Contenders emerging, stars dominating and MLB becoming more exciting
By PATRICK FIGUEROA — email@example.com
With the 2022 MLB season nearing the halfway point, the teams who will likely be competing for spots in the playoffs are becoming increasingly clear. The division title race is heating up, and some teams have created separation from the rest of their division while others have little room for error if they want to win. An expanded wild card spot that will feature an extra playoff team in both the National League (NL) and American League (AL) will also make this season’s playoff race interesting.
One of the most stacked divisions in baseball is the AL East. This division holds four teams that are battling to make the playoffs. Through 66 games, the best team in this division, and in baseball this season, is the New York Yankees, who have 49 wins and 17 losses so far. Led by slugger and AL MVP-favorite Aaron Judge, they have an 11-game lead over the second-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are 38-28 and currently hold the first wild-card spot in the AL. Behind the Blue Jays, third place in the AL East and the third wild-card spot in the AL is the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite not having two key infielders, Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco, the Rays are still 36-30 this season. In fourth place is yet another team above .500, the 36-31 Boston Red Sox. Their high-powered offense, led by third baseman Rafael Devers and shortstop Xander Bogaerts, is looking to beat a division rival in order to secure a wild-card spot.
While this season’s team won’t be competing for a playoff spot, it is still worth mentioning the 30-38 Baltimore Orioles. Amid a rebuild, the group has reason to be optimistic, as their No. 1 prospect catcher Adley Rutschman recently had his first career major league home run.
Another very competitive division is the NL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers are in first place in the division with a 40-25 record. Behind the Dodgers by half a game are the 41-27 San Diego Padres. In third place is the San Francisco Giants, who are 37-28. Following the Giants in fourth place are the 32-36 Arizona Diamondbacks and in last place are the 30-37 Colorado Rockies. The division has been less competitive in the past two months since the Diamondbacks and Rockies’ records dropped below .500 in early May, but the division is still tough and has the potential to send three teams to the playoffs.
NL West has also been affected by many injuries. The Dodgers suffered a crucial blow, as outfielder and 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts will be out for some time with a cracked rib. Betts was having a phenomenal season with 17 home runs, 40 RBIs and a .884 OPS. The Padres recently lost third baseman Manny Machado, who was having an MVP-caliber season, when he sprained his ankle on June 19 in a game against the Colorado Rockies. Machado avoided the injury list, but he will still be out of the Padres’ lineup for some time. The Padres are also still waiting for shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to make his 2022 season debut after breaking his wrist. A recent MRI showed that Tatis Jr. is not going to be ready to make his return as quickly as was previously anticipated.
Teams in the NL East are closing the gap amongst each other in terms of overall record compared to a month ago. The New York Mets currently have the best record in the NL (45-24) and the Atlanta Braves recently had a 14-game win streak that propelled them to second place and a 38-29 record. The Philadelphia Phillies have also been incredibly hot. They are 36-32 and currently out of wild-card contention, but they have made substantial improvement to their record since firing manager Joe Girardi on June 3. At the time, the team was 22-29. Despite having NL Cy Young candidate Sandy Alcantara, the Miami Marlins are 29-36 and eight games behind a wild-card spot. The 24-46 Washington Nationals are one of the worst teams in baseball this season, despite having young star outfielder Juan Soto.
The NL Central division features a two-team race for a playoff spot between the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals. Through 68 games, both teams are tied with a 38-30 record. The Brewers have a great pitching team that features 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes and closer Josh Hader, but their offense is lackluster. Outfielder and 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich currently has a below-average OPS of .698. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are a much more balanced team that features 2022 MVP candidate and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, 2021 NL Platinum Glove winner and third baseman Nolan Arenado and veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright. However, they are 15-18 against teams above .500. The rest of their division consists of some of the worst teams in baseball this season, including the 26-39 Pittsburgh Pirates, the 25-41 Chicago Cubs and the 23-43 Cincinnati Reds. Baseball fans can expect that the Brewers or Cardinals will likely win this division.
The AL Central division is full of surprises. For starters, the Minnesota Twins sit in first place in the division with a 38-30 record and the 34-28 Cleveland Guardians are in second place.
The Chicago White Sox, who were the 2021 division winners and favorites to win the division this season, have underperformed with a 31-33 record. While the White Sox have dealt with injuries to star players, like pitcher Lance Lynn and shortstop Tim Anderson, they have also made questionable decisions that might have been impacting their poor performance. In a matchup against the Dodgers, manager Tony La Russa intentionally walked shortstop Trea Turner in a 1-2 count with two outs to face first baseman Max Muncy instead. Muncy hit a three-run home run on that play, and the White Sox would later lose the game by two.
Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, the Cleveland Guardians currently hold a playoff spot. Their star third baseman Jose Ramirez has been impressive through 62 games, with a 1.039 OPS, 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. Ramirez might even challenge Judge to be AL MVP this year. The Twins were also an unlikely playoff team coming into this year, but have performed very well. Their offense is strong and features utility man Luis Arraez, who has the highest on-base percentage in MLB, outfielder Byron Buxton and shortstop Carlos Correa. Baseball fans should look to see if these teams can hold off the White Sox and other potential wild-card suitors to make the playoffs.
After looking competitive early in the season, the AL West division is not even close with the Houston Astros ahead of the Seattle Mariners, who are in second place, by 13.5 games. The Astros are 41-25 through 66 games and are likely looking to return to the World Series this season. Designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, pitcher Justin Verlander and second baseman Jose Altuve are having phenomenal years that could help the Astros do so. The Los Angeles Angels were on a 14-game losing streak, during which manager Joe Maddon was fired, but they are now 33-36. The Texas Rangers are overachieving this season, with a record of 31-35, despite free-agent acquisition and second baseman Marcus Semien underperforming. The Seattle Mariners, who won 90 games in 2021 and added 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and outfielder Jesse Winker during the offseason, are disappointing with a 29-39 record. Lastly, the 23-45 Oakland Athletics have the worst record in the MLB this season through 68 games.
Many things happened during the first two-and-a-half months of the 2022 MLB season, but there are still three months and 90 games of baseball to go before playoffs begin, leaving lots of time for the standings to change.
Written by: Patrick Figueroa — firstname.lastname@example.org