TORONTO — There’s a whole lot riding on Alek Manoah’s first career playoff start, but the Toronto Blue Jays’ All-Star right-hander isn’t the least bit fazed about facing the Seattle Mariners in Friday’s wild-card opener.

“My high school coach used to say pressure is something you put in your tires,” Manoah joked Thursday. “This is just baseball. It’s just a game. Just got to go out there, have some fun and leave the pressure for your tires.”

Luis Castillo starts Game 1 for Seattle, making its first postseason appearance since 2001. The Mariners went 5-2 against Toronto this season.

Manoah was 16-7 with a 2.44 ERA in his second big league season, anchoring a rotation that also includes two righties with $100 million-plus contracts, Kevin Gausman and José Berríos.

Still, with his combination of performance and big game poise, Manoah was Toronto’s clear-cut choice to take the ball in the opener.

“It feels like he’s been ready for this moment since he signed,” interim Blue Jays manager John Schneider said of Manoah. “He lives for moments like this and embraces everything that comes with it, but still keeps the task at hand in the forefront. We’re excited for him to get us going.”


Likewise, Mariners Manager Scott Servais has reason to feel good about Castillo, who went 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA in 11 starts for Seattle after being acquired from Cincinnati at the trade deadline.

“I couldn’t be any more confident in sending anybody out there,” Servais said. “When you have a high-end guy like that, the fact that we traded for him, we just signed him to a long-term deal, it’s perfect timing.”

A strong performance in Game 1 could be crucial in this best-of-three matchup.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the Blue Jays, however, will get an extra edge from playing the entire series at home, where a loud, rabid fan base is ready for its first in-person look at postseason baseball since 2016, when Toronto made the second of consecutive ALCS appearances.

GUARDIANS-RAYS: No stranger to October’s postseason pageantry and peril, Terry Francona feels the same heading into his 72nd playoff game as he did before his first 18 years ago.

“I’ll be scared to death,” Cleveland’s manager said, only half-joking. “That’ll never change.”


He’s counting on fearlessness from his Guardians.

Baseball’s youngest team, which used a base-to-base approach to overtake Minnesota and Chicago to win the AL Central running away, gets its first taste of the playoffs Friday when the Guardians open the best-of-three wild-card round against the Tampa Bay Rays.

This is unfamiliar territory for many of Cleveland’s players, most of whom were in the minor leagues during the strange 2020 season when the team, then known as the Indians, was eliminated in the first round by the New York Yankees.

Nothing has fazed the Guardians this season, and Game 1 starter Shane Bieber, who will oppose Tampa Bay ace Shane McClanahan, doesn’t expect his teammates to be rattled while stepping onto a larger stage.

“It seems that nothing has been too big or too small for us this year,” he said. “I really don’t expect too much of a change within the clubhouse or on the field.”

Cleveland and Tampa Bay played six times during the regular season, with the Guardians going 4-2.


PHILLIES-CARDINALS: More than a decade ago, the talented triumvirate of Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright helped power the St. Louis Cardinals past the Philadelphia Phillies in the divisional round of the playoffs, and ultimately to a World Series title.

A lot has happened since, and not a lot of it good around Philadelphia, where the Phillies have had more losing seasons than winning ones and secured a wild-card spot earlier this week for their first return to the postseason.

The two clubs will meet again, 11 years after their last thrilling playoff showdown, set to play a best-of-three National League wild-card series at Busch Stadium.

And wouldn’t you know it? Pujols, Molina and Wainwright are still around, and each could have a starring role when the series begins Friday afternoon.

METS-PADRES: For two teams that finished second fiddle in their divisions, the Padres and Mets bring an awful lot of star power into the playoffs.

Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Yu Darvish on the San Diego side.


Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Francisco Lindor for New York — just to name a few.

A couple of baseball’s biggest spenders, one from each coast, primed to square off in a best-of-three National League wild-card series at Citi Field beginning Friday night. Two wins earns a Division Series date with the powerhouse Dodgers.

San Diego entered with eyes on winning the NL West and — even though Los Angeles ran away with the division title — the Padres stamped themselves World Series contenders by acquiring Soto and All-Star closer Josh Hader in a huge splash at the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

Powered by Pete Alonso and big league batting champion Jeff McNeil at the plate, New York (101-61) sat atop the NL East for all but six days this season.

But even after leading by 10 1/2 games on June 1 and seven on Aug. 10, the Mets were unable to hold off the Braves. The defending World Series champions snatched away their fifth straight division crown and a first-round playoff bye on the strength of a head-to-head sweep in Atlanta last weekend.

ROYALS: Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians.


The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, when the club hoped it was turning the corner from also-ran to contender. But plagued by poor pitching, struggles from young position players and a lackluster group of veterans, the Royals were largely out of playoff contention by the middle of summer.

The disappointing on-field product led owner John Sherman last month to fire longtime front office executive Dayton Moore, the architect of back-to-back American League champions and the 2015 World Series title team. He was replaced by one of his longtime understudies, J.J. Picollo, who made the decision to fire Matheny hours after the season ended.

“Managing the Royals has been a true privilege,” Matheny said in a statement. “I’m thankful to so many, primarily Dayton Moore, and the coaches and players I’ve worked with. I would like to thank Mr. John Sherman and the ownership group for the opportunity to manage their team, and everyone involved in this great organization.

“I came to the Royals knowing it was an organization of excellence and care, and was shown that care every single day. Royals fans should be excited about this group of players, and I look forward to watching them continue to grow.”

Matheny spent parts of seven seasons managing the St. Louis Cardinals, finishing each with a winning record and winning the National League pennant in 2013. But after his firing midway through 2018, he was hired by the Royals in an advisory role, and then tapped to succeed longtime manager Ned Yost when he retired before the 2020 season.

Put in charge of a rebuild in the works, Matheny went 26-34 during a COVID-19-shortened first season, then appeared to show progress last season, when the Royals ushered forward a slew of young prospects and finished 74-88.


The expectation was another step forward this season, but the Royals instead spent September fighting off 100 losses.

Matheny finished 165-219 during his time with the Royals, though the number that perhaps is more important to the future of the club is 29 – the number of players that made their Major League debut during his tenure.

AWARDS: Boston’s Joe Castiglione, the Mets’ Gary Cohen and former major leaguers Dave Campbell, Steve Stone, Duane Kuiper and Ernie Johnson Sr. are among the 10 finalists for Hall of Fame’s 2023 Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting.

Other finalists announced include Jacques Doucet, Tom Hamilton, Jerry Howarth and Pat Hughes.

The winner will be announced Dec. 7 at the winter meetings in San Diego and honored July 22 as part of the Hall of Fame induction weekend.

ATTENDANCE: Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at prepandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.


The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

UMPIRES: Ted Barrett, Alfonso Marquez, Jerry Meals and Jeff Nelson will be the crew chiefs for baseball’s new wild-card series that start Friday, and Mark Carlson, Marvin Hudson, Dan Iassogna and Bill Miller will be crew chiefs for the Division Series next week.

Barrett will work the AL series between Cleveland and Tampa Bay and will start at third base in the opener, as will all crew chiefs. He will be joined for Game 1 by Doug Eddings behind the plate, Adam Hamari at first base, Quinn Wolcott at second, Hunter Wendelstedt in left field and Chad Whitson in right.

Umpires rotate from right field to left and then clockwise around the bases starting at third, meaning crew chiefs will not be scheduled for the plate in the best-of-three wild card series.


Meals will umpire the AL series between Toronto and Seattle and will be joined by Lance Barrett behind the plate for the opener, Todd Tichenor at first base, Brian Knight at second, Andy Fletcher in left field and Roberto Ortiz in right.

Nelson will work the NL series between St. Louis and Philadelphia and be joined in Game 1 by D.J. Reyburn behind the plate, Vic Carapazza at first base, Mike Muchlinski at second, Laz Diaz in left field and John Libka in right.

Marquez will umpire the NL series between the New York Mets and San Diego and be joined in the opener by Adrian Johnson behind the plate, Chris Guccione at first base, Chris Conroy at second, Bruce Dreckman in left field and Ben May in right.

Whitson, Ortiz, Libka and May will be making their postseason debuts.

Dan Bellino, Rob Drake, Manny Gonzalez and Mark Wegner will be the replay umpires.

GAME TIME: The average time of a nine-inning major league game dropped for the first time since 2018, likely helped by the introduction of the PitchCom electronic device to signal pitches.


The average this season was 3 hours, 3 minutes, 44 seconds, the commissioner’s office said. The figure declined from a record 3:10:07 last year and was the lowest since 3:00:44 in 2018.

MLB’s average was 2:46 in 2005 and 2:33 in 1981.

VIDEO REVIEW: Just over half of the 1,261 video review challenges made by teams were successful this season.

Major League Baseball said 633 calls challenged by clubs were overturned, which comes to 50.2%. There were 240 calls confirmed and 388 allowed to stand – where there was not enough evidence to confirm or overturn.

STREAMING: Fans have watched more than 11.5 billion minutes of game action on MLB.TV during the regular season, a record for the streaming package and a 9.8% increase over last year.

The five most-watched games on the 20-year-old streaming platform came this season, including the Red Sox-Yankees opener on April 8.

INJURIES: Use of Major League Baseball’s injured list declined by 13% this season and time lost fell by 4%.

There were 854 placements on the injured list through the end of the regular season. That was down from 983 placements in 2021, the first full season following a schedule curtailed to 60 games because of the pandemic.

Days lost to time on the injured list totaled 41,916, down from 43,513 in 2021.

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