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 (postseason berth clinched)
Wild card series: No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Rays
No. 1 seed: Los Angeles Dodgers (NL West and top seed clinched)
No. 2 seed: New York Mets (postseason berth clinched)
What are the key races remaining?
The most important race is for the NL East crown. The Mets and Braves are barreling toward a weekend series that could decide the division and the No. 2 seed, which comes with that important bye into the Division Series.
Most of the rest of the intrigue lies in the NL, too. The Brewers are the only team currently outside the playoff picture with better than a 1% chance of getting into it. FanGraphs places their odds at 20.3%, and gives the Phillies the lowest odds (86.9%) of any team currently in the field.
In the AL, the jostling is for positioning. The AL wild-card seeding could flip around several times before season’s end, with the Blue Jays holding a two-game edge for the No. 4 seed going into a series against the division-leading Yankees.
What are Tuesday’s most important games?
Cardinals at Brewers, 7:40 ET: The Brewers are very much within striking distance of a wild-card spot, just 1.5 games back of the Phillies entering Tuesday. But they also have a tough matchup with the division-leading Cardinals coming to town for a two-game series. If they can make it through that, the rest of their schedule is devoid of playoff contenders.
Rangers at Mariners, 9:40 ET: Seattle is struggling. Down Julio Rodriguez to a back injury, they are 3-7 in their last 10 games. The Orioles are still highly unlikely to catch them and boot them from the postseason, but the franchise with the longest playoff drought in American professional sports doesn't need to be playing fast and loose with that spot. The Rangers should provide a chance to right the ship.
Dodgers at Padres, 9:40 ET: Look, the Padres are 4-12 against the Dodgers this season. Now they need to at least hold their own to feel secure in their playoff position. And at some point, they need to show some fight against the looming big brothers, because even holding down their current seed and winning a wild-card series would send them right into a matchup with ... yep, the Dodgers.
Braves at Nationals, Marlins at Mets, 7:05/7:10 ET: Every day remains a double feature for Mets and Braves fans — one eye on their game, one eye on the out-of-town scoreboard. Each NL East titan should each feast on non-contending division foes Tuesday. The Mets have the Miami Marlins, while the Braves continue a set against the Washington Nationals. But both have risk factors. The Mets are facing solid Marlins starter Pablo Lopez (although they have crushed him to the tune of 22 runs in four starts this year), while the Braves are sending walk-prone Kyle Muller to the mound for just his third start of 2022.