The Latest MLB Playoff Race 2022 Predictions With 5 Weeks to Go
With the calendar set to flip from August to September on Wednesday, the start of the postseason on Oct. 7 is suddenly upon Major League Baseball.
Clearly, there's no time like the present for fresh predictions for how the division and wild-card races in the American League and National League will play out.
This involved making layups for two of the six division races, but the other races are all varying degrees of "up in the air." To make our picks, we assessed how teams are playing, the current and future states of their rosters and what their schedules look like.
We'll wrap things up by spelling out what the AL and NL playoff fields would look like if our predictions come true. In case anyone needs a reminder of how the new format works, the top two division winners get first-round byes while the other four teams—the third-best division winner and three wild cards—play best-of-three series at the higher seed's home stadium in the Wild Card Round.
Starting with the AL East, let's get to it.
American League East
- 1. New York Yankees: 78-50
- 2. Tampa Bay Rays: 70-57 (7.5 GB)
- 3. Toronto Blue Jays: 68-58 (9 GB)
- 4. Baltimore Orioles: 67-60 (10.5 GB)
- 5. Boston Red Sox: 62-66 (16 GB)
The Yankees' lead is about half what it was back on July 8, when their historic 61-23 record gave them a 15.5-game edge on the Rays.
It's largely been a struggle for the Yankees since then, but they seem to be over the worst of it. They've won five out of seven after a brutal 12-25 stretch between July 9 and Aug. 20. And while their pitching staff is banged up, their offense got a boost when Giancarlo Stanton came off the injured list on Thursday.
It likewise helps the Yankees' cause that the Rays have the most difficult remaining schedule of any AL team. They have to play the Yankees and Houston Astros six times apiece, plus another nine against the Blue Jays.
For their part, it's not ideal that the Blue Jays only have three games left against the Red Sox. They're 13-3 against Boston, but otherwise just 55-55 against everyone else.
Rather than with catching the Yankees, the Rays and Jays should be more concerned with holding off the Orioles. They're on a 32-16 tear and they have 13 games left against the AL's three last-place teams: the Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics.
Predicted Winner: Yankees
American League Central
- Cleveland Guardians: 67-59
- Minnesota Twins: 65-61 (2 GB)
- Chicago White Sox: 63-65 (5 GB)
- Kansas City Royals: 52-77 (16.5 GB)
- Detroit Tigers: 50-78 (18 GB)
Though Minnesota's pitching has been better since then, Cleveland's has outright dominated to the tune of a 2.80 ERA. That's a big reason that the Guardians and Twins have traded places, though the latter's injury issues also loom large.
Of utmost significance is Byron Buxton's hip strain, for which there's still no recovery timetable. The Twins are eight games over .500 when he starts and four games under when he doesn't, so they'd better hope he's back in time for the eight games that the Twins and Guardians will play between Sept. 9 and 19.
It bodes well for Cleveland that Buxton's return by then isn't guaranteed, and also that its remaining schedule is easier than Minnesota's outside of those eight contests. Best of all, the Guardians have nine games against the lowly Royals to which to look forward.
Are the White Sox still in this thing? Technically, yes. But if their recent 2-9 stretch isn't just cause to write them off, their crowded injured list sure is.
Predicted Winner: Guardians
American League West
- Houston Astros: 82-47
- Seattle Mariners: 70-58 (11.5 GB)
- Texas Rangers: 58-69 (23 GB)
- Los Angeles Angels: 55-73 (26.5 GB)
- Oakland Athletics: 48-81 (34 GB)
Just how safe are the Astros atop the AL West right now? At least according to FanGraphs, 99.9 percent.
Maybe there would be a chance of an upset if the Mariners still had chances to chip away at Houston's advantage, but that's not the case. The 19-game season series between the two clubs is over, with the Astros having won 12 of them.
Even better for Houston, what games it does have left are light on competition. The defending AL champs notably get to play the Rangers, Angels and A's 15 more times.
If the Mariners can take comfort in anything regarding their position in the AL West, it's that they're under no real threat to end up in third place. The 11.5-game gap between them and the Rangers is the biggest gap between second- and third-place teams in the AL.
Predicted Winner: Astros
American League Wild Cards
- Tampa Bay Rays: 70-57 (+1.5 G)
- Seattle Mariners: 70-58 (+1 G)
- Toronto Blue Jays: 68-58
- Baltimore Orioles: 67-60 (1.5 GB)
- Minnesota Twins: 65-61 (3 GB)
- Chicago White Sox: 63-65 (6 GB)
Once again turning to FanGraphs' odds, the AL wild-card race is hypothetically between the Rays, Blue Jays and Mariners with the Orioles, Twins and White Sox as long shots.
That tracks well enough as far as the Buxton-less Twins and especially the White Sox are concerned, but less so otherwise.
In addition to a difficult schedule, another thing working against the Rays is the uncertainty around Wander Franco's return from a broken hamate bone. He began a rehab assignment on Aug. 16 but subsequently experienced a setback from which he still hasn't returned.
Marc Topkin @TBTimes_Rays
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Rays?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Rays</a> Cash said no set date for Franco to resume rehab with AAA <a href="https://twitter.com/DurhamBulls?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DurhamBulls</a>, but it won’t be until after the weekend at the soonest
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are sticking to a pattern of running hot and cold. Though they won seven of eight between Aug. 17 and 25, they're still just 10-13 over their last 23 games. And as noted earlier, the road ahead isn't favorable to them.
That's good for the Mariners, who have an extraordinarily easy remaining schedule. The Orioles have it tougher in theory, but perhaps less so in reality if they can add to their 6-3 record against Toronto in the 10 head-to-head contests the two clubs have left. It may only help the Orioles' cause if they call up No. 1 prospect Gunnar Henderson for September.
Either way, it's about time for a bold prediction.
Predicted Winners: Orioles, Mariners, Rays
National League East
- New York Mets: 82-47
- Atlanta: 79-50 (3 GB)
- Philadelphia Phillies: 72-56 (9.5 GB)
- Miami Marlins: 55-72 (26 GB)
- Washington Nationals: 43-85 (38.5 GB)
Given how small the gap between the two clubs is right now, the three-game series that the Mets and Atlanta have on tap for Sept. 30-Oct. 1 could be what decides the NL East.
However, this is assuming the Mets won't pad their lead between now and then. And unfortunately for Atlanta, that's probably assuming too much.
The Mets stand to get healthier in September, mainly with the returns of right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Tylor Megill. Their schedule also lightens up considerably after this week's three-game tilt against the Los Angeles Dodgers, as Atlanta and the Milwaukee Brewers are the only other winning teams the Mets will play the rest of the way.
Atlanta doesn't have it that easy, particularly to the extent that it still has seven games against the Phillies. They've already won six of 12 against the reigning World Series champions, and they just got a huge boost on Friday when two-time MVP Bryce Harper came off the IL.
Given all this, it sounds about right that FanGraphs gives the Mets about an 80 percent chance of hanging on.
Predicted Winner: Mets
National League Central
- St. Louis Cardinals: 74-54
- Milwaukee Brewers: 67-59 (6 GB)
- Chicago Cubs: 55-73 (18.5 GB)
- Cincinnati Reds: 50-76 (22.5 GB)
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 48-79 (25 GB)
The flipping of the script in the NL Central has been even more dramatic than in the AL Central. The Cardinals trailed the Brewers by four games as recently as July 30.
With four head-to-head games still left to play in September, the season series between St. Louis and Milwaukee isn't over yet. The Brewers need to pick things up in the meantime, as they've lost 15 of 25 while the Cardinals have been busy winning 21 of 27.
The odds are good that the Cardinals will continue living a charmed life, and not just because Jack Flaherty is due to return soon. They also have the easiest remaining schedule of any NL team. They get to play 20 more games against the Cubs, Reds and Pirates, plus another four against the MLB-worst Nationals.
For the Brewers' part, there isn't much in the way of good news on the injury front right now. And while their remaining schedule is also fairly light in theory, their seven-game road trip through Arizona and Colorado to open September cuts against that notion in reality. The Diamondbacks and Rockies both play relatively well at home.
Predicted Winner: Cardinals
National League West
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 88-38
- San Diego Padres: 70-59 (19.5 GB)
- San Francisco Giants: 61-65 (27 GB)
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 59-67 (29 GB)
- Colorado Rockies: 55-74 (34.5 GB)
The Padres still have 33 games to play, and nine of them will be against the Dodgers. As such, it is theoretically possible that they can mount an epic comeback to win the NL West.
As far as what it would take to actually make that happen...well, maybe the Padres will have a shot if they find a way to clone 1920 Babe Ruth, 2001 Barry Bonds, 1999 Pedro Martínez and 1990 Dennis Eckersley.
Failing that, the Dodgers shouldn't have much trouble winning their ninth NL West title in the last 10 seasons.
Predicted Winner: Dodgers
National League Wild Cards
- Atlanta: 79-50 (+9 G)
- Philadelphia Phillies: 72-56 (+2.5 G)
- San Diego Padres: 70-59
- Milwaukee Brewers: 67-59 (1.5 GB)
- San Francisco Giants: 61-65 (7.5 GB)
We've included the Giants in the NL wild-card picture for posterity's sake, yet Bay Area-ites should know by now that this is not the same team that won 107 games in 2021. Practically speaking, this is a four-horse race.
Even if Atlanta doesn't catch the Mets, its status as one of the top teams in baseball has become set in stone as it has won 56 out of 78 since the start of June. The Phillies are 50-27 in their own right since firing Joe Girardi, and they have it fairly easy the rest of the way outside of those seven games against Atlanta.
As for whether the Padres or Brewers will get in, that seems up to the Padres.
They're only 10-13 since "winning" the trade deadline with deals for Juan Soto and other notables, with a modest improvement to 7-8 since they got news of Fernando Tatis Jr.'s suspension. As they're just 2-8 against the Dodgers so far, those nine games against the Boys in Blue could be what finally breaks the Padres.
Still, we'll come down on the side of the Friars being too good to be this bad. Their Soto-Manny Machado tandem has been as advertised, after all, and they're due to get some much-needed pitching depth in September when Drew Pomeranz, Pierce Johnson and Craig Stammen come off the IL.
Predicted Winners: Atlanta, Phillies, Padres
American League Playoff Field
First-Round Byes: Houston Astros (1) and New York Yankees (2)
The Astros have a 3.5-game edge on the Yankees for the AL's top record right now, and the two clubs' remaining schedules further tilt things in Houston's favor.
This is a problem for the Yankees, as missing out on home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs would nullify the biggest strength they've displayed this year. Whereas they're 45-20 at Yankee Stadium, they're only 33-30 on the road.
Whereas the Astros went 12-7 against the Mariners this season, they found out over the weekend how tough the Orioles could be in a short series. The Yankees have handled the Guardians and the Rays, though they've outscored the latter by just four runs in 13 games.
Wild Card Series 1: Cleveland Guardians (3) vs. (6) Tampa Bay Rays
Venue: Progressive Field
With the Guardians and the Rays having posted sub-3.00 ERAs in August, runs would likely be at a premium in this series. That could be just fine by Cleveland, which has a superior 21-15 record in one-run games in addition to a 32-25 record at home. But given that the Guardians have hit only 100 home runs all year, the Rays will have a shot if they hit the long ball.
Winner Plays: Yankees
Wild Card Series 2: Baltimore Orioles (4) vs. Seattle Mariners (5)
Venue: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
The Orioles have been tough to beat in Baltimore, winning 37 of 61 overall. Yet the Mariners have the pitching to quiet what are sure to be rowdy crowds at the outset, which could give them the edge even if their bats don't show up. As their 28-16 record in one-run games goes to show, the Mariners are tough in tight contests.
Winner Plays: Astros
National League Playoff Field
First-Round Byes: Los Angeles Dodgers (1) and New York Mets (2)
With a 7.5-game lead over the Mets, the Dodgers are less safe in the race for the NL's best record than they are for the top spot in the NL West. But unless they're planning on fully abandoning their pursuit of 110 or so wins, they should hold on.
The Dodgers securing home-field advantage would only make them harder to overcome in the playoffs, as they've won 45 of the 61 games they've played at Dodger Stadium.
Though it was Atlanta who beat them in the 2021 National League Championship Series, the Dodgers may prefer to see them over a Phillies team against whom they went 3-4 this year. The Mets might not want to see the Padres, who outscored them by 13 runs in six games.
Wild Card Series 1: St. Louis Cardinals (3) vs. San Diego Padres (6)
Venue: Busch Stadium
Elsewhere on the topic of home-field advantage, the Cardinals are 42-22 at Busch Stadium. A best-of-three in St. Louis would thus be a tough assignment for the Padres, though they're a decent road team at 35-31. With Soto and Machado on one side and Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado on the other, offensive star power could decide this series.
Winner Plays: Mets
Wild Card Series 2: Atlanta (4) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (5)
Venue: Truist Park
Yet another showdown between Atlanta and Philadelphia? Hey, why not? Even as hot as Atlanta has been since June, the Phillies would have to feel good about their chances if they're able to line up Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez. Before Wheeler went on the IL on Thursday, those three had a 2.65 ERA over their last 19 starts.
Winner Plays: Dodgers