A Wild Season of Baseball

Twelve teams, each with a unique regular season experience, enter the postseason with the goal to win it all.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Celeste Hoo

Aaron Judge’s record-breaking 62 home runs. Albert Pujols’s career milestone 700 home runs. The Seattle Mariners’ end of a 21-year playoff drought. The Atlanta Braves’ comeback from 10 games behind in the National League (NL) East. These moments have given fans one of the most entertaining MLB seasons in recent history, and it’s not over yet. Twelve teams, each with a unique regular season experience, enter the postseason with the goal to win it all, and here’s how they stack up entering the playoffs.

In the NL East, the title-defending Atlanta Braves had to work hard to earn a division series berth after a high stakes battle with the New York Mets. Their championship squad remains mostly unchanged, with first baseman Matt Olson, third baseman Austin Riley, and shortstop Dansby Swanson each finishing with over 90 RBIs. Their bullpen maintains itself as an impressive powerhouse with the third lowest ERA in baseball. The all-around strength of the Braves has made them one of the favorites to make a deep playoff run this postseason.

Their northern rivals, the Mets, gave them a run for their money this season. In the midst of one of the franchise’s best seasons, featuring several unlikely comeback victories, the Mets pulled ahead of the Braves with a 10-game lead in June. However, continued dominance from the Braves saw a Mets lead transform into a two-game deficit, and the latter ended up with a wild card spot. Despite this late season slide, the Mets have a powerful core. Their offense, led by Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, and MLB batting champion Jeff McNeil, looks sure to score many runs against baseball’s most elite pitchers. They have their infamous one-two punch, consisting of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, as well as lights-out closer and team phenom Edwin Díaz.

The San Diego Padres, returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, headlined the season with a blockbuster trade for superstar Juan Soto. Even without their star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who was issued an 80-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, the team managed to slot into the postseason, thanks to strong pitching from Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove.

The Phillies are the last of the NL East teams. Though they won five more games than they did last year, they were consistently demolished by teams with worse records. A series against the Phillies was great news for the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, who collectively went 15-1 against the team, despite the triad’s inability to post winning records. The Phillies will face challenges in this year’s next stage and are the reason why some critics still oppose the new playoff system.

Back west, the Los Angeles Dodgers need no introduction. They are the NL’s self-proclaimed powerhouse, for good reason. After breakout seasons from Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, and Tony Gonsolin, the Dodgers have maintained one of the most successful pitching rotations in the league. Continued dominance from MVP candidates Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman has carried the team offensively. For now, the Dodgers enter as the favorites to win the pennant, carrying 111 wins and winning records against all but three teams during the regular season. The pressure is high for these Dodgers to win the World Series, and if not them, who will bring the title back to the city of Angels?

To round off the NL teams, the St. Louis Cardinals look to make one final run in the playoffs with their aging core. On their road to clinching their division, 42-year-old slugger Albert Pujols, 40-year-old catcher Yadier Molina, and 41-year-old pitcher Adam Wainwright have broken several MLB milestones. Wainwright and Molina started their 325th game together, the record for a pitcher-catcher duo. Future Hall-of-Famer Pujols is now fourth in career home runs and second in career RBIs. As he finished chasing 700 runs, he showed glimpses of his prime years in his final MLB season.

In the AL West, the Houston Astros once again clinched the playoffs through their scoring trio, consisting of right fielder Kyle Tucker, designated hitter Yordan Álvarez, and third baseman Alex Bregman. Their pitching staff remained solid as always, featuring another dominant season from Justin Verlander and the best pitching staff in baseball by ERA.

The biggest shock participant in these playoffs is the Seattle Mariners, who qualified for October baseball for the first time since 2001, when they tied the record for the most wins in an MLB season. Their investments in youth talent are finally paying off, with outfielder Julio Rodríguez putting up an impressive .844 OPS. They were against the Toronto Blue Jays for their wild card matches. After missing last year’s postseason by a one-win margin, Toronto destroyed the Boston Red Sox in all of their 2022 matchups, exemplified by their 28-5 rout in Fenway Park.

The New York Yankees took the high road this year, led by outfielder Judge and a powerhouse pitching rotation featuring Lou Trivino and Gerrit Cole in a double-ace formation. Their milestone man, Judge, added one more triumph to his collection, becoming the all-time AL home run champion with 62 home runs under his belt.

This year features a new playoff structure, namely adding two more teams to the playoffs bracket as wild card teams and changing the wild card from a one-game affair to a three-game series. The new format has allowed the Tampa Bay Rays to feature in a playoff series against the Cleveland Guardians, who clinched their division but did not have a good enough record to win a wild card bye. Overall, Cleveland’s dominance managed to give them an NLDS berth against the Yankees as they shut down the Rays at home in two games.

The Blue Jays hosted the Mariners in a three-game series, featuring two games completely opposite in nature. Game one, dominated by Mariners ace Luis Castillo, ended with a shutout victory. However, in game two, the Blue Jays offense jetted off to a 9-1 lead by the fifth inning. Despite the massive deficit, the Mariners completed a shocking storybook comeback, scoring nine runs over four innings and ultimately winning the series.

The Phillies also owe their playoff berth to the league’s new structure, and they faced the St. Louis Cardinals, a team coated with star power. However, the Phillies are no slouches. They won four of seven games against the Cardinals this regular season. They extended this to six of nine games after sweeping the Cardinals in the wild card series, and they will be playing their division rival, the Atlanta Braves, in the NLDS.

The last of the wild card games featured the Mets and Padres clawing for the last NLDS spot. The Padres played all three games in Queens and took the 100-win Mets to a high stakes three-game series. With a stunning one-hit shutout led by pitcher Joe Musgrove, the Padres defeated the Mets and will advance to the NLDS to face the number one team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Four division series remain. After six days’ rest, the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, and Braves will finally get going against the Guardians, Mariners, Padres, and Phillies, respectively. The Yankees-Guardians series is certain to be close. Though Judge has had a historical season and the Yankees have been dominant for the majority of the season, the Guardians might have what it takes to emerge victorious in a four-game series. The Guardians’ unwillingness to lose, proved by their 15-inning win in the wild card series, gives them a great shot against any top team in baseball.

After dethroning the Blue Jays, the Mariners look hopeful heading into Houston. However, Justin Verlander will be fully rested for game one, and the Mariners don’t seem to have enough pitching power to match the Astros’ powerful starting rotation. They will have to work hard to prevent the Astros from scoring. However, the Mariners seem to have defied the odds all season long, and historically, they have had clutch potential when needed most. Though it is an unorthodox pick, we feel that the Mariners will be able to defeat the Astros in a tight five-game series that will be scripted like a soap opera.

The Padres proved a point leaving New York with an NLDS spot that the Mets believed was earmarked for them all season long. But against the Dodgers, no amount of pitching prowess can keep their offense from scoring. The Padres will have to maximize their hits to runs, as they did against the Mets, in order to have any chance of victory. However, in all likelihood, this series will fall to the Dodgers in a swift three games.

To round off the division series, the Braves will be playing their NL East division rival, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves have had success against the Phillies in the regular season, holding an 11-8 record. We expect the reigning champions to sweep Philadelphia in three games, considering their much stronger lineup and recent successes.

After that, the possibilities are endless. We look to return with an update for the pennant races and world series when the time comes, but for now, the division series is set. Another week of exciting and intense baseball should provide for big comebacks, upsets, blowouts, and everything in between. Get ready baseball fans. It’s just getting started!