The key storyline for each Wild Card Game 1

October 3rd, 2023

The playoffs … are here. Nearly every night for the next month, there will be baseball with the highest possible stakes, games played of titanic magnitude. And these will be played all day. This is the fun part. This is what you were waiting for.

It all begins Tuesday, with four games in the Wild Card Series. They begin mid-afternoon on the East Coast -- and right at lunchtime Pacific Time -- so try to get as much done in the morning as possible. Because you’re not going to want to miss a second of any of this.

To help you through this maelstrom of baseball, we’re looking at one important storyline for each game on Tuesday, starting with the earliest (all times eastern).

Rangers at Rays
3:08 p.m. on ABC

Storyline: Can the Rangers shake off the Game 162 disappointment?

For most of the season, the Rangers weren’t just one of the most surprising success stories in baseball, they were perfectly situated for the postseason. They had a fantastic offense, a home crowd that clearly adored this team, some top-shelf starters and -- most importantly -- a clear path to the AL West title, the No. 2 seed in the American League and (perhaps most vital) a first-round bye in the postseason. One by one, all those things went away, most painfully with a 1-0 loss in the final game of the season in Seattle that handed the rival Astros the AL West. So, instead of kicking back and watching all these Wild Card Series while waiting to see who would earn the right to play them, the Rangers have to head to Tropicana Field to face a Rays team that won nine more games this year than they did.

Montgomery -- Texas' other rotation Deadline acquisition -- suddenly has a ton on his shoulders, particularly considering the team's well-documented bullpen problems. The Rays won four of their last five games and would love to get a crack at the Orioles in the ALDS. The Rangers spent the last weekend of the season sliding … and frittering away their division title. They best get started quick, or this might get away from them.

Blue Jays at Twins
4:38 p.m. on ESPN

Storyline: Are the Twins finally going to end their postseason skid?

Surely, Twins players, support staff and (especially) fans are incredibly tired of hearing about the franchise’s 18-game postseason losing streak. You can certainly understand why players would consider it pointless: After all, Edouard Julien, the guy most likely to take the first at-bat for the Twins on Tuesday, was literally five years old when that streak started. (It’s fair to say it’s not Edouard’s fault, is what we’re saying.) But this postseason skid has been hanging over this franchise’s head for almost two decades now, and even if these players had nothing to do with it, they’re aware -- constantly -- of its existence.

Obviously, the Twins can’t advance if they don’t end the skid, but it’s more than that -- they need to end the skid just to prove the skid can be ended. One of the keys to the Twins’ success this year was their starting pitching, and with López and Sonny Gray, they have just the guys to end it. But Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman -- not to mention all those studs in the Blue Jays lineup -- are gonna have a lot to say about that. If the Twins fall behind early in Game 1, how quickly does the dread set in at Target Field?

D-backs at Brewers
7:08 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Storyline: Can the Brewers score enough runs?

The way the D-backs’ rotation has lined up -- because they, unlike the Brewers, had to work to clinch a playoff spot in the season’s final week -- is going to force them to start rookie Pfaadt in Game 1, holding ace Zac Gallen to Game 2. Pfaadt hasn’t pitched terribly lately -- in two of his final three starts of the season, he didn’t allow a run -- but expecting a rookie to go long in a game, particularly one against one of the best starters in the game, is probably unreasonable. But then again: The Brewers haven’t exactly been knocking the cover off the ball this year, though things perked up in the second half after they acquired Carlos Santana and Mark Canha at the Trade Deadline, both of whom have been excellent for Milwaukee.

That said, neither of them is going to instill that much fear in the opposition; the Brewers’ general modus operandi is still to scratch out enough runs to let their superior rotation and (especially) bullpen take care of the rest. This would seem to be a game where it’s set up for them to score some runs. If they can’t now, the rest of the postseason may be quite a struggle … if it even lasts that long.

Marlins at Phillies
8:08 p.m. ET on ESPN

Storyline: Can Marlins magic survive a Philly team with impeccable playoff vibes?

This Tuesday will mark the first playoff games for the Marlins in front of fans -- that is, in a season that wasn’t the expanded 2020 postseason -- since 2003. The Marlins are talented, but they are also young, and almost no one on this roster has spent much time under the postseason klieg lights. Meanwhile, just about every memory you have of last season’s playoffs is of the Phillies, particularly at Citizens Bank Park, where seemingly everyone on the roster -- most of whom are back for this go-around -- had an immortal Philadelphia moment. The Phillies and their fans feel like there’s all sort of unfinished business from last year, and you get a sense they’re all going to be a house afire from the first pitch. Are the Marlins ready for what it’s going to be like in Philadelphia on Tuesday? Are any of us?