The MLB playoff bracket may not unify the nation for three weeks like the NCAA tournament bracket does in March, but it still represents one of the most exciting times on the entire sports calendar. 

After a grueling 162-game schedule, we finally get to see rally towels in the upper deck, late-inning showdowns between bullpen specialists and superstar hitters, and visible proof of the deep breaths players take in the pressure-packed moments, thanks to the crisp October air.

Here is a look at the postseason bracket, courtesy of Cork Gaines of Business Insider:

Here is the entire 2014 playoff schedule, courtesy of, followed by a breakdown of the Wild Card Games.


Wild Card Round Predictions

Fans may instantly recognize superstars like Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Alex Gordon and Josh Donaldson from the four wild-card rosters, but it is all about the pitching in these single-elimination, loser-goes-home playoff games.


National League

The San Francisco Giants will hit the road to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Wild Card Round. Both teams finished with identical records, but the game is in Pittsburgh because the Pirates beat the Giants in four of their six head-to-head games.

Pittsburgh may just be the hottest team in baseball with 17 wins in its last 23 contests.

A large reason why the Pirates have been so hot is the pitching of Edinson Volquez, who has completely dominated since June. In fact, he sports a 1.78 ERA in his last 12 starts and hasn’t given up a run in 18 innings. He knocked his 5.71 ERA from last year down to 3.04 this season and led his team with 31 starts and 192.2 innings pitched.

He has also only given up four earned runs in his last five starts at home.

Volquez won’t be the only impressive pitcher on the mound Wednesday. Madison Bumgarner will take the hill for the Giants, and all he did this year was set a career high in wins with 18 and strikeouts with 219. He also finished with a formidable 2.98 ERA and went 11-4 on the road.

Even if Bumgarner is lights-out, the problem for the Giants may be the offense. San Francisco only scored 44 runs in the final 15 games of the season, which is not exactly the formula for success in the playoffs.

Volquez is red hot on the mound against a struggling Giants lineup. Those patterns will continue in a low-scoring affair. 

Prediction: Pirates 3, Giants 2


American League

The Kansas City Royals host the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card Round in another contest that will be dominated by two of the best pitchers in the MLB.

James Shields, who has postseason experience from his days in Tampa Bay, will take the ball for the Royals with his 2.31 September ERA. He discussed the team and situation, according to Dave Skretta of The Associated Press, via Yahoo Sports:

I’ve only been here for two years, but when I got traded over here, I knew the magnitude of what this organization was headed for. And when I got here, walking around the city and talking to the fans and really relishing the 29 years, it’s a special moment.

It is a special moment that is a long time in the making, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:

Oakland, on the other hand, made the playoffs for the third straight year and will send a postseason-tested veteran to the mound Tuesday. In fact, playoff baseball is the entire reason the Athletics traded for Jon Lester in the first place, and he will take his 6-4 career record and 2.11 ERA in 11 playoff starts to the mound with him. 

The MLB and Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post pointed out why Lester could be a problem for the Royals:

Lester went 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in last year’s World Series, so he certainly isn’t going to be intimidated by the moment in the Wild Card Round. It will mark his 12th career start in the postseason, which is in stark contrast to the inexperience on the Kansas City side.

Lester went 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA against the Royals this season and will be the perfect answer to a raucous Kansas City crowd.

The prediction here is based on the matchup more so than any experience edge. Lester has been a postseason wizard in the past, and he is going up against a lineup that he absolutely dominated in 2014.

There is no reason to expect anything differently this time around. 

Prediction: Athletics 4, Royals 1


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