The MLB season has reached the All-Star break. The first half provided a variety of incredible moments and the second half is poised to make for a memorable finish. With plenty of contenders and a new playoff format, let’s look at what could come at the end of the regular season for the American League.
Before hopping into the predictions here is what the playoff format looks like in 2022.
The MLB has expanded from five teams to six teams making the playoffs. The teams with the top two records in each league will get automatic byes in the Division Series.
The remaining division winner will get a three-seed in the Wild Card round. The other three teams with the best records will claim the final spots in the Wild Card round.
The three-seed will host the six-seed. The four-seed will host the five-seed.
Now here are the predictions of all six seeds in this year’s playoffs in the American League.
The Top Two
One – Hoston Astros (American League West)
There are really only two candidates for the top two teams in the American League, the New York Yankees (64-28) and Houston Astros (59-32). The battle for the top spot will most likely come down to the final week, but the Astros will have a better chance of standing alone at the top.
The most likely determining factor is the second-half opponents. The Astros play in the AL West which outside of the Astros and Seattle Mariners (51-42) is not wildly competitive.
The bottom three in that division are the Texas Rangers (41-49), Los Angeles Angels (39-53) and Oakland Athletics (32-61). It is pretty clear why the Astros are able to dominate at such a consistent rate. During the first half, the Astros were 23-10 against those bottom three. Luckily for them, they play those bottom three 24 times in their final 71 games.
The Astros are led by Yordan Alvarez, one of the best young stars in baseball. In MLB ranks he is tied for 12th with a .306 batting average, tied for the ninth with 60 RBIs, fourth with 26 homers and a .405 OBP, and first with a .653 SLG and 1.058 OPS. He is certainly playing like the American League MVP.
The Astros hold their destiny in their hands. If they can continue to play great all-around baseball they have a chance to claim the best record in the American League.
Two – New York Yankees (American League East)
The Yankees have been the best in baseball for the majority of the 2022 season with suffocating pitching and deafening offense. They play in the AL East which continues to be the best division in all of baseball. At the All-Star break, every team is at or above a .500 record which is extremely impressive.
Despite the rest of the success in the division, the Yankees have done a great job of taking down their rivals. During the first half, they went 28-15 against the division. In the second half, 31 of their 70 games will be against these teams. It will be a tough road the rest of the way, but they have more than proved they can beat good teams.
They will rely on their superstars both at the plate and on the mound to dominate. All-Star outfielder Aaron Judge leads all of baseball with 33 homers and 74 runs scored plus is one of four players with 70 or more RBIs. On the mound, despite having some issues with allowing a bunch of homers, Gerrit Cole has been excellent with a 9-2 record and 147 strikeouts, second most in baseball.
The Yankees have the talent to easily land in the top two spots. Yet, based on their divisional opponents it’ll be tough to get the top spot.
Wild Card Teams
Three – Minnesota Twins (American League Central)
The final division is the American League Central which at this point is a two-team race between the Minnesota Twins (50-44) and Cleveland Guardians (46-44). The Guardians are close behind, but the Twins have been the more consistent team through the first half which should continue into the second half.
The AL Central has been a weird division this season. The Guardians and Chicago White Sox (46-46) have the potential to be purely dominant but haven’t been very consistent. Spending the majority of the time around .500 will not lead to the playoffs. Then there are the Detroit Tigers (37-55) and Kansas City Royals (36-56), two of the three worst American League teams.
Despite the struggles of the Tigers and Royals, the Twins were only 12-8 against them in the first half. It was a winning record, but not by much. If they want to close out this season strong they are going to have to do better in their 17 remaining games against them.
Most importantly though, they have to make sure their players stay healthy and successful. They have a superb lineup featuring the majority of hitters with a batting average over .250. All-Star Luis Arraez is having a career-best season. He leads the team with a .338 batting average, .411 OBP, .856 OPS, 52 runs, 104 hits, and 308 at-bats. Along with outfielder Byron Buxton’s 23 homers and second baseman Jorge Polanco’s 48 RBIs this is a solid all-around offense.
Four – Seattle Mariners (American League West)
A couple of weeks ago the Mariners would not have landed in the top six, but they have turned it around. They are currently on a 14-game win streak which is their second best in franchise history, only one away from tying their best.
In those 14 games, they impressively only allowed an average of 2.4 runs per game. As has been said many times, pitching wins ball games. Due to this, even on days when their offense struggles they are finding ways to win. Four of the 14 games ended with a score of 2-1, they did that only three times in the first 79 games of the season.
Pitching of this caliber will push any team towards greatness. They have gotten valuable contributions from whoever they throw out on that mound. Most notably is starter Robbie Ray, last season’s AL Cy Young winner. Despite starting the season 4-6, he has been nothing short of Cy Young material since then. Over his last eight starts, he is 4-0 and has gone six or more innings every time and has allowed one or fewer runs in six of the eight. He is a major factor in the turnaround of this team.
In order to claim a playoff spot, they need to continue to find a variety of ways to win. There might be some questions as to why they are predicted to get the four seed and that has to do with opponents. As mentioned earlier, the AL West is not great in the bottom three. If the Mariners stay hot they should be able to take advantage of 29 games against the Rangers, Angels and Athletics in their last 69 games.
It is time for the Mariners to snap the longest active MLB playoff drought at 20 years.
Five – Toronto Blue Jays (American League East)
It is nearly guaranteed that at least one team from the American League East is going to claim a spot. The question right now is which one? Each team in the East is worthy for a plethora of reasons, but the most likely team is the Toronto Blue Jays (50-43), currently in third place.
Each team in the East has been vulnerable to stumbles and the Blue Jays seem to be on their way out of one of their worst. Coming into the All-Star break they won five of six at home including three straight against the Royals. Prior to this, they had lost nine of 10 and 17 of 24.
Moving past this rough stretch the Blue Jays have a lot that sets them up for success in the second half. The biggest factor is one of the most dangerous lineups in all of baseball. The Blue Jays fell a bit because of injuries and inconsistencies in offense, but when they get it together they are unstoppable.
At the forefront is last year’s MVP runner-up Vladimir Gurrero Jr. who leads the team with 20 homers and 57 RBIs. It has not been the perfect season for him, but he has been assisted by the rest of the lineup. The name many others should be talking about right now is All-Star catcher Alejandro Kirk. He has taken advantage of his playing opportunity with a team-best .315 batting average, .395 OBP, .487 SLG and .882 OPS. From top to bottom this lineup is doing damage. Once they find a consistent rhythm the rest of baseball better watch out.
Also important, the Blue Jays missed the 2021 playoffs by one game. They are going to do anything possible to make sure that does not happen again.
Six – Cleveland Guardians (American League Central)
It might surprise some to see the Cleveland Guardians in this spot over another team from the East. The reason is one that has already been discussed, the Central has a lot more weak spots.
The Guardians have to play the Tigers and Royals 16 times in the second half. This includes their final six which are at home against the Royals. In total 25 of their 72 games will be against teams below .500. The Tampa Bay Rays (51-41), Boston Red Sox (48-45) and Baltimore Orioles (46-46) will each play an average of 18 games against teams under .500. Those games against bad teams could likely become a deciding factor.
Much like the Blue Jays, the Guardians have an offense that knows how to score runs. They have had 30 games this season where they scored six or more and won all but one. This is also more times than the Rays, Red Sox and Orioles have done it this season.
This run production is headlined by American League MVP candidate Jose Ramirez. He leads the AL with 75 RBIs and boasts a .288 batting average, 19 homers, 30 doubles and a .944 OPS. Including Ramirez, five of their everyday starters have batting averages above .270 including Josh Naylor (.274), rookie Steven Kwan (.279), Amed Rosario (.291) and leading the pack is Andres Gimenez (.296).
The American League is going to be extremely entertaining to watch in the second half of the season. There are 11 teams with a realistic shot at the playoffs and only six total spots available. For some, it may come down to the weakest opponents, for others it may be getting consistent offense. Each team controls its own destiny and it’s time to figure out who is worthy of the 2022 MLB Playoffs.
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