1 Thing We've Learned About Every MLB Team During the 2022 Season

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVOctober 3, 2022

1 Thing We've Learned About Every MLB Team During the 2022 Season

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    ST LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 30: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals takes a curtain call after hitting his 701st career home run while playing against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on September 30, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    St. Louis' Albert Pujols (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

    Alright, class, what have we learned over the past six months of Major League Baseball?

    For starters, never throw in the towel on a Hall of Famer pursuing 700 career home runs, assume until further notice that anyone Atlanta calls up is going to be an NL Rookie of the Year candidate and Cleveland has way more talent than anyone realized in the preseason.

    Baltimore and Seattle have emerged as teams that could be contenders for years to come, Arizona might not be far behind them and, well, don't hold your breath in Cincinnati, Oakland or Washington.

    And did you know Aaron Judge isn't the Yankees' top slugger?

    We've put together a list of one key thing we've learned about every team in this 2022 MLB regular season.

    Teams are presented in alphabetical order by location. Statistics current through the start of play on Sunday, October 2.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 28: Zac Gallen #23 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on September 28, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
    Zac Gallen (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: They might just be a piece or two away from legitimately contending.

    The Diamondbacks were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the majors, but they had a surprisingly competent 2022 campaign. If you take out games against the postseason-bound Dodgers and Padres—against whom Arizona went a combined 10-28—they actually had a winning record. This in spite of paying Madison Bumgarner a whole lot of money for little return on investment for the second successive season.

    Center fielder Daulton Varsho and starting pitcher Zac Gallen both had major breakout seasons. First baseman Christian Walker racked up 62 extra-base hits. Recent call-ups Corbin Carroll (OF), Drey Jameson (SP) and outfielders Alec Thomas and Jake McCarthy are all in their age-24 season or younger and look like legitimate building blocks for long-term success.

    It was a sub-.500 season, but a productive one. And basically everyone should be back in 2023. Even in a tough division, Arizona could be a contender as early as next season with just one or two semi-significant pickups in free agency.

Atlanta Braves

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 12: Michael Harris II #23 of the Atlanta Braves looks on before the game against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on September 12, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
    Michael Harris II (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Farm-system rankings aren't exactly gospel.

    Coming into the season, MLB.com had Atlanta listed as the 27th-best (fourth-worst) farm system in the majors, in large part because it had given up a couple of highly rated prospects (Cristian Pache and Sean Langeliers) in the Matt Olson trade.

    Lo and behold, there are probably going to be NL Rookie of the Year ballots that exclusively consist of young stars from Atlanta.

    Center fielder Michael Harris II and long-reliever-turned-ace-starter Spencer Strider are surely going to finish first and second in that ROY vote, while mid-August call-up Vaughn Grissom is at least worthy of consideration as the NL's third-best rookie, even with his minimal service time.

    And that, my friends, is how you lose Freddie Freeman and get even better.

Baltimore Orioles

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    BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23:  Adley Rutschman #35 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates scoring a run with teammate Anthony Santander #25 on Ryan Mountcastle #6's single in the seventh inning during a baseball game against the Houston Astros at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 23, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
    Anthony Santander and Adley Rutschman (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: The future is now.

    Like the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Baltimore Orioles were expected to be awful.

    After going 178-368 over the previous four seasons and with nary a noteworthy offseason acquisition outside of Jordan Lyles, what else were we supposed to expect?

    But the Orioles finally broke through with a young nucleus of solid hitters led by rookie catcher Adley Rutschman and "veteran" 27-year-old outfielders Anthony Santander and Cedric Mullins II.

    They're going to miss the playoffs, but they legitimately held their own in baseball's best division. And they did so despite losing their ace (John Means) to Tommy John surgery just one week into the regular season.

    Had their best pitcher been able to log 180 innings instead of eight, and had they not needed to wait until late-May for Rutschman to be ready for his MLB debut, it's not that unreasonable to say Baltimore could have won the AL East. Since the vast majority of the team hasn't even reached arbitration eligibility yet—let alone free agency—they're going to be able to run it back with a similar, inexpensive roster in 2023.

Boston Red Sox

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    CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 20: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox bats in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 20, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
    Xander Bogaerts (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: It's going to be a tumultuous offseason.

    The past calendar year for Boston has been filled with should'ves, could'ves and regrets.

    For starters, trading away Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr. and a pair of low-tier prospects was quite regrettable, as Renfroe has hit more home runs (28) for Milwaukee than JBJ had extra-base hits (23) for the Red Sox.

    That move came less than a month after Boston paid Martín Pérez $500,000 to buy him out of his $6 million club option...only to watch him become an All-Star in Texas.

    The Red Sox have also failed to sign Rafael Devers to any sort of long-term deal, leaving him on track to become a free agent after next season.

    J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill will all be free agents in a month, and they're probably going to lose Xander Bogaerts if and when he declines his player option to hit free agency.

    Throw in the very real possibility that Alex Cora gets the boot for a sub-.500 season, and Boston figures to be hitting the reset button harder than any other team this offseason. The Red Sox certainly have deep enough pockets to make it work, but this could also be just the beginning of a turbulent run in Beantown.

Chicago Cubs

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    MIAMI, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 21: Marcus Stroman #0 of the Chicago Cubs delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on September 21, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
    Marcus Stroman (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: They're still figuring out that rebuilding process.

    Selling off the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez at last year's trade deadline was the correct move for a team hoping to avoid a decadelong rebuilding process.

    Since then, however, the Cubs have signed Seiya Suzuki to a five-year, $85 million deal, inked Marcus Stroman to a two-year, $50 million deal with a $21 million player option for a third season, failed to get anything in return for impending free agent Willson Contreras at this year's trade deadline and whiffed on the opportunity to either re-sign Ian Happ on a long-term deal at a reasonable cost or trade him away when his value was at its peak.

    (But they did trade away basically their entire bullpen, so there's that.)

    They seem to be operating like a team that thought it could make the playoffs this year, despite going 9-18 through their first 27 games and never even threatening to turn the corner after that.

    Chicago still owes Jason Heyward $24.5 million next season, plus Suzuki's discounted first-year price ($8 million) is about to spike to $19.25 million on average for the next four years. Those are significant speed bumps on the road to competing in 2023, but we'll see what sort of mentality this franchise takes into the upcoming offseason.

    I truly have no idea whether they'll lay low for one more year or try to swing big for an Aaron Judge or Jacob deGrom.

Chicago White Sox

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 25:  Dylan Cease #84 of the Chicago White Sox throws a pitch during the first inning of a game against the Detroit Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 25, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
    Dylan Cease (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Division titles aren't awarded in the preseason.

    Of course, we already knew this. There are surprise division champions and playoff teams pretty much every year, as well as favorites who unexpectedly crash and burn.

    But if there was one division champ that felt like a sure thing heading into Opening Day, it was the Chicago White Sox winning the AL Central.

    Part of that was because of the lack of other options. Cleveland obviously exceeded expectations, but six months ago, the AL Central looked like a World Series candidate and four teams destined to finish no better than maybe two games above .500. (Turns out that was true; just not the WS candidate we thought it'd be.)

    Chicago dealt with more than its fair share of injuries, as José Abreu and Dylan Cease are on a short list of White Sox who didn't make at least one trip to the IL. Veterans like Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal regressed to an unthinkable degree. Tony La Russa made more head-scratching moves than a lice-infested kindergarten classroom.

    Regardless of your excuse of choice, this team simply squandered an entire season's worth of opportunities to take over this division and is even going to end the year with a negative run differential.

Cincinnati Reds

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Hunter Greene #21 of the Cincinnati Reds delivers a pitch in the first inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 27, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
    Hunter Greene (Justin Berl/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: They won't be relevant again until at least 2024.

    As a basement-dwelling team with a bunch of key players hitting free agency either this season or next, the Cincinnati Reds crushed it at the trade deadline. They turned the expiring contracts of Tyler Naquin, Tommy Pham and Brandon Drury and the one-year-of-arbitration-remaining pitching tandem of Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle into basically a brand new farm system.

    But now comes the painful part: sputtering through the final year of paying Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas a ton of money before maybe competing again in 2024.

    Cincinnati does have a solid young nucleus. Tyler Stephenson is a great hitting catcher. Second baseman Jonathan India won NL ROY in 2021. Shortstop Jose Barrero has struggled mightily since being called up seven weeks ago, but he has star potential. Starters Hunter Greene (23), Graham Ashcraft (24) and Nick Lodolo (24) all fared well for their first year in the majors. Alexis Diaz might be a budding star at closer.

    They are loaded with promising prospects, too.

    But with $43 million committed to Votto and Moustakas next year, it's highly unlikely that this mid-market franchise will be willing or able to make the additions necessary to compete in 2023.

    It will be interesting to see whether the Reds or Cubs are first to show any sort of life in the NL Central again.

Cleveland Guardians

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    CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 16: Cleveland Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez (0) advances from first to third base on a single during the seventh inning of the Major League Baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians on September 16, 2022, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Andres Gimenez (Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: They're more than just José Ramírez and Shane Bieber.

    Will enough "other" players step up (and stay healthy) for Cleveland to maybe vie for a playoff spot?

    That was the big question in the preseason, right?

    Well, Andrés Giménez has been arguably the biggest breakout star from any team this season. Josh Naylor has taken a huge step forward in a near-everyday role, primarily at first base. Rookies Steven Kwan and Oscar Gonzalez have been indispensable in the corner outfield spots. Triston McKenzie has blossomed into a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter, and the bullpen anchored by Emmanuel Clase might be the best in all of baseball.

    Even though Franmil Reyes—who hit 30 home runs in 115 games last season—never quite figured it out this season, Cleveland evolved from a two-star team full of question marks into a real contender.

    It seems a lot of people are dismissing the Guardians as a real threat to do anything this postseason, but the AL Central champs have the best record in the AL since August 5 (35-17). At the very least, they should give the Yankees a run for their money in the ALDS.

Colorado Rockies

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    MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 24: Kris Bryant #23 of the Colorado Rockies steps to the plate against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on July 24, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
    Kris Bryant (John Fisher/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: The Kris Bryant contract might be even more of a disaster than we initially thought.

    When the Rockies signed Kris Bryant to a seven-year, $182 million contract this past March, the overwhelming response was: "...but why?"

    Why did they accept getting absolutely fleeced in the Nolan Arenado trade, let Trevor Story walk for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick and then commit $26 million per year to a 30-year-old outfielder who hadn't received an NL MVP vote in any of the previous four seasons?

    And why would Bryant want to go to Colorado, which had run off its two biggest stars and seems primed for a lengthy run as either the fourth-place or fifth-place team in the NL West?

    It was just a weird situation from the outset, and Bryant's first season of seven with the Rockies was additionally inauspicious as he played in just 42 games because of injuries. He did at least bat .306 in those 42 games, but he only hit five home runs, none of which came in his 26 home games at slugger-friendly Coors Field.

    Maybe next year will be better and he'll be that Jayson Werth type of veteran presence the Washington Nationals had when they crawled out of the NL East basement and became a perennial contender. But Werth had Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and others by his side.

    There's nothing quite like that percolating in Denver.

Detroit Tigers

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    BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 20:  Spencer Torkelson #20 of the Detroit Tigers takes a swing during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 20, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
    Spencer Torkelson (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Sometimes top prospects need a few years to deliver.

    When the regular season began, Detroit's farm system contained both the No. 4 (Spencer Torkelson) and No. 5 (Riley Greene) overall prospects in baseball, according to MLB.com.

    Torkelson made the Opening Day roster, and Greene was on track to join him in Detroit until suffering a foot fracture in early April. But prior to that injury setting him back two months, the hope was that those two Tigers would be battling each other for American League Rookie of the Year—like Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II have been in the NL ROY race for Atlanta.

    However, by the time Greene made his MLB debut in mid-June, Torkelson was triple-slashing .178/.277/.283 with a 27.2 percent strikeout rate, well on his way to getting demoted a month later. He got called back up in early September and has been hovering right around the Mendoza Line for the year.

    Greene has fared better than that, though not by much. He's hitting .255 with five home runs in 89 games played. He's whiffing in 29 percent of trips to the plate.

    Maybe 2023 will go better for the youngsters.

Houston Astros

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    ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 20: Jeremy Pena #3 of the Houston Astros runs to third in the first inning during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 20, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Jeremy Pena (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Letting Carlos Correa walk was brilliant.

    Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña wasn't some sort of can't-miss superstar waiting in the wings to dominate upon arrival. He wasn't even a top-100 prospect heading into this season and had yet to hit 10 home runs in a season in his career.

    Suffice it to say, moving on from Carlos Correa—especially after a 2021 season in which he finished fifth in the AL MVP vote—wasn't an easy decision.

    But Peña has rewarded Houston for its faith in him, hitting 20 home runs while providing a ton of value on defense. (He has committed 19 errors, but he also routinely makes improbable plays look easy.)

    And while Correa made $35.1 million this season in Minnesota (with a player option for the same amount for each of the next two seasons), Peña has given the Astros a comparable amount of value at shortstop for the low, low price of $700,000.

    From that $34.4 million in Correa savings, Houston was able to re-sign Justin Verlander ($25 million) for what is looking like a Cy Young campaign and picked up Héctor Neris ($8 million) to help bolster the bullpen.

Kansas City Royals

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    CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 30: Brady Singer #51 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the Cleveland Guardians during the first inning at Progressive Field on September 30, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
    Brady Singer (Ron Schwane/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Brady Singer might be an ace.

    Positive takeaways from Kansas City's season are few and far between, but the Royals may have found something special in 2018 first-round pick Brady Singer.

    Singer opened this season in the bullpen and spent a couple of weeks down in Triple-A before the Royals simply needed any arm for the second game of a doubleheader against the White Sox.

    He went seven scoreless in that game, repeated the feat a few days later and locked down a spot in the rotation for the rest of the year.

    From July 3 through September 23, Singer made 15 starts with a 2.21 ERA. He threw seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the Yankees in late July and then went six scoreless innings with just one hit allowed against the Dodgers a couple weeks later. So, you know, he wasn't just dominating the hapless Tigers over and over again.

    Brad Keller had a similar run for Kansas City in 2018 and hasn't amounted to a whole lot since then, so we'll see if Singer can have another good year in 2023. But at least there's some cause for optimism on the pitching staff this year. That's improvement upon 2021.

Los Angeles Angels

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    ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) singles during the MLB game between the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on September 30, 2022 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Shohei Ohtani (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout will never be enough.

    The pieces were there for the Angels to be a real contender this year.

    Outfielder Taylor Ward broke out in a huge way. So did infielder Luis Rengifo. Young starting pitchers Patrick Sandoval and Reid Detmers both looked like legitimate middle-of-the-rotation arms. José Suarez has been most great on the mound over the past few months, too. And, of course, Shohei Ohtani has been the sensational unicorn, while Mike Trout has crushed baseballs when healthy.

    And they did get out to a 24-13 start.

    Yet, despite getting a combined 16ish wins above replacement just from Ohtani and Trout, the Angels are going to finish around 16 games below .500.

    There's no cavalry coming, either. The Angels' farm system is woeful, and with so much long-term money tied up in both Trout and Anthony Rendon, they can't afford to bring in anyone of note and re-sign Ohtani before he hits free agency after next season. (They did recently agree to a $30 million deal for next year, though.)

    If they are able to re-up with Ohtani, we'll inevitably talk ourselves into the possibility of that high-priced trio finally leading this franchise back to the promised land. But if they couldn't even compete this year, why should 2023 and beyond be any different?

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 21: Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates his solo homerun with Freddie Freeman #5, to trail the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-1, during the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on September 21, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman (Harry How/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: They are who we thought they were.

    As it turns out, adding Freddie Freeman to an already loaded lineup is a pretty decent strategy.

    Both Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger are hitting around .200 while playing nearly every day, but it hasn't done anything to slow down this juggernaut of an offense. Freeman, Mookie Betts and Trea Turner are all hitting like MVP candidates, and Will Smith certainly isn't far off their pace.

    But the pitching staff has been even better, albeit in a seemingly constant state of waiting on several key arms to return from the IL.

    The quartet of Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin all have an ERA better than 2.60 and a sub-1.00 WHIP. Gonsolin probably won't be available as a starter for the postseason, but Andrew Heaney (2.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) will be quite the No. 4 starter in his stead. And though Craig Kimbrel struggled in the closer role, the rest of the bullpen (even David Price) has been great.

    The Dodgers were expected to have the best record in the majors, and they have delivered in spades. Whether they ultimately win the World Series remains to be seen, but they are probably going to finish the regular season at No. 1 in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed.

Miami Marlins

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    MIAMI, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 19: Edward Cabrera #27 of the Miami Marlins delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at loanDepot park on September 19, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
    Edward Cabrera (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: They have copious amounts of young pitching potential.

    We already knew Sandy Alcantara was pretty special, and he's likely going to win the NL Cy Young in a few weeks' time. Pablo López is also on track for a third consecutive season with a sub-4.00 ERA. And while his 2022 campaign hasn't gone well at all, Trevor Rogers finished second in the NL ROY vote one year ago with a 2.64 ERA in 25 starts.

    Over the past few months, though, a new trio of young pitchers has arisen from the ashes of an otherwise woebegone season for the Marlins.

    Since the All-Star break, Jesús Luzardo has made 11 starts with a 3.31 ERA, Edward Cabrera is at 11 starts with a 2.89 ERA and Braxton Garrett has made eight starts with a 3.43 ERA. All three are in their age-24 seasons and all three have a K/9 slightly above 9.0 in this second half of the season.

    One other thing they all have in common is that they hadn't performed anything like this before at the MLB level. Garrett's career ERA before 2022 was 5.18. Luzardo was at 5.36. Cabrera was at 5.81 in seven career appearances.

    So, will any of them be able to replicate it in 2023?

    Will all of them?

    Could Sixto Sanchez also make a triumphant return to the mix after missing all of 2021 and 2022 with shoulder injuries?

    (Will it matter anyway if the Marlins have the most anemic offense in the NL for a second successive year?)

Milwaukee Brewers

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    CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 23: Devin Williams #38 of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches in the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 23, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
    Devin Williams (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: It's Devin Williams' time to shine.

    Devin Williams had already been an outstanding relief pitcher.

    He won NL Rookie of the Year in 2020, allowing one run with 53 strikeouts in 27 innings of work. He subsequent whiffed 87 hitters in 54 innings pitched in 2021, winning eight games in Milwaukee's set-up role.

    Still, all anyone wanted to talk about when it came to the Brewers bullpen was four-time All-Star closer Josh Hader.

    Until Hader started to implode and Milwaukee traded him away, that is.

    That's when Williams finally got a regular dose of the ninth-inning spotlight, thriving in that role for a Brew Crew hanging on for dear life to postseason aspirations.

    He did blow a save against the Marlins on Saturday which could prove fatal for Milwaukee, but it wouldn't be this close to the playoffs without him. Even after that misstep, Williams has a 1.09 ERA over his past 52 appearances.

    As great as Edwin Díaz and Emmanuel Clase have been for the Mets and Guardians, respectively, Williams is making a solid case for best reliever in the majors.

Minnesota Twins

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 20: Byron Buxton #25 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Texas Rangers on August 20, 2022 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
    Byron Buxton (Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: A new contract didn't fix Byron Buxton's propensity for injuries.

    Minnesota signed Byron Buxton to a seven-year, $100 million deal in November, which simultaneously felt like not enough money for Buxton and too much of a risk for the Twins.

    When he's healthy, Buxton is an MVP-caliber talent. Since the start of 2019, he has a .558 slugging percentage, which is good for fifth-best among the nearly 250 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances.

    Unfortunately, he has missed nearly as many games (267) as he has played in (279), and that trend continued this season with 28 home runs in just 92 games played.

    That's a 162-game pace of 49 dingers, but Buxton has played in greater than 65 percent of his team's games just once in his eight-season career.

    He has been out since August 22 after suffering a hip strain, and he has since undergone a season-ending knee surgery.

    As always seems to be the refrain in October, fingers crossed for Buxton to make a full recovery and enjoy a healthier run through next season.

New York Mets

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    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 16: Edwin Diaz #39 of the New York Mets reacts after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field on September 16, 2022 in the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets won 4-3. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
    Edwin Diaz (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Edwin Díaz is outrageously good.

    So, there's this stat called fielder independent pitching, which is sort of the pitching inverse of batting average on balls in play. It combines home runs, walks, HBPs, strikeouts, innings pitched and a constant based on league-average ERA, and it spits out what your ERA should be.

    As things currently stand, Edwin Díaz has a 0.90 FIP, which is the third-lowest single-season FIP in MLB history among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched, trailing only 2012 Craig Kimbrel (0.78) and 2003 Eric Gagne (0.86).

    Sit tight, though.

    It gets better.

    Díaz got out to a slightly bumpy start to the season and had a 2.78 FIP at the end of May. However, since the beginning of June, he has a FIP of negative-0.09 in 38 appearances, going more than four months without blowing a save or allowing a single home run.

    Over a stretch of a couple games, a sub-zero FIP isn't that uncommon. Heck, Díaz has a negative-2.89 FIP in his past two appearances. But maintaining a sub-zero FIP for a month—let alone four months—is mighty impressive.

New York Yankees

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 02:  Matt Carpenter #24 of the New York Yankees in action against the ssat Yankee Stadium on August 02, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Mariners defeated the Yankees 8-6. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Matt Carpenter (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Matt Carpenter's still got it.

    At 36 years old, it looked like Matt Carpenter's career might be over.

    After a decade in St. Louis, the Cardinals let him walk in free agency. He agreed to a minor-league deal with the Rangers, but they cut him in mid-May without ever promoting him to the big-league club.

    But with Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton both out, the Yankees swooped in a week later and immediately made Carpenter their MLB DH.

    He responded with six home runs in his first 30 plate appearances and swatted a total of 15 four-baggers in 47 games played before suffering a fractured foot on August 8.

    Carpenter might be back for the ALDS, though, which is huge news for a team that has been missing its top slugger.

    No, I didn't somehow forget about Aaron Judge. The 6'7" wonder is slugging .692 with a 1.120 OPS, both of which are leaving every other qualified MLB hitter in the dust.

    But Carpenter is at .727 and 1.138, respectively. That's the highest slugging percentage in a season with at least 150 plate appearances since Barry Bonds in 2004.

Oakland Athletics

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    ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Chad Pinder #10 of the Oakland Athletics runs to first base against the Los Angeles Angels during the ninth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 29, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
    Chad Pinder (Michael Owens/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: They're all the way in on a rebuild.

    If you're going to be bad, might as well be really, really bad and save some money along the way.

    The Houston Astros embraced the basement from 2011-13, averaging 108 losses for those three seasons. They operated with one of the lowest payrolls in the majors from 2012-15 and then became an annual staple in the ALCS beginning in 2017.

    Granted, they hit a bunch of home runs in the first round of the draft in the forms of George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker.

    We'll see if Oakland can follow suit.

    But the A's have certainly followed the "cut costs, accept losses" formula in the tanking playbook.

    They traded away Chris Bassitt, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Sean Manaea before the season began—each likely headed for the postseason in his new home. Then they traded away Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino and released both Elvis Andrus and Stephen Piscotty.

    All told, there are only three players left on the payroll making at least $1 million—Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp and Ramón Laureano—none of whom is making even $2.75 million. The A's also have nobody signed beyond this season, so you really can't hit the reset button any harder than this.

    Now we wait two or three years to see if it actually helps.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Philadelphia Phillies bats against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park on September 23, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Braves 9-1. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Kyle Schwarber (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Breaking a lengthy postseason drought is never easy.

    Think back to four months ago, and it's amazing that Philadelphia is even in the mix for a postseason spot after losing 29 of its first 50 games and subsequently firing manager Joe Girardi.

    Conversely, go back to five weeks ago when the Phillies were 72-55, comfortably situated as the NL's No. 5 seed with 19 games still to come against the Marlins, Nationals, Cubs and Diamondbacks, and it's astounding that they might blow this thing if they get swept by the Astros in Houston.

    Such is life when trying to sneak into the postseason for the first time since 2011.

    If they do get in, they're dangerous. Kyle Schwarber is leading the NL with 44 home runs. Rhys Hoskins is quietly at 30 dingers. JT Realmuto pulled off the extremely rare 20 HR/20 SB season for a catcher. That Bryce Harper fellow ain't too bad, either. And they've got a solid one-two-three punch in the rotation in Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Ranger Suárez.

    But if they don't get in, they'll be the highest-salaried team to miss the postseason, currently behind only the Mets, Yankees and Dodgers in payroll. That would be a painful and expensive way to extend the drought.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: Oneil Cruz #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates grounds out to second in the third inning during the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 in New York, New York. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
    Oneil Cruz (Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Pittsburgh has one of the more promising middle-infield situations in baseball.

    Listen, Pittsburgh's middle infield is currently nowhere near the level of the Mets, Rangers, Astros or Guardians.

    But the Pirates have something percolating with rookies Oneil Cruz and Rodolfo Castro.

    Neither Cruz nor Castro is likely to win a batting title at any point, and they may well finish most seasons with more strikeouts than hits. But they both have 25 HR / 20 SB potential to go along with decent glovework.

    Because this is the Pirates we're talking about, it's fair to wonder how long they'll hold onto these assets before trading them for prospects. It's especially fair when you remember Pittsburgh used its 2022 first-round pick on a talented middle infielder (Termarr Johnson), and have two other middle infielders in their farm system (Liover Peguero and Nick Gonzales) could be ready sometime next season.

    However, neither Cruz nor Castro will even hit arbitration eligibility until 2025, let alone free agency until 2028. They figure to be around for a good while, so it could be a situation where Pittsburgh has to figure out how to work all five of those talented players into the every day mix.

    (Although, until they do something about their dreadful pitching, that middle-infield prowess won't much matter in the standings.)

San Diego Padres

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    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Juan Soto #22 of the San Diego Padres reacts to a strike during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on September 29, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
    Juan Soto (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: The trade deadline can't fix everything.

    The San Diego Padres were one of the biggest winners of any MLB trade deadline that I can recall.

    Well, we certainly thought they were.

    They added the then-MLB leader in saves in Josh Hader. They added a journeyman utility man having a breakout year in Brandon Drury. And, of course, they got the only two good things about this year's Washington Nationals in Juan Soto and Josh Bell.

    Those four guys contributed a combined 9.4 Baseball Reference WAR to their teams before relocating to San Diego, and surely they were going to help improve a team that had a .558 winning percentage heading into deadline day, right?

    Nope.

    The Padres have gone 28-25 (.528) since August 1. Drury has been solid, albeit not quite as productive as he was with Cincinnati. Soto and Bell are drawing plenty of walks, but they're batting a combined .214 with nine home runs. Hader has a 7.63 ERA with two blown saves and a loss (though he has been much better in recent weeks).

    Maybe that quartet does a great job in the postseason, San Diego pulls off an upset or two and everyone goes on to forget how mediocre those major deadline acquisitions were over the past two months. But the Padres are going to make the postseason almost in spite of those marquee pickups rather than because of them.

San Francisco Giants

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 15: Catcher Joey Bart #21 of the San Francisco Giants looks on during the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Oracle Park on August 15, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
    Joey Bart (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Buster Posey was worth about 25 wins.

    We're being a bit facetious here. Buster Posey's retirement isn't the only reason San Francisco went straight from a 107-win season to simply trying to finish .500.

    Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt both took gigantic steps backward, as did Darin Ruf before he was traded to the Mets. Anthony DeSclafani spent most of the season on the IL, and Kevin Gausman has anchored Toronto's starting rotation instead of San Francisco's. (Though bringing in Carlos Rodón nullified losing Gausman.)

    But maybe things would have played out differently if they hadn't lost their leader behind the plate.

    Having Posey around wasn't going to keep DeSclafani from getting injured, but he could have at least ignited an offense that just was not good outside of Joc Pederson's contributions for the first three months.

    As a whole, Giants hitters rank 19th in FanGraphs WAR, this after leading the NL and ranking third overall in 2021. And among players with at least 260 plate appearances this season, only Joey Gallo has a higher strikeout rate (39.5 percent) than Posey's replacement, Joey Bart (37.8 percent).

    The hope, of course, is that the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft will figure things out soon. Bart hit well at basically every stop in college and the minors over the past seven years, but the Giants are still waiting for that to translate against MLB pitching.

    Giants fans will continue to miss Posey until it does.

Seattle Mariners

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    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 01: Luis Castillo #21 of the Seattle Mariners pitches during the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park on October 01, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
    Luis Castillo (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: This team is going to be a factor for a while.

    For the first time in 21 years, the Mariners are headed to the postseason, clinching their wild-card spot on a walk-off home run by Cal "Big Dumper" Raleigh.

    But this is just the start of what is shaping up to be a long run as a contender in the AL pennant race.

    They signed Robbie Ray to a five-year deal in November, traded for up to four years of Eugenio Suárez in March, extended J.P. Crawford for another five years in April, broke the internet in August by agreeing to a 12-year extension with Julio Rodríguez worth at least $209 million (up to $470 million) and then a little over a week ago they locked up Luis Castillo through 2028.

    Things will obviously change within the next three years, but Seattle currently has the highest 2025 payroll as a result of those five long-term moves.

    Even if they get swept out of the wild-card round this year, the future is bright for the Mariners.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 30: St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter Albert Pujols (5) hits his 701st home run in the fourth inning during a MLB game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals, September 30, 2022, at Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO. Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),
    Albert Pujols (Icon Sportswire)

    What We've Learned: Age is just a number.

    Yadier Molina is now 40 years old, and he's nowhere near the hitter he was in his early 30s. However, he's still one of the best in the business behind the plate with just one passed ball in more than 600 innings of work and a 42 percent caught stealing rate. (League average is 24 percent.)

    Adam Wainwright is 41, but the ageless wonder has gone nine full innings twice this season and entered his Sunday start against the Pirates ranked 13th in the majors in innings pitched. He is going to be a key part of the Cardinals' postseason pitching plan for a 10th time.

    And then there's 42-year-old Albert Pujols. He got out to a brutal start to the year, sitting on a .198 average with just four home runs through July 9. The retirement tour was getting painful to watch. But since then, he's batting .310 and slugging .667 with 18 home runs. Only Aaron Judge (.790) has been better in the slugging department during that time.

    Throw in Paul Goldschmidt on his way to winning NL MVP after turning 35 this past month, and the Cards are enjoying quite the "oldies but goodies" season.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 01: Shane McClanahan #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 01, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Shane McClanahan (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: The team that popularized the "opener" now has three aces.

    At the end of 2020, Jeffrey Springs was a relief pitcher with a career 5.42 ERA, Drew Rasmussen was just cutting his teeth in the big leagues with a 5.87 ERA in 12 appearances for Milwaukee and Shane McClanahan had yet to make his MLB debut.

    But in 2022, they have logged a combined 444.2 innings pitched with a 2.61 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.

    None of the three have anything close to a rubber arm. Springs hit 102 pitches in a start in June, but he's typically out of the game before 90. McClanahan has yet to eclipse 100 pitches in a start, and Rasmussen's season-high is 97. So it's a good thing Tampa Bay has a deep stable of quality relievers.

    But for the five, six or seven innings these three pitchers are able to make in their starts, they've been doggone good.

    That isn't to say they would have an advantage in starting pitching if they ran into New York's Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt or Los Angeles' Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw and Tyler Anderson in the World Series, but the Rays' starters could hold their own in those matchups.

Texas Rangers

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    BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 4: Nathaniel Lowe #30 of the Texas Rangers at bat against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning at Fenway Park on September 4, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
    Nathaniel Lowe (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: Nathaniel Lowe has MVP potential.

    The Texas Rangers spent big this past offseason on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, both of whom have delivered admirably in their middle-infield spots.

    But first basemen Nathaniel Lowe has been a pleasant surprise and looks like a major building block for a team that hopes to rally following a disappointing campaign for a playoff push in 2023.

    Lowe did have a promising 2021 after coming over from Tampa Bay, giving the Rangers a .264 batting average and 18 home runs in 157 games played. However, the 27-year-old took a huge step forward this season for a .302 average with 27 blasts.

    And, actually, most of that damage came after a rocky start. Through May 16, Lowe was batting .233 with just one home run. Since then, he has hit .320, operating at a 162-game pace of 35 home runs, 30 doubles and 198 total hits.

    In just two seasons, Lowe has already racked up more FanGraphs WAR than any Rangers first baseman since Mark Teixeira.

    (Secondary What We've Learned: José Leclerc might be back. After struggling through 2019, pitching two innings in 2020 and missing all of 2021, Leclerc has given the Rangers a 2.01 ERA since the beginning of July and has reassumed the closer job. You've got to think the Rangers will exercise their 2023 club option and bring him back for another two years for $12.25 million.)

Toronto Blue Jays

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    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27: Jose Berrios #17 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts against the against the New York Yankees in the fifth inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on September 27, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
    Jose Berrios (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: You can't always buy pitching.

    $67.7 million.

    That's how much Toronto spent in 2022 on what were supposed to be its top four pitchers.

    It's more than the entire payroll of the Orioles or the A's, but it was going to be worth it if Hyun Jin Ryu, Yusei Kikuchi, José Berríos and Kevin Gausman helped carry the Blue Jays to their first World Series appearance since 1993.

    And while Gausman has been solid to the tune of a 3.30 ERA, the rest of that quartet has been a nightmare.

    Kikuchi has a 5.27 ERA and was removed from the starting rotation in mid-August. Berríos still has his starting job, but with a ghastly 5.37 ERA to show for it. (It's hard to imagine they'll let him start any games in their upcoming wild-card series.) And Ryu made just six starts with a 5.67 ERA before undergoing Tommy John surgery.

    In exchange for more than $46 million, that trio has given Toronto a combined total of negative-2.1 WAR, per Baseball Reference.

    To make matters worse, the Blue Jays went out and got Mitch White from the Dodgers at the trade deadline, hoping to slap a bandage on their rotation. He had a career 3.58 ERA in more than 100 innings pitched with Los Angeles, but he has given the Blue Jays a 7.38 ERA and an 0-4 record through nine appearances.

Washington Nationals

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    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01:  Joey Meneses #45 of the Washington Nationals celebrates scoring a run on a Luis Garcia #2 single in the seventh inning during game one of a doubleheader baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on October 1, 2022 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
    Joey Meneses (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

    What We've Learned: 30-year-old rookies are fun.

    In 264 games played at the Triple-A level, Joey Meneses batted .295 with 48 home runs. But it wasn't until the Washington Nationals traded away Juan Soto and Josh Bell that this 30-year-old finally got to make his MLB debut.

    And in what has otherwise been a dismal season in the nation's capital, the Nats are having fun with this unexpected breakout star.

    It took all of one week for Meneses to become an everyday staple for Washington, bouncing back and forth between first base and right field. He homered in five of his first nine games and is now up to 13 round-trippers since the trade deadline. His .587 slugging percentage since his debut is tied with Shohei Ohtani for third-best in the majors among qualified hitters over the past two months.

    Again, we're talking about a 30-year-old rookie.

    It'd be one thing if one of the top prospects swooped in and started dominating immediately upon arrival, but it took 12 years and one of the biggest trades in MLB history for Meneses to finally get his opportunity.

    And he has not squandered it.

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