MLB playoff preview

October 6, 2022
The most wonderful time of the year is here — October baseball, baby. The newly expanded MLB playoffs saw 12 of the league’s 30 teams punch their postseason tickets, and today’s special edition has everything you need to know before the fun tees off tomorrow.
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MLB playoff preview

⚾️ The set-up

The MLB playoffs consist of four rounds: the best-of-three Wild Card (WC) Series, the best-of-five League Division Series (LDS), the best-of-seven League Championship Series (LCS) and, of course, the reason for the season — the best-of-seven World Series. That’s a whole lot of baseball.

As for the 12 teams who make the postseason, there are six from each league — the American League (AL) and National League (NL). Each is represented by its three divisional winners (East, Central and West) and the league’s next best three teams (aka the WCs).

And with the aforementioned increase in teams, the WC round has changed dramatically. While each league previously sent two squads to face off in one single-elimination WC game, each league will now have two three-game series, notably hosted entirely by the higher-seeded team. There’s no place like home, right?

  • The new format also sends each league’s top two regular-season teams straight to their DS, where they’ll await the WC Series winners.

🔴 American League

No. 3 Cleveland Guardians vs. No. 6 Tampa Bay Rays: The youngest roster in baseball, the Guardians came out of nowhere to secure the AL Central crown. But they’ll need standout performances from their vets, like pitcher Shane Bieber (no relation to Justin) and third baseman José Ramírez, if they want to mount a deep playoff run.

  • They’ll be up against a Tampa Bay team that’s making their fourth straight postseason appearance. If defense really does win championships, the Rays have a chance. They have an impressive 3.41 team ERA, highlighted by ace Shane McClanahan.

No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays vs. No. 5 Seattle Mariners: After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, Canada’s team is back playing October baseball, and they got there by quietly amassing a league-leading .264 batting average.

  • The Bluebirds flying the highest? Shortstop Bo Bichette, with his team-leading .290 average, and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who’s always a danger to go deep.
  • But they’ll have to get through a Seattle squad that just snapped the longest postseason drought (21 years!) in North American pro sports. Watch for lockdown Mariners pitchers Robbie Ray and Luis Castillo to stifle the potent Toronto attack.

No. 1 Houston Astros: Yes, the team everyone loves to hate is once again back in the playoffs. And the 2017 World Series cheaters champs are incredibly stacked. Thirty-nine-year-old pitcher Justin Verlander found a new gear this year, posting the best ERA in baseball.

  • On offense, the ’Stros feature two of the league’s best sluggers in DH Yordan Álvarez and second baseman José Altuve. Houston, everyone else might have a problem.

No. 2 NY Yankees: Outfielder Aaron Judge’s successful quest for the AL single-season home run record has (rightfully) dominated the news, but the Evil Empire has plenty more starpower where that came from.

  • First baseman Anthony Rizzo and DH Giancarlo Stanton each belted 30+ homers of their own, helping the Yanks live up to their “Bronx Bombers” nickname.

🔵 National League

No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals vs. No. 6 Philadelphia Phillies: Previously mentioned history-making slugger Albert Pujols has been a major key for the NL Central–winning Cards. The DH’s journey to 700 career home runs (and counting!) helped St. Louis stay red hot down the stretch.

  • Plus, having two of the best hitters in the league in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado sure doesn’t hurt.
  • The Cards are up against a Phillies team that just snapped the second-longest playoff drought in MLB, sending the squad to their first postseason since 2011.
  • Expect some high-scoring games throughout the series as Philly boasts big bopper outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who has 46 home runs on the year, good for second in the league. Schwarbombs, incoming.

No. 4 NY Mets vs. No. 5 San Diego Padres: Don’t let their late September collapse (and loss of the NL East title) fool you — this Mets team is loaded. They feature two of the top pitchers in the game in Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, not to mention the best offense in the NL. Get you a team that can…do it all.

  • Their opponent? A Slam Diego squad counting on superstar third baseman Manny Machado and trade deadline acquisition Juan Soto to keep the Padres in the hunt.

No. 1 LA Dodgers: The 2020 World Series champion Dodgers somehow just keep getting better and will be making their 10th straight postseason appearance.

  • LA smashed countless records en route to the league’s best record, with superstars first baseman Freddie Freeman, outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher Julio Urías leading the charge. It’s almost unfair.

No. 2 Atlanta Braves: Save for LA’s Freeman, the defending champs retained most of their 2021 World Series–winning core and look like contenders once again, especially after nabbing their fifth consecutive NL East title.

  • And pitcher Max Fried will no doubt be at the center of it all — the southpaw hurler boasts an impressive 2.48 ERA. Now if only they would just get rid of “the chop” once and for all…

📺 How to tune in

The road to the Fall Classic begins when the Guardians take on the Rays tomorrow at 12:07 p.m. ET, with the Wild Card round airing on ESPN in the U.S. before the later rounds air across Fox and TBS. And if you’re in Canada, you can catch all of the action on Sportsnet. Play — and we cannot stress this enough — ball!