I’m actually displaying much more patience than I did in 2021 when I wrote my first MLB playoff picture piece on May 23. We’re at least in mid-June.
The 162-game regular season grind is baseball’s calling card but the postseason is what sports are all about. If you aren’t thinking about postseason implications while advancing through the regular season, you aren’t getting the full experience.
2022 MLB Playoffs New 12-Team Format
The MLB can’t ever stick to a system. They changed the postseason rules again. The latest negotiations between the owners and the players result in a brand new postseason format in Major League Baseball.
It goes like this:
12 teams make the playoffs – 6 from each league. The 3 division winners in each league will receive seeds 1, 2, and 3 according to record. Seeds 4, 5, and 6 will then be occupied by Wild Cards – even if the record of the Wild Card trumps that of a division winner.
Unlike the NBA in which a Wild Card team could occupy the 2 seed, the MLB elects to reserve the top seeds for its division winners.
No longer do we have the 1-game Wild Card play in. As fun as that was, the MLB has opted to go with a couple of best-of-3 series in each league for the Wild Card Round.
The 3-seed will host the 6 in a best-of-3. The 4-seed will host the 5. This is the Wild Card Round.
The winners of these series go on to meet the top 2 seeds who are awaiting them in the Divisional Round – after being given byes in the WC Round.
One side of the bracket looks like this:
Unlike the NFL playoffs, there is no reseeding after the 1st round. The 3-6 winner will always face the 2 seed. Likewise, the 4-5 winner will always face the 1 seed.
The MLB prefers this system because it often grants the 1-seed an easier path as they are guaranteed to never face another division winner in the Divisional Round.
Once past the initial 3-game series of the Wild Card round, all series are the classic best-of-7 format.
Where Did We Pull the Data for this Article?
To help lend quantitative predictive data, I cite FiveThirtyEight often. Their MLB Prediction tools are fun to play around with and extremely insightful. FiveThirtyEight has a simulation feature which runs the end of the season 100,000 times and gives the percentages that a given team makes the playoffs, wins their division, or wins the World Series.
Team statistics for all 30 MLB teams can be found on either TeamRankings, ESPN, or Fangraphs. This makes it extremely easy to find which teams are the best in batting average, ERA, runs per game, caught stealing percentage, outfield assists, or suicide squeeze attempts.
Several factors determine a team’s shot of qualifying for postseason baseball – including current record, remaining strength of schedule, health of star players, and strength of division. All 30 MLB teams (even the Reds) are still very much mathematically alive with 100 games to go. Let’s get started, boppers!
2022 American League Playoffs
First, a look at the AL Postseason bracket if the season ended today:
Yes, you counted correctly. That’s 4 AL East teams in the 6-team AL playoff bracket. That’s how dominant the East coast has been over the first 60 games of 2022.
The Yankees have such a huge lead in the East that we forget there are other great teams in this division. Their records are not so hot in comparison to the league’s best – New York – but they are outplaying the other divisions with regularity.
Those poor Twins may hold the worst spot in the new postseason format – the 3 seed. Unlike the other division winners, the 3 seed must fight for a spot in the Divisional Round. This is a departure from the previous format in which all division winners were guaranteed a Divisional Round series.
It’s quite common for Wild Card teams in one division to have a better record than the leader of another division. Minnesota and the 6-seed Wild Card – right now it’d be Boston – will likely be evenly-matched.
An evenly-matched Wild Card Round series followed by a best-of-7 against the well-rested Astros hardly seems a fitting reward for winning your division.
American League Division and Wild Card Races
The AL East would see 4 teams into the playoffs if the season ended today. The Yankees hold the best record in the American League with the Blue Jays 3rd, Rays 4th, and Red Sox 6th.
If we’d checked in about a week ago, it would be the LA Angels taking that 6th spot. LA fell from well-above .500 to a non-playoff team after a horrific 14-game losing streak spanning from May 25th until the other night.
Out East, the Red Sox have picked up steam and won 9 of 11, including taking 3 of 4 from those very Angels to pass them up.
The Yankees are scary and deserve the #1 overall seed, but other Eastern teams are probably even better than advertised. Ya know why? They beat up on each other – hurting their records.
Think about it. Pick an AL East team like the Rays. 58 (or so) of their games are played against the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. Just breaking even there would be a monumental accomplishment.
Compare this to an AL Central team like the Twins who get about 58 games versus the likes of Detroit, Kansas City, and Cleveland. You’d expect the records of non-Eastern teams to be several wins better than their Eastern counterparts, right?
Amazingly, the East is still the best. They beat up on each other and still have enough left in the tank to take care of business in games against non-division opponents.
It’s scary how good the AL East is right now. The Guardians are still in the chase – as are the Angels, Rangers, and White Sox.
Tankathon shows that the Red Sox have the toughest remaining schedule in the American League based on opponent win percentage. This makes sense considering what we just talked about.
Despite a tough 100-game finish which features 16 against the Yankees, 16 against the Rays, and 12 against the Jays – the Red Sox still hold an excellent chance of reaching the MLB postseason.
In all likelihood, the 6th seed in the American League will face the winner of the AL Central in a 3-game series. Talk about a great draw! We are almost guaranteed to see an AL East team in the ALC. I think we can all agree on that, even in mid-June.
Ahh, the weakest division in the American League for several seasons running. We can rename the Central to the MAAC or maybe the Big Sky because this is a one-bid conference.
Even with the most talented teams (Minnesota and Chicago) getting to feast on the Tigers, Guardians, and Royals, I don’t see the Central getting a Wild Card berth. Excluding the weird 2020 year, the AL Central has not received a WC berth since the 2017 Twins snuck in with 85 wins.
Wanna know what playing in a weak division gets you? Hella easy remaining schedules. The Twins have the 10th-easiest remaining schedule moving forward. The Guardians have the 9th-easiest. Detroit’s remaining schedule is the 4th-easiest in baseball. Chicago’s is the 2nd-easiest.
Somehow the Kansas City Royals have the 8th-hardest remaining schedule. They still have 4 against the Yankees, 3 against the Dodgers, 4 with Houston, 3 with San Diego, 4 with Toronto, and 7 with Tampa. I guess that’ll do it.
The odds are still decent for the White Sox to get hot on the back-100 and snag a playoff spot. If this happens, it will almost certainly be Minnesota they are catching for the division – not an AL East team for a Wild Card.
We’re still waiting for someone in the West to rise up and challenge Houston for the throne. Excluding the wonky 2020 year, the Astros have won each AL West title since the Texas Rangers won in 2016.
Houston won 100 games in 3-straight seasons from 2017-2019. Last year was a “down year” for the Astros – winning just 95 games.
Houston has been able to fully capitalize just once on their postseason appearances – winning the now-infamous Asterisk World Series over the Dodgers in 2017.
The Astros lost in the ALCS in 2018, lost in the World Series in 2019, lost in the ALDS in 2020, and lost in the World Series again last year to the Braves.
For a few seasons in the late 2010s it was the Oakland A’s who had the firepower to hand with Houston. After trading away every good player they had, the A’s are now in last place – even worse than the Reds.
The Angels have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani and still can’t win. LA rocketed out of the gate with win after win but has watched it all come crashing down – losing a franchise-high 14-straight games beginning on May 25th.
The West’s best chance to dethrone Houston might be the Texas Rangers. Texas made a huge splash in free agency this offseason but haven’t improved enough to win more games than they lose.
The Rangers have been a losing team every single year since 2016 – even in the 2020 COVID sprint. Right now Texas is 28-31 on June 12th – not where they want to be. But, the Rangers look around and realize they are in 2nd place.
American League Standings at End of 2022 Season per 538 Projections
FiveThirtyEight simulations to the end of the season reveal that – unremarkably – the Yankees are favored to hold on in the American League.
These projections literally change nothing from the current day standings. We would have the exact same matchups if we just ended the season today.
American League Playoff and World Series Equities
New York Yankees (44-16)
538 Playoff%: >99%. Duh!
538 Division Title%: 69%. Even in the best division in baseball, the Yankees hold a commanding 8.5-game lead already in mid-June. NY is on pace for 119 wins right now!
538 Championship%: 20%. This ties the Yankees for the best World Series odds with – you probably guessed it – the Los Angeles Dodgers. A Yankees-Dodgers World Series sounds very cliche and chalky, but we haven’t seen that matchup since 1981.
Toronto Blue Jays (35-24)
538 Playoff%: 90%. The Jays are uber-talented and primed to win upwards of 95 games this year. This would win a division in most circumstances, unless you share a division with one of the best Yankees’ teams in recent history.
538 Division Title%: 13%. Like we said, the Jays are a great ball club and could win 90+ games … but the Yankees, man.
538 Championship%: 8%. These odds are definitely hampered by sharing a division with the Yankees. This will force Toronto to navigate the postseason as a Wild Card with a tougher path.
Tampa Bay Rays (35-25)
538 Playoff%: 68%. Pretty good odds, but almost certainly will be as a Wild Card – given there are 2 elite teams ahead of them in the AL East standings.
538 Division Title%: 4%. See above.
538 Championship%: 3%. See above.
Boston Red Sox (32-29)
538 Playoff%: 53%. This percentage may not seem like a ton but most Bostonians would be elated to see this. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Sox were down and out. After winning 8 of 10 and pulling their record above .500, Boston is now likely to be a playoff team!
538 Division Title%: 2%. If this Sox team makes the postseason, it will be as a Wild Card.
538 Championship%: 3%. Let’s do some basic addition here. 20% from New York plus 8% from Toronto plus 3% each from both Tampa and Boston adds up to a 34% chance that the 2022 champion will hail from the AL East.
Minnesota Twins (35-27)
538 Playoff%: 64%. Not bad for a team that would be in 4th place in the AL East. Most of Minnesota’s playoff equity is their likelihood of winning the weak AL Central.
538 Division Title%: 49%. Minnesota wouldn’t lead any Eastern or Western division in baseball but would lead either Central division. Their biggest threat will be the White Sox should they get healthy and hot.
538 Championship%: 2%. As we discussed earlier, Minnesota is almost guaranteed to be the 3-seed if they make the playoffs. 3 seeds have tough paths under the new MLB playoff format.
Cleveland Guardians (29-27)
538 Playoff%: 36%. Barely above .500, the Guardians currently sit as the Central’s 2nd-place team but both Vegas and FiveThirtyEight know that this division is a race between the Twins and White Sox.
538 Division Title%: 22%. Pretty decent division title odds, but not better than the 3rd-place Sox.
538 Championship%: 1%. Yep, this number seems about right for a team I predicted would lose 100 games a season ago.
Chicago White Sox (27-31)
538 Playoff%: 45%. Some teams would kill to have 45% playoff equity right now, but this 27-31 start has to be disappointing for Chicago who was the AL Central-favorite from the get-go.
538 Division Title%: 28%. The 2nd-best odds in the division despite occupying 3rd place at the moment.
538 Championship%: 2%. Slightly better than the Guardians. Same as the Twins.
Houston Astros (37-23)
538 Playoff%: 94%. A team with an 88% shot to win their division should be more than 94% to make the playoffs … but what do I know?
538 Division Title%: 88%
538 Championship%: 9%. These are the best World Series odds of any team not obnoxiously mainstream (Yankees or Dodgers).
Texas Rangers (28-31)
538 Playoff%: 11%. Considering Texas was off to a 2-9 start, sitting 3 games under and in 2nd place on June 12th probably feels pretty good. 11% is much more playoff equity than this franchise is used to having at this point in the season, sadly.
538 Division Title%: 2%. Yeah, it’s gonna be tough to unseat those Astros.
538 Championship%: <1%
Los Angeles Angels (29-33)
538 Playoff%: 23%. Just a completely different feel around this team now versus 2 weeks prior. That 14-game losing streak sapped the life out of the organization and killed their playoff hopes.
538 Division Title%: 6%. They had a nice chunk of equity in the division back when they were several games over .500.
538 Championship%: 1%. Can we please see Mike Trout in a high-leverage playoff series? Please?!
2022 National League Playoffs
Here is a look at the NL Postseason bracket if the season ended today, June 12th:
3 NL West teams in the postseason should surprise no one. This division has ruled the National League of late. The best NL team has come out of the West each season since the Brewers won 96 games in 2018.
The Mets are on top right now but can be trusted to hold their lead? They couldn’t do it in 2021 …
The Atlanta Braves are now officially out of their World Series hangover – winning 11-straight games to improve to 7-over .500. That lead we were just talking about is in the process of shrinking.
National League Division and Wild Card Races
Well the Mets are up again in the NL East. New York led the East for the majority of 2021 until being caught from behind by eventual-champion Atlanta.
Mets fans are already growing uneasy as the lead is shrinking. The Braves are on an 11-game heater and the Mets lead is now just 5.5 in mid-June.
The NL Central is a 2-team race if there ever was one. The Cards and Brewers have been neck-and-neck for most of the year with the other 3 lagging quite far behind.
We knew it would be this way coming into 2022. The Pirates, Cubs, and Reds have all sold recently – indicating they are smack in the middle of a rebuild and not necessarily trying to win anything this year.
Last season the Giants played to the best record in the MLB with 107 wins. Who else was right behind other than the Dodgers with 106.
Although LA would have handily won any other division in baseball, they entered the postseason field as a Wild Card team and were forced to put it all on the line in a 1-game do-or-die showdown with the Cardinals.
LA prevailed but fell to the eventual-champion Braves in 6 games in the NLCS.
This season, the Mets own the best record in the NL but Western teams occupy spots 2 and 3. The Dodgers (37-23) are the 2nd-best team in the NL while San Diego (37-24) is 3rd.
The Giants are not far behind at 33-26, 3.5 games back of the Dodgers for the top spot. The NL West and the AL Central are the only 2 divisions I’d label as “3-team races”.
The AL Central (Twins, White Sox, Guardians) will be a one-bid division. The NL West could conceivably send all 3 teams in contention (Dodgers, Padres, Giants) to the postseason.
National League Standings at End of 2022 Season per 538 Projections
A few differences here. First is that the Dodgers overtake the Mets as the league’s 1-seed. This will not make much of a difference unless the two happen to meet in the NLCS. The Mets still win the East which is probably of more importance to their fans.
The Cardinals outplay the Giants down the stretch and steal the 6th seed in a tiebreaker. The MLB is no longer doing game 163s to break ties. FiveThirtyEight projects this race to be so close that the Cardinals need to use tiebreakers to get in.
National League Playoff and World Series Equities
New York Mets (40-22)
538 Playoff%: 92%. The FiveThirtyEight simulations are more confident in the Mets than anyone in real life. I expected this percentage to be more like 67% when I looked it up.
538 Division Title%: 62%. If those Braves weren’t in the midst of an 11-gamer …
538 Championship%: 7%. Still looking for their 1st since 1986.
Atlanta Braves (34-27)
538 Playoff%: 75%. FiveThirtyEight projects that Atlanta could win 90+ games for the first time since 2019. Last year – their championship season – Atlanta sandbagged most of the season and won the division with 88 wins.
538 Division Title%: 29%. Wow, so much respect for the Mets and their 5.5-game lead. These projections indicate the Braves are far more likely to grab a Wild Card berth than catch New York. Interesting.
538 Championship%: 6%
Philadelphia Phillies (30-30)
538 Playoff%: 41%. They have come on strong after the firing of Joe Girardi, but it probably won’t be enough.
538 Division Title%: 7%
538 Championship%: 2%
Milwaukee Brewers (34-28)
538 Playoff%: 66%
538 Division Title%: 52%. Given the NL Central teams have the lowest win rates of the division higher-ups, it makes sense most of Milwaukee’s playoff equity lies in their chances to take down the Central. It’s a 2-team race, after all.
538 Championship%: 3%
St. Louis Cardinals (34-27)
538 Playoff%: 62%. Being half a game behind gives the Dirty Birds 4% less postseason equity.
538 Division Title%: 46%
538 Championship%: 2%
Los Angeles Dodgers (37-23)
538 Playoff%: 98%. Even the best team in the National League in mid-June has a 2% chance they miss out on the playoffs. This is a product of playing in the league’s best division – the NL West.
538 Division Title%: 69%. LA couldn’t overtake the 107-win Giants last season, but the Dodgers had won the NL West each of the 8 seasons prior.
538 Championship%: 20%. Tied with the Yankees for best odds in the MLB.
San Diego Padres (37-24)
538 Playoff%: 88%. San Diego fell off hard last season after being mentioned in the same breath as the Dodgers and Giants until deep into the summer.
538 Division Title%: 24%. So much competition at the top of the NL West.
538 Championship%: 6%
San Francisco Giants (33-26)
538 Playoff%: 60%. Far less playoff equity than the Padres despite being just 2.5 games down in the standings. Neither humans nor computers seem to be as confident in the 2022 Giants as we became during the 2021 version.
538 Division Title%: 7%. Wow! Way less than the Padres. I did not expect this.
538 Championship%: 2%