Now that Major League Baseball’s trade deadline has come and gone, all postseason contenders have to do is get as far as they can.
In the meantime, let’s take a whack at predicting which teams will get the furthest.
Ahead are our picks for not only which teams will end up making the 2022 playoffs, but how the actual postseason will unfold from there. We made these by weighing the impact of new additions and anything else that could tip the balance of the scales in question.
Oh, and in case anyone’s forgotten, there’s a new playoff format this season.
The field for the American League and National League has been expanded from five teams to six, with the top three seeds for division winners and the other three for wild cards. The two clubs with the best records in each league will get byes in the first round while the other four teams battle it out in three-game series. There is no reseeding after that.
Now that everyone’s all caught up, let us gaze into the crystal ball.
Though the Yankees still have a 1.5-game lead on the Astros for the top spot in the American League, that lead has been dwindling for a while and FanGraphs now has the Astros projected to win more games.
The Astros’ remaining schedule is the main advantage they have in their favor. Whereas the Yankees have a tough slate that includes 16 games against the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, there’s nothing resembling a gauntlet on the horizon for Houston.
With a mere 1.5-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central, the Twins surely envy the double-digit leads that the Yankees and Astros have in the AL East and AL West, respectively. Yet the Twins also did well to steel themselves for the stretch run with deals for hurlers Tyler Mahle, Jorge Lopez and Michael Fulmer, whereas the Guardians stood pat.
On the plus side for the Guardians, they have 16 games against the lowly Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals to look forward to. No such luck for the Rays, who are already scuffling and are still looking at 24 games against the Yankees, Blue Jays and Astros.
Toronto and Seattle, meanwhile, generally seem safe in the top two wild-card slots. Both clubs should make the playoffs, which sources say would be kind of a big deal for Seattle.
Though the Dodgers aren’t quite running away with the top seed in the National League, we’re not about to bet against any team that’s on pace for 111 wins. Yes, even if said team may be without Clayton Kershaw for a while after he left his start on Thursday with back pain.
The real drama in the Senior Circuit right now is in the NL East, where the Mets lead Atlanta by 4.5 games, and the NL Central, where the Milwaukee Brewers are tied with the Cardinals for first place. The latter two clubs have seven head-to-head contests remaining, while New York and Atlanta will play each other 11 more times.
POLAR POWER 🐻❄️💣 <a href="https://t.co/mDytXhYbtX">pic.twitter.com/mDytXhYbtX</a>
Most notably including 13 games against the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Mets nonetheless have it easier than Atlanta outside of those head-to-head games. Ditto for the Cardinals compared to the Brewers. On St. Louis’ schedule are 25 contests against the Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs.
With Atlanta and the Padres otherwise in position to easily nab the top two wild-card spots, the only other dramatic race at play here is that for the NL’s sixth and final playoff spot.
The Phillies are keeping pace with St. Louis and Milwaukee and they figure to get stronger in August and September. Initially, because hurlers David Robertson and Noah Syndergaard headline a strong list of trade-deadline upgrades. And later, because two-time MVP Bryce Harper could return from a thumb injury before the end of August.
Cleveland Guardians (6) vs. Minnesota Twins (3)
The Guardians have played the Twins tough in the season series between the two teams, winning six of 11 and outscoring Minnesota by 16 runs.
Yet there’s little question that the Twins are the stronger offensive team, particularly in the power department. They’ve out-homered Cleveland by 46 on the season. That would stand to be an advantage in the playoffs, where it’s harder to string hits together.
After adding starter Tyler Mahle and relievers Jorge Lopez and Michael Fulmer, Minnesota’s mound staff is also better stocked than it used to be. Factoring in that all three games of this series would be at Target Field, it would be hard to bet against the Twins.
Twins in 3
Seattle Mariners (5) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (4)
Speaking of home-field advantage in the new Wild Card Round, the Blue Jays stand to benefit from that more than any other team. They’re 34-21 at the Rogers Centre—perhaps with an assist from Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination policy—compared to 25-25 on the road, with the best home OPS this side of the Colorado Rockies.
What could allow the Mariners to cut through this advantage is their starting trio of Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo and Logan Gilbert. All three are overpowering on good days, so much so that there’s an argument about which of them should be Seattle’s Game 1 starter.
Yet the Blue Jays can at least counter with a strong duo of Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman, and Jose Berrios is not to be underestimated as an X-factor. He started slow, but he recently found his footing with a 3.00 ERA in July.
Blue Jays in 3
Philadelphia Phillies (6) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (3)
With Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in the middle of their lineup and Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas at the forefront of their rotation, the Cardinals indeed have the star power for a deep playoff run.
But in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, the Phillies have at least as many aces on their staff. These ones are hot, to boot, having pitched to a combined 2.46 ERA since June 8.
In addition to Rhys Hoskins and Kyle Schwarber, a healthy Harper also gives the Phillies three impact sluggers to the Cardinals’ two. Should Nick Castellanos ever rediscover his 2021 form, it could even be four to two.
Phillies in 2
Atlanta (5) vs. San Diego Padres (4)
Atlanta is a team to beware, to be sure. The defending champs are primed for a strong finish with hurlers Raisel Iglesias and Jake Odorizzi and outfielder Robbie Grossman newly aboard and Ozzie Albies due off the injured list in the near future.
And yet…Juan Soto! Manny Machado! Josh Bell! And soon, Fernando Tatis Jr.! That’s some kind of lineup foursome, and we haven’t even mentioned that San Diego’s bullpen now features arguably baseball’s best reliever in the person of Josh Hader.
Josh Hader of the San Diego Padres. <a href="https://t.co/YHVohkBDtH">pic.twitter.com/YHVohkBDtH</a>
Soto in particular would stand to be the difference in this series. He proved to be a big-game hitter in the 2019 playoffs, and he had been annihilating Atlanta pitching to the tune of a 1.260 OPS and four home runs before the Washington Nationals sent him to San Diego.
Padres in 3
Toronto Blue Jays (4) vs. Houston Astros (1)
Canada’s vaccination policy wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if the Blue Jays meet the Astros in the playoffs. The Astros didn’t have to put anyone on the restricted list when they were in Canada between April 29 and May 1.
It would otherwise be less than ideal for Toronto that Houston would have home-field advantage anyway. Offensively, the Astros’ OPS at home is 37 points better at home than on the road. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, lose 50 points in OPS when they go on the road.
Defense could be the other thing that decides this series. The Blue Jays are fielding the ball a lot better this year than they did in 2021, but the Astros are the best there is at turning batted balls into outs.
Astros in 4
Minnesota Twins (3) vs. New York Yankees (2)
The Twins and Yankees in a playoff series? Cue Twins fans going, “Oh…oh no.”
The Bronx Bombers have won 16 of the 18 games these two clubs have played in October, including 13 in a row dating back to 2004. Things were, uh, different back then:
The Twins' last postseason win was ALDS Game 1 at Yankee Stadium in 2004.<br><br>Here are the starting lineups from that game. <a href="https://t.co/uMR61rdbu9">pic.twitter.com/uMR61rdbu9</a>
In addition to history, the Twins would be up against the Yankees’ unrivaled home-field dominance (41-15 on the season) and unmatched capacity to hit the long ball (185). The Twins just also aren’t very good outside the AL Central, where they’ve gone 28-30.
Yankees in 3
San Diego Padres (4) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)
The Dodgers swept the Padres out of the 2020 playoffs and have since won 17 of 26 contests between the two teams. The Padres might nonetheless feel like quoting Anakin Skywalker right now: “My powers have doubled since the last time we met.”
With 12 games still to play between the Dodgers and Padres, the usual script between these two clubs could indeed be flipped in a major way down the stretch. For the Padres, it’s a chance to put some real fear into the hearts of the National League’s biggest bully.
For now, though, the Dodgers still look like the better team on paper.
Whereas San Diego’s lineup will be all about its big three, there’s good depth underneath the Dodgers’ own big three of Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner. Even sans Kershaw, the Dodgers also still have three starters with ERAs in the 2.00s. And with Walker Buehler, Blake Treinen and Dustin May working their way back from injuries, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will soon have even more pitching firepower to play with.
Dodgers in 4
Philadelphia Phillies (6) vs. New York Mets (2)
The season series between the Phillies and Mets has been thoroughly dominated by the latter, who’ve won nine of 12 with a plus-22 advantage in runs scored.
The catch? All 12 of those games happened before the Phillies showed former manager Joe Girardi the door on June 3. Under Rob Thomson, they’ve been a completely different team in racking up a 35-19 record.
It’s also not for nothing that the Phillies are a better home run-hitting team than the Mets, having out-homered them 134 to 110 even despite Harper’s absence and Castellanos’ slumping. If those two are clicking, the Phillies offense could be too much for the Mets.
And yet, there’s no discounting the impact that New York’s top arms could have in a five-game series. If healthy, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer are simply the best one-two punch in the game. Then there’s Edwin Diaz, who’s averaging two strikeouts per inning this season.
Mets in 5
New York Yankees (2) vs. Houston Astros (1)
The Yankees and the Astros in the American League Championship Series? Something about that sounds familiar…
Oh, right. The two clubs met in the ALCS in 2017 and then again in 2019. The Astros won both series, though the ’17 victory was retroactively tarnished by a cheating scandal and some suspect that Houston might also have cheated in the ’19 series.
"You cheated and you didn't earn it."<br><br>Aaron Judge said the Astros should be stripped of their 2017 World Series title because it doesn't "hold any value." <a href="https://t.co/IbGrWGQqsn">pic.twitter.com/IbGrWGQqsn</a>
All the more reason for the Yankees to want revenge, of course, but they haven’t looked up the challenge of getting any on the Astros this year. Houston won the season series 5-2, holding the Yankees’ high-powered offense to a .151 average and 22 runs in the process.
Rather than in Aaron Judge or any of the team’s other sluggers, the Yankees’ best hope of dispatching the Astros might lie in aces Gerrit Cole and Frankie Montas. Both have dominated Houston over the last two seasons, with Cole posting a 1.17 ERA in three starts and Montas racking up a 2.21 ERA over six starts.
And yet, the Astros having home-field advantage would minimize the Yankees’ biggest edge. And while both clubs’ offenses draw walks and hit for power, Houston’s remains better at avoiding strikeouts. That’s a recipe for a repeat of 2017 and 2019, wherein Yankees hitters had 10 games with double-digit strikeouts and Astros hitters only had three such games.
Astros in 7
New York Mets (2) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)
There’s no real beef between the Mets and Dodgers, yet the two clubs meeting in the National League Championship Series would nonetheless represent a juicy rematch.
The Mets and Dodgers played a darn good series when they met in the 2015 NLDS, in which four of the five games were decided by three or fewer runs. It was deGrom who effectively decided the series, allowing two runs and striking out 20 in Games 1 and 5.
He’s obviously still around, and the Dodgers have likewise felt the sting of his co-ace in the playoffs. Before he became a Dodger in 2021, Scherzer had tormented them as a member of the Nationals in 2016 and especially in 2019.
Contrary to an NLDS matchup against the Phillies, however, whether deGrom, Scherzer and Diaz could carry a series against the Dodgers would be less certain. Those three are great, but the space between them isn’t as crowded with as many talented hurlers as the Dodgers have up and down a pitching staff that leads MLB with a 2.94 ERA.
To boot, the Dodgers offense is both more explosive and more efficient than that of the Mets. The Dodgers have 25 more home runs as a team and they’re the best in the business at scoring baserunners that they put on.
Dodgers in 6
Houston Astros (1) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)
The Astros and Dodgers in the World Series? This, too, sounds familiar…
Ah, yes. The two famously met in the Fall Classic in 2017, which Houston won in seven games even though both clubs scored exactly 34 runs in the series. Yu Darvish was initially the goat for Dodgers fans, until they found out that the games hadn’t been on the level.
Among the things that have happened since then is a changing of the offensive equation between the Astros and Dodgers. In 2017, the Dodgers were a good-not-great offensive team up against perhaps the best offense since the Babe Ruth-led Yankees of the 1920s and 1930s. Cut to now, and the Dodgers have perhaps the best offense in their history.
It’s also not just because of their pitching talent that the Dodgers have likewise been a better run-prevention team than the Astros in 2022. They’re the closest team to the Astros in defensive efficiency, and they even have them beat in defensive runs saved.
The Dodgers would have still another thing in their favor if they hold course and claim the best record in the majors. That would make Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers are 35-15, the primary venue for the World Series.
Dodgers in 6
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
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