After a long, emotionally-charged six-month regular season that began a week late due to the lingering lockout last spring, we’ve finally reached the MLB postseason. Let’s take a look at the 12 teams competing for the World Series trophy, and what you need to know about each one.
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Despite the silent pleas of countless baseball fans across the country, the Houston Astros are not going anywhere anytime soon. Despite losing one of the core pieces of their long stretch of continued success to free agency–shortstop Carlos Correa–this team hasn’t missed a beat. Rookie Jeremy Pena has capably handled taking over for Correa. Veteran ace Justin Verlander has arguably been the best starting pitcher in baseball this season. And offensively, this line-up is as deep as it’s ever been. Houston has five players with over 20 home runs and three that have more than 90 RBI–paced by outfielder Kyle Tucker who has finally emerged as the star the Astros always thought he’d be. No club entering the postseason has more playoff experience, and Houston will lean on veterans like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Alex Bregman, that have been playing big October games year in and year out. While Verlander gets most of the attention on the mound, guys like Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia are also no strangers to October and have both had great years in their own right–as has closer Ryan Pressly. Any way you slice it, this Astros team is going to be tough to beat, and they’re assuredly the favorite to represent the AL in the Fall Classic.
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Entering this season, the Yankees were not expected to be this good. Some experts had them predicted to finish as low as 4th in the AL East, and they’ve obviously enjoyed proving the doubters wrong. New York got off to an incredible start that helped keep them afloat during a prolonged rough stretch after the all-star break, but they rallied in September to put the division away early and secure a bye. The Yankees are clearly led by superstar Aaron Judge who just put on a power display the likes of which we had never seen before. What will determine how far they go, though, will be how well their supporting cast can produce because teams will be adamant about not letting Judge beat them. There will be a lot of pressure on the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gleyber Torres to drive in big runs. On the pitching side, Gerrit Cole has come up small in big postseason games since coming to the Bronx, and that simply cannot happen again. Nestor Cortes and Jameson Taillon will back him up in the rotation and while he’s struggled in the second half, Clay Holmes will be the one closing games.
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If the Yankees winning the AL East in 2022 surprised some people, those same folks had to be absolutely stunned by the success of the Cleveland Guardians in the Central. Cleveland entered the season while behind the White Sox and Twins on paper, and some were even high on the new-look Tigers. Boy, was that wrong. Cleveland has got contributions from all over their roster and has become a fun young team that’s easy to pull for. Switch-hitting third baseman Jose Ramirez is their undisputed best player and leader, but he has not done this alone. Their middle infield combination of Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez–both of whom were acquired from the Mets in the Francisco Lindor trade–has blossomed into legitimate long-term core pieces here. Rookie outfielder Steven Kwan has come out of nowhere to hit over .300 and consistently set the table atop this line-up. Rotation-wise, Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie have both quietly been excellent this season, as has young Cal Quantrill, who came over in the Mike Clevinger trade with San Diego two years ago. At the back of games, dynamic Emmanuel Clase led the big leagues in saves this season and has been one of the most dominant closers in the Majors for two years running. Not many experts will pick Cleveland to go far this October, but this team has been proving people wrong all year, and they’re a dangerous team to have to play in a short series.
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The Blue Jays were the sexy pick to win the AL East heading into this season, and while that didn’t come to fruition, this is still one of the most dangerous playoff teams in this year’s field. Toronto can absolutely mash offensively. They’ve got five players with over 20 homers and seven with more than 14. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is as dangerous a power threat as there is in the game today, and Bo Bichette has been arguably the most productive offensive player in baseball since the all-star break. Outfielder George Springer is also one of the most accomplished postseason players in recent memory, and how juicy would it be if he were to play against his former teammates in Houston in a potential round two match-up? On the mound, 24-year-old righty Alek Manoah has developed into every bit of the frontline starter Toronto hoped he’d become after making him the 11th pick in the 2019 draft. Kevin Gausman and Jose Berrios will follow him in a rotation that will aim to get the ball to a deep bullpen anchored by closer Jordan Romano.
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What a time to be a Mariners fan. Seattle has endured the longest playoff drought in the four major sports–having been absent from postseason competition since losing the 2001 ALCS to the Yankees–but led by a phenomenal young rookie, they have fought their way back to relevance. Young Julio Rodriguez is going to be the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year and has injected life back into a fanbase that has been dormant for too long. But the M’s rookie sensation is not alone. This team is full of veteran hitters like Eugenio Suarez, Ty France, Jesse Winker, and Mitch Haniger. They made a huge splash at the deadline to acquire the best starting pitcher available, Luis Castillo, and then signed him to a huge extension. Castillo joins last season’s AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray as well as youngsters Logan Gilbert and George Kirby to give Seattle a formidable postseason rotation. Paul Sewald, Andres Munoz, and Penn Murfee are all pretty solid out of the bullpen too. The whole American League playoff field is pretty stout, but I can promise you this. No opponent is going to be excited to face this Mariners team in a short series.
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To the surprise of nobody, here are the small marker Tampa Bay Rays doing it yet again. Year in and year out, the little Rays go toe to toe with teams with much larger profiles and payrolls and consistently edge them out. This year’s Tampa bunch has been particularly impressive, though. The Rays have just two players with over 20 homers. Only Randy Arozerna has driven in over 60 runs. Wander Franco has missed almost half the season. Where the Rays have thrived, though, is on the mound. They have three starting pitchers–Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, and Jeffrey Springs–all have ERAs under three. Jason Adam has been the best reliever most casual fans have never heard of. Getting past the Guardians will be no easy task, but if they do, the Rays have fought the Yankees hard all season–going 8-11 against their arch-rivals–and a second-round matchup with the Bombers would not intimidate them.
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To the surprise of nobody, the Los Angeles Dodgers are again the top seed in the National League, finished with the best record in the Major Leagues, and enter October as the favorite to win the whole thing. The Dodgers’ top three in their batting order–Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman have all won World Series championships in other places, and the trio is eager to accomplish the feat again in 2022. But this team’s big three are far from alone. Los Angeles’ line-up is loaded with dangerous hitters like Will Smith, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Gavin Lux, and Chris Taylor. The list goes on and on. On the hill, Julio Urias will probably finish second to Miami’s Sandy Alcantara in the Cy Young voting, and he’ll lead a dynamic staff that should include Tony Gonsolin, Tyler Anderson, and oh, some guy named Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers present a serious problem to anyone in the opposing dugout, and they’ll be a tough team to slow down in October.
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The defending champs spent nearly six full months looking up at the Mets in the NL East, even as they’ve been on a torrid roll since June first. Their hunt of New York concluded with the dramatic home sweep they handed the Amazins’ on the final weekend, and thus Atlanta has earned a valuable bye into the second round. The Braves led the National League in home runs by an incredible margin, and in Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, and Matt Olson, they have three legitimate MVP candidates. And that isn’t even mentioning Ronald Acuna Jr., who, when fully healthy, is still probably their best player. Max Fried and Kyle Wright lead a rotation that could really use Spencer Strider to come back healthy in October. If he can’t go, the ageless wonder Charlie Morton will be the Braves’ third starter, and he is no stranger to the playoffs. Atlanta simply has to be considered one of the favorites to win the whole thing again later this month, and it is sure lining up for them to be on a collision course with their old friend Freddie Freeman in the NLCS.
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The St. Louis Cardinals spent most of the first half in a dogfight with Milwaukee for NL Central supremacy, but the Redbirds put this race away pretty convincingly after the all-star break. Corner infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have two of the most dangerous right-handed hitters in the sport. Both veterans hit over 30 home runs and drove in 100+, and with Tommy Edman, Tyler O’Neill, and Brendan Donovan, St. Louis does have a respectable supporting cast. Then there’s future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols, who recently became just the 4th player to reach 700 home runs. Does he have some big postseason moments left in his swan song season? On the mound, Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas are the Cards’ top two starting pitchers, but Jordan Montgomery has been great since coming over from the Yankees in July and will play a big part too. Ryan Helsley has been excellent finishing games, and Giovanny Gallegos and Andre Pallante have been good as the bridge. The Cardinals are not a popular pick to come out of this year’s National League field, but they cannot be overlooked, and certainly have the talent to play with anybody.
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The New York Mets were one of the best teams in baseball all season long, and yet, there’s no way to sugarcoat their entry into October as anything less than a disappointment. After leading the NL East for all but one day since April 13th, the Mets suffered a demoralizing three-game sweep in Atlanta on the final weekend in which their stars–particularly on the mound–were largely no shows. New York will still be a threat in the playoffs as they’ve got the names and resumes to be dangerous, but as a whole, this team looked completely overmatched by the atmosphere in Atlanta, and they’ll have to find a way to rebound in a hurry to avoid a catastrophic letdown.
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What a wild ride the 2022 season has been for the San Diego Padres. This team carried the disappointment of last year’s collapse into spring training when they learned their best player–Fernando Tatis Jr.–would be on the shelf due to an injury sustained in a motorcycle accident. Led by a resurgent Manny Machado, though, San Diego got contributions from up and down the lineup and has been firmly in playoff positioning for most of the season. At the deadline, they pulled off one of the biggest blockbusters ever to land superstar Juan Soto–who has come to SoCal and inexplicably struggled. And then, just when they thought they’d be getting Tatis back, he tests positive for PEDs and is hit with an 80-game suspension. It’s been a wild ride for the Friars, but they’re here, and hoping to make a little noise in October. To do that, they’ll have to lean on starters Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, and Blake Snell while continuing to get huge production from Machado in the middle of their line-up. Hard-throwing left-handed closer Josh Hader also came over in a July trade, but his struggles as a Padre have been well documented, and although he’s been much better in September, it would still be nail-biting for San Diego fans to see him on the mound in a tight game.
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The Philadelphia Phillies hadn’t qualified for the postseason since 2011, so the fact that they hung on to edge the Brewers for this final NL playoff spot has folks in the City of Brotherly Love excited. Though, it remains to be seen how long their stay on the October stage will be. Philadelphia has big names offensively like Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos, but they’ve gone through so many stretches where runs were hard to come by. On the mound, pitching has been an issue for this team for a decade running, and beyond Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, they don’t have anyone that would inspire confidence in a playoff game. With all of that said, anything can happen in a short series, and if both Wheeler and Nola pitch well, this team has a legitimate chance to upset St. Louis. Beyond that, though, it’s difficult to see them matching up with any of the NL behemoths in Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta.
Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears.