The beauty of the 162-game baseball season lies in its ebbs and flows. Each team writes its own story. The beauty of the postseason, however, is that those stories are over. They only matter insofar as they set the table for the drama to come. Last year’s champion Atlanta Braves won fewer regular-season games than every team they beat in the playoffs en route to capturing the World Series. The 2001 Seattle Mariners won a record-tying 116 regular-season games, but lost the ALCS in just five. Compared to, say, basketball, it’s hard to predict who will win the World Series. Just making it to October gives you a chance.
So, let’s examine the World Series hopes of all 12 teams in the 2022 MLB playoffs. Starting with the favorites according to FanGraphs’ playoff odds and moving down the line from there, we’ll forecast one reason each squad will win the World Series, and one reason they won’t.
Why they’ll win: While we were watching Aaron Judge chase 62 home runs and the Mets and Braves duke it out in the NL East, the Astros were quietly cranking out wins. Led by Justin Verlander, who returned from nearly two years away to compile 18 wins and a 1.75 ERA this season, the Astros have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. On the other side of the ball, they are the only team in MLB with four players who surpassed 4.5 fWAR. Houston may be the most complete team in the playoff field, but perhaps the Astros’ greatest advantage is one of geography and league alignment: They won’t have to face the Dodgers, Mets, or Braves until the World Series.
Why they’ll lose: Yuli Gurriel’s production plummeted in 2022, Martín Maldonado offers next to nothing at the plate, and Trey Mancini has struggled since coming over from Baltimore. The bullpen runs eight or nine pitchers deep, but lacks an elite option. Even that, though, feels like nit-picking. Houston doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. It’s hardly revelatory, but if the Astros lose, it will likely be because they aren’t cheating.
Why they’ll win: Until Tuesday, I worried about Atlanta. During the second-to-last game of the season, star rookie center fielder Michael Harris II laid down the team’s first sacrifice bunt of the entire year. The Braves were practically begging the baseball gods to end their season via an opponent sacrificing the go-ahead runner to third and walking it off on a sac fly—or a squeeze. Now, the karmic scales have been balanced and Atlanta can return to its superior offensive strategy: hitting more home runs than every other team in the National League.
The first sacrifice bunt of the season.— Bally Sports South (@BallySportsSO) October 4, 2022
In Game 161.
The Braves were that close to becoming the first team to ever go an entire season without a sac bunt.
Bittersweet moment. pic.twitter.com/BUYPNOLeEF
Why they’ll lose: The Braves’ most immediate concern is the health of rookie pitcher Spencer Strider. He’s been their best starter in the second half, and it’s unclear when he’ll be able to return—though the extra days to recover due to Atlanta’s first-round bye will go a long way. Offensively, the flip side of hitting so many home runs, at least in the Braves’ case, is a tendency toward strikeouts. Atlanta chases the third-highest rate of pitches outside the strike zone in the league and has the third-highest strikeout rate, as well. That approach can be boom or bust—but at least we now know this team is capable of manufacturing runs the old-fashioned way.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Why they’ll win: Because they’ve already done it 111 times this season, breaking a franchise record (106) that was set in 2019 and tied in 2021. (Not that 2020 was a down year: In the pandemic-shortened season, L.A. set a franchise record for winning percentage and won the World Series.) The Dodgers under Dave Roberts have been an absolute buzz saw, and this year’s team might be the best yet. Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Trea Turner alone have accumulated more offensive fWAR than over half of MLB’s teams. With those three at the top, the Dodgers lineup has been the best in baseball by virtually every measure, from total runs to wRC+. It’s hard to envision even the most dominant pitching staff slowing this group down four times in seven games.
Why they’ll lose: The statistical résumé is near unimpeachable, but I can’t shake the feeling that these Dodgers have more questions than in years past. The bottom of the order has been up-and-down, and prolonged slumps for Max Muncy and Chris Taylor—plus whatever happened to Cody Bellinger—have punched some holes in the lineup. With Kenley Jansen’s departure to Atlanta, Roberts faces unprecedented uncertainty at the back end of the bullpen. And while Los Angeles’s starting rotation leads MLB with a staff-wide 2.75 ERA, how great do we really feel about Julio Urías, a 34-year-old Clayton Kershaw, and the untested duo of Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin? Any one of these issues on its own would hardly register as a concern, but together they could produce enough cracks to cost Los Angeles in the crucible of a short series.
New York Yankees
Why they’ll win: Now that his prolonged pursuit of the AL home run record has ended, Judge can relax without having to see Roger Maris Jr. over his shoulder like baseball’s version of It Follows. Mike Trout can tell you how hard it is for one player to drive team success in baseball, but if there’s anyone who can take over a short series, it’s no. 99. With Judge at the plate, any pitch in any location is liable to clear the outfield wall. His 62 home runs and offensive numbers unseen since Barry Bonds have put Judge’s imprint on the MLB season writ large; imagine what he’ll be capable of in a playoff series.
Why they’ll lose: For a time, the Yankees were so good that people began to wonder whether they could challenge the MLB single-season wins record. Instead, that early momentum ground to a halt; since the All-Star break, the Yankees have more or less played .500 baseball. Even Judge’s brilliance hasn’t concealed the team’s otherwise lackluster offense, and Gerrit Cole has posted his highest ERA since leaving Pittsburgh. The idea of the 2022 Yankees as a juggernaut has faded, and they’ll need contributions from up and down the roster to recapture it.
New York Mets
Why they’ll win: The good news is the Mets are the best team playing in the wild-card round. With the towering talent of Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, and Edwin Díaz, this pitching staff matches up favorably with that of any team. Much like an elite closer can shorten games out of the bullpen, Scherzer and deGrom can shorten series—which would be a boon for the Mets after a grueling end to the season.
Why they’ll lose: The bad news? The Mets are the best team playing in the wild-card round. While the rest of baseball’s upper crust is resting, scouting, and lining up their rotations, the Mets will host the Padres for a best-of-three-game set starting Friday. The Mets needed one win against the Braves to all but clinch the NL East last weekend and avoid that fate. Instead, they were swept. That result doesn’t stamp the Mets as inadequate, but it does make their path through the playoffs significantly more difficult. Instead of a first-round bye, they’ll face one of the NL’s best starting rotations for the opportunity to take on the Dodgers in the NLDS. New York is more than capable of winning the World Series, but letting the division slip out of its grasp makes the climb much, much steeper.
San Diego Padres
Why they’ll win: The Padres’ front office has been the most aggressive in baseball over the past couple of years, and they have an elite starting rotation to show for it. Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Mike Clevinger, and Blake Snell were all acquired via trade, and that imported group could carry the Padres through the bracket. Snell in particular is dealing right now: In his past four starts, he’s struck out 32 batters and allowed just 10 hits and two runs in 25 innings. The Padres’ journey from rebuilding to contending has been uneven and had its share of disappointments, but they’re in the playoffs now and well-positioned to make a run.
Why they’ll lose: Juan Soto continues to get on base at elite levels, but he isn’t doing a whole lot else. Most concerning, he isn’t driving the ball like he has in years past. Since joining the Padres, his isolated power, which measures how often a player hits for extra bases, is almost 100 points off his career average. This version of Soto is still effective, but with Fernando Tatis Jr. serving a suspension, the Padres will need someone besides Manny Machado to do damage offensively.
Why they’ll win: Philly has the best catcher in the game in J.T. Realmuto; plenty of power in Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and NL home run leader Kyle Schwarber; and a bona fide ace in Aaron Nola. Their matchup against the Cardinals is set. Now they can put their end-of-season near-collapse behind them to try to rediscover the midseason form that propelled them to a wild-card berth in the first place.
Why they’ll lose: Defense is notoriously hard to quantify, but pretty much every metric paints the Phillies as particularly bad in the field. According to the Statcast data on Baseball Savant, Philadelphia ranks second to last in both runs prevented and outs above average; in the latter statistic, the Phillies’ minus-37 OAA is a whopping 37 runs behind the next-worst playoff team (the Mariners, at plus-2). In the postseason, every out takes on outsize importance—the Phillies can’t afford to give this many away.
Toronto Blue Jays
Why they’ll win: In April, The Ringer ranked the Blue Jays no. 1 in our preseason power rankings. That reflects the pure talent level on display in Toronto, where nine players have hit better than league average this season, including five with a wRC+ of 130 or higher. Kevin Gausman replaced last year’s Cy Young winner and pitched himself into this year’s conversation, and Alek Manoah has dominated hitters all season. After missing last year’s playoffs despite winning 91 games, this is still very much a team on the rise, with something to prove and enough talent to do it.
Why they’ll lose: Hyun-Jin Ryu missed most of the season due to injuries. José Berrios has allowed the most hits and runs in the American League. Yusei Kikuchi took a step back and now pitches in the bullpen. Ross Stripling has pitched well and likely earned a spot in the postseason rotation, but even so, that’s a great deal of underperformance to weather in October.
Why they’ll win: The immaculate vibes emanating from Seattle clearly aren’t baked into FanGraphs’ playoff odds. The Mariners ended a 21-year playoff drought last week on the first pinch-hit, walk-off home run to clinch a postseason berth in MLB history. Cal Raleigh’s majestic blast was a fitting cap on a storybook season—but the Mariners have more to bank on than chemistry and a cute (or is it tragic?) story. Rookie of the Year front-runner Julio Rodríguez and fellow homegrown young’uns Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and Andrés Muñoz have seamlessly meshed with the team’s big free-agent signings (Robbie Ray) and trade acquisitions (Luis Castillo, Eugenio Suárez). The M’s have achieved a potent blend of veteran and emerging talent, and everything’s clicking at the right time.
Why they’ll lose: Seattle relies heavily on its youngest players in the lineup, rotation, and bullpen. Rodríguez just returned from a stint on the IL with a lower-back injury. If the 21-year-old star can’t pick up right where he left off, the Mariners offense will struggle to pick up the slack. On the mound, Kirby, 24, Gilbert, 25, and Muñoz, 23, have had tremendous seasons, but their team can’t afford any growing pains in their first taste of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Rays
Why they’ll win: The Rays’ formula hasn’t changed much. The rotation, headlined by Shane McClanahan, is very good, and the bullpen is deep and effective. They’ll pitch well enough to compete with anyone, and they’ll fix the matchups to squeeze every last drop of juice from their lineup. If they can scrounge together enough runs, they’ll be dangerous.
Why they’ll lose: Once again, a nifty bit of roster construction has crafted a playoff team out of a $96 million payroll; but once again, this is what a $96 million payroll gets you. The offense is paper-thin. Even if the Rays play beyond their true talent level, there just isn’t enough here to win four straight series against the most formidable teams in baseball.
St. Louis Cardinals
Why they’ll win: St. Louis won the World Series in 2011 and 2006 after winning 90 and 83 games, respectively, and then harnessing Cardinals devil magic to carry it through the playoffs. For the past several years, the Cardinals have assembled good but ultimately unthreatening teams, seemingly in hopes of repeating this formula. But this year’s squad is more dynamic, in large part thanks to the pillars on the corner of the infield. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have both hit over 30 home runs and driven in over 100 RBIs; both were among the top five players in baseball this year, according to FanGraphs WAR, and should earn MVP votes. As ever, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, and the resurgent Albert Pujols anchor the Cardinals, but they are flanked by more young talent and more matchup options than we’re used to seeing. This team shouldn’t be content to just make the playoffs and see if they can get hot—it’s got the ability to make some noise.
Why they’ll lose: The Cardinals strike out the fewest batters per nine innings in all of baseball. That’s by design—the team has made an effort to acquire and develop contact-oriented pitchers to funnel balls to its elite defense. But with the exception of Jack Flaherty, who is still building up to full strength after missing over two months with an injury, the starting rotation doesn’t miss many bats. When those bats are wielded by the likes of the mighty Dodgers, Braves, and Mets, that’s a scary proposition.
4/9/2001: Albert Pujols homers in his first regular season home at-bat with the Cardinals.— MLB (@MLB) October 3, 2022
10/2/2022: Albert Pujols homers in his last regular season home at-bat with the Cardinals.
Full circle. pic.twitter.com/76E3giMCJk
Why they’ll win: Baseball’s youngest team enters the postseason on the heels of a 21-8 September in which it wrested control of the AL Central. Emmanuel Clase might be the AL’s best closer, and his 100 mph cutter might be its most unhittable pitch. James Karinchak, Trevor Stephan, and Co. round out a stellar bullpen, ready to be deployed by Manager of the Year candidate Terry Francona, who has proved especially adept before at playoff bullpen management.
Why they’ll lose: The Guardians’ offense is an inverse of Atlanta’s. Their 18.2 percent strikeout rate was the best in MLB in the regular season, but they hit just 127 home runs, which trailed only the lowly Tigers. Putting the ball in play is a valuable skill, especially in the playoffs when the game slows down and base runners are precious. But against elite pitching, will Cleveland be able to string enough hits together to keep pace?