Back in spring training presumably all 30 teams--some more realistic than others--felt they had a chance to be the last one standing at the end of October. Just over 2/3 of the way through the 2022 season that field has narrowed considerably. By my estimation, only 16 teams remain in contention and only 12 of those will end up making the postseason. Let's make the case for each of the 16 contenders winning the World Series--and conversely why they will come up short.
The Bronx Bombers have been anchored all year by the unquestioned American League MVP, Aaron Judge. Judge currently leads the Majors in homers, RBI, SLG %, OPS, and runs scored. The Yankees unofficial captain is simply having a historic season but he's not a one-man show. New York has seven other hitters with double-digit long balls, and their ability to clear the fence will ultimately be the difference in huge postseason games this fall.
New York can score with anyone, but what could seriously undermine their quest for a 28th ring is their starting pitching. Gerrit Cole was atrocious in the Wild Card Game last October, Nestor Cortes has never pitched in a playoff game, and Frankie Montas came to the Bronx after an injury scare in Oakland and then got shelled in his first start in pinstripes. The Yankees are putting a lot of stock in that trio leading their postseason charge, and if they come up short, the starting pitching will be the reason why.
Houston will never live down their sign-stealing scandal, and they're unlikely to garner much support from fans outside of Texas once the postseason begins. But this is a proud veteran team that is eager to prove their success in recent years was legitimate, and they hope to prove it by earning another championship--which they're more than talented enough to do. Left-handed slugger Yordan Alvarez is having a phenomenal season--and were it not for the aforementioned Aaron Judge he'd get MVP consideration. And while he's led an offense that still employs productive and dangerous veterans like Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, the story of the Astros in 2022 has been Justin Verlander. At age 39, the two-time Cy Young winner has put up a 1.73 ERA and leads the Majors with 15 wins. Houston will be tough to knock out in a short series with him going multiple times.
While Verlander and his rotation mates--Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy are no strangers to the postseason, the same cannot be said about the Astros' bullpen. Closer Ryan Pressly has been here for a while and has had success on the October stage, but his primary set-up men--Rafael Montero and Hector Neris--have never pitched in the playoffs. Throw in righty Bryan Abreu who has just one disappointing postseason appearance on his resume, and it's reasonable to worry about Houston's ability to get the ball from their starters to Pressly.
The Twins have somewhat unexpectedly led the American League Central for most of the season, though their lead over Cleveland and Chicago is tenuous. What's made the Twins so successful thus far though, is their multi-faceted offensive attack. Luis Arraez leads the American League in batting average. Byron Buxton has as much raw power as any hitter in the game. Switch-hitter Jorge Polanco missed a few weeks on the IL and still leads this club in RBI. And then there's longtime Astro Carlos Correa who brings leadership and immense postseason experience in addition to a dynamic run-producing bat. Simply put, there are no easy outs in this line-up and it will be a tough offense to deal with in October.
What's going to make a serious postseason run difficult for the Twins is the fact that their rotation just can't match up with those of other teams in the American League. Their best pitcher is young righty Joe Ryan--who, after a dominant beginning to the season, finished with a monthly ERA over five in both June and July. Sonny Gray has pitched well but has been limited to only 16 starts due to injury. Tyler Mahle just arrived in a trade with the Reds but he wasn't exactly dominating in Cincinnati, and Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy are not going to scare the better offensive teams in the sport.
Toronto is as dangerous offensively as any team in baseball, and this is not a line-up anybody wants to face in October. The Blue Jays lead baseball in team batting average, and they're one of only four teams to reach 1600 total bases already. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is not having the MVP-caliber season he turned in a year ago, but he's a tremendously dangerous right-handed power hitter who can flip a game at any time. Throw in Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman, George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez and Alejandro Kirk and you have an offensive attack capable of doing serious damage against good opposing pitching.
Right now, it's hard to predict exactly what a Toronto postseason rotation will look like. Young power righty Alek Manoah has developed into the ace of this staff, but he's already over 25 innings more than he's ever thrown professionally and it's certainly fair to wonder if he's going to get shut down after reaching a predetermined innings limit. Free-agent addition Kevin Gausman has been great in his first season north of the border, but the rest of this starting staff--namely Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi--have struggled. If Manoah is ultimately shut down this club just doesn't have the pitching to match up with the teams they'll be playing in the playoffs.
Tampa Bay's most significant claim to fame is that they're generally the consensus smartest team in the league and are always at the cutting edge of new ideas. And to make a serious run at winning the whole thing in 2022, they'll need to be on point in every aspect. This Rays team is not the offensive juggernaut some of their rivals are, but the one thing they do have going for them is one of the best starters in all of baseball. Southpaw Shane McClanahan has become an absolute star. Similar to Verlander in Houston, if he can carry what he's done all year into October, Tampa Bay will be particularly difficult to eliminate--especially in a best-of-five divisional series.
What makes it difficult to have real confidence in the Rays ability to fight through the American League field in the postseason is their lack of a particularly dangerous offense. Third baseman Isaac Paredes currently leads them in home runs with 14, but outfielder Randy Arozarena is the only other Ray with more than eight. It's hard to string together hits against good pitching in the playoffs, and frequently the way games turn is with a long ball. That's not the Rays game, and that will put them behind the eight ball when the lights shine the brightest.
Seattle hasn't made the playoffs in two decades, a stretch of disappointment they seem poised to end in the next two months. The Mariners are led by young budding star Julio Rodriguez, the probable AL Rookie of the Year who has become one of the most exciting talents in the game in short order. But as a whole this team has a veteran offense that can do a lot of little things to win ball games. Ty France, Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, Adam Frazier, and J.P. Crawford can all be counted on to grind out competitive at-bats, which often helps Seattle knock opposing starters out of the game early. Defensively it's worth noting the M's have made the fewest errors in baseball. This team is not flashy, but when they're on top of their game they can easily play with anyone.
Seattle has a very talented rotation on paper, but not one that really possesses any postseason experience. The four starters the M's would utilize in a postseason series would be Logan Gilbert, Luis Castillo, Marco Gonzales, and Robbie Ray, and that quintet has combined to make just two playoff starts. For a team and a fanbase that has not experienced playoff baseball in far too long, the pressure to perform in what will likely be a best of three wild card series thanks to MLB"s new playoff format will be intense. Time will tell if the Mariners' starters are ready for that stage.
Baltimore is one of the best baseball towns in the country and Orioles being firmly in the middle of the AL wild card race has energized the fans in Charm City. Baltimore has put together an enviable young core in Adley Rutschman, Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, and Austin Hays that they feel can lead them back to the promised land. The O's are currently on the outside of the postseason picture looking in, but it would be quite the story if they could sneak in, and if they do, perhaps their young budding stars can really put themselves on the map nationally.
It's no secret that Baltimore is a year or better ahead of schedule in their rebuild. The fact that the Orioles are in the position they are makes 2022 a success regardless if they ultimately qualify for the postseason or not. In fact, trading away Trey Mancini and Jorge Lopez at the deadline may be why they don't sneak in after all. If they do, though, Baltimore will struggle to keep up with the high-powered pitching they're liable to see in October. Jordan Lyles, Tyler Wells, and Spenser Watkins have all contributed better than expected seasons, but if any of those three are in the mound in a playoff game the Orioles will not have the pitching edge going in.
The Guardians were not expected to be anywhere close to as good as they have been in 2022. Cleveland is incredibly young, but the youthful enthusiasm provided by the likes of Josh Naylor, Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, and Steven Kwan has this team well ahead of schedule. Having a dynamic MVP candidate like Jose Ramirez doesn't hurt either. On the mound, in addition to Shane Bieber being back healthy and productive, young arms Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill have contributed mightily to Cleveland's success. There are more talented teams on paper, but you have to admire the Guardians' 'why not us?' attitude and this is an easy team to root for.
What will ultimately hold the Guardians back in the biggest games of the season though is their glaring lack of power. Postseason games often are decided by one swing, and outside of Jose Ramirez this team just cannot hit the ball out of the ballpark on a regular basis. Only the Tigers have hit fewer home runs than Cleveland. The Guardians stood pat at the deadline, much to the chagrin of their fans who realized the team desperately needed to add a power hitter.
The Chi-Sox have as much talent on paper as anyone in the American League, and coming into the season they were expected to roll over the AL Central just like they did a year ago. They're still very much in the division race, but for the most part this team has dramatically underachieved. Outside of Jose Abreu, Luis Robert, and Andrew Vaughn the White Sox have not gotten any semblance of consistency from anyone. But if you're a glass half full type of person, you could spin it that Chicago has not come close to playing their best baseball yet, and if they get it together and go on a run at the right time, perhaps they can hit October as a dangerous hot team.
Even if the majority of Chicago's hitters can break through in September/October and enter the playoffs swinging the bat well, it's hard to imagine the White Sox having enough pitching to compete with the really good teams in the American League. Sure, youngsters Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech have pitched wonderfully. But this team was counting on veterans Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito anchoring this staff and Lynn's ERA is barely under six while Giolito has an ugly 1.50 WHIP with an ERA around five.
As we sit here in mid-August it's easy to say the Los Angeles Dodgers are the favorite to win baseball's ultimate prize at the end of October. LA owns the best record in the sport, and they're truly a team without any obvious holes. Adding Freddie Freeman to a team that already had Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Will Smith was just not fair. This team lost Walker Buehler to a lengthy elbow injury, Clayton Kershaw has had recurring back problems, and thanks to Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson this pitching staff has remained a strength. No matter how it shakes out, the Dodgers will be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason, and they'll enter any series as the favorite.
The Dodgers don't have a glaring weakness that could slow them down, so the most likely reason they don't win the World Series has more to do with what another team could do rather than what LA can't do. Los Angeles is stacked, but I think at this point, it's fair to assume any team would have reservations about facing the Mets' Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer in a short playoff series. That tag team could be the only thing standing in the Dodgers way.
It's been a remarkable season in Queens as the Mets have led the NL East for over four months. But over the last couple of weeks, it's almost starting to feel like this is a team of destiny. The Mets got the best pitcher on the planet, Jacob deGrom, back two weeks ago and he's looked like he never left. Once the Mets get him fully stretched out and going 100+ pitches every 5th day, combined with an already dominant Max Scherzer, New York will be hell for opposing teams in a short playoff series. And we haven't even mentioned Edwin Diaz who has given New York the clear-cut best closer in the sport in 2022. If the Mets can stay healthy over the next seven weeks this team is going to be a problem in October.
The one area of the Mets' team that has the potential to derail their championship aspirations is their middle relief. New York is understandably confident in their starting staff and closer Edwin Diaz, but the bridge between the two has been a problem at times. Adam Ottavino has been a strong set-up man but all of Seth Lugo, Drew Smith, Trevor May, and Joely Rodriguez have dealt with adversity and inconsistency in 2022. This is an area the Mets might try to address with an excess starter they don't need in the playoffs with Carlos Carrasco and Tylor Megill as possibilities.
There might not be a better offensive 1-2 punch in baseball right now than what the Cardinals can throw out there with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. The rest of St. Louis' offense has been a little hit or miss with Tyler O'Neill, Dylan Carlson and Tommy Edman in particular all struggling to find consistency. This team will ultimately go as far as Goldschmidt and Arenado can carry them, and if the duo can deliver the Cardinals will be a tough out.
This is essentially going to be the flip side of the previous slide. St. Louis offense is tremendously top-heavy, and if their two stars are not driving in runs, the Cardinals have difficulty scoring. If one or both of Arenado and Goldschmidt go into a slump at an inopportune time, it could sink St. Louis' postseason chances. And with the Phillies playing well right now, it's possible only one team from the NL Central is getting in. The seven games the Brewers and Cardinals have left with each other will ultimately decide this division.
Atlanta is going to enter the playoffs as the defending World Series champions and in Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, and Michael Harris they genuinely have the most enviable young position player core in the game. The Braves thrive at nearly every offensive element and can beat you in so many different ways--but particularly with home runs. No National League team has hit more bombs than Atlanta and their ability to flip games with one swing of the bat could play a massive part in how the postseason unfolds.
While the Braves hit a ton of home runs, another thing they do is strike out a whole lot. Only the Angels have gone down on strikes more than the Braves, who in one game against the Mets last week were punched out 19 times. Against power pitching in the playoffs if Atlanta struggles to even put the ball in play--unless they hit a home run or two--scoring runs could be a tricky proposition.
When Philadelphia lost Bryce Harper after their superstar got hit in the hand with a pitch in San Diego in late June, most people assumed that would be the end of the 2022 Phillies. Not so fast. The Phillies have gone on a furious run that has placed them firmly in the mix for a wild card berth in the National League, and they've done something they haven't been able to do for several summers. Keep Philadelphia sports fan's attention despite the Eagles opening training camp. The Phillies expect to get Harper back in September and with him, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm, and J.T. Realmuto this team has a scary offense that can score with anyone.
While the Phillies offense has always been a strength in some capacity, their pitching has consistently been the reason they can never get over the hump. In Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola Philadelphia has a solid 1-2 rotation punch. But after those two righties, Noah Syndergaard and Kyle Gibson will not give the Phillies a pitching advantage in any postseason game.
San Diego has been struggling a little lately but it could end up being a tiny blip on what ends up turning into a magical October run. This team is just days away from getting Fernando Tatis Jr. back in the line-up after the superstar has missed the entire 2022 season to date recovering from an injury suffered in a motorcycle fall. And after pulling off the stunning blockbuster trade that brought Juan Soto to southern California this club is going to be as dangerous as any in October. Tatis, Soto, and Manny Machado would be the most deadly offensive trio in baseball with complementary hitters like Jake Cronenworth, and Josh Bell preventing you from pitching around them. The Padres have the potential to simply outscore any team on any day.
A big issue for the Padres heading down the stretch is one they did not foresee when they pulled the trigger on a slightly less high-profile trade than the one that brought Soto to San Diego. The Padres sent their closer Taylor Rogers to Milwaukee in exchange for four-time all-star stopper Josh Hader. But the early return on the trade has been less than stellar. In his first three outings with San Diego, Hader's ERA is over 10, and there is genuinely nothing more demoralizing for a team in the postseason than when the closer blows a save.
Milwaukee has not had their top three starting pitchers-- Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta--in the rotation at the same time very often in 2022, but having the trio healthy and throwing the ball well down the stretch is the Brewers' best chance to make a deep postseason run. Milwaukee does have a potent enough offense led by Rowdy Tellez and Willy Adames but if they're going to make noise in October, it's going to come down to the pitching.
The Brewers are good enough to be a threat in the playoffs--if they get in. With the way the Phillies have played since the all-star break it's becoming more likely by the day that the only way for either Milwaukee or St. Louis to make the playoffs is by winning the NL Central. They still have seven games left with each other and if those games don't go well for Milwaukee they likely won't have the chance to show what they can do in October.