As the Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season ends, the playoff picture is set as the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Houston Astros securing the final wildcard spot and eliminating the Milwaukee Brewers from playoff contention. This postseason will introduce something different from years prior and that is two additional playoff spots. Traditionally, only ten teams made the postseason but after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that was agreed to adding two more teams to the postseason picture. Now that the brackets are set, let’s break down all the teams and evaluate them heading into the postseason.
Starting with the American League (AL), the top two seeds Houston Astros and New York Yankees get a bye from the wild card round. The Astros finished the year with a record of 106-56 giving them the best record in the AL. They are led by star players like Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman on the offensive side, and pitching-wise led by ace Justin Verlander who led the league in ERA with a 1.80. The Astros are well set to embark on another World Series run this upcoming postseason given the star power and depth of the roster. The second seed belonged to the New York Yankees who went 99-63 on the season. They are led by star outfielder Aaron Judge who just broke the AL home run single single-season record passing fellow Yankee Rodger Maris with 62 home runs. The Yankees have dealt with a fair share of injuries to players such as Frankie Montas, Matt Carpenter, and Andrew Benintendi but have been able to keep a good amount of success despite the injuries. With a great rotation, bullpen and lineup, the Yankees will look to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009.
The first matchup in the AL Wild Card is between the third seeded Cleveland Guardians and the sixth seeded Tampa Bay Rays. The Guardians were able to secure the AL Central title and are led by star third basemen Jose Ramirez who is fresh off an MVP candidate regular season. The rotation consisting of Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, and Cal Quantrill is sure to help carry the Guardians in this matchup. On the other side, the Rays just barely squeezed into the playoffs finishing third in the AL East. They are led by cy young candidate Shane McClanahan who posted a 2.54 ERA with 194 strikeouts and young star shortstop Wander Franco. This matchup is up for the taking with neither side being the favorite. With both teams having great rotations and bullpens, it will truly be more of a pitching battle and seeing which team can squeeze out a run first.
The other wildcard matchup we have is the fifth seeded Seattle Mariners and the fourth seeded Toronto Blue Jays. The Mariners were able to clinch their first playoff berth since 2001, breaking the longest playoff drought in all of North American sports. They are led by stud rookie outfielder Julio Rodriguez who clobbered almost 30 home runs in his rookie season. They acquired pitcher Luis Catillo at the trade deadline, and he looks to command the ace spot and helps contain the potent Toronto offense. For the Blue Jays, they are led by stars Vladimer Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and George Springer on the offensive side of the ball. On the other side Kevin Gausman, Alex Manoah, and Jose Berrios lead the Toronto rotation which had a 3.90 regular season ERA. Despite the Mariners breaking their playoff drought, I do not believe they can contend with this loaded Blue Jays team. The Mariners are a young and fun team, but the lack of playoff experience truly hurts them and puts them at a disadvantage in this matchup.
For the National League (NL) coming in at the first and second seed are the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers are coming off a season where they won a whopping 110 games. They are led by a star-studded lineup that consists of Freddie Freeman who they signed from the Braves in the offseason, Trea Turner, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and many more. On the pitching side, they have Julio Urias who broke out in a big way for them this season by having a 2.19 ERA, good for second in the MLB. The Dodgers have the talent and the stars to go all the way and make it to the World Series, and they are the big favorite and the team to beat this upcoming postseason. A big second half of the season for the Braves allowed them to catch up to the New York Mets and clinch the NL East, giving them their fifth division win in a row. They are led by the likes of star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson, and Austin Riley. Max Fried became the ace that they hoped would be posting a 2.48 ERA with 170 strikeouts. Although still a young team, the Braves now have much-needed playoff experience thanks to their World Series run last year and should not be counted out as they chase to repeat as World Series champions.
The first Wild Card matchup in the NL has the sixth seeded Philadelphia Phillies vs the third seeded St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies, whose last playoff appearance was in 2011, are headlined by players such as Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Nick Castellanos, and Kyle Schwarber, with Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler locking down the rotation. The biggest struggle with the Phillies is the bullpen as they struggle to maintain the leads that the Phillies hitters provide. For the Cardinals they are led by the likes of Paul Goldschmidt who produced an MVP candidate season, smacking 37 home runs while maintaining a 317-batting average. For the Cardinals, it seems like a last run as players Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright all seem to be heading out at the end of the season. When it comes down to it the Cardinals seem to have the advantage in this as the lineup runs deeper and the bullpen is also sharper than what the Phillies have to offer. However, I would not count the Phillies out as a potential upset considering if the lineup gets hot, they can do a lot of damage to the ball.
The final Wild Card series is the fifth seeded San Diego Padres and the fourth seeded New York Mets. The Mets suffered a great collapse, blowing a 10.5-game division lead to the Atlanta Braves which forced them into the wild card round. The Mets are led by a double-headed rotation monster in Jacob DeGrom and Max Scherzer, and them maintaining a healthy status will be crucial if they hope to go far in the postseason. On the other side, the Padres are led by young star outfielder Juan Soto who they acquired at the Trade Deadline from the Washington Nationals. Manny Machado, Josh Bell, and Brandon Drury are other key contributors to this good San Diego lineup. Both these teams have dealt with inconsistencies and the matchup will come down to who can get hot at the right time and play to their maximum potential. Both these teams have the ability to have a big post-season run but must overcome the inconsistencies first.
Anything can happen in postseason baseball and a lot of these teams have the potential to win the World Series trophy. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros have two of the deepest and most experienced teams in baseball and that should help them get back to the World Series, but as we have learned from the Atlanta Braves of last year anything can happen in postseason baseball.
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