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(Reuters) - From the East Coast to the West Coast and points in between the Major League Baseball postseason starting on Tuesday provides tantalizing possibilities of a regional rivalry determining the World Series champion.
From a possible "Freeway Series" in Los Angeles between the Dodgers and cross-town rival Angels, to a "Beltway Series" by the nation's capital featuring the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, local fans dream of a territorial skirmish.
There is also a chance for a "Bay Bridge Series" between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics or an "I-70" clash in the American heartland between the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals.
Such showdowns could showcase some of baseball's best from the Angels' Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig, and strikeout artist Stephen Strasburg of Washington to Baltimore's home run leader Nelson Cruz.
Those notions, however, are well down the road as three levels of playoffs must be hurdled first, starting with a pair of do-or-die wild card clashes in Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
Oakland (88-74) travel to Kansas City (89-73) for the American League's one-game showdown on Tuesday with the Royals celebrating a return to the postseason after a 29-year absence.
The Athletics aim to shake off a late-season swoon in which they nearly squandered a postseason berth after losing 30 of 45 games before joining the tournament with a Sunday win.
Starting for the A's, who have been struggling to score runs, will be Jon Lester (16-11), who will oppose James Shields (14-8) of the Royals, the lowest scoring AL team in the playoffs and dead-last in the league in home runs.
That coupling in itself represents a pair of intertwined franchises, as it was the Kansas City Athletics who moved to Oakland in 1968 with MLB returning to the city one year later with the expansion Royals.
Kansas City won their only World Series in 1985 against the St. Louis Cardinals in a World Series dubbed the "I-70 Showdown" for the 250-mile stretch of highway that separates them.
The AL wild card winner will advance to the best-of-five division series, starting on Thursday, versus the top-seeded Angels (98-64), whose formidable one-two punch of Trout and Pujols helped them lead the majors in runs scored.
AL East champion Baltimore (96-66), who have endured 31 years since their last Fall Classic crown, will open their best-of-five series at home on Thursday versus the Central division-winning Detroit Tigers (90-72) and their vaunted one-two offensive punch of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
The Tigers hunger for another crack at a World Series after being runner-up to the Giants in 2012 and the Cardinals in 2006.
In the National League, San Francisco (88-74) play the Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74) on Wednesday for the right to advance to the best-of-five Division Series against Washington (96-66).
No strangers to the postseason, the Giants have won a pair of recent World Series, in 2012 and 2010, and are hoping to score another even-year bonanza.
Pittsburgh, led by last year's NL most valuable player Andrew McCutchen, are aiming to go deeper into the playoffs after returning to the postseason for the first time in 21 years last year and falling in the Division Series.
The Pirates may be at disadvantage after striving in vain to wrest the NL Central crown from St. Louis as they used their top starters over the weekend and will go with Edison Volquez (13-7)to oppose Giants ace Madison Bumgarner (18-10).
The NL wild card winner will advance to a best-of-five series starting on Friday in Washington to play the Nationals, who won the East by a whopping 18 games with what could be the best rounded team in the majors featuring a deep rotation that led the league in earned run average (3.03).
St. Louis and ace Adam Wainwright (20-9) will travel to Los Angeles for an expected duel against the Dodgers' reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who was an eye-popping 21-3, leading the majors in wins and ERA with an exceptional 1.77.
The Cardinals-Dodgers series also opens on Friday.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue