(Reuters) – The MLB postseason opens this week with no shortage of intrigue as the Chicago Cubs try to snap the longest title drought in professional sports history while Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz seeks a storybook ending to his career.
The Cubs, who over the years have endured plenty of heartache, boast a stacked lineup and rock-solid pitching that have made them the odds-on favorite to shed their “lovable losers” image and win their first World Series title since 1908.
Chicago, who were the only MLB team to reach the 100-win mark this year, open their playoff campaign at home on Friday in a best-of-five National League Division Series versus the winner of Wednesday’s one-game wild card showdown between the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets.
The Cubs checked all the boxes they set out to achieve during the regular season, and even went beyond one goal by winning 103 games, and as a result have no plans to change their approach for the postseason.
“There’s nothing different to do right now except play the game,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “It’s about whether your pitcher pitches better, if we catch the ball. I don’t want us to do anything differently.”
The other NL matchup will see a pitching-rich Los Angeles Dodgers team that tore though the second half of the 162-game regular season battle the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals, who will host the series opener on Friday, have a solid pitching corps to complement their offense but will need to overcome injuries to a number of All-Stars if they are to erase memories of early playoff exits in 2012 and 2014.
The American League’s top-seeded Texas Rangers, bolstered by one of MLB’s most potent offenses and a deep starting rotation, open their division series at home on Thursday versus the winner of Tuesday’s wild card showdown between the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles.
In the other AL Division Series, Ortiz will lead the Red Sox into a best-of-five clash with the Cleveland Indians that starts on Thursday in Ohio.
For Boston’s Ortiz, who already announced this would be his last MLB season, a fourth World Series title would allow him to put an exclamation point on what has already been one of the greatest final seasons by a player in MLB history.
In his 20th campaign, the 40-year-old slugger had a .315 batting average, 38 home runs, and 127 runs batted.
Ortiz built much of his reputation as one of the game’s most feared hitters with several monumental postseason performances and his Boston teammates are hopeful Big Papi has one more deep run left in him.
“I’ve seen him for 10 years and it’s pretty special,” said long-time Ortiz teammate Dustin Pedroia.
“Every time there is a big situation, he’s always finding a way to come through. We’re going to enjoy the last games we have with him because it’s pretty special what he’s done.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto. Editing by Steve Keating)