It sure felt like the playoffs began Monday, but setting the pair of Game 163s aside, the postseason officially starts Tuesday with the National League wild-card game (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Both the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies will have to shake off the disappointment of losing their respective division tiebreakers and gear up for a do-or-die game at Wrigley Field. The Rockies have the added challenge of traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago (after flying from Denver to L.A. for Monday's game). The Cubs got to sleep in their own beds, assuming they could get some shuteye after losing to the Brewers.
The most important thing of the day: Cubs starter Jon Lester has been here before, in terms of starting winner-take-all playoff games, but they haven't gone his way. This will be Lester's third do-or-die start, and his team lost both of his previous attempts. He allowed six earned runs in 7⅓ innings for the A's in the 2014 American League wild-card game (won by the Royals) and three earned runs in seven innings for the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS (won by the Rays). He is the seventh pitcher in MLB history to start three winner-take-all games and just the second to start such a game with three teams, joining Roger Clemens (Red Sox, Yankees, Astros).
NL wild-card game: Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs
Kyle Freeland (17-7, 2.85 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (18-6, 3.32 ERA), 8 ET (ESPN)
The stakes: The winner plays the Brewers in the NL Division Series beginning Thursday in Milwaukee. The loser goes home.
If the Rockies win: Colorado, which lost last year's wild-card game to the Diamondbacks, will move to the division series for the first time since 2009, and the Cubs' run of three years in the NL Championship Series will come to an end.
If the Cubs win: We get a best-of-five sequel to Monday's thrilling NL Central tiebreaker and the biggest chapter yet in baseball's best burgeoning rivalry (no matter what Cole Hamels says).
One key stat to know: The Rockies' bullpen, which could be pressed into more duty than usual with Freeland working on short rest, has improved dramatically since the end of August. Since Sept. 1, Colorado's pen has the third-best ERA in the NL (2.98), trailing only that of the Brewers (1.98) and Dodgers (2.88). Through August, Rockies relievers had a 5.00 ERA.
The matchup that matters most: How about a throwback matchup with Matt Holliday against Lester? Holliday could be lined up for his first start since Sept. 22 based on his career numbers against Lester (7-for-15 in the regular season). Holliday and Lester also have a postseason history: Holliday is 2-for-9 with a homer and three K's vs. Lester in the 2007 and 2013 World Series.
The prediction: We usually overrate the importance of a player's previous postseason success, but Lester's history is extensive and excellent. He should give the Cubs a good start, the Rockies have to travel from L.A., the Rockies don't hit well on the road, and Freeland is pitching on short rest. Cubs win in a low-scoring game. -- David Schoenfield