MLB playoff picture: The postseason bracket is set, but history still at stake for Aaron Judge in Game 162

The 2022 MLB season is at the finish line. Across baseball, teams will begin Game 162 at about 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and then look toward the playoffs ... or a long winter of regrets or rebuilding. Here's what you need to know heading into the final day of the regular season.

What does MLB’s playoff format look like in 2022?

First things first: You might remember that as part of the collective bargaining agreement that ended the lockout, the team owners and players expanded the postseason. There are now six teams from each league, three division winners and three wild cards. That means a new path to the World Series, and different considerations for watching the races come down to the wire.

When each league’s field is set, it will go like this:

  • The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds — the two best division winners — get byes into the Division Series, a huge advantage. The other four teams square off in a new three-game wild-card series, replacing the one-game wild-card showdowns, that will be exclusively hosted at the better seed’s park.

  • The division winner with the worst record will be the No. 3 seed and host the No. 6 seed, the wild-card team with the worst record. The winner of that series will go on to face the No. 2 seed, regardless of which team comes out on top.

  • The two best wild cards, seeds Nos. 4 and 5, will play each other. The winner will advance to face the top seed.

From there, things will look familiar. The Division Series will be best of five. The league Championship Series and World Series will be best of seven, with the team holding the higher seed wielding home-field advantage by hosting Games 1, 2, 6 and 7.

There won’t be any Game 163 tiebreakers. Ties will be settled by the teams’ head-to-head record. If that is also a tie, the league would go through a procession of other in-season records to find a winner, starting with intradivision records.

MLB's 2022 playoff bracket is set

It turns out we only needed 161 games to fully lock in the postseason bracket. With the Braves clinching the NL East and the Padres and Mariners securing the No. 5 seeds on Tuesday night, there's no movement possible in the seedings on Wednesday. Here's how things will look when the teams hop on planes and start their October journeys on Friday.

It's worth noting: Under the old postseason and tiebreaker rules, the Braves and Mets — currently one game apart — would still be playing meaningful baseball Wednesday, as a tie could have necessitated a Game 163 to decide the division.

American League

No. 1 seed: Houston Astros (bye into Division Series vs. TOR/SEA winner)

No. 2 seed: New York Yankees (bye into Division Series vs. CLE/TB winner)

Wild-card series: No. 3 Cleveland Guardians vs. No. 6 Tampa Bay Rays

Wild-card series: No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays vs. No. 5 Seattle Mariners

National League

No. 1 seed: Los Angeles Dodgers (bye into Division Series vs. NYM/SD winner)

No. 2 seed: Atlanta Braves (bye into Division Series vs. STL/PHI winner)

Wild-card series: No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals vs. No. 6 Philadelphia Phillies

Wild-card series: No. 4 New York Mets vs. No. 5 San Diego Padres

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge prepares to bat during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
New York Yankees' Aaron Judge prepares to bat during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

What's at stake in Game 162?

Though the standings aren't going to change, a few indelible pieces of the 2022 record book could.

After belting homer No. 62 on Tuesday night, Yankees superstar Aaron Judge still has a shot at adding a Triple Crown to his historic season. The slugger leads in home runs and RBIs by a mile, but sits second in the batting average category to the Minnesota Twins' Luis Arráez. Right now, Arráez is at .315 with Judge at .311. If they both played Wednesday, Judge would essentially need to log three or four hits with Arráez going 1-for-4 or worse. However, Judge is not in the Yankees lineup, all but giving up his chances of securing the hallowed feat.

The NL batting title doesn't have Triple Crown implications, but is similarly in play. Mets star Jeff McNeil holds a .326 to .322 edge over the Dodgers' Freddie Freeman. Both are headed for the postseason and could wind up taking the day off — although Freeman is famously averse to such things — but if they play, there's a chance that title changes hands, too.