-Rangers game — anything can make the difference when it gets down to one game.

SUCCESS RATE: Five wild-card teams have won the World Series, including the 2011 Cardinals and the 2004 Red Sox. But that was before baseball changed the playoff format last year, creating a wild-card playoff. MLB wanted to put a premium on winning a division title and make it harder for wild cards to advance by adding the extra game.

WAITING GAME: It seems to become a question every October — rest or rust? Detroit had a long layoff before last year’s World Series and Tigers hitters lost their timing. Boston and St. Louis each have several days off this week before hosting the wild-card winners.

Postseason Baseball Glance

All Times EDT

WILD CARD

Both games televised by TBS

Tuesday, Oct. 1: NL: Cincinnati (Cueto 5-2) at Pittsburgh (Liriano 16-8), 8:07 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 2: AL: Tampa Bay (Cobb 11-3) at Cleveland (Salazar 2-3), 8:07 p.m.

DIVISION SERIES

(Best-of-5; x-if necessary)

American League

Boston vs. Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner

Friday, Oct. 4: Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner at Boston, 3:07 p.m. (TBS)

Saturday, Oct. 5: Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner at Boston, 5:37 p.m. (TBS)

Monday, Oct. 7: Boston at Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner

x-Tuesday, Oct. 8: Boston at Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner

x-Thursday, Oct. 10: Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner at Boston

Oakland vs. Detroit

Friday, Oct. 4: Detroit at Oakland, 9:37 p.m. (TBS)

Saturday, Oct. 5: Detroit at Oakland, 9:07 p.m. (TBS)

Monday, Oct. 7: Oakland at Detroit

x-Tuesday, Oct. 8: Oakland at Detroit

x-Thursday, Oct. 10: Detroit at Oakland

National League

St. Louis vs. Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner

Thursday, Oct. 3: Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner at St. Louis, 5:07 p.m. (TBS)

Friday, Oct. 4: Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner at St. Louis, 1:07 p.m. (MLB)

Sunday, Oct. 6: St. Louis at Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner

x-Monday, Oct. 7: St. Louis at Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner

x-Wednesday Oct. 9: Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner at St. Louis

Atlanta vs. Los Angeles

Thursday, Oct. 3: Los Angeles at Atlanta, 8:37 p.m. (TBS)

Friday, Oct. 4: Los Angeles at Atlanta, 6:07 p.m. (TBS)

Sunday, Oct. 6: Atlanta at Los Angeles

x-Monday, Oct. 7: Atlanta at Los Angeles

x-Wednesday Oct. 9: Los Angeles at Atlanta

LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

(Best-of-7; x-if necessary)

American League

All games televised by Fox

Saturday, Oct. 12: Oakland-Detroit winner at Boston or Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner at Oakland-Detroit winner

Sunday, Oct. 13: Oakland-Detroit winner at Boston or Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner at Oakland-Detroit winner

Tuesday, Oct. 15: Boston at Oakland-Detroit winner or Oakland-Detroit winner at Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner

Wednesday, Oct. 16: Boston at Oakland-Detroit winner or Oakland-Detroit winner at Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner

x-Thursday, Oct. 17: Boston at Oakland-Detroit winner or Oakland-Detroit winner at Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner

x-Saturday, Oct. 19: Oakland-Detroit winner at Boston or Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner at Oakland-Detroit winner

x-Sunday, Oct. 20: Oakland-Detroit winner at Boston or Cleveland-Tampa Bay winner at Oakland-Detroit winner

National League

All games televised by TBS

Friday, Oct. 11: Atlanta-Los Angeles winner at St. Louis or Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner at Atlanta-Los Angeles winner

Saturday, Oct. 12: Atlanta-Los Angeles winner at St. Louis or Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner at Atlanta-Los Angeles winner

Monday, Oct. 14: St. Louis at Atlanta-Los Angeles winner or Atlanta-Los Angeles winner at Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner

Tuesday, Oct. 15: St. Louis at Atlanta-Los Angeles winner or Atlanta-Los Angeles winner at Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner

x-Wednesday, Oct. 16: St. Louis at Atlanta-Los Angeles winner or Atlanta-Los Angeles winner at Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner

x-Friday, Oct. 18: Atlanta-Los Angeles winner at St. Louis or Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner at Atlanta-Los Angeles winner

x-Saturday, Oct. 19: Atlanta-Los Angeles winner at St. Louis or Cincinnati-Pittsburgh winner at Atlanta-Los Angeles winner

WORLD SERIES

(Best-of-7)

All games televised by Fox

Wednesday, Oct. 23: at AL

Thursday, Oct. 24: at AL

Saturday, Oct. 26: at NL

Sunday, Oct. 27: at NL

x-Monday, Oct. 28: at NL

x-Wednesday, Oct. 30: at AL

x-Thursday, Oct. 31: at AL

 

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