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 (AL East clinched)
Wild card series: No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Rays
Still in the running: Baltimore Orioles (4.5 games back of wild card)
No. 1 seed: Los Angeles Dodgers (NL West and top seed clinched)
No. 2 seed: New York Mets (postseason berth clinched)
Wild card series: No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals (NL Central clinched) vs. No. 6 Philadelphia Phillies
Wild card series: No. 4 Atlanta Braves (postseason berth clinched) vs. No. 5 San Diego Padres
What are the key races remaining?
Things are getting dicey for the Phillies. A 10-13 September has allowed the Brewers within half a game of the final NL wild-card spot Philly currently occupies. The Phillies have lost four in a row, including the first two games of a series against the rebuilding Cubs. In terms of in and out, that's really the only race. 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 33.4%, and gives the Phillies the lowest odds (70.8%) of any team currently in the field.
The most important race, however, is for the NL East crown. Every other division is clinched, while the Mets and Braves are barreling toward a hurricane-imperiled weekend series that could decide the division and the No. 2 seed. As of right now, the Mets have a one-game lead after Eduardo Escobar's heroic 5-RBI night against the Marlins.
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 1.5-game edge for the No. 4 seed.
What are Thursday’s important games?
Phillies at Cubs, 2:20 ET: The Phillies have dropped two games to the Cubs, two games started by twin aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. They need to salvage a win Thursday, or risk falling behind Milwaukee.
Marlins at Brewers, 7:40 ET: The Brewers will host the Marlins and send Eric Lauer to the mound. After a disastrous post-trade deadline stretch that saw them stumble out of the NL Central race and then out of playoff position altogether, Craig Counsell's crew could still snag its fifth straight postseason berth by outracing the Phillies for a week.