Ranking the 12 Most Important Series Remaining in 2022 MLB Season Ahead of Playoffs

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 19, 2022

Ranking the 12 Most Important Series Remaining in 2022 MLB Season Ahead of Playoffs

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    New York Mets' Pete Alonso (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

    There are just two-and-a-half weeks remaining in the 2022 MLB regular season, but goodness gracious are there a ton of pivotal games crammed into that small window.

    We easily could have gone with more than 20 in this ranking of the most important series still to come, but we opted for 12, since that's the number of teams that will make the playoffs when all these regular-season tilts are in the books.

    There are divisional clashes like Toronto Blue Jays-New York Yankees, New York Mets-Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Guardians-Chicago White Sox with major implications on those races still at least somewhat up for grabs. There are a handful of huge intraleague games like Los Angeles Dodgers-St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets-Milwaukee Brewers and a pair of Tampa Bay Rays-Houston Astros series. We've even got a pair of massive interleague series to wrap up the regular season in Philadelphia Phillies-Houston Astros and San Diego Padres-Chicago White Sox.

    Ranking them all was, admittedly, fairly subjective and involved a fair amount of projecting, but we tried to put them in increasing order of how important each series will be in framing the ultimate postseason bracket.

    Worth noting: The Seattle Mariners do not appear anywhere on this list. That's no slight against a team trying to end a 21-year postseason drought, but rather a product of the M's playing a laughably easy schedule the rest of the way. After wrapping up their current series against the Los Angeles Angels, they close with Oakland, Kansas City, Texas, Oakland again and Detroit. Must be nice.

    Also worth noting: The series in which Albert Pujols hits his 700th career home run and the series in which Aaron Judge breaks Roger Maris' single-season AL home run record are important ones, but we can't say with any degree of certainty when those will happen. Thus, those don't appear on the list, but those situations will be mentioned when we encounter Cardinals or Yankees series.

    All records and standings information current through the start of play on Monday, Sept. 19.

12. Philadelphia Phillies at Houston Astros (Oct. 3-5)

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    Philadelphia's Bryce Harper (David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    We'll get this party started with a season-ending series that may or may not actually matter by the time it rolls around.

    It's much more likely to matter for Philadelphia than for Houston.

    In the National League, it's a three-horse race for the final two spots. The Phillies are currently the No. 6 seed, 0.5 games behind San Diego and two games ahead of Milwaukee. And they have a tough upcoming homestand against Toronto (two games) and Atlanta (four games), which could push them to the brink of missing the playoffs.

    The subsequent seven games against the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals should get the Phillies back on track, but it's not like Milwaukee has a rough remaining schedule. After the three-game set against the Mets this week, 11 of the Brewers' final 13 games are against Cincinnati (four), Miami (four) and Arizona (three).

    Long story short, it'd be a little surprising if Philadelphia is at least three games ahead of Milwaukee heading into this series in Houston. So, it's possible the Phils will need to win at least one game against the best team in the AL in order to avoid extending its postseason drought to an 11th year.

    (For what it's worth, both Philadelphia and San Diego own tiebreakers over Milwaukee, and the Phillies would win a tiebreaker with the Padres.)

    On the Astros front, they'll probably have the No. 1 seed in the AL locked up by this point, but there could still be some "World Series home-field advantage" scenarios in play. Maybe they can catch the Dodgers. More likely, they'll be trying to make sure they finish ahead of both Atlanta and New York, in case Los Angeles doesn't win the NL pennant.

11. White Sox at Twins (Sept. 27-29) and Twins at White Sox (Oct. 3-5)

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    Minnesota's Luis Arraez (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    Two series for the price of one, both of which could be irrelevant if the Cleveland Guardians continue to take care of business the rest of the way.

    But if either of these teams (or both, perhaps) still has a pulse in the AL Central heading into that latter matchup in Chicago, it would be a massive series in what is otherwise looking like a potentially uneventful final three days of the regular season. (The only series between teams with at least a 1 percent chance, per ESPN playoff odds, of making the playoffs is Philadelphia at Houston, and we just noted the Astros might already have the AL's No. 1 seed locked up by then.)

    Of the two, Chicago is much more likely to still be hanging around, as Minnesota has gone 26-36 dating back to July 6. Taking a 3-0 lead over Cleveland into the bottom of the seventh inning on Friday night only to lose 4-3 sort of felt like both the final straw and a microcosm of the Twins' season.

    For now, though, each of these teams still has a shot, and six head-to-head games in the final nine days is quite the double-edged sword.

    If either team goes 5-1 or even 6-0 in these games, it surely eliminates the other while at least keeping pace with Cleveland. Conversely, a 3-3 split probably knocks them both out of the running.

10. St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers (Sept. 23-25)

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    St. Louis' Albert Pujols (Joe Puetz/Getty Images)

    If this series were likely to have any impact on seeding, it would easily rank in the top three. But with the Cardinals eight games ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central and six games behind the Mets for the NL's No. 2 seed while the Dodgers hold a 9.5-game lead over the Mets for the No. 1 seed, these teams seem pretty well locked into their current spots.

    But it might impact something.

    And it's a possible NLCS preview even if it doesn't.

    Dating back to July 10, Los Angeles unsurprisingly has the best record in baseball at 46-15 (with a plus-179 run differential.) But St. Louis has the second-best record at 42-19, so one could certainly argue these are the two best teams in the majors right now.

    Also, it might be the series in which Albert Pujols hits the 700th home run of his career—how cool would it be if he hit it off Clayton Kershaw, against whom he is currently 13-for-36 with no home runs*?—and/or the series in which the Dodgers clinch home-field advantage through the World Series (currently six games ahead of Houston).

    When these teams met in July in St. Louis, the Cardinals took Game 1 by a score of 7-6 and carried a 6-0 lead into the seventh inning of Game 2. But the Dodgers scored seven unanswered runs for a come-from-behind victory before winning the rubber match 4-0.

    *regular-season stats only.

9. Chicago White Sox at San Diego Padres (Sept. 30-Oct. 2)

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    San Diego's Juan Soto (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Got to love a late-season interleague series with colossal postseason implications, am I right?

    There's no way to know what the standings will look like by the time this series begins.

    Chicago might be hopelessly behind the Guardians in the AL Central, and San Diego might be insurmountably ahead of the Brewers for the NL's final wild-card spot.

    Or this could be a three-game set in which both teams desperately need two wins in order to keep their postseason dreams alive.

    It does seem like a safe assumption that this will be a crucial series for at least one of these two teams, though, so it sneaks into our top 10.

    It's too early to confidently extrapolate the rotation this far out, but it's lining up to be Michael Kopech vs. Yu Darvish in Game 1, Dylan Cease vs. Mike Clevinger in Game 2 and Lance Lynn vs. Sean Manaea in the finale.

    While San Diego has home-field advantage, it sure looks like Chicago is going to hold a significant edge as far as starting pitching is concerned. Also, Chicago is the lone team in the postseason hunt that has been considerably better on the road than it has been at home, so...advantage White Sox?

    We'll see how things shake out over the next 10 days, but I'm already excited about the potential for a dramatic series between the most disappointing team of the 2022 season (Chicago) and the team that has barely gone .500 since we unanimously crowned it the biggest winner of the trade deadline (San Diego).

8. Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Guardians (Sept. 27-29)

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    Cleveland's Jose Ramirez (Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Get ready for a lot of Tampa Bay Rays talk in our top eight, as they have the most difficult remaining schedule in the majors.

    But this one is mostly intriguing for its potential AL Central implications.

    After this week's three-game series against the White Sox, Cleveland wraps up the regular season with three games at Texas, this three-game series against Tampa Bay and then six home games against Kansas City.

    The Guardians should win at least six of those other nine games, so winning at least two of these three at home against the Rays would probably seal the deal, regardless of how they fare against Chicago, as they are currently up by 3.5 games.

    Cleveland did take two out of three from the Rays when they played in Tampa at the end of July, but doing it again won't be easy—which will also ring true 17 days from now if and when we end up getting a No. 6 Tampa Bay at No. 3 Cleveland wild-card pairing.

    But a big thing to note here is that Tampa Bay likely will not have Shane McClanahan (2.13 ERA) or Drew Rasmussen (2.77 ERA) take the mound in this series.

    The Rays do have a travel day before this series begins, so they could elect to skip what has been a spot for an opener in their rotation. That would get Rasmussen out there for the final game of this series, but that decision figures to hinge on whether Baltimore or Chicago is breathing down their neck for the final wild-card spot. (Tampa Bay is currently 5.5 games clear of Baltimore and 6.5 games ahead of Chicago.)

7. Cleveland Guardians at Chicago White Sox (Sept. 20-22)

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    Chicago's Jose Abreu (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    It's now or never for the White Sox.

    They've been coasting just a couple of games back in this division for basically the entire season, perhaps unable to get the job done or perhaps lulling their prey into a false sense of security to strike at this exact moment.

    Chicago is 3.5 games back of Cleveland in the AL Central, and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say it needs to win all three of these games in order to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs. Because if the White Sox are more than two games behind the Guardians on Friday morning, closing the gap is going to be nearly impossible.

    As just mentioned, after this series, Cleveland has three winnable games at Texas, followed by a season-ending nine-game homestand against Tampa Bay (three) and Kansas City (six). The Guardians should go no worse than 7-5 down the stretch and reasonably could go 10-2.

    Meanwhile, the White Sox still have the six games left against Minnesota, as well as the aforementioned three games at San Diego. They do get three home games against Detroit immediately after this series against Cleveland, but even if they sweep that one, a winning record over their final 12 games is no guarantee.

    Good news for Chicago: Cleveland enters this series having played 12 games in the previous 11 days, including a 15-inning affair in the second game of Saturday's double-header. That's a brutal stretch, even for a team that doesn't have two starting pitchers (Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale) on the injured list.

    The Guardians should at least have both Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie make starts in this series, but they might be running on fumes.

    Once again, it's now or never for the White Sox.

6. New York Mets at Milwaukee Brewers (Sept. 19-21)

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    Milwaukee's Christian Yelich (Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Don't look now, but Milwaukee is making one heck of a push for a wild-card spot.

    The Brew Crew has won seven out of its last 10, including a huge series win this past weekend against the Yankees. And if they can double down by taking at least two out of three from the other New York squad, game on.

    The Brewers are currently just 2.0 games behind Philadelphia for the NL's No. 6 seed, as well as 2.5 games behind San Diego for the No. 5 seed. As previously noted, the Brewers would lose the tiebreaker against either of those teams, having gone 3-4 against the Padres and 2-4 against the Phillies.

    But they are in a great position to gain some ground down the stretch with three home games against Arizona, four road games against Cincinnati and four home games against Miami, which has gone an MLB-worst 17-39 since the All-Star break.

    Milwaukee taking two out of three would also be a huge development in the race for the NL East crown.

    New York is currently one game ahead of Atlanta with a colossal, clear-cut No. 1 for this list head-to-head series coming up at the end of the month. Atlanta—which hosts lowly Washington during this Mets-Brewers series—could pull back into first place, but then give it right back a few days later when it plays four games at Philadelphia while New York gets three games against Oakland.

    Speaking of which...

5. Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies (Sept. 22-25)

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    Atlanta's Michael Harris II (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

    This is a big one, and it's a four-game series.

    That makes it 33.3 percent more important than a standard three-game tilt, right?

    If Atlanta and Philadelphia play to a 2-2 draw in the City of Brotherly Love, that probably keeps us on the path that we have seemingly been on for the majority of the past two months: No. 5 Philadelphia at No. 4 Atlanta in the wild-card round.

    Atlanta briefly surged into first place in the NL East a week ago. Philadelphia and San Diego have been bouncing back and forth at No. 5 and No. 6 for a while. But it has always kind of felt like we're headed for PHI-ATL. And the Phillies could really force that into existence by winning at least two games or even sweeping this four-game home series.

    If it goes the opposite direction, though, and Atlanta wins all four, that would be a game-changer.

    Not only would it potentially propel Atlanta into first place in the NL East and the No. 2 seed in the NL side of the bracket, but it would possibly knock Philadelphia out of the bracket altogether with 10 road games remaining (at Cubs, at Nationals, at Astros) to try to salvage a postseason berth.

    For what it's worth, these teams had basically played to a draw prior to this past weekend's series that Atlanta swept. Through the first 12 games, each team went 6-6, with Philadelphia leading 58-57 in total runs. A split seems like the most likely outcome, but we shall see how things play out.

4. Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays (Sept. 22-25)

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    Toronto's Alek Manoah (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

    This four-game series is probably only going to impact which of these teams gets the AL's No. 5 seed and which one gets the No. 6 seed.

    As previously mentioned, Seattle's remaining schedule is a joke. The Mariners should cruise to the AL's No. 4 seed. And after this past weekend's series between Baltimore and Toronto, the O's are pretty much toast. That leaves Toronto and Tampa Bay as the fairly obvious picks for No. 5 and No. 6.

    But if Seattle stubs its toe and leaves the door open for Toronto or Tampa Bay to steal the No. 4 seed and/or Baltimore unexpectedly finishes with a flourish despite playing 10 of its final 17 games against teams currently projected for the postseason, well then this series becomes a much bigger deal.

    And even if all it impacts is the race for the No. 5 seed, that's still pretty important.

    Here's the funny thing, though: In the AL, the No. 6 seed is more desirable than the No. 5 seed, especially if Seattle does get the No. 4 seed.

    Like, come on, do you want to play a best-of-three series in Seattle—which will be ridiculously loud for its first postseason action in 21 years—for the right to face a well-rested Houston in a best-of-five series? Or would you rather take your chances against whoever stumbles into the AL Central crown before facing the Yankees?

    Even though Toronto does have a winning record against Houston this season, it's kind of a no-brainer, right?

    But it's still too early for either of these teams to be thinking like that. They'll both be hoping for a sweep, especially with the No. 4 seed (and the wild-card round home-field advantage that comes with it) still there for the taking.

    (Of note: Tampa Bay currently leads the season series 8-7, so a split of this four-game set would mean the Rays hold the tiebreaker over the Blue Jays.)

3. New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays (Sept. 26-28)

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    New York's Aaron Judge (Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

    For the most part, New York has a cushy path to the finish line.

    This is the Yankees' only remaining series against a likely postseason team, and the only other time they'll need to leave the Bronx prior to Game 3 of their ALDS (assuming they win the AL East) will be the four-game series at Texas to close out the regular season. So if they can win this series in Toronto, they might mess around and go something like 12-4 over their final 16 games to regain a lot of the momentum they've lost over the past two-plus months.

    As far as the "Aaron Judge 62-HR Watch" is concerned, he has had a good amount of success in Toronto over the years. He has 13 career home runs in Canada. Only Baltimore's Camden Yards (19 HR) has provided friendlier confines for this visiting slugger. And at 59 homers with six games remaining before this series, there's a reasonable chance he'll tie or break Roger Maris' 61 while in Toronto.

    If New York fails to capitalize on its favorable remaining schedule, though, this one could have massive AL East implications.

    Toronto is currently 5.5 games back and is probably going to fade even further with six road games against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay on deck, but a sweep of the Bronx Bombers could set the stage for a very intriguing final week of the regular season.

    Alternatively, Toronto is currently just six games ahead of the first team out of the AL wild-card picture (Baltimore) and could free-fall toward the O's by getting swept by the Yankees. That would also set the stage for a wild finish, as the Blue Jays end the regular season with three games at Baltimore.

2. Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays (Sept. 19-21), Rays at Astros (Sept. 30-Oct. 2)

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    Houston's Yordan Alvarez (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

    This is similar to the White Sox and Twins having six games remaining against each other, except we know for sure that these games will be important.

    On the Houston front, this is where the pursuit of the AL's No. 1 seed could still get a little interesting. The Astros have opened up a 7.5-game lead over the Yankees, but New York has two games at home against Pittsburgh during the first series and three games at home against Baltimore during the second series.

    The gap may already be too wide, but this is where New York stands to gain some ground.

    Alternatively, if Houston takes at least four out of these six games from Tampa Bay, home-field advantage through the World Series might still be on the table. As previously noted, the Astros are six games behind the Dodgers. And aside from these six games against the Rays, they have four at Baltimore, three against Philadelphia at home and two against Arizona at home remaining. (The Dodgers have 11 home games remaining against Arizona and Colorado, though, so don't bet on Houston getting close.)

    On the Tampa Bay front, these games are just plain massive. The Rays have already slipped behind Toronto and are trying to hold off Seattle for the No. 5 seed, and neither Baltimore (4.0 games behind Seattle) nor Chicago (5.0 GB) is exactly out of the running.

    Overall, Tampa Bay has these six games against Houston, the aforementioned four home games against Toronto, the aforementioned three road games against Cleveland and a season-ending three-game set at Boston. It is a gauntlet, to say the least, but the Rays should be fine if they can at least break even for an 8-8 record. And they probably need to take at least two of these six games from Houston in order to get there.

1. New York Mets at Atlanta Braves (Sept. 30-Oct. 2)

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    New York's Jacob deGrom (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    It's possible that one of these teams pulls so far ahead of the other in the next 10 days that this series becomes more or less obsolete.

    But it's more likely that Atlanta and New York enter this series deadlocked for first place in the NL East, which would make this a colossal showdown.

    Barring a drastic change—the Los Angeles Dodgers collapsing or the St. Louis Cardinals channeling their September 2021 dominance and just refusing to lose another game the rest of the season to play their way into the first-round bye conversation—the NL East champion is going to earn the No. 2 seed, with the runner-up getting the No. 4 seed.

    As such, the division winner gets a first-round bye before home-field advantage against either the Cardinals or the No. 6 seed, while the runner-up needs to open the postseason with a best-of-three series at home against Philadelphia, San Diego or Milwaukee for the right to face the Dodgers in the NLDS.

    So, yeah, this figures to be a huge series, because the No. 2 seed's World Series odds should be considerably better than the No. 4 seed's, even though there's virtually nothing separating these teams.

    It's worth noting that the Mets are currently leading the season series by a 9-7 margin. That means as long as they win one of these three games in Atlanta, they would hold the tiebreaker should this division race come down to that.

    It's also worth noting that if Atlanta's current rotation holds to form, it would not have rookie sensation Spencer Strider available for this series. Meanwhile, New York appears to be on track to have Chris Bassitt, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer on the mound, which is the ideal scenario for the Mets.


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