The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched first place in the National League West earlier this week, becoming the first MLB team to assure itself of a playoff berth in 2022. Thanks to a winning percentage that's near .700, the Dodgers also are likely to finish with the best record in the league and earn the first-round playoff bye that comes with it. Their top ranking in the postseason tournament is all but cemented.
There's not an excess amount of drama in setting up the rest of the MLB postseason field, but we can still take a look at 10 other contingencies to see how it's all likely to come together. With that said, let's rank the least certain to most certain things about the 2022 pennant races.
1. Who wins the National League East?
The New York Mets lead the Atlanta Braves by a half-game, and they play each other in a three-game series at Truist Field starting Sept. 30. It's up for grabs, although the losing team only loses postseason seeding. They're both virtual locks to make the playoffs in some fashion. But winning the division and securing the second-best record (along with a bye) would be huge.
2. Who gets the second bye in the NL?
Most likely it will be the winner of the NL East, but the St. Louis Cardinals could do it if they overcome a four-game deficit in the loss column against the Mets and Braves respectively.
3. Is anything else uncertain in the NL playoff picture?
One thing: the last wild-card team.
At FanGraphs, the San Diego Padres project to win 88.7 games, which would edge the Milwaukee Brewers for the final spot. The Padres had a fanciful collapse a year ago when they finished 12-34 over the final six weeks. That's not happening again, but they're still going to have to prove they belong in the postseason.
The toughest part of the Brewers’ schedule is right now, with a total of six games against the New York Yankees and Mets, all at home. In fact, Milwaukee has to leave Wisconsin for just four more games all season. The rest happen at American Family Field. The Padres finish the season with nine home games, but they also have the Dodgers, Chicago White Sox and Cardinals on the schedule. A mixed blessing.
4. Have the White Sox and Minnesota Twins run out of time to catch the Cleveland Guardians in the AL Central?
Short answer: No. Longer answer: Probably.
Cleveland leads both teams by five games in the loss column with three weeks to go. Historically speaking, not a lot of first-place teams have blown leads like that in such a short period of time. None of these so-called contenders have shown an ability to run away and hide, but Cleveland might be getting close. But (and there's always another but) there will be head-to-head matchups aplenty.
The Twins visit the Guardians for a five-game wraparound series this weekend in what could amount to a last stand. Minnesota can get back in it if it wins, say, four times. Of course, that would also help the White Sox creep back closer (as long as they take care of their own business).
On that note, the White Sox host the Guardians for three games next week. If they sweep, and all other things stay equal, it makes the final 12 games of the regular season meaningful. Also: The White Sox and Twins face each other six times in the final nine games of the regular season. The Guardians also could have clinched it by then.
5. How does the AL wild-card race shake out?
Still too much shaking to do with three teams separated by one loss, but it looks like the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners will be the teams in some order. The White Sox and Twins have a much better chance of making the playoffs by winning the AL Central title. Both trail the Baltimore Orioles by three games in the loss column, and the Orioles themselves trail the AL wild-card leaders.
6. So, are the Orioles toast?
It was fun while it lasted and still could be fun the rest of the way, but the Orioles need a lot of things to go right for them (and wrong for others) to leapfrog into an AL wild-card spot. They are four games behind the Rays, five behind the Mariners and 5 1/2 behind the Blue Jays. They also have six games on the schedule against Toronto, so taking at least five of those games would seem to be Baltimore’s best bet.
7. Who wins the NL Central?
The Cardinals lead the Brewers by eight games, which is the second-biggest advantage for a first-place team after the Dodgers in the NL West.
8. Can't the Phillies win the NL East?
They could, but they trail the Mets by eight games and the Braves by 7 1/2. While not as certain as the Mets and Braves to make the playoffs, Philly is 96% certain (says FanGraphs) to be the middle NL wild-card team.
9. Who gets the byes in the AL?
The Houston Astros and Yankees, with little chance for anyone else to overtake them. The Astros have a six-game lead on the Yankees for the best record in the AL, and the Blue Jays trail the Yanks by six games for the second-best record.
10. Who wins the AL West?
The Astros lead the second-place Mariners by 12 1/2 games, plus they own the tiebreaker. There's almost no way Seattle could overtake Houston, but the Mariners also are all but certain to make the playoffs (as a wild card) for the first time since 2001.
If you didn’t hear your team mentioned, it’s because they have no shot or almost no shot. If the Boston Red Sox or San Francisco Giants won each of their remaining games, which admittedly would be amazing, they might sneak into the playoffs. But it’s quite unlikely.