2022 MLB Playoffs: Seeding Predictions and Round-by-Round Picks

Zachary D. RymerSeptember 19, 2022

2022 MLB Playoffs: Seeding Predictions and Round-by-Round Picks

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    Can anyone stop the seemingly unstoppable Dodgers? (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Congratulations are in order for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros, who between them have 195 wins and two of Major League Baseball's 12 playoff spots already in hand.

    With 10 spots still up for grabs, it's time for fresh predictions on what the American League and National League playoff fields will look like and, ultimately, who will reign supreme in the World Series.

    This involved predicting not just which teams will secure the remaining postseason berths, but also how they'll be seeded in MLB's newly expanded playoff bracket. This required making obvious calls in some cases, while others necessitated more careful reading of tea leaves such as recent trends and remaining strength of schedule.

    When it came to predicting how the playoffs will actually play out, it was time to consult still other sets of tea leaves. But if we're being honest, it mostly involved going with our gut.

    Now then, let's pretend to know project how things will go.

American League Playoff Field

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
    1. Houston Astros (96-51): AL West Champion
    2. New York Yankees (88-58): AL East Champion
    3. Cleveland Guardians (79-67): AL Central Champion
    4. Seattle Mariners (80-65): AL Wild Card 1
    5. Toronto Blue Jays (83-64): AL Wild Card 2
    6. Tampa Bay Rays (82-64): AL Wild Card 3

    Still on the Astros' to-do list are the actual AL West title and the AL's No. 1 seed, and we have next to zero doubt that both will eventually come to fruition.

    This is where a hot take about the Yankees losing an AL East lead that has shrunk from 15.5 to just 5.5 games since July 8 would go if we had one, but, sorry, we don't. They've stabilized since a 12-25 stretch in July and August, and the road ahead is mostly favorable.

    There's an even smaller 3.5-game gap between the Guardians and Chicago White Sox in the AL Central, but the former's 11-3 run since Sept. 5 may have closed Chicago's best window to really gain ground.

    As for the AL wild-card race, the Baltimore Orioles have hit the skids and are still looking at 10 games against the Astros, Yankees and Blue Jays. The Jays have been hot in winning 15 of their last 21 games to claim the top spot, but they and the Rays both have difficult remaining schedules. The Mariners won't face any winning teams the rest of the way.

    As banged up as the Mariners are on offense right now, we have faith that their pitching staff will take care of business and deliver the franchise's first playoff berth in 21 years in the form of the AL's top wild-card spot.

National League Playoff Field

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    Michael Owens/MLB Photos via Getty Images
    1. Los Angeles Dodgers (101-44): NL West Champions*
    2. New York Mets (93-55): NL East Champions
    3. St. Louis Cardinals (87-61): NL Central Champions
    4. Atlanta (91-55): NL Wild Card 1
    5. Philadelphia Phillies (80-66): NL Wild Card 2
    6. San Diego Padres (81-66): NL Wild Card 3

    With the Dodgers having already secured the NL West, the next divisional domino to fall in the National League is the Central. Congrats in advance to the Cardinals, who lead the Milwaukee Brewers by eight games, for winning the division for the first time since 2019.

    Meanwhile in the NL East, Atlanta briefly grabbed first place at the tail end of an eight-game winning streak between Aug. 31 and Sept. 9. Now, it seems as if neither it nor New York wants first place. Atlanta is 4-4 since that streak ended, while the Mets are barely hanging on amid an 8-7 run.

    The three-game series the two clubs have on tap for Sept. 30-Oct. 2 is therefore about as big as they come, but the Mets otherwise have a clear schedule advantage. To wit, they don't have to play the Phillies four more times like Atlanta does.

    On the bright side for Atlanta, it will land on the top wild-card spot if it can't reclaim the NL East lead. The Phillies have proved to be less safe in the No. 2 slot, ceding it to the Padres on Sunday.

    Still, the Friars' 20-20 performance since Aug. 4 makes it hard to have faith that they won't give it right back. The Brewers, meanwhile, have been playing better lately but still have some tough series between them and the end of the year.

American League Wild Card Round

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    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Tampa Bay Rays (6) vs. Cleveland Guardians (3)

    Two things the Rays do better than the Guardians are strike batters out and hit home runs. Why is this relevant? Because when it comes to the playoffs, strikeouts and home runs have tended to coincide with victory over the last decade.

    Though the Guardians would have home-field advantage, they're a relatively non-dominant 39-32 at Progressive Field this season. And with AL Central teams having gone just 2-15 in the playoffs between 2018 and 2021, suffice it to say we have trust issues.

    Rays in 2

    Toronto Blue Jays (5) vs. Seattle Mariners (4)

    Speaking of strikeouts and home runs, we've covered how these are two things the Mariners have been doing very well since they got rolling in June. The Blue Jays, though, would make for a more-than-competent adversary on both fronts.

    But as long as Eugenio Suárez makes a strong recovery from a fractured finger—a lot to take for granted, perhaps, but the fracture is supposedly a "minor" one—the Mariners will be equipped to slay dragons as they have been all season. Whereas the Jays are under .500 against winning teams for the season, the Mariners are four games over on that front.

    Mariners in 3

National League Wild Card Round

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    San Diego Padres (6) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (3)

    Talk about two clubs that have gone in very different directions since the trade deadline. As the Padres have struggled, the Cardinals have ridden bumps from newcomer hurlers Jordan Montgomery and José Quintana to win 32 out of 45.

    The Padres have the stars to disrupt that momentum in a head-to-head affair, but it would be in keeping with the general theme of the Padres' season if the Cardinals revealed them to be less than the sum of their parts. They're just 23-34 against other winning teams.

    Cardinals in 2

    Philadelphia Phillies (5) vs. Atlanta (4)

    Even as hot as Atlanta has been since late May, the Phillies have likewise been on a roll since they sacked Joe Girardi in June. They could also throw Aaron Nola and a healthy Zack Wheeler at the defending champs in this series. No easy picnic, as non-young people say.

    How healthy will Wheeler be, though? He's been out since Aug. 21 with forearm tendinitis, so it's a fair question. And given that Atlanta boasts the NL's best home-run-hitting offense and a three-headed ace trio, 2021's best team once again resembles a nightmare playoff matchup.

    Atlanta in 2

American League Division Series

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    Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

    Seattle Mariners (4) vs. Houston Astros (1)

    To the extent that the Astros won 12 out of 19, the season series between them and the Mariners wasn't especially close. But to the extent that only eight runs separated the two AL West foes, suddenly it's a different story.

    Also close are Houston's (55-26) and Seattle's (51-26) records since the latter found its stride on June 21. The Mariners have likewise been a pitching powerhouse (i.e., 2.93 ERA) since Luis Castillo debuted for them on Aug. 3, which is a version of Seattle that the Astros haven't seen yet.

    Does it sound like we're cherry-picking reasons to choose the Mariners in an upset? Probably! But pardon us for having conviction in the idea, even if it means downplaying Houston's Yordan Álvarez-led offense and ace duo of Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez.

    Mariners in 5

    Tampa Bay Rays (6) vs. New York Yankees (2)

    Speaking of "What have you done for me lately?" storylines, the Rays won seven of their last 11 games against the Yankees even as the latter took the season series 11-8.

    The Yankees indeed have baseball's most feared slugger in Aaron Judge, who's probably going to break Roger Maris' single-season AL home run record. But even with him continuing to go off, they've scored only 3.9 runs per game amid a slew of injuries since Aug. 9.

    Though the Yankees offense stands to get healthier between now and the ALDS, their lineup will nonetheless remain decidedly Judge-centric. The obvious tactic for the Rays would be to give him the Barry Bonds treatment and hope that the underrated trio of Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs can keep the other Yankees hitters in check.

    Rays in 4

National League Division Series

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    AP Photo/Adam Hunger

    Atlanta (4) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)

    There are good excuses to keep the upset train rolling here. Perhaps the most compelling one relates to how Tony Gonsolin's absence with a forearm strain renders the Dodgers rotation overwhelmingly left-handed, and no team hits lefty starters like Atlanta.

    And yet...are the Dodgers just too good?

    Their 101 wins and plus-329 run differential certainly suggest as much, and then there's how dominant (49-18) they are at Dodger Stadium. Even if Atlanta hitters do challenge their southpaws, the Dodgers can counter with their own MLB-best offense. It's been especially good since July, operating with a 130 wRC+ and just one less home run than Atlanta.

    Dodgers in 5

    St. Louis Cardinals (3) vs. New York Mets (2)

    Though the Mets handled the Cardinals with a 5-2 record in the regular-season series between the two clubs, all seven games occurred before the Cardinals began blasting off in late July.

    Then again, the Cards did get their butts handed to them by St. Louis native Max Scherzer not once, but twice earlier in the year. He should be fully recovered from his oblique irritation come the NLDS, and yet he still figures to be New York's No. 2 starter behind fellow multi-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom.

    If those two were to negate the home run advantage possessed by St. Louis' offense, the Cards would need their pitching to keep pace. The problem there is that, while generally effective, Cardinals pitchers don't have the swing-and-miss stuff that tends to play in October.

    Mets in 4

American League Championship Series

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    AP Photo/Paul Sancya

    Tampa Bay Rays (6) vs. Seattle Mariners (4)

    Whereas the Rays played in the American League Championship Series just two years ago, the Mariners haven't been since the disappointing end to their 116-win season in 2001.

    The regular-season series between these two went to the Rays, 5-2, but this is still another situation in which run differential paints a different picture. The Rays outscored the Mariners by only five runs, earning four of their five victories by a lone run.

    What's more, all seven games took place before Seattle's late-June takeoff. This new-ish version of the Mariners hits more home runs and, especially since Luis Castillo's arrival, throws a ton more heat.

    The Rays will have beaten a similar power-hitting, power-throwing team if they're able to get past the Yankees, yet the Mariners are arguably more democratized on both fronts. Their lineup is reasonably deep around Eugenio Suárez and super-rookie Julio Rodríguez, and Marco Gonzales is basically their only key hurler who doesn't throw hard.

    The travel arrangements for this series could also swing things in Seattle's favor. Whereas the Rays have traveled to the West Coast only 10 times all season, the Mariners have played more than twice as many games (21, to be exact) on the East Coast. That extra experience could better prepare them for the long flights between Seattle and Tampa.

    Mariners in 6

National League Championship Series

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    Eric Espada/Getty Images

    New York Mets (2) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)

    It sure felt like a National League Championship Series preview when the Mets and Dodgers clashed at Citi Field between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1. Though the Mets took two of three, they only outscored the Dodgers by two runs in the process.

    It further bodes well for the Mets that they didn't even need Max Scherzer to help them take the series. The Dodgers would have reason to fear him in the NLCS. Meanwhile, the fear of Jacob deGrom already seems to be setting in:

    SNY Mets @SNY_Mets

    "He's pretty much the best, maybe the best to ever pitch."<br><br>- Mookie Betts on Jacob deGrom <a href="https://t.co/BRXpz4geZS">pic.twitter.com/BRXpz4geZS</a>

    Factor in the uncertain status of Tony Gonsolin, and the makings of yet another Mets triumph over the Dodgers are arguably there.

    Once again, though, that the Dodgers have been virtually unbeatable at Dodger Stadium is hard to overlook. And if the club's starting staff could survive Atlanta's offense, it could surely withstand a Mets lineup that isn't as powerful and is also generally less lethal against lefties.

    For its part, the Dodgers offense isn't short on hitters to pick up the slack if Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman or Trea Turner goes cold. The Mets know all too well from recent experiences that the same is not true of their lineup, as the team's bumpy ride over the last month has coincided with Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso's combined cooldown.

    Dodgers in 6

World Series

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Seattle Mariners (4) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)

    And so, in their 46th year of existence, the Mariners would finally be playing in the World Series. That in and of itself would be something for the Pacific Northwest to celebrate.

    The Dodgers? Bit of a different story, to say the least. This would be the franchise's 26th appearance in the Fall Classic, and it would provide a chance to take home the Commissioner's Trophy for the second time in three years.

    At least on paper, the Dodgers are also perfectly suited to the task of rendering the power of Seattle's arms and bats moot.

    They're the better home-run-hitting team, and the offense that hits all these homers thrives against velocity, to boot. And even though their everyday lineup doesn't lean left-handed, the Mariners are just plain bad against left-handed starters. That's all lefty starters, mind you, whereas Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urías, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson are four of the best.

    There's a bottom line here, and it's that this Dodgers team simply doesn't invite skepticism.

    Despite all the trials they've had to endure, their plus-329 run differential is already the fifth-best in MLB history. Three of the four teams ahead of them won it all, and the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates (plus-334) are the only exception because the World Series didn't exist until the following year.

    Dodgers in 5

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.


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