The playoffs are here, finally. I say finally because the last few weeks of the season, typically an exciting time featuring numerous teams vying for playoff spots, was, quite frankly, a bore. There were only a few contested seedings and those were only lightly contested at best. It’s hard to get too worked up about the last National League Wild Card spot or the specific seedings in the American League.
But we made it and now comes the fun part. The playoffs start today. We get to see how this new playoff structure plays out. For the first time since the second Wild Card was added, major league teams get byes to the second round of the playoffs. Both the Yankees and Astros in the AL and the Braves and Dodgers in the NL will be watching the first round along with you and I.
As for the matchups, the Mariners are in the post-season for the first time since 2001, which is really saying something considering they’re in the same division with the Angels and Rangers. They’ll face the Blue Jays in a best-of-three series with all the games being played in Toronto, as the Jays are the higher seed. The Blue Jays have the stronger and deeper lineup, but with Jose Berrios’ implosion and Seattle’s acquisition of former Reds ace Luis Castillo, the pitching edge goes to Seattle, and especially so when you consider their respective bullpens.
Elsewhere in the AL, Tampa travels to Cleveland where the perpetually hitting-starved Guardians reside. Neither team is any more than a league average offense, but both teams can pitch, especially now that Tampa got All Star starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow back from Tommy John surgery. The deciding factor though could very well be Cleveland’s defense. Depending on which defensive metric you pick, the Guardians are one of the best defensive teams in baseball. Tampa is not. The Rays also struggle hitting for power, finishing with a .377 slugging percentage as a team in 2022, good for 24th in baseball tied with the 107-loss Nationals.
In the NL, the Mets blew three straight to Atlanta to fall into the top Wild Card spot. They’ll host San Diego who rode a good-not-great pitching staff and a league average offense into the post-season without the assistance of their superstar shortstop, Fernando Tatis, Jr. who missed the entire season. The Mets are the better hitting and pitching team and should have little trouble with the Padres if this were this almost any other sport. But it’s baseball, and a best of three series at that, so really who knows?
The final matchup features the Cardinals who are riding Albert Pujols recent 700th homer as well as the final seasons from Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina, as well as possibly starter Adam Wainright. But it’s not just them. It’s seven win seasons from Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, as well as good production up and down the lineup. St. Louis is matched up against the Phillies. Philadelphia went all in on a lineup that wouldn’t have been out of place in 2005, signing Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber to pair with Bryce Harper, and JT Realmuto. It’s sort of worked. The Phillies defense was projected to be terrible. It has been so. Their offense was projected to be great. And… eh. Schwarber hit 46 homers, and Realmuto has been the best hitting catcher in baseball again, but Harper missed a lot of time with injuries and Castellanos has been abysmal, actually costing the Phillies a win.
As for the competitiveness of the matchups, there aren’t any series that project to be insanely one-sided. Perhaps the Mets/Padres series, but it’s not like the Padres don’t have great players (Juan Soto anyone?) and the Mets have been playing poorly lately, not to mention they’ve had a few injuries to key players, like center fielder Starling Marie and starter Jacob deGrom. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be any kind of surprise if any of the teams involved advanced to the second round. After that it gets more difficult to see some teams, like Philadelphia, San Diego, and maybe the Rays, getting very far. Which is to say we all should settle in for a Philadelphia/Tampa World Series.
Typically when a season ends, it’s traditional to talk MVPs and other superlatives. I want to go in a slightly different direction. Do you know the team that got the worst production from the DH spot? It’s the Oakland A’s. Their DHs collectively hit . 183/.249/.331. That’s way worse than the league average catcher, let alone DH. So congrats to the A’s for winning (losing?) The worst DH in the league award.
It probably won’t shock you to know the teams with the best production from first base were the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Yankees. The teams with the worst from first though? The Pirates, Tigers, and Astros? Yes, the Astros! The team with the top seed in the American League has the second worst production from first base in baseball. The primary problem was Yuli Gurriel, who played 146 games while hitting .242./288/.360 with eight homers. Yikes.
Across the diamond, the best hitting shortstop situation was the Mets, Braves, and Dodgers. Again, no surprise there. Francisco Lindor had a bounce back year, and Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson are straight up good. But how about the team that got the least out of shortstop? That was the Washington Nationals, followed closely by the Cincinnati Reds.
What’s interesting about both those teams is that both traded for shortstops at the trade deadline, just not major league ones. The Reds acquired the Mariners best prospect for Luis Castillo, High-A shortstop Noelvi Marte. They can pair him in their system with one of the best prospects in baseball in Elly De La Cruz, who finished his age-20 season crushing the ball in Double-A. The Nationals don’t quite have that depth, but they did get a shortstop who was recently at or near the top of the prospect rankings as well in C.J. Abrams. Abrams came over from San Diego in the deal for Juan Soto. So both organizations have real reason for hope, if not immediately.
Back next week with more on the playoffs. Enjoy them, everybody!
Matthew Kory is a Orioles / MLB Analyst for BSL. He has covered baseball professionally for The Athletic, Vice Sports, Sports On Earth, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, two boys, and his cats, Mini Squeaks and The President. Co-Host of The Warehouse.