Categories
Sport

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Previewing the 2022 MLB Playoffs

One lockout, six months, and 2,430 games later… Major League Baseball’s 2022 regular season came to a close yesterday. It was a season of historic records, best exemplified by Albert Pujols recording 703 career home runs in his final season before retirement and Aaron Judge’s successful quest to set the American League record for home runs in a season. While fans of all teams tuned in to watch these players make history, they now look ahead to the most exciting part of October in America: playoff baseball.
The MLB Playoffs look a little different this year, having been expanded under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Twelve teams now have a shot at winning the World Series title. The top two seeds in each of the American League (AL) and National League (NL) will receive a first-round bye and are thus automatically qualified for the best-of-five divisional series. In the meantime, their opponents will be determined through four different best-of-three Wild Card series. The rest of the playoffs will proceed as usual, with the ALCS and NLCS determining the two opponents of the World Series.
The expansion of the Wild Card system gives more teams the opportunity to compete, but it will also challenge their mental and physical endurance. The extended Wild Card round means the World Series could run through November 5, which would make this the longest MLB season ever for the two teams involved.
In the American League, the sixth seed Tampa Bay Rays will face the third seed Cleveland Guardians. Guardians president Chris Antonetti described their division title run as a “fairy tale” in an interview with The Athletic’s Zack Meisel. Now the Guardians will rely on superstar José Ramírez to bring much-needed playoff experience to a very young team.
Perhaps the most anticipated Wild Card series comes in the form of the other AL matchup: the Seattle Mariners versus the Toronto Blue Jays. This marks the first time in 21 years that the Mariners have seen the MLB playoffs, ending the longest postseason drought of all major North American sports. The Toronto Blue Jays, meanwhile, hope to make their first World Series appearance since 1993. This evenly matched series between two intense fanbases will surely be a must-watch affair.
The National League’s Philadelphia Phillies finally broke their own postseason appearance drought and will face the St. Louis Cardinals. The momentum of Cardinals legend Albert Pujols combined with the veteran leadership of players like Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina will be a tough challenge for the inconsistent Phillies.
The final Wild Card matchup will see the San Diego Padres face the New York Mets. This season has been disappointing for both teams. The Mets were unable to clinch their division despite accumulating the most expensive roster in the league. The Padres looked poised to make a splash after acquiring Juan Soto, a move ESPN’s Joon Lee proclaimed as “one of the biggest trades in baseball history.” Their plans were hindered by Soto’s uncharacteristic post-trade slump and the news that Fernando Tatís Jr. would be suspended for 80 games following a PED
violation. For both the Mets and the Padres, this series is a make-or-break chance to finally meet expectations.
The winner of the Toronto/Seattle series will play the Houston Astros, led by rebounding veteran Justin Verlander. Either Cleveland or Tampa Bay face the task of defeating Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees. St. Louis or Philadelphia will visit the Atlanta Braves – defending World Series champions hoping to repeat their success. The final division series will see the Mets/Padres winner play the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the case of the star-studded Dodgers, who finished their season with the most wins (111) of any team since 2001, anything other than a World Series appearance would be a disappointment.
Major League Baseball has always been a marathon rather than a sprint, but the new playoff format makes this more true than ever. Only one of these twelve teams will be crowned World Series champions. They must navigate nearly a month of postseason play in order to get there. But the beauty of playoff baseball is that anything can happen in October, and in the ever-wise words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Let’s play ball.

Image ‘Chilly nighttime beisbol’ by aawiseman is licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/