Aces wild: Playoffs open with Astros-Yankees, Cubs-Pirates
Dallas Keuchel started the All-Star game, won 20 times and twice dominated the New York Yankees.
Now, the Houston Astros need him to pitch the game of his life - while starting on three days' rest for the first time in his career.
All of the Major League Baseball playoff matchups were set Sunday on a final day of the regular season mostly devoid of drama. The Texas Rangers helped locked in the pairings by routing the Los Angeles Angels to win the AL West.
The real intrigue begins Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. That's when the postseason opens with Keuchel and the Astros taking on New York ace Masahiro Tanaka in the AL wild-card game.
On Wednesday night, 22-game winner Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs - still trying for their first World Series championship since 1908 - visit 19-game winner Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL wild-card matchup.
''We're going to the `Burgh,'' first-year manager Joe Maddon said after the Cubs beat Milwaukee 3-1 for their eighth straight win.
Arrieta went 3-1 with an 0.75 ERA in five starts against the Pirates this year. Cole was 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA in four tries vs. the Cubs.
Pittsburgh topped Cincinnati 4-0, ensuring it will host the Cubs.
''We love playing at home,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after his team finished 53-28 at PNC Park. ''Our guys love pitching at home. There's opportunity for it to be a really good ballgame. I know our fans will show up and it will be loud and it will be proud.''
First-year Astros manager A.J. Hinch felt the same way about his players, especially after the team averaged 104 losses in the previous four seasons.
Following a 5-3 defeat in Arizona, he took a puff from a victory cigar and, standing in puddles of beer and champagne, praised his players for what they'd accomplished.
To go even farther, Houston is counting on Keuchel being able to compensate for short rest. The lefty won both of his starts against the Yankees this year, throwing 16 scoreless innings while striking out 21.
The Astros-Yankees winner will play at Kansas City in the best-of-five Division Series on Thursday. The same day, Texas visits AL East champion Toronto.
The NL Division Series begins Friday with the New York Mets at the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cubs-Pirates winner at St. Louis.
At Dodger Stadium, LA will have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke rested and ready. Along with Arrieta, they're the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award.
Kershaw (16-7, 2.13 ERA) tuned up Sunday by fanning seven against San Diego, giving him 301 strikeouts. The three-time Cy Young winner became the first pitcher in the majors to reach 300 since 2002, when Arizona teammates Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it.
''It's definitely a cool thing,'' Kershaw said. ''Obviously not the most important thing in the world. If my pitch count got there and I didn't have 300, I would have come out. Being fresh for the playoffs is more important than 300 strikeouts.''
Kershaw is trying overcome a 1-5 career postseason record with a 5.12 ERA.
Greinke posted a majors-best 1.66 while going 19-3 and striking out 200.
DeGrom and the Mets' bullpen took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning Sunday, and the NL East champions wrapped up the regular season with a 1-0 win over Washington.
''I just think it's a great way to finish,'' manager Terry Collins said. ''I think we're ready.''