By David Brandt
Major League Baseball’s postseason has a little more heft this season.
The playoffs are rapidly approaching, with the final regular season games set for Oct. 5. The postseason begins two days later with a field of 12 teams — up from last year’s 10 — and includes a best-of-three format for the opening wild-card round.
An expanded postseason could lead to some spicy early postseason matchups. San Diego’s newly acquired slugger Juan Soto against the defending World Series champion Braves? Ageless star Albert Pujols and the Cardinals against Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and the Phillies?
Both are possibilities depending on results in the season’s final week.
MLB’s new wild-card format is similar to the one currently used in college baseball for the NCAA Super Regional round: The three games will be scheduled on three consecutive days from Oct. 7-9 at the higher seed’s field. The first team that gets two wins advances.
After that, the playoffs will be business as usual. The division series will be best-of-five, while the league championship series and World Series will be best-of-seven.
Here’s a little more information about baseball’s bulked-up postseason:
WHAT’S NEW IN BASEBALL’S WILD-CARD ROUND?
The best-of-three wild card format is a change from the sudden death one-game format that’s been in place since 2012.
Six teams each from the American League and National League will qualify for the postseason, including the three division winners in each league. The three wild-card teams in each league will be the teams with the best record that didn’t win their division.
The top two teams with the best records in each league will get a bye and don’t have to play in the wild-card round. Those four teams get a few days of rest. Right now, that would be the Astros and Yankees in the American League and the Dodgers and Braves in the National League.
The wild-card round will feature four series: The No. 6 seed will play at the No. 3 seed in both the AL and NL. The No. 5 seed will play at the No. 4 seed.
WHY ARE THE PLAYOFFS STARTING LATE?
October’s postseason festivities will bleed into November before a champion is crowned.
That’s mostly because of the sport’s labor strife that resulted in a work stoppage over the winter. It delayed the beginning of spring training and pushed the regular season back about a week. Baseball players and owners salvaged the usual 162-game season, but to do that, they had to move opening day from March 31 to April 7.
Some of the games originally scheduled for the first week of the season were moved to the end, meaning a season that was originally scheduled to end on Oct. 2 instead ends on Oct. 5.
Hence, a late start to the playoffs.
WHAT HAPPENED TO BASEBALL TIEBREAKER GAMES?
Game No. 163 is one that lives in baseball lore. Bucky Dent’s homer for the Yankees in 1978. Matt Holliday’s game-winning run in the 13th inning for the Rockies in 2007.
Those days are gone.
If there’s a tie for one of the playoff spots, mathematical tiebreakers will be used instead of an extra game. The first will be the head-to-head record between the two teams involved.
If that can’t handle the stalemate, the team with the best intra-divisional record will win the tiebreaker. If that doesn’t work, the process continues with more and more convoluted solutionsuntil a resolution is reached.
It’s unlikely tiebreakers will be needed in the American League, but keep an eye on the National League. The Braves and Mets are locked in a tight race for the NL East, while the Brewers and Phillies are in a battle for the final NL wild-card spot.
WHO ARE THE FAVORITES?
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been dominant all season with a lineup that includes Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Will Smith and Freddie Freeman. They could top 110 wins this season during the final week.
Over in the American League, the Houston Astros have already topped 100 wins as well. They’ve got a loaded lineup that includes Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, along with potential AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander.
New York’s teams should figure into the mix as well. The Yankees were cruising for much of the season — led by star Aaron Judge’s 61-homer campaign — but have just a 30-31 record since the All-Star break. The Mets have one of the league’s deepest pitching staffs, with two aces on top in Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer.
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Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup
AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Tensions ran high at Iran’s second match at the World Cup on Friday as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, T-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic.
Some fans were stopped by stadium security from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags to the match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match as some fans in the stadium wept, whistled and booed.
The national team has come under close scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have wracked Iran for weeks.
Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic!”
Mobs of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted, “The Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.
After Iran’s 2-0 triumph, crowds of Iranian fans wildly waving national flags streamed out of the stadium. They thronged a group of protesters who held up photos of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose Sept. 16 death in the custody of the morality police first unleashed the protests, yelling “Victory!” to drown out chants of Amini’s name.
One 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, started to cry as shouting men blowing horns encircled her and filmed her face. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.
“We want to raise awareness about his arrest and about the women’s rights movement,” said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “I’m not here to fight with anyone, but people have been attacking me and calling me a terrorist. All I’m here to say is that football doesn’t matter if people are getting killed in the streets.”
Maryam and her friends had worn hats emblazoned with the name of an outspoken Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafouri, who had criticized Iranian authorities and was arrested in Iran on Thursday on accusations of spreading propaganda against the government. She said Iranian government supporters had taken the hats from their heads.
Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, was a star member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup team, but was surprisingly not named in the squad for this year in Qatar.
“It’s obvious that the match had become very politicized this week. You can see people from the same country who hate each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan who also declined to give his last name. “I think the arrest of Voria has also affected society in Iran a lot.”
Furious protesters in Iran have been venting their anger over social and political repression and the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, for women. The demonstrations have quickly grown into calls for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests erupted, according to monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran.
The turmoil has overshadowed the start of Iran’s World Cup campaign. The opening match against England on Monday was the scene of protests as anti-government fans waved signs and chanted in the stands. Before that match, which Iran lost 6-2, its players remained silent as their national anthem played and didn’t celebrate their two goals. On Friday, they sang along to the anthem and celebrated wildly when they scored twice against Wales.
Ayeh Shams, an Iranian from the United States, said security guards confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” written on it.
“We’re just here to enjoy the games and give a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.
Zeinlabda Arwa, a security guard at the stadium, confirmed that authorities had been given orders to confiscate anything but the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Whether you’re talking about Iran or Qatar or any country, you are only allowed to bring in the normal flag,” she said.
An angry group of Iranian government supporters shouted at Elyas Doerr, a 16-year-old Iranian boy living in Arizona who was wearing the Persian flag as a cape, until he took it off and and put it in his bag.
“They’re not liking that it’s a political statement,” he said, adding that other Iranian fans had approached him to say they appreciated the gesture.
A 32-year-old Iranian woman living in southern Spain, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals, scrambled after the match to retrieve her hat and flag that had been confiscated by stadium security. She said Qatari police ordered her to scrub off the names of Iranian protesters killed and arrested by security forces that she had written on her arms and chest, at the behest of Iranian government supporters. At the game, just traces of ink remained on her skin that was rubbed raw.
“Today’s football experience was the most intimidating I’ve ever been in, before and after the match,” she said. She described dozens of men who surrounded her and tried to smother her face with their Iranian flags, snatching her signs as Qatari security stood by.
“I don’t care about the win, to be honest. That’s not my priority.”
After the game, Iranian state television broadcast patriotic songs and showed footage of people bursting out into cheers across the country.
Isabel Debre And Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press
Sajjan mum on human rights during World Cup visit to Qatar
By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa
OTTAWA — International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan is facing opposition criticism because he did not make a public statement about human rights during his visit to Qatar for the World Cup.
“If we don’t raise the issue of human rights when we are in countries where we know human rights abuses are taking place, we have no moral authority,” said NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson.
Sajjan attended the World Cup on behalf of the Trudeau government, where the Canadian men’s team is competing for the first time in years. He met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and local officials.
Yet Sajjan’s social media postings make no mention of the host country’s documented mistreatment of migrant workers, nor the emirate’s anti-LGBTQ policies.
Those concerns have led some broadcasters and players to sport armbands that say “One Love.” The German team covered their mouths when their official photo was taken.
Sajjan’s office said he was unavailable Thursday for comment as he was flying back to Canada.
Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, who is gay, said he felt split on Qatar’s hosting.
“I’ll be honest, it’s very conflicting. I’m cheering on my team; I’m cheering on my country and (want) nothing but the best. But I’ll tell, you it’s kind of difficult,” he said
O’Regan said he could not speak for Sajjan, but noted the government voiced concerns about Qatar before the games got underway.
“We know exactly where we stand on it; we’ve voiced our displeasure clearly,” he said.
The NDP had called for a diplomatic boycott of the tournament.
“This is talking out of both sides of your mouth, with this government,” McPherson said.
“This government once again has shown that they don’t really care about human rights.”
On Monday, MPs passed a unanimous motion condemning FIFA for threatening to penalize players who wore the “One Love” armbands. The motion argued that “international sporting governing bodies have a moral obligation to support players and fans in highlighting the fight for equality against homophobia, transphobia, and all forms of discrimination in sport.”
Captains of several European countries scrapped plans to wear a “One Love” armband after FIFA, soccer’s governing body, warned they would face on-field sanctions.
Media reports from Qatar also said some fans wearing rainbow attire were refused entry to the stadiums.
This month, Amnesty International rebuked Soccer Canada for its “deafening silence” on the thousands of workers, predominantly from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, who “have been subjected to labour abuses, abysmally low pay, and other exploitation.”
Soccer Canada released a statement last month in support of ongoing reforms, but steered clear of criticizing the emirate.
Amnesty noted that peer federations from Britain, the U.S., France and the Netherlands all endorsed calls for a compensation fund for migrant workers who were mistreated while preparing Qatar for the games.
The Conservatives did not have a direct comment on Sajjan’s actions. Instead, MP Michael Chong said his party prefers that the World Cup be hosted by countries with better reputations, such as a bid by Ukraine to co-host the 2030 tournament with Spain and Portugal.
“Conservatives condemn in the strongest terms all human rights abuses around the world and are prepared to work with our democratic allies to support human rights,” Chong wrote in a statement.
The Bloc Québécois had also called for a diplomatic boycott, and lamented Sajjan’s attendance in Qatar. “Canada has no excuse to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses,” MP Martin Champoux tweeted in French on Monday.
During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Liberals urged the Harper government to raise the issue of human rights in China.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press
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