MLB playoffs underway after busy regular season

First baseman Matt Olson celebrates after a home run during the Braves’ pivotal series win over the Mets. Atlanta came back from 10.5 games back to win the division and earn a NLDS berth. // Photo courtesy of Larry Robinson USA TODAY Sports

The beginning of October signals the start of the Major League Baseball playoffs. October baseball is notorious for pushing teams to put on some of their best performances of the year, and for the city of Atlanta, that statement has proven to be true as the Atlanta Braves have just accomplished what may be considered the greatest comeback in the history of the MLB.

In 2021, the Braves had an 88-73 record, which secured their fourth consecutive National League East title. Atlanta then proceeded to go on a dominating run through the postseason, winning the 2021 World Series. After the season was over, however, there were concerns about the team’s production in 2022 after young All-Star Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his ACL earlier that season and longtime Brave Freddie Freeman signed with the Dodgers. 

Fans were worried early in the 2022 season, and they had every right to be. The reigning World Series champions finished the month of April with a 10-12 record and May with a 13-15 record. Meanwhile their division rival, the New York Mets, were playing the best baseball in the MLB with 15-7 and 19-10 records in April and May, respectively. At one point, the Braves were trailing the Mets by 10.5 games. The story quickly changed as the season progressed.

The Atlanta Braves and manager Brian Snitker were not going down without a fight. After a few key changes, the Braves had a record-breaking month in June, going 21-6 with a 14-game win streak. Once they stepped on the gas, they never slowed down. It rapidly became clear that the Braves were going to make a run for a fifth-straight NL East title. 

The Braves had production from every position. Austin Riley made a campaign for MVP during the summer months. Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II both stayed at the top of the NL Rookie of the Year rankings. Kyle Wright won 21 games for the Braves, the first to achieve the milestone since 2003. Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras combined had the best catching stats in the league. Dansby Swanson made a campaign for another Gold Glove, and he was arguably the most dependable hitter for the Braves this year. Max Fried had another All-Star season, making himself a Cy Young candidate. On top of all that, Matt Olson and Acuña Jr. had strong years themselves, rounding out one of the best lineups in the MLB.

Sept. 30-Oct. 2 would be the three most important games of the year. The Braves were coming home to Atlanta to face the Mets for the last games of the season series. The Braves were trailing the Mets by a single game, and the series would most likely determine the postseason ranking.

Atlanta showed up and showed out at Truist Park, sweeping the Mets and taking over first place in the East. Although the Braves only led the NL East for eight days all season, a win versus the Miami Marlins secured their spot as the NL East Champions for the fifth year in a row. 

While the Braves would have still made the playoffs without winning the division, the NL East crown was more important than ever. The 2022 playoffs host a new format with six teams from both the American League and National League advancing to the postseason. The 1-3 seeds will be the three division winners from each league, and the 4-6 seeds will be the wild card teams with the best records outside of the division winners. The two division winners with the best records get a bye into the AL/NL division series. 

For the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves received the automatic bid to the division series with the best records at 111-51 and 101-61, respectively. The St. Louis Cardinals took the NL Central, while the Mets along with the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies took the wild card slots.

For the American League, the Houston Astros and New York Yankees received the automatic bid to the division series with the best records at 106-56 and 99-63, respectively. The Cleveland Guardians earned the third seed with an AL Central win while the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays made it as wild card teams.

This year’s postseason will host a few of the best storylines in recent history. The Dodgers broke the franchise record with most wins in a season moving from 106 to 111. In any other season, that would be the top headline. Aaron Judge broke the AL single-season home run record with 62, and his teammate Giancarlo Stanton was the recipient of the All-Star Game MVP award after hitting the longest All-Star Game homer in the Statcast era. Albert Pujols also made history with the Cardinals, hitting his 703rd home run this season to move to fourth on the all-time list. In a victory lap year with St. Louis, he had his first ever appearance on the mound, played his 3,000th game and joined Cardinals great Yadier Molina in a final ride.

Each wild card series is played as a best of three series. The Phillies traveled to St. Louis where they won the first two games (6-3, 2-0), ending the Cardinals’ season and advancing to the NLDS. The Padres traveled to New York to face the Mets where they split the first two games with San Diego, winning the first 7-1 and New York winning the second 7-3. The deciding game went to the Padres in a 6-0 game behind a one-hit pitching performance by Joe Musgrove. 

The American League wild-card matchups saw the Guardians versus the Rays and the Mariners versus the Blue Jays. Tampa Bay traveled to Cleveland and was defeated in the first two games (2-1, 1-0). Cleveland’s second win was by way of a 15th inning walk-off home run. Seattle traveled to Toronto and beat the Blue Jays in  two-straight games (4-0, 10-9), winning their first series since 2001 after ending a 21-year playoff drought.

Starting Oct. 11, 2022, the Phillies travel to Atlanta to face the Braves and the Padres travel to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers in the best of five NLDS series. Also on Oct. 11, the Mariners travel to Houston to face the Astros and the Guardians travel to New York to face the Yankees in the best of five ALDS series.

For the American League, the best of seven Championship Series will start on Oct. 19. In the National League, the best of seven Championship Series will start on Oct. 18. The World Series will start on Oct. 28. 

Article current through Oct. 11, 2022.