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Thursday, April 18, 2024

MLB Playoff Preview

Twelve teams will compete for a World Series in a new playoff format

 

By PATRICK FIGUEROA — sports@theaggie.org

 

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, Major League Baseball (MLB) teams played their final games of the 2022 regular season. The conclusion of the regular season signals the beginning of the playoffs, which began on Friday, Oct. 7 with the Wild Card round

The Wild Card round is much different than it was in previous years’ playoff format. In previous years, five teams competed in the playoffs, including the Wild Card round, from each of MLB’s respective leagues, the American League (AL) and the National League (NL). The three division winners did not participate in the Wild Card round, leaving two teams in each league to play one another. The losers of these games were eliminated, while the winners moved on to the divisional round of the playoffs. 

This year, MLB expanded the playoffs to include an additional sixth team from each league, which means that only the top two division winners from each league get a bye in the Wild Card round. This means that the third division winner — the team with the worst record of the three — has to play during Wild Card weekend. Four teams from each league will be playing in a best-of-three series, and winners will move on to the divisional round. 

After a 162-game season, the best teams will have a chance to compete for a World Series title. Here is a breakdown of the 12 qualifying teams’ seasons so far. 

 

National League Playoff Picture:

#1 Los Angeles Dodgers (111-51)

The Dodgers had an incredible regular season with the best record in MLB, even breaking their franchise record for wins in a single season. They have an excellent lineup as well as a great pitching rotation. Their lineup features all-star players like first baseman Freddie Freeman, outfielder Mookie Betts, shortstop Trea Turner and catcher Will Smith. Their pitching rotation had the lowest earned run average (ERA) in MLB with standout Cy Young candidate Julio Urias and all-star Clayton Kershaw. The one potential concern the Dodgers have going into the postseason is that their bullpen lacks a true closer as Craig Kimbrel was relieved of closing duties earlier this season. 

 

#2 Atlanta Braves (101-61)
The Braves are the NL East champions for the fifth season in a row. Like the Dodgers, their team has a great lineup and pitching rotation. One of the reasons the Braves had a successful season was because of the production from their rookies, outfielder Michael Harris and pitcher Spencer Strider, both of whom are top candidates to win the NL Rookie of the Year award

 

#3 St. Louis Cardinals (93-69)

The veteran-led Cardinals had some of the best moments of this season. During what is likely going to be the final season for franchise legends first baseman Albert Pujols, catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Adam Wainwright, they all set MLB records on the way out. Pujols is the fourth player in MLB history to hit over 700 career home runs. Molina and Wainwright set the record for the most starts as a battery, or starting pitcher and catcher duo, in MLB history. With these baseball legends and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt likely to win the NL MVP award, the Cardinals are a fan favorite. 

 

#4 New York Mets (101-61)

Despite winning the most games in franchise history since 1988, the Mets still finished in second place in the NL East. Mets fans should still be excited because they have two of the best pitchers in MLB, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, set to play in the NL Wild Card series. They also have first baseman Pete Alonso, who finished tied for first in most runs batted in (RBI) this season, and the electric Edwin Díaz coming out of their bullpen.  

 

#5 San Diego Padres (89-73)

The Padres are back in the playoffs for the second time since 2006. The season was a roller coaster for the team, as they acquired superstar outfielder Juan Soto at the trade deadline but also lost shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. due to a performance-enhancing drug violation. Luckily for the Padres, third baseman Manny Machado and their pitching rotation featuring Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell helped keep the season afloat. 

 

#6 Philadelphia Phillies (87-75)

The longest active playoff drought in the NL is over. With a 3-0 win over the Houston Astros on Oct. 3, the Phillies are set to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Leading the way are star pitchers Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. However, the most notable player for the Astros is likely 2021 MVP outfielder Bryce Harper, who will be making his playoff debut as a Philly since signing his $330 million contract with the team in 2019. 

 

American League Playoff Picture

#1 Houston Astros (106-56)

Looking to return to the AL Championship Series for the sixth time in a row, the Astros had the best record in the AL. One of the most impressive performances during the season was from 39-year-old pitcher Justin Verlander. Verlander is currently the favorite to win the AL Cy Young award, but what makes this feat even more impressive is that he hadn’t pitched since 2020 due to Tommy John surgery. Fans also can’t forget about how impressive second baseman Jose Altuve and designated hitter (DH) Yordan Alvarez have been this season.

 

#2 New York Yankees (99-63)

The Yankees had a very successful season, but the true standout on this team was outfielder Aaron Judge. Judge broke the AL single-season home run record with 62 home runs during the season. This came after an off-season in which Judge declined a $230 million contract. Backing up Judge, the Yankees also have key players in outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and pitcher Nestor Cortes

 

#3 Cleveland Guardians (92-70)

The Guardians are the youngest team in MLB, but they did not let inexperience prevent them from winning the AL Central. With 17 players making their MLB debuts, standouts include outfielder Steven Kwan and outfielder Oscar Gonzalez. They also have superstar talent in third baseman Jose Ramirez, pitcher Shane Bieber and closer Emmanuel Clase

 

#4 Toronto Blue Jays (92-70)

After missing the 2021 playoffs by one game, the Blue Jays will now have the opportunity to get some postseason action. The Blue Jays have a lineup that can be quite dangerous if they get hot, with hitters in their lineup including 2021 AL MVP runner-up first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., outfielder Teoscar Hernandez and outfielder George Springer.  Pitchers Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman will be taking the mound for Wild Card weekend. 

 

#5 Seattle Mariners (90-72)

The Mariners snapped their 20-year-long playoff drought, the longest active streak in MLB, on Friday, Sept. 30. With a spectacular call from play-by-play commentator Dave Sims, Cal Raleigh hit a walk-off home run to secure a 2-1 victory over the Oakland A’s and clinch a playoff spot. Now the Mariners have the opportunity to make a playoff run with a stellar pitching staff and star outfielder Julio Rodriguez, who is one of the youngest players to have over 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases in the same season. 

 

#6 Tampa Bay Rays (86-76)

The Rays continue to make the postseason despite having one of the lowest payrolls in MLB. Even with key players like second baseman Brandon Lowe and shortstop Wander Franco missing most of the season, the Rays found ways to win games. Now, they have most of their injured players back from the injured list, including pitchers Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow. Back at full strength, the Rays have a better opportunity to make it to the World Series like they did in 2020. 

 

With the playing field set, October baseball is here. This is the opportunity for players to rise in big moments and become playoff legends. However, the most important thing to baseball fans is who will be holding that trophy at the end of the postseason.

Written by: Patrick Figueroa — sports@theaggie.org