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Trout, Strasburg giving MLB playoffs a fresh look

September 30, 2014

So, is this the year of Buck Showalter, Bryce Harper and a Beltway Series? Or perhaps Albert Pujols, Yasiel Puig and a Freeway Series? Maybe a Bay Area matchup or something from the Show Me State.

Plenty of World Series possibilities this year. And a lot to enjoy way before we get there, now that the Major League Baseball playoff brackets are set.

It took the last day of the regular season to settle three division races on Sunday, a final afternoon that featured Derek Jeter’s farewell and Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter.

“Just an epic day for an epic season,” Washington Nationals outfielder Denard Span said.

A look ahead:

FRESH FACES: Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg and Adam Dunn all get their first playoff chance. Favored for the American League MVP after two near-misses, Trout can boost his stature even more when the Los Angeles Angels host the AL wild card in the best-of-five division opener on Thursday. Strasburg is raring to go after Washington held him out of the 2012 postseason because of a pitch limit, a decision that still rankles some in D.C. — the Nationals host the National League wild card on Friday. Dunn has played 2,001 games, the most by any active big leaguer never in the playoffs. The slugging designated hitter tries to help Oakland advance in the AL wild-card game late Tuesday at Kansas City, while the Royals make their first playoff appearance since 1985.

LATE LIFTS: Pitchers Jon Lester, David Price and Huston Street were each traded in midseason, deals designed with big games in mind. Price delivered the AL Central crown to Detroit on Sunday, and will pitch again when the Tigers take on Baltimore. Lester tries to extend his postseason brilliance when he starts for the A’s against James Shields in the wild-card game — the former Boston lefty is 3-0 vs. the Royals this season. Street has smoothly fit into the closer’s role for the Angels.

MOST VALUABLE PLANS: San Francisco catcher Buster Posey and Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen split the last two NL MVP awards, but Posey has a couple of things McCutchen really wants — namely, a pair of World Series rings. By late Wednesday, only one of the stars will have a chance to earn the jewelry this year. Posey and the Giants visit McCutchen and the Pirates in the NL wild-card late Wednesday, with San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner set to start against Edinson Volquez.

BANGED UP: Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina each spent time on the disabled list this year. Healthy now, they meet in a neat Game 1 on Friday in Los Angeles — it’ll be 20-game winner Adam Wainwright vs. Kershaw, fresh off becoming the first pitcher to lead the majors in ERA for four straight years.

Still to be determined: How much will Josh Hamilton play for the Angels? The former MVP has been limited to just one game since Sept. 4 because of side and shoulder injuries.

Definitely out: Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters, both gone after season-ending surgery.

THE DRUG CLOUD: Someday, maybe doping won’t be so intertwined with home runs, RBIs and ERA. But banned drugs are still a part of the conversation. Orioles slugger Chris Davis, the MLB home run champ last year, was suspended for 25 games in mid-September after a positive test for an amphetamine. He’s out at least through the division series. Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz led the majors with 40 homers this year and Jhonny Peralta hit a team-leading 21 for St. Louis — both players were suspended for 50 games last year in the Biogenesis investigation.

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