Both the playoff field and the first-round matchups now have been set, so we can get on with deciding who’s going to be holding the Commissioner’s Trophy by the end of the World Series. After 162 games (well, give or take a Marlins/Mets game that will now be scrapped entirely), the list of contenders has been narrowed to a dozen teams.
The Braves led all of baseball with 104 wins, and their spectacular lineup tied a Major League record with 307 home runs. Leading the league almost across the board in significant offensive categories this season, Atlanta boasts MVP favorite Ronald Acuna Jr. as their top player, yet the incredible depth of the everyday lineup is a nightmare for opposing pitchers. Injuries to Max Fried and Charlie Morton have left some questions about the readiness of the staff heading into the playoffs, but if Atlanta’s games start turning into slugfests, the Braves are more than well-equipped for that type of baseball.
Despite a huge swath of injuries to their pitching staff, the Dodgers still finished 100-62 and won the NL West. It was the fifth time in the last six 162-game seasons that L.A. hit the 100-win threshold, and the Dodgers have now won 10 of the last 11 division titles. All of that success, of course, has netted “only” one World Series title (in 2020) to date, and it will be up to Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman to keep carrying the offense while the somewhat makeshift pitching staff will try to produce quality innings.
The Orioles went from 110 losses in 2021 to 101 wins this season, winning the AL East for the first time since 2014. Baltimore’s extensive rebuild led to a new wave of young talent (i.e. Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez) providing a quick impact, while roster holdovers and unexpected hidden gems like Ryan O’Hearn all kept producing for a well-rounded team. The rotation is either a question mark or perhaps just underrated heading into October, and the O’s want to leave no doubt that their team is for real.
The Astros went into the final series of the season not even knowing if they’d be in the playoffs at all, yet Houston ended up with a first-round bye and their sixth AL West crown in seven seasons. The defending World Series champs have weathered a lot of pitching injuries and a bit more inconsistency than usual from their lineup, yet if any team knows how to turn up the volume in the postseason, it’s the Astros.
These four teams will get first-round byes, while the other two division champions and the six wild-card teams will have to survive the best-of-three first round. The AL Central champion Twins and the sixth-seeded Blue Jays will meet in the postseason for the first time since 1991, with Toronto trying to win its first playoff game since 2016 and Minnesota trying to end an unfathomable 0-18 record in playoff games dating back to 2004. Both the Twins and Jays have relied on recipes of strong starting pitching, solid bullpen work and (especially in Toronto’s case) excellent defense, while the offense has been much more hit-and-miss for each club. A low-scoring series wouldn’t be a surprise, making things a tossup even though the Twins have the home-field advantage.
The Rays and Rangers spent a good chunk of the season looking like they’d sail to division titles, yet the two clubs will now meet in the Wild Card Series. Tampa Bay’s ever-deep farm system just kept churning out MLB-ready talent, allowing the Rays to stay steady and win 99 games despite an injury-depleted pitching staff. Texas had greater issues managing pitching injuries and a very leaky bullpen, and though the Rangers still ended up with 90 wins and a playoff berth, the Rangers’ relief corps stands out as perhaps the biggest weak link of any postseason team.
The Brewers went 92-70 to book their fifth trip to the playoffs in six seasons, with three of those trips coming via the NL Central title. With a 35-20 record since August 1, Milwaukee has been somewhat quietly marching towards the playoffs in top form, even if scoring runs is still at something of a premium for a team powered by its hurlers. The Diamondbacks have just about the opposite problem, as they’ll head into the playoffs with a -15 run differential and a season-long problem with rotation depth. But, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly can be a problem in a short series, and NL Rookie of the Year favorite Corbin Carroll will get his first taste of the postseason spotlight.
The Phillies and Marlins meet in an all-NL East edition of the Wild Card Series, with Miami holding a 7-6 head-to-head edge in regular-season play. After falling short in last year’s World Series, the Phillies are looking to make another run through the entire bracket, setting up the dynamic of a seasoned, veteran squad against an upstart Marlins club who are in the playoffs following a full 162-game season for the first time since 2003. A huge 33-13 record in one-run games helped Miami reach the postseason despite a -56 run differential — by contrast, Philadelphia was +81.
Looking at the list of twelve, who is your pick to win it all? (poll link for app users)