Each Projected MLB Playoff Team's Nightmare October Matchup

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVAugust 21, 2022

Each Projected MLB Playoff Team's Nightmare October Matchup

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    Los Angeles Dodgers 1B Freddie Freeman (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    A little over six weeks from now, we will have the 12-team bracket for Major League Baseball's 2022 postseason.

    But what is the nightmare matchup that every projected playoff team is hoping to avoid?

    "Projected" is the name of the game. Using postseason odds from ESPN, Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and FiveThirtyEight, the consensus projected field is the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Guardians and Tampa Bay Rays in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres in the National League.

    The Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers still have realistic shots, and the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants are nowhere near eliminated yet. But those are the 12 teams we considered.

    And of those dozen teams, who least wants to face whom in October?

    This season's head-to-head records, postseason head-to-head records, batter vs. team, pitcher vs. team, batter vs. pitcher and other matchup-based observations all factored in to the cosmic gumbo that spit out a singular nightmare nemesis for each team.

    And before you fret about needing to read about the Dodgers, Astros, Mets and Yankees over and over again, no team appears as a nightmare matchup more than twice.

    Teams are presented in alphabetical order by city.

Atlanta Braves

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    Austin Riley (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: Los Angeles Dodgers

    This year's dominant Dodgers are a nightmare matchup for any team, but especially so for Atlanta—which is not great news with the Braves in position for the NL's No. 4 seed, meaning they would need to go through No. 1 Los Angeles in the National League Division Series.

    En route to their 2021 World Series title, the Braves did knock out the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. But they lost to Los Angeles by 3-1 series margins in the 2013 and 2018 NLDS and blew a 3-1 lead in the 2020 NLCS.

    Not exactly an opponent they've fared well against in recent years.

    Plus, in 2021, Atlanta had Freddie Freeman on its side. This time around, the Braves would go up against the 2020 NL MVP and 2022 NL MVP hopeful—as well as a whole bunch of other multiple-time All-Stars.

    Moreover, most of the key figures in the Atlanta lineup have mediocre or poor career numbers against L.A. In 63 regular-season games against the Dodgers, the quartet of Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson, Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson has a combined batting average of .216 and slugging percentage of .304.

Cleveland Guardians

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    Jose Ramirez (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: New York Yankees

    On the one hand, Jose Ramirez has incredible career numbers against the Yankees. We're talking a .363 batting average and .631 slugging percentage in 49 games. He has been especially potent at Yankee Stadium, too, where he has a 1.344 OPS in 25 games. And that's massive, because getting Ramirez going is something of a sine qua non for the Guardians in October. (From a "Ramirez's career numbers" point of view, Seattle would be Cleveland's least desirable foe.)

    Also, Aaron Judge merely has a .232 career batting average against Cleveland with five home runs in 28 games. It's the only team he has faced more than 10 times without averaging at least one home run for every five games.

    However, in six games this season against the Yankees, Cleveland went 1-5 with a minus-24 run differential. And, oddly enough, the only game the Guardians won (July 3) was the only one Ramirez didn't play.

    Moreover, New York has won five consecutive postseason games against Cleveland, erasing a 2-0 deficit in the 2017 ALDS before sweeping the homestanding Guardians 2-0 in the 2020 Wild Card Round.

    Unless they have some sort of "Joba Chamberlain attacked by a swarm of midges in the 2007 ALDS" trick up their sleeve, the Guardians would prefer to avoid the Yankees for as long as possible.

Houston Astros

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    Yordan Alvarez (Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: Toronto Blue Jays

    Things that happened within the first four weeks of the regular season are pretty much irrelevant at this point, especially when talking about the Astros, who have gone 66-33 since an 11-11 start.

    All the same, the Blue Jays took two out of three in Houston in late April and then won two more in a three-game set in Toronto a week later.

    Houston has played at least four games against 12 different opponents this season, and Toronto is the only one against which it doesn't have a run differential of at least plus-five.

    Jose Altuve did miss all six of those games while on the injured list, but Kyle Tucker hit .400, while Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Jeremy Pena each hit multiple home runs. It still wasn't enough.

    A fluke in a small sample size? Probably. As is Justin Verlander's 4.29 ERA in 15 career starts against Toronto—with the poor outings occurring long before Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Alejandro Kirk made their MLB debuts.

    But considering Houston has a winning record against every other projected playoff team that it has faced this season, the Blue Jays might be the top candidates to knock out the Astros—should they square off for what would be the first time in postseason history.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Tony Gonsolin (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: Philadelphia Phillies

    Finding any sort of nightmare matchup for a team that has won nearly 70 percent of its games and has a 37-8 record since late June is going to be a stretch and a half.

    But did you know the Phillies went 4-3 against the Dodgers this season—with all seven of those games coming before Philadelphia fired Joe Girardi and actually started winning on a regular basis?

    Or that the Phillies boast an 11-3 record in head-to-head postseason games over the past four decades?

    And assuming he's back from his broken thumb in time for the playoffs, Bryce Harper sure did enjoy his last trip to L.A., going 8-for-12 with three home runs, four doubles and a pair of walks for a ludicrous OPS of 2.417. (The Phillies would have swept that four-game series if their former closer, Corey Knebel, hadn't wilted with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the ninth in the fourth and final game.)

    Los Angeles would be a heavy favorite, but Philadelphia could pull off the upset.

New York Mets

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    Francisco Lindor (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: Houston Astros

    If the four games the Astros and Mets played in late June were a preview of the World Series, holy advantage, Houston. The Astros won all four by a combined score of 24-6.

    It's imperative that we point out Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom were on the IL. The Mets started Carlos Carrasco (twice), Taijuan Walker and Trevor Williams, which was less than ideal. Houston out-homered New York 10-2.

    However, it's the six runs the Mets scored that is more troublesome than the 24 they allowed. Because even if they get deGrom and Scherzer lined up for Games 1, 2, 5 and 6 of the World Series, they will need to give those aces at least some run support.

    New York's $341 million man, Francisco Lindor, went just 2-for-14 against Houston, which is nothing new. He has batted .220 in 35 career games against the Astros, including a dreadful .159 in 15 games at Minute Maid Park. And if that trend were to continue in the Fall Classic, the Mets would be in trouble.

New York Yankees

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    Gerrit Cole (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: Seattle Mariners

    As far as 2022 head-to-head records are concerned, there are a handful of opponents the Yankees would prefer to avoid. They went 2-5 against Houston, got swept in a three-game series in St. Louis and are 0-2 in the Subway Series with the next installment Monday.

    But Seattle (4-2 against the Yankees) has something on its mind that those other teams don't: revenge 21 years in the making.

    By now, you've surely heard that the Mariners have not made the postseason since 2001. What doesn't often get mentioned in conjunction with that drought is that it began when the 95-win Yankees toppled the 116-win Mariners in a five-game American League Championship Series.

    For more than two decades, Seattle has been lying in wait—fueled by frustration, grunge music and way too many pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks—longing to return the favor to those loathed Yankees. The allure of toppling the evil empire only grew stronger when it had a 49-16 record in mid-June and once looked like a serious threat to break Seattle's single-season win record.

    The Mariners' wild 13-inning, 1-0 walk-off victory Aug. 9 may well have been a preview of what's to come.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Kyle Schwarber (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: New York Mets

    Simply put, the Mets have owned the Phillies in 2022.

    It's not quite as one-sided as the Miami Marlins' 12-1 record against the Washington National's or the White Sox's 10-3 mark against the Detroit Tigers, but among projected postseason teams, New York's plus-33 run differential, 12-4 record and 5-0 series record against Philadelphia is as dominant as it gets.

    The most noteworthy of those games came May 5, when the Mets put up seven runs in the ninth inning, storming back for an 8-7 victory. Had the Phillies held on, they would have climbed to within five games of New York in the National League East. Instead, they dropped to seven games back and have not gotten closer than 5.5 games since.

    If they do face each other, New York would have home-field advantage, where it holds a 7-2 head-to-head record this season. In its most recent trip to Queens, Philadelphia scored an earned run in the top of the first inning of the first game and then scored one unearned run over the next 27 innings.

San Diego Padres

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    Manny Machado (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: Los Angeles Dodgers

    There's a dragon-slaying, "to be the best, you've got to beat the best" element of facing the Dodgers that might appeal to some Padres fans.

    But those fans are about as deluded as the "We Want Bama" population in college football.

    Los Angeles has gone 8-2 with a plus-37 run differential in head-to-head games this season. And that's no one-year fluke. L.A. has a 39-19 record against San Diego (plus a 3-0 sweep in the 2020 NLDS) in the four years since the Padres signed Manny Machado to a $300 million contract and unofficially declared their intention to overtake the Dodgers in the National League West.

    The real demoralizer was two weeks ago, when the Padres were riding high from their Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Josh Hader and Brandon Drury trade deadline acquisitions...only to run into a buzzsaw and get outscored 20-4 in a three-game sweep.

    Anything could happen in a best-of-five or best-of-seven series—see: the Pittsburgh Pirates' 5-1 record against the Dodgers this season. But if we get an SDP-LAD showdown, a Dodgers sweep would be more likely than a Padres series victory.

Seattle Mariners

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    Julio Rodriguez (Michael Owens/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: Tampa Bay Rays

    From 2014 to 2021, Seattle was a constant thorn in Tampa Bay's side: The Mariners went 31-15 with a plus-70 run differential. Even while the Rays were putting together an American League-best 100-62 record last season, they finished 1-6 against the M's.

    But that worm appears to have turned in Tampa Bay's favor.

    Only Boston (6-1) has a better record against Seattle than Tampa Bay (5-2) this season, and that's even after the Mariners won the first meeting of the season with much help from a fourth inning in which they scored seven unearned runs. That felt like a continuation of the transcontinental curse for Tampa Bay, but it rallied to win each of the next five games.

    In those seven contests, Adam Frazier (.320) was the only Mariner to hit .260 or better. Julio Rodríguez, Ty France and Cal Raleigh were each held homerless. And though Eugenio Suárez did go yard twice, he also whiffed a dozen times and left a dozen runners on base. And the M's didn't even face Corey Kluber (1.93 career ERA vs. Seattle) and only drew Shane McClanahan once.

    If Seattle's star bats put forth a similar effort in an October rematch, Tampa Bay should cruise into the following round.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Paul Goldschmidt (Scott Kane/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: New York Mets

    For the Cardinals, it's all about first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado.

    The former leads the team in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. The latter ranks second in all but one of those categories (third in runs, behind Tommy Edman), and does so with a sensational glove at third.

    If that duo gets going, anything is possible.

    If it gets shut down, the Cardinals most likely won't win that series.

    Enter: Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom.

    In their careers against Mad Max, Goldschmidt and Arenado are a combined 10-for-54 with two walks, zero extra-base hits, zero RBI and 22 strikeouts. Against deGrom, it's 3-for-28 with one walk, one double, one RBI and eight whiffs. All told, we're talking about a .159 batting average, .171 slugging percentage and 35.3 percent strikeout rate.

    And the Cardinals are on a collision course for an NLDS against the Mets in which Scherzer and deGrom are well-rested for Games 1 and 2 (and 5, if necessary). St. Louis would be figuring out its rotation on the fly after a Wild Card Round series at home against the NL's No. 6 seed.

    Unless Goldy and Arenado can correct their woes against those aces, it could be a short, painful series.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Brandon Lowe (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: Houston Astros

    The Rays and Astros have not faced each other yet this season. Those two series will take place Sept. 19-21 in St. Petersburg and Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Houston. Might have to call a late-season audible on this one if the Rays win most of those games.

    But I don't think they will, because they have the worst offense among all teams even remotely still in the playoff picture.

    And they have been particularly disappointing against right-handed pitching, which is all Houston has aside from Framber Valdez and Will Harris.

    Through Friday, the Rays had a .681 OPS against righties, 24th in the majors and last among projected playoff teams. Several of the worst offenders (Vidal Brujan, Mike Zunino, Luke Raley and Brett Phillips) are no longer on the active roster, but even Tampa Bay's best hitters have been just OK against righties.

    So, yeah, needing to face AL Cy Young Award front-runner Justin Verlander (likely multiple times) could be quite the disaster.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

    Nightmare Matchup: Tampa Bay Rays

    Based on 2022 results, take your pick, really.

    Even after three straight wins in this weekend's series against the floundering Yankees, Toronto has a 7-8 record with a minus-11 run differential against New York. It is also 2-5 with a minus-15 differential against Cleveland, 2-5 with a minus-seven differential against Seattle and 4-6 with a minus-five differential against Tampa Bay. The Blue Jays do at least have a winning record against Houston (4-2), but they were outscored 27-26.

    That's a combined record of 16-26 with a minus-53 run differential. (Good thing they've made up for it against the Red Sox, Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels.)

    But the struggles with Tampa Bay, in particular, go back much further than just a few months.

    The Jays went 8-11 against the Rays last year, 4-8 (including 0-2 in the Wild Card Round) in 2020 and 6-13 in each of 2018 and 2019. Even in 2015 and 2016—when Toronto finished a combined 34 games ahead of Tampa Bay and made the playoffs both seasons—the Jays went 17-21 with a minus-33 run differential against the Rays.

    To be fair, we did just get finished dragging Tampa Bay through the mud for its poor hitting against right-handed pitching, and the only lefty on Toronto's active roster is Yusei Kikuchi, who just lost his spot in the starting rotation. But with the way things have gone in recent years between these AL East rivals, the Rays would probably find a way to eliminate the Jays once again.

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