2022 MLB playoffs: ranking the title contenders from first to worst – The Guardian

The MLB postseason begins Friday with the start of the three-game Wild Card series. Thanks to an expanded playoff format, this year’s field features both familiar faces and intriguing newcomers. Below we rank each playoff team based on their likelihood of winning the 2022 World Series.

1) Los Angeles Dodgers

Strengths: Where to start? The Dodgers set a franchise record by winning 111 games in the regular season (the fourth-most of any franchise in MLB history). With Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman, they may well have the best offense in baseball. Plus, their starting pitchers have the best ERA.

Weaknesses: Can future Hall of Fame pitcher Clayton Kershaw reverse his habit of slumping in the postseason? Can manager Dave Roberts push the right buttons with a bullpen that is still in flux after the demotion of closer Craig Kimbrel? Will their Wild Card bye and home field advantage pay off against stiff National League competition? Stay tuned.

Lead player: Mookie Betts, OF. There are plenty of Dodgers who could earn a spot on this list, but we’ll go with the one most likely to win the pass and make the game-saving catch in two halves of the same inning.

2) Houston Astros

Strengths: Arguably the best team in the American League, the Astros have excellent pitching and offense, and a bullpen full of relievers who get strikeouts. Besides, the earliest they could face the Dodgers would be the World Series. Hopefully, they are on the up-and-up this time around

Weaknesses: In theory they should have one, right? Ryan Pressly is a quality reliever but not really the kind of intimidator you’d prefer in a must win playoff game. Second baseman Yuli Gurriel had a down year, batting just .242, with eight home runs. Still, these Astros look like the AL favorites.

Lead player: Justin Verlander, SP. While Albert Pujols got the media attention, he may not have even lasted the best performance of the season of an almost retired veteran. At age 39, Verlander has put up an eye-popping 1.75 ERA.

3) New York Yankees

Strengths: You might not have noticed due to the lack of media attention, but this Yankees team can hit an awful lot of home runs. Even when opposing pitchers were working around Aaron Judge to avoid having their names attached to baseball history, the rest of the lineup was designed to move him in.

Weaknesses: Nominal ace Gerrit Cole fought a tough one gopherball problem all season long and their bullpen has been beyond unreliable. Yankees fans don’t trust manager Aaron Boone to pull the right levers, but when do they ever trust their skipper?

Top player: Aaron Judge, OF. It’s hard not to pick the man who just set the all-time American League home run record and just barely missed the triple crown, especially now that teams won’t be as motivated to pitch around him.

4) Atlanta Braves

Michael Harris II had an excellent rookie campaign for the Braves
Michael Harris II had an excellent rookie campaign for the Braves. Photo: Brett Davis/AP

Strengths: The Braves were basically the Yankees of the National League, hitting the most home runs there, and pulled off the biggest comeback of the regular season by stealing the NL East away from the Mets. If it weren’t for the 111-game winning Dodgers also being an NL team, one could argue that the Braves would deserve the number one slot here. They also have a bunch of very good young players on long contracts, so last year’s World Series could be the start of a dynasty.

Weaknesses: Rookie ace pitcher Spencer Strider may not be available to start the postseason, which could leave the rest of the starting staff treading water until he returns. Plus, those home run hitters strike out too often (in 24.6% of their at bats), a tendency opposing pitchers will look to exploit.

Lead player: Michael Harris II, OF. It’s always fun when a player joins the team they rooted like a child. It’s an even better story when they then put together a Rookie of the Year caliber campaign.

5) St. Louis Cardinals

Strengths: However you want to count them out, the Cardinals have that pesky Devil Magic on their side. There are also more tangible reasons: first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has a good chance to be NL MVP and third baseman Nolan Arenado has done his part by putting together a 103 RBI season.

Weaknesses: Cardinals pitchers don’t strike out many batters – the second fewest per nine innings in all of MLB during the regular season – which is usually not great during the playoffs. As good as St. Louis’ defense is, you add more uncertainty to the game the more you allow your opponents to make contact.

Lead player: Albert Pujols, 1B/DH. Yes, Aaron Judge got the many, many, many “live views” on ESPN, but for those of us baseball fans of a certain age, Pujols’ quest for 700 home runs (and beyond) was the real charity story of the year.

6) Cleveland Guardians

Strengths: The Rangers just don’t strike out. Like that pesky Kansas City Royals team that won it all in 2015, they get on base and make things happen. It also doesn’t hurt that they have a HOF manager who made three trips to the World Series in Terry Francona, even if it looks like he’s getting. close to retirement.

Weaknesses: Yes, the Rangers won their division, but have you seen the AL Central? Additionally, they only hit 127 home runs in the regular season, the second-worst total in the majors. That’s certainly not the strategy that tends to lead to postseason success.

Main player: Emmanuel Clase, RP. The best closer in the playoffs might not be a name you recognize: Clase had a phenomenal season collecting 42 saves and 77 strikeouts in 72.2 innings pitched.

7) New York Mets

The Mets have the best one-two punch in the majors with Jacob deGrom (left) and Max Scherzer
The Mets have the best one-two punch in the majors with Jacob deGrom (left) and Max Scherzer. Photo: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

Strengths: They have a dazzling one-two punch at the top of their starting rotation in Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, plus a dominant closer in Edwin Diaz. There is a solid argument that the Mets were the second best NL team on paper.

Weaknesses: Games are not played on paper, and their chances at making the World Series took a hit when they lost control of the division by being swept by Atlanta at the end of the season. Because of that, they now face a tough Patros team in the Wild Card round and then the Dodgers and then eventually the Braves again.

Top player: Jacob deGrom, SP. Once again, deGrom has proven himself to be the most unbeatable pitcher in baseball when healthy. Also again, he wasn’t always as durable as New York would have preferred, throwing just 64.1 innings. He also finished the season on a mini-slump after struggling with bladder problems.

8) San Diego Padres

Strengths: Yu Darvish and Blake Snell shine at the top of the rotation. If Juan Soto starts hitting for extra bases again (his isolated power is down 100 points since being traded by the Washington Nationals) he is the type of hitter who can win series MVP honors.

Weaknesses: First of all, it’s bad news when your franchise player is serving 80-game suspension for using banned substances: this Priest would look a lot better if Fernando Tatis Jr was still in the lineup. They also have a tough road to the World Series, having to get through the Mets, Dodgers and then eventually the Braves.

Key player: Josh Hader, RP. The priests brought the controversial Hader to serve as their closer and he had a rocky start in San Diego. He had, however, a 0.87 ERA in September. If he can keep that up in the playoffs, the trade was worth it, at least from a statistical standpoint.

9) Toronto Blue Jays

Strengths: The Blue Jays have some serious pop in their lineup thanks to the likes of Vlad Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette. Young Alex Manoah has also emerged as one of the best starters in the game, he has a 1.08 ERA in his last eight outings and has dropped Kevin Gausman into the 2-start slot.

Weaknesses: Outside of Manoah and Gausman, the starting rotation has some major question marks. That should be enough to get them through a three-game Wild Card series against the Seattle Mariners but would become a bigger concern as the series expands later.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr has the power to finish any game
Vladimir Guerrero Jr has the power to change a game. Photo: Nathan Denette/AP

Lead player: Vlad Guerrero Jr, 1B/DH. The second-generation star had a slump by his standards, but that still amounted to 32 home runs and 97 RBI. Don’t turn the channel when he comes to bat in close games.

10) Seattle Mariners

Strengths: The best story in baseball has to be worth something, right? It’s been 21 years since the last time the Mariners made the postseason. They were sixth in the majors in home runs during the second half of the season despite being only 29th in batting average. I guess when you’re playing with house money, it doesn’t hurt to gamble with your swings like that.

Weaknesses: Not only do the Mariners, as a team, have little playoff experience, this is a very young team. The postseason is usually the time when experience is rewarded, which could be doubly true for a team unaccustomed to the media. Also, again, they had the second-worst batting average in the regular season.

Lead player: Julio Rodríguez, OF. Easy choice here. If Seattle makes any noise in the postseason, it will be thanks to Rodríguez, who had 28 home runs, 75 RBI and 25 stolen bases in his rookie campaign.

11) Philadelphia Phillies

Strengths: Aaron Nola heads into the postseason flirted with a no-hitter in his final start, making him a solid No. 2 behind Zach Wheeler. Kyle Schwarber is no Aaron Judge, but he still hit the most home runs in the National League with a more modest 46, making him the key cog in the heart of a lineup that includes JT Realmuto and Bryce Harper.

Weaknesses: They may have the worst defense of all the remaining postseason teams and are limping into the playoffs. Plus they have a lot of uncertainty in their bullpen, so everything has to go right for Philadelphia for them to make a deep run.

Main player: JT Realmuto, C. Reality is the best trap in the game and so in the finals. It’s not often you see a signal caller lead his team in RBI like he did this season with 82.

12) Tampa Bay Rays

Strengths: The biggest strength of the Rays this year was that the Boston Red Sox were completely dismal and that MLB playoffs expanded their format. However, they have a solid young pitching staff and just enough offensive firepower to be tough this postseason if nothing else.

Weaknesses: The Rays are the ultimate Moneyball team, for better or worse. This team was perfectly built to exceed expectations in the regular season and just squeak into the playoffs. Will that be enough for them to compete with the superior talents of teams built to truly win it all? Most likely not.

Key player: Shane McClanahan, SP. The left-handed pitcher was a Cy Young candidate for much of the season, collecting 194 strikeouts on the year. The Rays don’t get here without him.

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