The 2022 MLB season is advancing into a brave new world, a 12-team postseason bracket that will decide a champion over the next month. And it's going to get real fast. The new best-of-three wild-card series begin Friday and will be decided by Sunday at the latest. The burst of high-stakes baseball pits eight teams against each other — Guardians-Rays, Cardinals-Phillies, Blue Jays-Mariners, Mets-Padres — for the right to advance.
The favorites they would face in the next round are familiar — the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees hold the top seeds. But certainly some of these challengers have designs on toppling baseball's existing world order.
First, they have to get through this weekend. And that's looking daunting for several top seeds.
Padres pound Mets as Yu Darvish bests Max Scherzer
There was a dominant, big-ticket ace in his late 30s on the mound in New York Friday. But it wasn't Max Scherzer. Padres maestro Yu Darvish stymied the favored Mets for 7 innings as the San Diego bats repeatedly left the yard. Scherzer left under a downpour of Citi Field boos after allowing a career postseason-worst four homers and seven runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Scherzer called the loss one of the "lowest of lows" that the game of baseball can offer. Having managed an oblique injury for much of the season, he said he felt fine physically during the start. Scherzer said his fastball was running, or flat, meaning it didn't have the usual "rising" movement that he usually uses to miss bats.
After 101 regular season wins, the Mets are on the brink of elimination at the hands of the Padres. Jacob deGrom is now likely to take the mound with the Mets' season — a magical one until about two weeks ago — riding on his performance.
New York will have to hope it diverges from Scherzer's uncharacteristically disastrous outing. Josh Bell, Trent Grisham, Jurickson Profar and Manny Machado took the three-time Cy Young winner deep, with the three loudest blasts coming off Scherzer's fastball.
Only Eduardo Escobar got to Darvish, carrying his torrid September into October. Darvish struck out four and scattered six hits, allowing one run on Escobar's solo homer. The 36-year-old righty with an unparalleled barrage of pitches has now thrown 21 innings against the Mets in 2022, allowing a total of two runs and one walk while striking out 19.
While deGrom will be under the microscope, the Padres will enter Game 2 with the hotter starting pitcher. Lefty Blake Snell has a 2.19 ERA in 14 starts since the All-Star break, and a sparkling 0.72 ERA over his last four starts. After a blistering return to action this summer, deGrom has wobbled to a 6.00 ERA in his last four starts.
Mariners pounce on Blue Jays as Luis Castillo pitches like an ace
The Mariners will welcome themselves back to the postseason, thank you very much. The club that ended a 21-year October drought came out swinging against their higher-seeded hosts, the Blue Jays. Led by Cal Raleigh's two-run homer, they put up three runs in the top of the first inning, then handed the ball to Luis Castillo.
That turned out to be plenty.
The dynamic ace, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in a trade deadline blockbuster, blitzed the Blue Jays' stellar lineup. He struck out five, allowed only six hits and felt thoroughly in control. Hard-throwing reliever Andrés Muñoz cruised through the final five outs to give Seattle its first postseason win since Game 3 of the 2001 ALCS.
Having defeated Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah, the Mariners will go into Game 2 with a chance to advance to the ALDS against the Astros. Saturday's matchup will pit Mariners starter Robbie Ray against his former club and Kevin Gausman, the starter signed to an almost identical contract this winter to take his place.
Phillies explode for 6 runs in 9th to topple Cardinals
Entering the ninth inning in St. Louis, it looked like a Cardinals rookie's first big postseason moment would be the decisive blow in a Game 1 pitcher's duel. By the end, 10 Phillies had batted, the Cardinals bullpen had melted down, and 11th year player Jean Segura was the hero in his first postseason game.
After Phillies starter Zack Wheeler (6 1/3 innings) and Cardinals starter Jose Quintana (5 1/3 innings) both posted scoreless outings, this turned into a battle of the bullpens. The Phillies' gave in first, allowing a two-run, pinch-hit homer to rookie Juan Yepez. But the Cardinals' gave out more completely. Attempting a five-out save, St. Louis closer Ryan Helsley lost his command in the ninth. He got only three of the outs, walked two and plunked Alec Bohm with a wild 101 mph fastball to force in a run. When the Cardinals pulled him, seemingly concerned about an injury to his throwing hand — he left his last outing with a jammed finger — they brought in Andre Pallante. The rookie right-hander made some sense, he gets a lot of grounders and the Cardinals desperately needed a double play. But it didn't work out.
Segura poked a single through the right side that scored two and put the Phillies ahead. Then the floodgates opened. Two more grounders produced two more runs and Kyle Schwarber's sacrifice fly made it 6-2. According to MLB.com's Sarah Langs, the Phillies became the first team in postseason history to score 6+ runs in the ninth inning or later after entering scoreless.
Recent bullpen convert Zach Eflin allowed one run back but closed it out, 6-3.
All told, the difference in the game — and perhaps eventually the series — may lie in the extra inning of trust Wheeler earned from manager Rob Thomson. Stretched thin, the Cardinals' top relievers couldn't quite make it, and now they will have serious questions in the bullpen heading into a do-or-die Game 2.
Shane Bieber, José Ramírez help Guardians stifle Rays in Game 1
What decade is it? Behind a vintage ace performance from Shane Bieber and a two-run homer from José Ramírez, the Guardians turned away the Rays in a lightning-fast Game 1. Bieber went 7 2/3 innings, allowing only one run on a Jose Siri long ball, and striking out eight.
Rays starter Shane McClanahan was almost as good as Bieber, but he allowed the Ramírez blast that put Cleveland back on top almost immediately after Siri's homer. From there, Bieber shut it down. Cleveland skipper Terry Francona turned to untouchable closer Emmanuel Clase for the final four outs. All told, the game was done in less than 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Cleveland will enter Saturday's Game 2 with an elimination opportunity in the new wild-card format. They are sending young curveball artist Triston McKenzie to the mound against the Rays' Tyler Glasnow, an ace who only recently returned from Tommy John surgery.
Ballgame. The Padres win 7-1 after jumping all over Max Scherzer and riding a dominant Yu Darvish. The Mets were hoping for a two-game sweep that would allow them to start Jacob deGrom in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, but they have much bigger things to worry about now.
Blake Snell starts tomorrow against, likely, deGrom.
The Mets enter the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. In comes Luis Garcia to end this for the Padres.
Yu Darvish's final line: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 101 pitches. Robert Suarez takes over the eighth for the Padres.
Padres mound conference after a one-out Eduardo Escobar double with Darvish at 94 pitches. He stays in.
If the Mets want Darvish out of this game, Mark Canha just gave them some big help. He popped out to short, but only after a 12-pitch at-bat. Darvish now at 88 pitches.
Darvish posts a scoreless sixth. He's at 76 pitches.
But the inning ends with a Francisco Lindor popout. Mets still have a long way to go. Darvish is at 64 pitches through 5.
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