The 2022 MLB season is in the sprint to the finish line. When you’re not watching Albert Pujols try to blast beyond 700 career homers, or Aaron Judge try to set the American League homer record ... or win the Triple Crown, it’s all about the playoff push. To keep you up to date on the rush toward the postseason, we’re laying out the playoff picture every day from now until Game 162 on Oct. 5, and highlighting games that might end up making the difference.
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 No. 4 and No. 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 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.
How does the playoff picture stand now?
If the season were over and the playoffs started this morning, here’s how the standings would look when turned into the league brackets.
No. 1 seed: Houston Astros (AL West clinched)
No. 2 seed: New York Yankees (AL East clinched)
No. 1 seed: Los Angeles Dodgers (NL West and top seed clinched)
No. 2 seed: New York Mets (postseason berth clinched)
Wild-card series: No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals (NL Central clinched) vs. No. 6 Philadelphia Phillies
Wild-card series: No. 4 Atlanta Braves (postseason berth clinched) vs. No. 5 San Diego Padres
What are the key races remaining?
The dramatic Mets-Braves showdown began Friday night with a Braves win over Jacob deGrom that once again turned the NL East into a dead heat with five games to go. This race — for the NL East crown, the No. 2 seed and chief threat to the Dodgers — is the most important race in baseball by a mile. The Mets currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, but that could also flip with another Braves win.
Meanwhile, the Phillies finally broke a five-game losing streak Friday against the Nationals, but had the second game of a scheduled doubleheader rained out. The Brewers also won, with Corbin Burnes besting the Marlins' Sandy Alcantara to keep it a 0.5-game margin. FanGraphs gives the Phillies a 72.2% chance of holding on, and the Brewers a 35.7% chance of snagging a spot. With the AL field set, this is the only race with in-or-out stakes.
Speaking of the AL field ... the Seattle Mariners are going to the playoffs! They clinched an AL wild-card berth and ended American professional sports' longest postseason drought on a delirious walk-off homer by Cal Raleigh on Friday night.
SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE.
THE MARINERS END THEIR POSTSEASON DROUGHT WITH A WALK-OFF HOME RUN. pic.twitter.com/qcDM5JG1xx
— MLB (@MLB) October 1, 2022
What are Saturday’s important games?
Mets at Braves, 7:20 ET: Max Scherzer (no introduction necessary) against Kyle Wright (20-game winner) for the upper hand in the NL East. The Braves, who got homers from Austin Riley, Matt Olson and Dansby Swanson on Friday night, have never led the division by a full game this season. If they can take down Scherzer, they will finally do just that.
Phillies at Nationals doubleheader, 1:05/7:05 ET: The Phillies will once again attempt to squeeze in a doubleheader and win some breathing room in the wild-card race. The weather forecast does not look like it's going to be overly cooperative.
Marlins at Brewers, 7:10 ET: Milwaukee sends Aaron Ashby to the mound Saturday night. They're in a bit of a scramble for the back of the rotation, as Ashby had worked his last outing out of the bullpen. He entered the season with plenty of promise, having taken a similar bullpen to rotation path as Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. He's had a rough go as a starter this season, but he could make everyone forget about it with a big performance.