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MLB Wild Card Weekend Preview

They’re all in line, we’re ready for the start. A dozen teams are set to compete for a World Series title, bringing the 2022 MLB season to a dramatic close. It all begins this weekend with eight Wild Card teams playing as many as twelve games in three days. These best-of-three series will set the stage for the division series round, as the top two teams in each league await, enjoying a first-round bye. Here’s the tale of the tape for the postseason’s first four matchups.

American League

No. 6 Tampa Bay Rays at No. 3 Cleveland Guardians

Without question, Tampa and Cleveland are the most overlooked playoff teams in the league. The Rays have weathered an AL East with four 83-plus-win teams, securing a fourth consecutive playoff berth. With outfielder Randy Arozarena being the only player with at least 60 RBI (89), Tampa’s offense employs a next-man-up mentality that is well-suited for the postseason. On the mound, the sixth seed is led by All-Star starting pitcher Shane McClanahan, who pitched to a 2.54 ERA overall but an alarming 7.07 ERA in his last three starts. His performance and the effort of his fellow rotation pieces will be a difference-maker for the series.

Cleveland is back in the postseason for the fifth time in seven years. The AL Central champions boast a roster with minimal playoff experience, yet their 22-5 record to end the season indicates a readiness for the big moment. Third baseman Jose Ramírez (126 RBI) leads an offense that won’t hit many home runs but will attack with a barrage of walks, singles and doubles. The Guardians have a strikingly high ceiling due to their pitching staff. Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill, who will start the Wild Card series, each has an ERA below 3.40. Behind them, Emmanuel Clase has been the best closer in baseball, recording a major league-best 42 saves. Cleveland went 4-2 against the Rays in the regular season.

No. 5 Seattle Mariners at No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays

In 2021, Seattle and Toronto were each eliminated from playoff contention on the season’s final day. In 2022, they meet as two of the hungriest postseason teams imaginable. The Mariner offense has leveled up thanks to slugging infielders Ty France and Eugenio Suárez (171 combined RBI), star rookie outfielder Julio Rodriguez (28 HR, 25 SB) and surprise power-hitting catcher Cal Raleigh (27 HR). The bats have struggled to uphold consistency, however, and the same can be said for the pitching staff. Seattle has owned the Jays this year, taking five out of seven regular season matchups, including a four-game sweep in mid-July.

Toronto has enjoyed plentiful success down the stretch, amassing four different three-game win streaks since the dawning of September. The Blue Jays, yielding one of the league’s most fearsome lineups, lead MLB with a .264 team batting average. Six of Toronto’s seven double-digit home run-hitters have a batting average of .260 or higher, helping the Jays to a multi-dimensional attack. The question mark lies within their league-average pitching staff. Number one starting pitcher Alek Manoah is as reliable as anyone, but the arms surrounding him must step up to take pressure off the hitters.

National League

No. 6 Philadelphia Phillies at No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals

For Phillies fans, the eleven-year wait between playoff appearances is over. The Phils walked anything but a straight path in the second half, but they found their way to October. Outfielder Kyle Schwarber has cranked 46 long balls to pace a powerful group of hitters, but pitching depth is a clear concern. The Phillies have carved out three surefire starters in Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Ranger Suárez, yet there isn’t much to back them up. The bullpen is especially suspect, as Philly has by far the worst relief ERA among postseason qualifiers. Philadelphia went 4-3 against St. Louis this year, with five of the matchups being decided by two runs or less.

The storybook season has reached its final chapter in St. Louis. Over the last six months, the Cardinals have celebrated the 18-year career of starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, enjoyed the final season of legendary catcher Yadier Molina and watched future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols belt his 700th home run. They also have the likely NL MVP in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. St. Louis has been arguably the most consistent of the Wild Card teams, with a fundamentally sound offense and reliable pitching staff. Their playoff success will likely depend on their ability to match other teams when they heat up. The Redbirds are looking to get over the hump in this era of contention, having gone 4-8 in the last three postseasons.

No. 5 San Diego Padres at No. 4 New York Mets

This time a year ago, San Diego was reeling from an epic second-half collapse. 2022 was kinder to the Friars, as they now head to the Big Apple with hopes for a massive upset. New York pitches incredibly well, but San Diego offers a worthy counterattack with proven veterans Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove filling out the rotation. To reach the Division Series for the second time in three years, the Padres will need trade deadline acquisitions Juan Soto and Josh Bell to return to superstar form. Third baseman Manny Machado (32 HR, 102 RBI) has carried the offense all year, but he can only bear the weight for so long without elite protection. San Diego handled the Mets comfortably in the regular season, taking four out of six head-to-head matchups.

New York is back in the dance for the first time since 2016, but not on the terms they were looking for. Atlanta made a late surge to capture the NL East, forcing the Mets into this weekend as the best Wild Card team record-wise. The Mets’ three-man rotation of Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Chris Bassitt instills fear unlike any other, yet each of them delivered subpar performances in their most crucial starts last weekend. New York’s offense, much like Toronto’s, is reliable and combines high levels of power, contact and discipline. Therefore, the outcome of the series lies in how much the Padres’ big bats and Mets’ big arms can tap back into their potential.

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Reidy: Breaking down the MLB playoff race

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 treidy3@nd.edu.