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Why you should be watching Mets-Braves, the anxious Yankees and a tangle of rookie phenoms

Why you should be watching Mets-Braves, the anxious Yankees and a tangle of rookie phenoms

Did you feel that calendar flip? Timmy Trumpets brought Edwin Diaz on and played out August. Shohei Ohtani took Gerrit Cole out and ushered in September. The MLB season has officially rounded third. It’s racing for home.

With the season’s final month comes a narrowing and intensifying focus. The biggest storylines and races will all build to Game 162 on Wednesday, Oct. 5. We have nine things you need to know to gear up for the stretch run and fully enjoy the drama of September.

1. How does the new MLB playoff format work again?

You might remember that as part of the collective bargaining agreement that ended the lockout, the team owners and players expanded the postseason. There are now six teams from each league, three division winners and three wild cards. That means a new path to the World Series, and it has serious implications for the stakes of September.

When each league’s field is set, it will go like this:

  • The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds — the two best division winners — get byes into the Division Series, a huge advantage. The other four teams square off in a new three-game wild-card series, replacing the one-game wild-card showdowns, that will be exclusively hosted at the better seed’s park.

  • The division winner with the worst record will be the No. 3 seed and host the No. 6 seed, the wild-card team with the worst record. The winner of that series will go on to face the No. 2 seed, regardless of which team comes out on top.

  • The two best wild cards, seeds No. 4 and No. 5, will play each other. The winner will advance to face the top seed.

From there, things will look familiar. The Division Series will be best of five. The Championship Series and World Series will be best of seven, with the team with the higher seed wielding home-field advantage by hosting Games 1, 2, 6 and 7.

2. The Mets-Braves race is crucial even though both will make the playoffs

That new playoff format sets up what could be the most thrilling and most important race in September, even though neither NL East titan is at risk of missing out on October. Entering the month, the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves are the second- and third-best teams in the National League. But because they can’t both win their division, one will be the No. 2 seed and the other will be the No. 4 seed. That means one will get to reset their rotation to face a weaker foe in the NLDS while the other will play a must-win best-of-three series and roll right into a showdown with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s…

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