The 10 Matchups We Desperately Want To See in 2022 MLB Postseason

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 15, 2022

The 10 Matchups We Desperately Want To See in 2022 MLB Postseason

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts in the dugout after hitting a two run-home run in the ninth inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 11, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The home run was the 697th of Pujols career, moving him to 4th place all time in MLB home runs. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
    St. Louis' Albert Pujols (Justin Berl/Getty Images)

    Regardless of who faces whom, Major League Baseball's 2022 postseason will be a thrilling ride for 26-30 days.

    But there are a handful of possible matchups that would really move the proverbial needle.

    For this discussion, all forms of matchups are on the table: batter vs. batter, pitcher vs. pitcher, batter vs. pitcher, player vs. team, team vs. team, manager vs. any of the above.

    Anything where the content almost writes itself, either because of previous meetings, one party's dominance, historic relevance or a combination of it all.

    Basically, it's a bunch of, "Oh yeah, that'd be a ton of fun."

    We made sure to include every likely playoff team in at least one of these 10 matchups, so it's not just a whole bunch of Yankees/Mets/Dodgers/Astros hot air. We didn't even include possible World Series rematches from 2021 (Atlanta-Houston), 2020 (Los Angeles-Tampa Bay) or 2017 (Houston-Los Angeles), even though those would surely be entertaining.

    The list is presented in no particular order.

Aaron Judge vs. Justin Verlander (and Yankees-Astros in General)

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 07:  Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees celebrates his fourth inning home run  during game one of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins in the dugout with his teammates at Yankee Stadium on September 07, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    New York's Aaron Judge (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    Can't go wrong with MVP vs. Cy Young, right?

    It's not going to happen in the National League with Sandy Alcantara's Miami Marlins all but eliminated from the postseason, but we could certainly be headed for quite a few showdowns between the New York Yankees' Aaron Judge and the Houston Astros' Justin Verlander in the American League Championship Series.

    Historically, Verlander has pretty well owned this matchup.

    Judge did homer off JV in April 2019 and the 2019 ALCS, but he's 4-for-27 with the two homers, one walk and 10 strikeouts.

    In this mutual season of dominance, they have only met once, back on June 24. In that game, Judge went 0-for-3 against Verlander with a flyout to the warning track, an infield lineout and a foul popout.

    Will those previous matchups matter for the next encounter, though?

    Or what of the fact that Judge has been best in the majors against fastballs and third-best against sliders, which are Verlander's two primary pitches?

    Regardless of how the at-bats play out, any instance of Judge vs. Verlander would be a "stop whatever you're doing and behold the beauty" moment.

    Even outside of the Judge-Verlander showdowns, there's quite a bit of bad blood here from the 2017 and 2019 ALCS meetings. We could get another pivotal Jose Altuve vs. Aroldis Chapman showdown (with or without alleged buzzers). And instead of facing Gerrit Cole, the Yankees would be banking on him to help carry them back to the World Series for the first time since 2009.

Freddie Freeman vs. Atlanta Braves

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 31:  Freddie Freeman #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 31, 2022 in New York City. The Mets defeated the Dodgers 2-1. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Los Angeles' Freddie Freeman (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    There are plenty of intriguing possible player vs. former team matchups worth considering.

    Francisco Lindor and the New York Mets against the Cleveland Guardians would be fun. Joey Gallo and the Los Angeles Dodgers going up against the Yankees could be entertaining. Heck, if the Minnesota Twins get in, they could go on a reunion tour by opening with Chris Archer against the Tampa Bay Rays, followed by Carlos Correa against the Astros, Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela against the Yankees and then putting a bow on it all by beating Eddie Rosario and the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

    Nothing can hold a candle to the possibility of Freddie Freeman going up against Atlanta, though.

    Freeman played a key role as the Braves beat the Dodgers in last year's National League Championship Series. But after 12 years with Atlanta, he hit free agency and packed his bags.

    Then, in his first career at-bat against his former team, he homered. (Of course he did.) He triple-slashed .348/.464/.652 in six games this season against the Braves, immediately becoming an indispensable member of the team that seemingly already had it all before it added him to the equation.

    Here's what I want to know: If the matchup does happen, will the fans in Atlanta give him a standing ovation before his first plate appearance at Truist Park, or is that gesture of appreciation only suitable for regular-season games with substantially less at stake? Would it perhaps hinge on whether he hurt Atlanta in Games 1 and 2, considering the Dodgers would almost certainly have home-field advantage?

    Freeman would be a constant topic of conversation throughout the series, only occasionally interrupted by the times that Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel were trying to close games against their former teams.

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Toronto Blue Jays

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 21:  Manager John Schneider #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on before a game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 21, 2022 in New York City. The Yankees defeated the Blue Jays 4-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Toronto's John Schneider (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    This potential World Series matchup would be awesome on multiple levels.

    The obvious one to anyone over the age of 35 is that it'd be a rematch of the Fall Classic in which Joe Carter hit an iconic series-ending walk-off home run off Mitch Williams. It would be even cooler if it came on the 30-year anniversary of that matchup, but 29 would do just fine.

    There's also the whole "both teams fired their managers in the middle of the season" component.

    The only teams to fire a manager in the middle of the year and still win the World Series were the 1978 Yankees and 2003 Marlins. So, to have a pair of interim managers squaring off for all the marbles would be quite the storyline—and might result in teams having quicker hooks with managers who get off to disappointing starts, hoping they can capture that lightning in a bottle.

    Another thing to consider is that the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays might end up with the No. 6 seeds in their leagues. Having both of the new additions to the playoff format make it all the way to the Fall Classic in the first year would be something.

    How about one more talking point that would be discussed ad infinitum?

    When Philadelphia played at Toronto earlier this season, catcher J.T. Realmuto, third baseman Alec Bohm and starting pitchers Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson were unable to travel with the team because they had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Has their status changed, or would they risk missing World Series games?

Albert Pujols vs. Gunnar Henderson (But, Really, Pujols vs. Anyone)

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the ninth inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 11, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The home run was the 697th of Pujols career, moving him to 4th place all time in MLB home runs. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
    St. Louis' Albert Pujols (Justin Berl/Getty Images)

    At this point, the Baltimore Orioles most likely will not make the postseason, so dreaming of seeing Gunnar Henderson against anyone in October—let alone a specific World Series opponent—is a waste of energy.

    And it's not like there's any sort of history between Henderson and Albert Pujols. They've never faced each other. They weren't involved in any sort of trade. Even if Baltimore did face the St. Louis Cardinals, there wouldn't be any on-field interaction between the Oriole who plays the infield and the Cardinals' designated hitter.

    You're probably baffled as to why we would even put this one on the list.

    Truly, Pujols against anyone in the postseason could be great theatre. The Machine is having a rare farewell tour in which he's still incredibly productive, and he has some bit of history against basically every key pitcher he's liable to face.

    (Except, notably, for Jacob deGrom. Pujols has recorded at least one at-bat against 1,764 pitchers in his career, but somehow, those paths have never crossed. And at least that matchup might actually happen in a No. 2 vs. No. 3 National League Division Series.)

    But we're going with Pujols vs. Henderson, because it provides this reminder about how long Pujols has been great: Before Henderson was even born on June 29, 2001, Pujols had already hit 21 of his 697 career home runs and was well on his way to securing the 2001 National League Rookie of the Year hardware.

    Take it to the bank that the age gap would be discussed on a nightly basis if that World Series showdown somehow happened.

Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 04:  Jacob deGrom #48 (L) and Max Scherzer #21 of the New York Mets talk in the dugout during a game against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on August 04, 2022 in New York City. The Mets defeated the Braves 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    New York's Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    In a 2016 NLDS and 2019 NLDS, Max Scherzer made four appearances for the Washington Nationals against the Dodgers. He had a cumulative line of 20.0 IP, 14 H, 6 ER, 5 BB and 22 K and was critical in two of three wins in the latter series.

    Mad Max also pitched four times for the Dodgers in last year's postseason, delivering a 2.16 ERA and a two-strikeout save in Game 5 of an NLDS against the San Francisco Giants. So he already has plenty of history both for and against L.A.

    Jacob deGrom also has postseason history against the Dodgers, as he won Game 1 and Game 5 of a 2015 NLDS, striking out 20 in 13.0 innings with a 1.38 ERA. He was equally potent against the Dodgers just two weeks ago, whiffing nine in seven innings while allowing just one solo home run in a 2-1 Mets victory.

    But even if there was no history between New York's aces and L.A., we would still be salivating about the possibility of a seven-game series pitting the best one-two pitching punch in the majors against this juggernaut of a lineup.

    In a perfect world, we would get to see deGrom and Scherzer pitch Games 1, 2, 5 and 6 with the Game 5 starter available in relief for Game 7.

    Yes, please.

    There's also a potential "Kevin Durant loses 2016 Western Conference Finals to the Golden State Warriors and then signs with them in free agency" factor in play. DeGrom is all but certain to opt out of his contract this offseason in pursuit of a more lucrative, long-term deal, and the Dodgers have something like $121.5 million in 2022 salary set to hit free agency.

Seattle Mariners vs. Milwaukee Brewers

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    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 11: Julio Rodriguez #44 of the Seattle Mariners reacts after his home run against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at T-Mobile Park on September 11, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
    Seattle's Julio Rodriguez (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    For all the TV executives who have to worry about market share, ad revenue and everything else because of the sheer volume of people who watch the World Series, this would be a nightmare matchup.

    The Milwaukee Brewers vs. the Seattle Mariners wouldn't be quite as bad as Milwaukee-Cleveland or Milwaukee-Tampa Bay, but the Brewers are the smallest-market team in baseball. And the Mariners certainly are not in the top 10.

    Suffice it to say, ratings would be nowhere near what, say, Yankees-Dodgers would generate.

    But it's a dream matchup in our book because Seattle and Milwaukee are two of the six franchises that have never won a World Series.

    San Diego and Tampa Bay are also on that list and are also likely destined for the postseason, but at least those two teams have each made it to the Fall Classic twice in their combined 79 years of existence.

    Milwaukee has made it just once in its 54 years, losing to the Cardinals in 1982. And though Seattle has been around for 46 years, it is the only franchise that has never been to the World Series.

    Milwaukee's and Seattle's droughts add up to a full century of sadness, and a head-to-head matchup would ensure that one of those franchises finally experiences jubilation.

    Plus, you know, it'd be a fun series. Neither team hits for average, but they can both mash homers, highlighted by Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez, Rowdy Tellez and Willy Adames. And we could do a whole lot worse than a few Luis Castillo vs. Corbin Burnes and Robbie Ray vs. Brandon Woodruff pitching duels.

Shane Bieber Seeking Revenge Against the Yankees

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    MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 11: Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Guardians delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game at Target Field on September 11, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Matt Krohn/Getty Images)
    Cleveland's Shane Bieber (Matt Krohn/Getty Images)

    Since the start of 2019, Cleveland's Shane Bieber has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, making 89 regular-season appearances with a 2.92 ERA and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

    He has been even hotter of late, making nine consecutive quality starts with a 1.75 ERA. And he was unbelievable during that COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, winning the AL Cy Young Award with a 1.63 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP and 14.2 strikeouts per nine.

    But after that campaign, in which he did not once allow more than three runs in a start, the Yankees shelled Bieber in the only postseason appearance of his career. Aaron Judge went yard in the first, Gleyber Torres followed suit in the fifth, and Bieber gave up seven earned runs in 4.2 innings.

    Bieber did have a solid seven-inning start against the Yankees in April 2021, but it would mean a whole lot more to shut them down in October.

    As things stand, there's a good chance we'll get No. 2 New York vs. No. 3 Cleveland in an American League Division Series. The Guardians would presumably use Bieber in Game 1 of the Wild Card Round, meaning he wouldn't be available until Game 2 of that series. But what a huge opportunity in the Bronx that would be.

Dylan Cease vs. Shane McClanahan (White Sox vs. Rays)

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    ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - AUGUST 19: Shane McClanahan #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals in the second inning at Tropicana Field on August 19, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
    Tampa Bay's Shane McClanahan (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    While Justin Verlander and his 1.84 ERA with a 39-year-old, surgically repaired elbow dominated headlines all season, these two younger pitchers have also featured prominently in the American League Cy Young Award debate.

    Tampa Bay's Shane McClanahan—who has been on the IL for two weeks but is expected to be reinstated on Thursday—has made 24 starts and has a 2.20 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. And he was particularly on fire from mid-May through late July, making 13 consecutive consecutive starts in which he lasted at least six innings, struck out at least six batters and allowed two or fewer earned runs. During that window, he had a 1.27 ERA and an outrageous 0.69 WHIP.

    But was Dylan Cease's run from late May through mid-August even more impressive?

    The Chicago White Sox ace made 14 consecutive starts in which he allowed either zero or one earned run. He has a 2.16 ERA overall, but he had an almost unfathomable 0.66 ERA over those 82 innings.

    Cease has made five starts in which he allowed just one hit, including a shutout of the Twins on Sept. 3.

    These aces have never faced each other, and they both have dreadful, small-sample-size postseason stats. (McClanahan has an 8.10 ERA and 2.10 WHIP in 10.0 innings; Cease is at 10.13 and 1.88 in 2.2 innings.) But if the White Sox win the American League Central and the Rays end up with the No. 6 seed, this could be a fantastic Game 1 showdown between who might be two of the best starters in baseball for years to come.

Juan Soto Blazing Through the NL East Once Again

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    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 13: Juan Soto #22 of the San Diego Padres reacts as he is walked during the third inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 13, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
    San Diego's Juan Soto (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    There's no realistic scenario in which Juan Soto and the Padres will face all three of the likely postseason-bound National League East teams. The only way it could happen is if New York or Atlanta somehow overtakes the Dodgers for the No. 1 seed (highly improbable), because the path would need to be No. 5 San Diego vs. No. 4 Atlanta/New York, followed by a showdown with No. 1 Atlanta/New York in an NLDS and then No. 6 Philadelphia in the NLCS.

    But whether Soto faces one, two or all three of his former division rivals, he had quite a bit of success against those clubs while with the Nationals.

    In 68 games against the Mets, Soto has triple-slashed .303/.420/.581 with 16 home runs. And that's his least prolific line. He's sitting at .300/.431/.579 with 18 home runs in 67 games against Philadelphia as well as .337/.504/.654 with 17 home runs in 67 games against Atlanta.

    Basically, Soto has been 2022 Paul Goldschmidt against that trio, and they were each overjoyed when he was traded to the West Coast.

    While we're on the Soto subject, let's also point out the possible "Thanks, I hate it" NLDS scenario for my fellow Washington fans: No. 2 New York (Max Scherzer) vs. No. 5 Philadelphia (Bryce Harper) and No. 1 Los Angeles (Trea Turner) vs. No. 6 San Diego (Soto).

    Put that one right up there on the pain index with Detroit Tigers fans watching their team go 47-114 in 2019, followed by either Scherzer or Justin Verlander starting four of the seven Washington-Houston World Series games.

Subway Series, Part II

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 23:  Pete Alonso #20 of the New York Mets in action against Anthony Rizzo #48 of the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 23, 2022 in New York City. The Yankees defeated the Mets 4-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Yankees' Anthony Rizzo and Mets' Pete Alonso (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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    New York (vs.) New York

    Whether you consider it a fabulous showdown between nearby rivals with a bunch of the most recognizable players in the sport or an obnoxious East Coast ego trip that you would exclusively hate watch, a Mets-Yankees World Series would be incredible.

    The only previous time these New York teams squared off for all the marbles, the Yankees won the 2000 World Series by a 4-1 margin. Game 1 was a 12-inning classic. Game 2 featured the infamous moment when Roger Clemens threw the barrel of a shattered bat at or near Mike Piazza. All five games were nail-biters.

    And a 2022 rematch could be even better.

    Would Buck Showalter—who managed the Yankees from 1992 to '95—finally win a World Series at 66 years young? Or would Aaron Boone save his job by bringing the Yankees their first title since 2009?

    Aaron Judge vs. Jacob deGrom in a little battle between the two biggest impending free agents.

    Max Scherzer vs. the Yankees in the postseason for the first time since 2012.

    Giancarlo Stanton vs. the Mets, against whom he has hit the most home runs in his career (37).

    Polar Bear and Mr. Smile vs. Cole Train and Nasty Nestor.

    And all the Timmy Trumpet content you can possibly handle.

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