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The New and Improved MLB Playoffs, now with 6 AL Teams

The 2022 MLB playoffs are set to be exciting in the AL once again, and they feature a whole new round to boot with one more wild card.

The 2022 MLB Postseason starts Friday afternoon, and we are set for another month of exhilarating baseball with the high stakes of the playoffs.  For the first time ever, there are 12 teams playing in October with the addition of a third wild card team in each league.  The top two seeds in each league get byes to the Division Series, while the third division winner and the top wild card team host all three games of the Wild Card Series.  The format resembles the not-so-old NFL structure until that league expanded to 14 playoff teams.

For all six AL teams, I will break down why they might win the whole thing, what their biggest questions marks are, and who stands in their way.

1 Seed Houston Astros

Despite the cheating scandal costing the Astros back-to-back first- and second-round picks, the front office and development staff have done a fantastic job extending their competitive window.  Despite George Springer and Carlos Correa leaving in free agency, the offense is still loaded.  Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez have bloomed into stars to supplement holdovers Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Rookie Jeremy Pena has capably replaced Correa at shortstop.

Why they might win: As fearsome as the offense is, their rotation will carry them.  Justin Verlander is back to Cy Young form, Framber Valdez set the consecutive quality start record, and the rest of their rotation punch above their weight.  The Astros have so many starters they traded one at the deadline.

Big question: Can the role players come through in the clutch?  Every team needs stars to win the World Series, but at some point, they need help from the bottom of the order or the bench.  Look out for Chas McCormick or Trey Mancini to write themselves into franchise lore.

Obstacles: Houston will face the mighty Blue Jays or familiar Mariners, neither of which match up well with the Astros.  Players connected to trash banging are probably looking forward to a Championship Series with the Yankees and a World Series with the Dodgers to prove the haters wrong.

2 Seed New York Yankees

It’s been a tale of two seasons for Yankees, who played at a historic pace in the first half and almost blew the AL East in the second before rebounding in late September.  If you’ve been living under a rock, Aaron Judge set the AL home run record to carry a lineup which has largely underperformed.  Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres have rebounded to some extent, but many position players have been hurt, bad, or both, most notably Giancarlo Stanton.

Why they might win: The top of the rotation will need to pitch lights out.  The Yankees are paying Gerrit Cole to win in the playoffs, and Nestor Cortes has emerged as a fan favorite ace.  Luis Severino has looked great since coming off the IL, including seven no-hit innings in his last start.

Biggest question: Who pitches out of the bullpen: Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, Michael King, and Ron Marinaccio have all been really good this year, but they are hurt right now.  King and Chad Green are both out for the year.  Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loaisiga have both declined dramatically.  Aaron Boone will have to rely more on deadline acquisitions Lou Trivino and Scott Effross.

Obstacles: The Rays and Guardians play matchups from the first pitch, which the Yankees are better prepared for than most teams.  They certainly want revenge on the Astros for 2017 and 2019, but they might not get the chance.

3 Seed Cleveland Guardians

Cleveland is back in the playoffs after a few underwhelming seasons.  They took advantage of MLB’s weakest division and ran away with the AL Central with the best September record of any team.  Maybe changing the team name really did bring better fortune.

Why they might win: The Guardians have an unhittable bullpen.  As long as the starters pitch just well enough, then they can keep the score low for Emmanuel Clase, Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak and Sam Hentges.

Biggest question: Can the offense hit at all?  Jose Ramirez and Andres Gimenez are stars, while Josh Naylor, Steven Kwan and Amen Rosario are nice hitters, but the rest of the lineup is a total eyesore.  As great as the pitching is they can’t pitch shutouts every day, so someone has to show up at the plate.

Obstacles: Playing the Rays will be like looking in a mirror, so that is already close to a coin flip in the first round.  Then the Guardians would face a much scarier team in the Yankees.

4 Seed Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays underperformed for much of the season and fired manager Charlie Montoyo as a result, but the talented Jays still bring a powerful lineup to the playoffs.  Vlad Guerrero Jr. is still good, just not the MVP candidate he was last year.  Bo Bichette finished an uneven year with a scalding-hot September.  Alek Manoah has quickly become one of the best pitchers in baseball, and battery mate Alejandro Kirk is one of the best catchers around.

Why they might win: Toronto will have to play like people expected preseason, with important contributions from Matt Chapman, Teoscar Hernandez, and George Springer.  Jose Berrios has pitched well down the stretch after a tough bunch of months and shows why he got a long-term deal.

Biggest question: Who John Schneider trust out of the bullpen?  Jordan Romano has been a revelation this year, but no one else is that reliable.  They have a lot of decent relievers but not many shutdown guys.  The lineup is also righty heavy, so they will have few matchup advantages.

Obstacles: The upstart Mariners come to town with a good rotation and more balanced roster.  Then the Jays would head south for a nightmare series with the Astros.  This is a tough road ahead for a franchise getting restless to win a title.

5 Seed Seattle Mariners

The Mariners have officially broken the longest playoff drought in American sports.  After 21 long years, the M’s will play October baseball an exciting roster of youngsters and key acquisitions.  Rookie phenom Julio Rodriguez has jumpstarted the offense, while Ty France has become the glue guy in the lineup.  Eugenio Suarez has bounced back after a couple poor seasons with the Reds.  There are six solid options in the rotation and a bunch better bullpen than past years.

Why they might win: Backed by an energized fanbase, the pitching staff will shut down opponents.  Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby seamlessly turn the ball over to the flamethrowers.

Biggest question: Will the disappointments stop being disappointing?  JP Crawford was on the verge of a breakout last year but fell back to earth.  Jesse Winker looks nothing like the 2021 All-Star.  Adam Frazier and Abraham Toro haven’t recaptured whatever success they had before last season’s trade deadline.  At least one of these guys needs to come up in the clutch.

Obstacles: Unfortunately, the Mariners won’t feel all the love on the road, and Blue Jays fans are notoriously hostile to opponents.  Even if they win a short series, taking down the rival Astros will be a lot to ask.

6 Seed Tampa Bay Rays

Yes, the fan-less braniacs are back in the playoffs with their ever-revolving door of pitchers.  The Rays find themselves as the last team in, after a rough patch, but this team is still very dangerous this time of year.  The roster has been hit with a startling number of season-ending injuries, but the coaching staff gets the most out of their players.  Yandy Diaz and Harold Ramirez are having career years, and the defense is very surehanded.

Why they might win: Rays are gonna Ray.  The franchise has no World Series title, and they bowed out early last year, but they always figure out a way to win, and their undying effort to play matchups shines best in the playoffs.  The starters will need to pitch more than five innings since there are fewer off days than years past, but Kevin Cash will have quick hooks, which we have seen before.

Biggest question: Will the offense score when they really need to?  You won’t find many home runs in the lineup, and they tend to have low batting averages, as well.  The Rays will need to optimize their chances on the basepaths by playing some old school ball and stealing bases.

Obstacles: Facing the Guardians will be fun for the computers and almost no one else.  After those unpleasant noon games, Tampa will stand up to the Evil Empire as they have in recent seasons.  The playoffs are here, and it is anyone’s guess who will come through when it really matters.



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