2022 MLB playoffs - Wild Card Series

2022 MLB playoffs - Wild Card Series

The 2022 MLB postseason field is set.

There is a beautiful symmetry to the MLB playoffs this year, with the AL and NL East providing three teams each, the AL and NL West two teams, and the AL and NL Central providing just one, the division winners.

The last AL team to win a World Series was in 2018 (Boston Red Sox) and it's going to be a challenge to wrestle the title away from the Atlanta Braves or the postseason favorites, Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees and Astros are the cream of the crop in the American League once again, making it six years in a row that both teams have made the playoffs.

Primer: As a part of the new collective bargaining agreement earlier this year, MLB expanded the postseason field from 10 teams to 12 teams to include three Wild Card spots with the top two seeds in each league receiving a first round bye. The other four teams will pair-up for a best-of-three Wild Card Series (the higher seed will play all games at home) with the winners advancing to the Division Series.

The Top 4

Four teams will be awarded bye’s during the upcoming WIld Card Series and it's no coincidence that these teams pace the projection and betting markets as the likeliest World Series winners. 

Comparing the 2022 projections from fivethirtyeight, fangraphs and baseball-reference show certain variations:

World Series oddsfivethirtyeightfangraphsbaseball-reference
LA Dodgers34%14.4%27.9%
Houston Astros16%17.5%24.3%
NY Yankees15%10.2%10.5%
Atlanta Braves14%15.3%16.5%

The Los Angeles Dodgers, boasting the majors best statistical offense and top-5 pitching staff, sits atop fivethirtyeight and baseball-reference projection models. This is generally reflected in their bettings odds for the World Series at +300. 

From an analytical standpoint, fangraphs favoring the Astros and baseball-reference making it close between the Astros & Dodgers for the World Series is perhaps a reflection of the tougher overall competition in the National League. Sportsbooks generally agree and Houston are +375 and second favorites closely behind the Dodgers. With implied odds over 20% baked into the +375, you are getting a little bit of value supporting Houston.

The Atlanta Braves have won around 70% of their games since June 1, reeling in the runaway early division leader the New York Mets. The reigning champions have the experience and recent form to suggest they offer value for the WS trophy. The projections above reflect this reality, as well as their sportsbook odds of +550.

The Yankees provide the biggest difference between the projections above and the implied probability of the odds offered at various sportsbooks. At +500 with an implied probability of winning the World Series at 16.7% sportsbooks and fivethirtyeight have priced the Yankees aggressively. 

With the odds of the top four teams taking into account their byes for the opening round of the playoffs, there is perhaps more value in the teams taking part in the Wild Card Series. 

Wild Card Series

Matchups matter. The bracket beginning on Friday: 

AL Wild Card Series - starting October 7 (best-of-three)

Tampa Bay Rays (6) at Cleveland Guardians (3)

Seattle Mariners (5) at Toronto Blue Jays (4)

Rays at Guardians - Over the last 20 games the Rays have gone 7-13 while the Guardians have posted a Major League leading 15-5 and are playing their best baseball as they head into the postseason. A priority for Tampa Bay going into the playoffs was securing home field advantage as their 35-44 road record stands out like a sore thumb among playoff qualified teams. With the best-of-three format plenty will rest on the pitching matchups between these two teams. The Rays ace and All-Star starter Shane McClanahan - and likely game 1 starter - has recently returned from a 15-day injury stint with command issues as he stumbles across the finish line of the regular season. The Rays are going to have to hope he returns to his best in time to face the Guardians ace and former Cy Young winner, Shane Bieber, who has hit form at just the right time posting his best numbers of the year since August. Cleveland will be favored in this matchup but the Rays have history making things interesting in the playoffs, having lost in the ALDS twice in the past four years as well as taking the champion Dodgers juggernaut to a game 6 in the 2020 World Series. The Guardians hold the head-to-head advantage 4-2 in 2022.

Mariners at Blue Jays - The expected starting pitchers for the Mariners have been scuffling over the last two weeks which doesn’t bode well as they face the hot-hitting Toronto in a best-of-three matchup. Nevertheless, a first postseason berth since 2001 for the Mariners will be a cause for celebration and they will turn up with a talented starting pitching staff of Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray and Logan Gilbert. The Blue Jays have this series lined up the way they want with Alek Manoah on the mound for game 1 following an electric sophomore season backed up by Kevin Gausman who also excelled in the first year of his five-year $110 million contract. A slight concern for Gausman was exiting his final game with a cut on his middle finger, but adequate backup from Jose Berrios and Ross Stripling should have them covered. Toronto boasts one of the toughest batting lineups, second to the Dodgers for team wide wRC+ with 118. The Mariners will have the work cut out but have waited for this moment for over 20 years.

NL Wild Card Series - starting October 7 (best-of-three)

Philadelphia Phillies (6) at St. Louis Cardinals (3)

San Diego Padres (5) at New York Mets (4)

Phillies at Cardinals - Both these teams have been playing average baseball for the final month of the regular season, the Cardinals preoccupied with Pujols 700 home run chase and the Phillies with making the postseason for the first time since losing 3-2 in the 2011 NL Division Series. The team the Phillies faced 11 years ago? The St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies will fancy their chances considering their top three starting pitchers, Zach Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez compare favorably with the Cardinals options. Montgomery and Wainwright have been struggling recently which suggests the Cardinals will need to rely on new signings Quintana, Flaherty and staff ace Mikolas who has struggled post-All Star break. The biggest issue for the Cardinals? Phillies ace Zack Wheeler went 2-0 against St. Louis, not allowing an earned run in 14 innings. The Cardinals Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado who started the season incredibly hot will need to find some of that early season magic to give the Cardinals a strong chance in this series. They won’t be able to rely only on Albert Pujols turning back the clock 10 years, despite his hot hand in the last couple of weeks.

Padres at Mets - The Padres hold a 4-2 regular season advantage against the Mets and the two teams are closely matched. The Padres enter the postseason relatively healthy and feature a big three that will look to go toe-to-toe against the star power of the Mets big name starters. The Mets have arguably one of the best 1-2 pitching-punch in baseball with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, however San Diego’s Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish have been pitching particularly well of late. With their trade deadline deals, the Padres have constructed a team for the playoffs.The narrative surrounding the Mets is one of disappointment at losing the NL East to the Atlanta Braves after leading the division by a season-high of 10 ½ games on June 1. That shouldnt obscure that the Met have played well over the last couple of months and come into the postseason hitting and pitching at an elite level. They are strong up and down their lineup but can they put the disappointment of not winning the pennant behind them in front of their home crowd?

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