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MLB heavy hitters join fray as Division Series kicks off Saturday

Ronald Acuna Jr. Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuña Jr. - The Canadian Press

Competitive baseball was scarce in the Wild Card round, as all four advancing teams made it through with series sweeps, but World Series favourites in Baltimore, Los Angeles and Atlanta should shake things up in the Division Series round. 

The Division Series kicks off on Saturday, Oct. 7, with all four matchups in action.

Texas Rangers vs. Baltimore Orioles

The Texas Rangers rolled over the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card series, winning Game 1 by a score of 4-0 behind seven shutout innings from Jordan Montgomery and taking the series with a 7-1 victory on Tuesday.

Powered by an offence that led the American League with 881 runs scored this season, the Rangers are also getting future Hall-of-Fame starting pitcher Max Scherzer back from an injured shoulder muscle for this series. 

The Baltimore Orioles paced the American League with a 101-61 record, and they finished behind only the Atlanta Braves in wins for the year. The absence of closer Felix Bautista (1.48 earned runs average, 33 saves) due to an elbow injury will hamper their strong bullpen, but the Orioles lineup is loaded with young talent from top to bottom. 

Infielder Gunnar Henderson hit .255 with 28 home runs this year and is the likely AL Rookie of the Year, while catcher Adley Rutschman hit .277 with 20 home runs to follow up a runner-up AL ROTY campaign in 2022. 

The Orioles host the Rangers in Game 1 of the best-of-five series on Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 1:03pm ET / 10:03am PT. 

Minnesota Twins vs. Houston Astros

The Minnesota Twins swept the Toronto Blue Jays at home in the Wild Card series, holding the listless Blue Jays offence to one run over two games.

Rookie and former first overall draft choice Royce Lewis hit two home runs in the Game 1 victory, and he has provided a big boost to the Twins lineup, hitting .309 with 15 home runs in 217 at bats this year. 

The Houston Astros won the World Series a year ago, and they seek the first repeat title since the New York Yankees in 1998-00. 

Houston had the third-best offence in the AL, averaging 5.10 runs per game, and last year's World Series MVP, Justin Verlander, will take the mound in Game 1 on Saturday. 

The Astros host the Twins in Game 1 on Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 4:45pm ET / 1:45pm PT. 

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves

Two divisional foes in a row for the Philadelphia Phillies, who swept the Miami Marlins in the Wild Card series behind strong pitching and clutch hitting - Bryson Stott hit only the second grand slam in Phillies playoff history in Game 2. 

Now they prepare for the juggernaut Braves, whose 104-58 record was tops in the majors. The Phillies made the World Series a year ago and topped the Braves in four games to get there. 

Atlanta led the majors with 947 runs scored - 41 clear of the second-ranked Los Angeles Dodgers. They finished with 307 home runs this season, which is the second highest total in a single year in MLB history. 

They are anchored by likely National League MVP Ronald Acuna, who had a historic season this year. He batted .337, and finished with the first season in MLB history with 40+ home runs (41) and 70+ stolen bases (73). 

The Braves host the Phillies in Game 1 on Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 6:07pm ET / 3:07pm PT. 

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

An NL West showdown sets the stage for the other half of the NLDS picture, with the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks (84-78) going up against the stalwart Dodgers (100-62). 

Arizona took a surprise step forward this year, qualifying for the playoffs just two years after finishing 52-110. Rookie Corbin Carroll had a terrific season, hitting .285 with HR and 54 SB, and Zac Gallen is a NL Cy Young candidate. 

This matchup features the largest disparity in regular-season win totals of the four (16), and the Dodgers won the head-to-head series in the regular season eight games to five. 

The Dodgers are in their 11th-straight World Series playoffs, and MVP candidates in Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts will look to push the team back to the title game after they won the World Series over Tampa Bay in 2020. 

 The Dodgers host the Diamondbacks in Game 1 on Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 9:20pm ET / 6:20pm PT.