By BEN WALKER, AP Baseball Writer
All those home runs by Aaron Judge, all those wins by the Los Angeles Dodgers, nicely done. Except none of that matters now — a sinker that bounces to the backstop, a liner that hooks barely foul, the whole script flips.
October has a way of doing that.
The Major League Baseball playoffs start Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium when New York hosts the Minnesota Twins in the AL wild-card game. A look at the 2017 postseason, from A to Z:
A: ALTUVE’S ASTROS — Generously listed at 5-foot-6, Jose Altuve is baseball’s little big man. The do-everything second baseman won his third AL batting title and aims to lead the Astros to their first World Series crown. With the Houston area recovering from Hurricane Harvey, they’re the sentimental favorites.
B: BULLPENS — Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman going long, Andrew Miller entering early, Clayton Kershaw as a closer. The old rules were out last October when it came to relief roles. We’ll see what pops up in the ‘pens this year.
C: CUBS VS. CLEVELAND — Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Kluber & Crew, once more? It’s been a while since a World Series rematch, when Reggie Jackson led the Yanks over the Dodgers in 1977-78. But, it’s already been a ripe year for repeats — Warriors vs. Cavaliers, Alabama vs. Clemson.
D: DEBUTS — Strikeout king Chris Sale makes his first playoff appearance when Boston starts at Houston on Thursday in the best-of-five AL Division Series. Rockies bopper Nolan Arenado and Twins slugger Brian Dozier are postseason newbies, too. So is Nationals backup Adam Lind, after 12 years and more than 1,300 games.
E: EXTRA — Hmmm, anyone remember the last time a postseason game went to extra innings? Hard to top the Cubs’ 10-inning, rain-delayed, 8-7 thriller over Cleveland in Game 7. The Red Sox are the experts of extras this year — they’re 15-3, including seven straight wins.
F: FREE AGENTS — Sure, 20 teams are done. But their fans can always dream. Cubs righty Jake Arrieta, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and Rays thumper Logan Morrison are on the list of who’ll soon be available. The most intriguing possibility might be Shohei Otani, a star pitcher and hitter in Japan.
G: GOOD TO SEE YA — Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, when he was 10 for 17. Twins star Joe Mauer has been absent since 2010. And Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg has pitched just once in Washington’s three trips, heading into this matchup with the Cubs.
H: HOME FIELD — World Series home-field advantages goes to the team with the best record. Thankfully, it’s no longer based on who wins the All-Star Game. That means the Dodgers (104 wins) get first dibs, followed by Cleveland (102), Houston (101), Washington (97), Boston (93) and the Cubs (92).
I: INJURIES — Nationals ace Max Scherzer tweaked his hamstring, teammate Bryce Harper is getting over a bad knee. Banged-up All-Stars Miguel Sano of the Twins and Michael Brantley of the Indians might be able contribute this week. Might not.
J: JOE MADDON — A cool cat, he keeps his Cubs loose. He reveled in last year’s rallying cry: “Try Not to Suck.” The skipper became the toast of Chicago, ending that century-old drought. Funny, all those warm-and-fuzzy Wrigley Field feelings are gone now, at least beyond the Friendly Confines.
K: KERSHAW — He tied for the major league lead in wins and won his fifth ERA title. He’s a three-time Cy Young Award winner and seven-time All-Star. But will anyone get more scrutiny in the postseason than Clayton Kershaw? Probably not, because the LA lefty is 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in the postseason.
L: LOUSY WEATHER — Too bad, the temperature is often better suited for snowballs than baseballs. It was in the low 40s at Wrigley last year, and just imagine how it might feel in Denver or Minneapolis. If you want clear conditions, root for Arizona vs. Houston and their retractable roofs.
M: MANAGERS — Twin Cities native Paul Molitor, Torey Lovullo of the Diamondbacks and Bud Black of the Rockies are first-time skippers in the playoffs. Washington’s Dusty Baker is back for his ninth try, still seeking that elusive first World Series championship.
N: NETTING — Fan safety has drawn special focus ever since a 1-year-old girl was recently hit by Todd Frazier’s 105 mph foul ball at Yankee Stadium. Of the teams in these playoffs, three already had extended the netting to screen spectators: Houston, Washington and Minnesota. The Yankees say they’ll have it next year.
O: OCTOBER — Of course. But if the World Series goes to Game 7, they’ll go beyond Halloween and play on Nov. 1.
P: PUERTO RICO — Carlos Beltran, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa are among the many players from Puerto Rico trying to raise money and awareness for the damage done to their island by Hurricane Maria. Look for messages on caps and shoes over the next few weeks.
Q: QUICK? — Extra mound conferences, longer TV commercials, more pitching changes, they all contribute to slowing down the pace in the playoffs. MLB wants to speed up the action and avoid a repeat from last year, when postseason games averaged almost 3 1/2 hours. Not a good sign that regular-season games this year took more than 3 hours, 5 minutes on average, the longest ever.
R: ROOKIES — Yankees behemoth Aaron Judge broke the major league record with 52 home runs by a rookie, Dodgers surprise Cody Bellinger set the NL mark with 39. Other newcomers who could make an impact: Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi, Cubs outfielder/infielder Ian Happ and 33-year-old Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel.
S: STREAKS — Jose Ramirez and the Indians set an AL record by winning 22 straight, the Dodgers dropped 11 in a row for their worst skid since moving from Brooklyn. A year after winning its first six postseason games, and in this season of streaks, Cleveland hopes to do it again.
T: TRADES — Justin Verlander (5-0, 1.06 ERA for Houston), J.D. Martinez (29 homers in 62 games for Arizona) and Jose Quintana (7-3, 3.74 for the Cubs) are some of the stars who were acquired in midseason trades. Yu Darvish, David Robertson and Eduardo Nunez also gave their new teams a boost.
U: UMPIRES — It won’t be long before some team is hollering about an ump’s strike zone. Those calls can’t be contested, but others can. Some teams are very good at getting them overturned (Joe Girardi and the Yankees won 72 percent of their challenges). Others, not so much (the Nationals were right only 36 percent).
V: VOTING — All ballots for MVP, Cy Young and other major awards must be sent before the playoffs begin. These honors will generate plenty of debate before the winners are announced in November. Altuve or Judge, Kluber or Sale?
W: WILD CARDS — Madison Bumgarner and the 2014 Giants are the only wild-card team to win the World Series since MLB went to a one-and-done format in 2012. Before that, five wild cards took the title: Cardinals (2011), Red Sox (2004), Marlins (2003, 1997) and Angels (2002).
X: XANDER BOGAERTS — Perhaps the Boston shortstop might be the next infielder to really break out in postseason. Think Javier Baez, Daniel Murphy, Ben Zobrist and Alcides Escobar in recent years.
Y: YANKEE STADIUM — The playoffs begin the Bronx, with Yankees youngster Luis Severino starting the AL wild-card game, taking on Ervin Santana and the Twins.
Z: ZACK GREINKE — The Arizona ace is set to throw the first pitch in Wednesday’s NL wild-card game at home against a familiar opponent. He’s 2-1 in five starts vs. Colorado this year.
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