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. 3 Cleveland Guardians (AL Central clinched) vs. No. 6 Seattle Mariners
Wild card series: No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Rays
Still in the running: Baltimore Orioles (3.5 games back of wild card), Chicago White Sox (7.5 games back of wild card), Minnesota Twins (8.5 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
Still in the running: Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back of wild card), San Francisco Giants (8.5 games back of wild card)
What are the key races remaining?
Two races officially came off the board Wednesday night as the Yankees and Cardinals clinched the AL East and NL Central, respectively.
The most important race is for the NL East crown. The Mets and Braves are now tied atop the NL East and barreling toward a weekend series that could decide the division and the No. 2 seed, which comes with that important bye into the Division Series. As of right now, the Mets hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, but that could also change hands during this series.
Most of the rest of the intrigue lies in the NL, too. 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 17.5%, and gives the Phillies the lowest odds (84.4%) of any team currently in the field.
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 two-game edge for the No. 4 seed going into a series against the division-leading Yankees.
What are Wednesday’s important games?
Rays at Guardians, 6:10 ET: Tampa is 1.5 games back of the Blue Jays for the No. 4 seed and the right to host a wild-card series instead of hitting the road. But most importantly, they will be welcoming back ace Tyler Glasnow, who hasn't pitched since June 2021. If he can quickly return to form, it would be a massive upgrade for their injury-riddled rotation.
Braves at Nationals and Marlins at Mets, 7:05 ET/7:10 ET: The Mets and Braves play their final games before heading into the stretch run's preeminent series, really the only thing circled on the calendar. Of note, as Hurricane Ian bears down on Florida, rain is expected to soak Atlanta for much of the weekend. It's possible the upcoming series is rescheduled or moved to fit the games in. Both teams are off Thursday.
Phillies at Cubs, 7:40 ET: Taking a loss Tuesday night, the Phillies missed another opportunity to put more daylight between themselves and the Brewers. In a series against the rebuilding Cubs, they need to win and further solidify their claim to the NL's final wild-card slot.
Rangers at Mariners, 9:40 ET: The Mariners don't have any competition as close as the Brewers, but it's still getting a little nerve-wracking that they can't hit the gas and put away the Orioles. They have lost seven of 10, including a weak offensive showing against the Rangers on Tuesday night.