Reidy: Breaking down the MLB playoff race
Tyler Reidy | Thursday, September 22, 2022
MLB Postseason Push: Two Weeks Out
Just over six months ago, commissioner Rob Manfred lifted the lockout and gave the green light for the 2022 MLB season. What a season it’s been. Between Aaron Judge’s record-breaking campaign, Shohei Ohtani’s unprecedented skills and a magical crop of rookie phenoms, this year has been truly captivating from all angles. However, as the dog days of summer give way to the chill and thrill of autumn, the spectacle of October baseball looms.
This year’s installment of the playoff race features a mix of postseason regulars and intriguing newcomers. The format has been altered to include three wild card spots and a best-of-three between the wild cards and the third-best division winner. The next two weeks are loaded with make-or-break matchups and endless possibilities for the 12-team field. Here’s how it all looks today.
American League Divisions
The AL West is a done deal, as Houston has already locked up its fifth consecutive division title. Having won seven consecutive series, the reigning American League champions have surged past the Yankees to put a stranglehold on the top seed in the league. The Astros need just a few more wins to lock up the AL’s best record and gain the inside track to a sixth straight league ALCS appearance.
Even after the Bronx Bombers raced out to a 61-23 start, the East is still very much up for grabs. The Yankees led the field by 15 games in early July, but the Blue Jays and Rays are now both within striking distance after a bumpy second half in New York. Beginning tonight, the Yanks will play ten straight games against division opponents, including three in Toronto early next week. The Jays have taken four of the last five head-to-head matchups, so there is plenty of room for fluidity down the stretch. Second-place Tampa Bay and third-place Toronto meet for four games this weekend, though, giving the leader a chance to pull away while the chasers stumble upon one another.
The most intriguing division battle lies in the Central, where Cleveland and its miniscule payroll of $58 million cling to first place. The Guardians have single-handedly brought Minnesota to the brink of elimination in September, taking seven of eight from the Twins over the last two weekends. Chicago, the presumed division champion prior to the season, is now the clear and present danger to first place. The White Sox are currently engaged in a three-game clash with the Guardians but dropped the opener on Wednesday night. Over the next two weeks, the cards are lined up in favor of the status quo. Chicago will embark on a tough final road trip in Minneapolis and San Diego, while Cleveland will close with six home games against Kansas City. The Royals have not once taken a road series from an opponent with a winning record in 2022.
American League Wild Card
Toronto, Seattle and Tampa Bay actively hold the three AL Wild Card positions, and that is not likely to change. The Mariners have the clearest of paths to the postseason with the four worst teams in the American League appearing in their final five series. Ability and timing alone can propel the Blue Jays to October, as Toronto is now undefeated in its last seven series. The Orioles and White Sox have a shot at the Rays, but the field of challengers may be cut down to one within a week. Baltimore is in a downward spiral, having started the month 5-10 behind an offense tallying just over three runs per game since August 24.
National League Divisions
The book is closed in the West, as the Dodgers have reclaimed the division after a narrow loss to the Giants in 2021. The final pages could take a dramatic turn in the Central, though. St. Louis leads Milwaukee by just under 10 games, but scheduling leaves a slim window open for the Brewers to storm back. The Brew Crew has only two games remaining against playoff contenders; both are with St. Louis. On the other hand, the Redbirds head to Dodger Stadium this weekend. Their pennant hopes will hinge on their ability to close out a Pirates ballclub that is 16-10 against NL Central opponents since June 15.
The NL East race has been and will continue to be the belle of the ball. The Mets have captured more headlines than any other squad since the All-Star Break, yet the reigning world champion Braves are neck-and-neck with them. Both teams are barreling toward 100-win seasons and have guaranteed themselves a seat at the postseason table. New York has controlled the division outright for all but three days this year, but the home stretch indicates that the final result is seemingly a coin flip. Atlanta is the slightly hotter team with four win streaks of four games or more since August 13, but the Mets have an easier closing slate with series against lowly Oakland, Miami and Washington. Fortunately, these two fireballs will collide in a season-defining set in the ATL next weekend.
National League Wild Card
Atlanta will undoubtedly walk away with the top wild card spot, so this contest will come down to San Diego, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee battling for the next two positions. The Giants have an outside chance with an upcoming string of winnable series, but they are nearly ten games back of the promised land at this point. The Padres play their final nine games at home, so expect them to remain consistent upon approach to October. A setback may be imminent for the Phillies, however, as they host the Braves this weekend after Atlanta swept them a week ago.
This views in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
Contact Tyler Reidy at [email protected].