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 and top seed clinched)
No. 2 seed: New York Yankees (AL East and bye clinched)
Wild-card series: No. 3 Cleveland Guardians (AL Central clinched) vs. No. 6 Tampa Bay Rays (postseason berth clinched)
Wild-card series: No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays (postseason berth clinched) vs. No. 5 Seattle Mariners (postseason berth clinched)
No. 1 seed: Los Angeles Dodgers (NL West and top seed clinched)
No. 2 seed: Atlanta Braves (postseason berth clinched)
Wild-card series: No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals (NL Central clinched) vs. No. 6 Philadelphia Phillies
Wild-card series: No. 4 New York Mets (postseason berth clinched) vs. No. 5 San Diego Padres
Still in the running: Milwaukee Brewers (1 game back of wild card)
What are the key races remaining?
The focus remains on a high-stakes series between the Braves and Mets. The Braves have beaten Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer in consecutive games to grab the NL East lead, their first cushion of a full game all season. This race — for the NL East crown, the No. 2 seed and chief threat to the Dodgers — is the most important race in baseball by a mile. Sunday's series finale is somehow more important than the rest. The decisive tiebreaker, should the teams finish with the same record, is their head-to-head series. Entering Sunday, they're locked at 9-9. If the Mets win, they'll bring the division race back to a tie and simply need to match the Braves over the season's last three games. If the Braves win, they'll firmly control their own destiny heading into a series against the Marlins.
With the AL field set, only race with in-or-out stakes is the NL wild-card battle. The wavering Phillies scratched out a split in a doubleheader against the Nationals Saturday, while the Brewers — giving chase — lost after relief ace Devin Williams blew a save. That leaves the Phillies with a one-game lead entering Sunday's games.
What are Saturday’s important games?
Mets at Braves, 7:08 ET: OK, deGrom couldn't do it. Scherzer couldn't do it. Can Chris Bassitt hold down the Braves' homer-heavy offense? Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson have gone deep in each game of the series so far. Bassitt will face veteran starter Charlie Morton. The seasoned 38-year-old signed on for another season with Atlanta just this week.
Phillies at Nationals, 1:35 ET: The Phillies have co-ace Zack Wheeler going against Patrick Corbin, who sports the worst ERA of any pitcher with at least 100 innings this year. A win puts them in a commanding position to hold off the Brewers and reach their first postseason since 2011.