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Wild Upsets Highlight the MLB Division Championships

The World Series picture took clearer shape this week as the MLB playoff field narrowed to four teams. 

In the American League, the Seattle Mariners’ fairytale postseason was dampened as they were swept in three games by the Houston Astros. The Mariners ended the longest playoff drought in North American sports when catcher Cal Raleigh’s walk-off home run clinched their wild card spot. They went on to surpass expectations by defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild card series. 

The underdog Mariners faced the AL West champion Houston Astros in the ALDS and dropped two close games to start the best-of-five series. Their hopes of extending their playoff run ended in Game 3 after Jeremy Peña’s solo home run in the 18th inning gave the Astros a 1-0 final score. The game was a pitching masterclass by both teams and one of the longest postseason matches in MLB history. 

In his postgame news conference, Mariners manager Scott Servais lauded his players for breaking the playoff drought while looking ahead to next season. “We were starved to get playoff baseball here,” he noted. “We got it here. Now we need to take the next step.” 

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The other ALDS matchup was a more extended affair between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians. The teams traded wins for several games before going to a decisive Game 5 in New York. The Yankees’ dominant performance, led by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, helped the Yankees take a 5-1 lead in the game and win the series. 

The Yankees will now face the Astros in the American League Conference Series. Houston hopes to earn their fourth ALCS pennant in five years while the Yankees fight to make their first World Series final since 2009. 

The National League Division Series saw two major upsets, starting with the matchup between the Philadelphia Phillies and last year’s World Series champion Atlanta Braves. The Phillies, who finished their season just one game away from playoff elimination, swept the St Louis Cardinals in the wild card series before facing the Braves. They defeated the Braves in four games, finishing with two consecutive wins at home in front of more than 45,000 raucous Philly fans. 

One indication of the Phillies’ team attitude was seen in a press conference after Game 3, as first baseman Rhys Hoskins was asked about a mid-game conversation with Bryce Harper. What had Harper told him? “We ain’t losing. He said, ‘We ain’t losing.’” Hoskins then turned to Harper at the media scrum and asked, “You wanna do it again?” to which Harper replied: “Let’s do it again.” The following day, the Phillies secured their first NLCS appearance in 12 years. 

Perhaps the biggest upset of the postseason so far – and it has been full of upsets – came as the San Diego Padres defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was an immeasurable disappointment

for the Dodgers, who have shelled out hundreds of millions in the last few years to secure contracts with stars like Freddy Freeman, Mookie Betts, and Trea Turner. Before the season began, manager Dave Roberts made headlines by telling Dan Patrick’s radio show, “We are winning the World Series this year. Put it on record.” The Dodgers finished the regular season with a stunning 111 wins and looked poised to make Roberts’ promise come true – until they dropped three consecutive games to the Padres. 

For the Padres, it was a momentous occasion – their first NLDS victory since 1998. It also served as proof that their shocking trade deadline move for Juan Soto was worth it after all. Soto, 23, initially struggled to adjust to San Diego after one of the biggest trades in MLB history. The Padres’ outlook grew grimmer as already-injured franchise star Fernando Tatís Jr. was handed an 80-game suspension for PED use on August 12. Yet Soto’s postseason experience, combined with spectacular performances from veterans Manny Machado and hometown kid Joe Musgrove, propelled them to a victory few could have predicted when the season began. 

The Padres were unable to win a single regular season series against their interstate rivals during the regular season, yet they will go on to face the Phillies in the NLCS instead of the number one seed. As NFL veteran and sports commentator, Rich Ohrnberger tweeted on Sunday, “The Padres lost every series to the Dodgers in 2022, except the only one that mattered.” October baseball at its finest.

Image ‘Chilly nighttime beisbol’ by aawiseman is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.