The MLB postseason tournament begins today with four games in the wild-card round. These are best-of-three affairs, and the pressure is on. Lose the first game and you’re dangling on the edge of elimination, staring at the offseason.
With baseball switching to a new 12-team playoff format in 2022, introducing this perilous opening round for the first time, we don’t have much to go on.
But last season all four teams that won the opening game advanced to the division series. The Cardinals, Blue Jays and Rays were punched out in two games. Only one team, the Mets, managed to survive a first-game loss to reach the third game. But the Padres bounced the Mets in game three.
There were other notable aspects of the wild-card skirmishes that confirmed what we already knew about postseason trends in recent years: it’s power ball. Home runs. Strike outs. This idea of “small ball” is a romantic notion that old-schoolers cling to. But the most successful teams bash home runs and pile up strikeouts.
* In last season’s wild-card round teams that pounded one or more homers in a game went 7-5. Teams that failed to homer were 2-4.
* For the entire postseason teams that clubbed at least two homers in a game were 15-9 for a .625 winning percentage. Teams that failed to homer went 7-18 for a .280 win percentage. Since 2019, teams that rock 2+ homers in a postseason game are 90-36 for a .714 winning percentage.
* One sure way to handle these rows of power hitters? Strike them out. In the 2022 postseason teams that got 12+ strikeouts from their pitchers in a game went 15-7 for a .682 winning percentage. If we go back to 2019, that winning percentage is .597 (52-35) for pitching staffs that rack up at least 12 strikeouts in a game.
In this 12-team field the top home-run hitting teams during the regular season were the Braves, Dodgers, Rangers, Twins, Rays, Astros and Phillies.
The pitching staffs that packed the most strikeout pop during the regular season were the Twins, Rays, Blue Jays, Braves, Marlins, Phillies, Astros and Brewers.
The 2022 field offers an interesting mix of participants:
– The Orioles are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. They haven’t won a postseason game since Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS.
– The Twins aren’t new to the postseason, but they’ve lost 18 consecutive playoff games since winning Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS.
– The Rangers last qualified for the postseason tournament in 2016 and haven’t won a playoff game since Game 2 of the 2012 ALDS.
– The Marlins will be playing in only their second postseason since winning the World Series in 2003.
– The Brewers haven’t won a postseason series since taking down the Rockies in the 2018 NLDS before being eliminated by the Dodgers in the NLCS.
– The Diamondbacks’ most previous playoff appearance was 2017 and the franchise hasn’t won a postseason game since the 2011 NLDS.
– The Brewers, Rangers, and Rays have never won a World Series.
— The Astros, Dodgers and Braves are the established winners here. Since 2017 the three franchises have combined for 116 postseason victories and four World Series titles. (Two by the Astros and one apiece for the Braves and Dodgers.)
Here are my picks for the wild-card round…
Toronto Blue Jays (6) vs. Minnesota Twins (3)
Winner will face Houston in the ALDS.
Both teams have strong starting pitching with good strikeout pop, and they have similar offensive profiles. The Twins have more home-run clout, and more quality on a deep bench. But beware of Minnesota’s issues with making contact; Twin hitters had the worst strikeout rate (26.6%) in the majors this season. And that’s a problem because the Blue Jay pitchers had the third-highest strikeout rate in MLB. Slight bullpen edge to the Blue Jays, but both sets of relievers are imposing in the late innings. I’d be surprised to see a high-scoring series.
Pick: Toronto, which has a 55.6 percent chance of prevailing according to the ZiPS odds at FanGraphs.
Texas Rangers (5) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (4)
Winner will face Baltimore in the ALDS.
Much depends on Texas emerging from a late-season hitting funk. In normal times, this is one of the best-hitting teams in the majors with a 114 wRC+ that ranked fourth in the regular season. But here’s the thing: Tampa Bay had the superior attack during the regular season with a 118 wRC+. Both teams wallop a lot of homers but the Rays have more of it from top to button. The Rays’ speed is an asset (106 steals). But if the regular season means anything, a deep Tampa Bay bullpen should have an advantage late in games.
Pick: Tampa Bay. I was going to go with the Rays, anyway. But FanGraphs gives them a 56.7% chance to win this round.
Arizona Diamondbacks (6) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (3)
Winner will face the Dodgers in the NLDS
The Brewers won’t have starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff (shoulder) for this series, but manager Craig Counsell has Corbin Burnes to start Game 1 and can use Freddy Peralta in Game 2. Lefty Wade Miley is an option as well. The Crew had one of the best rotations in the majors and Woodruff’s absence is a blow. But Counsell effectively covered for multiple starting-pitching injuries during the season and can lean hard on a Milwaukee bullpen that leads the majors in Win Probability Added. Both teams had below-average offenses over the entire season, but the Brewers got a boost from late-season pickups Carlos Santana, Mark Canha and Josh Donaldson. Milwaukee has MLB’s top-rated defense, but the speedy Diamondbacks could cause problems for Brewers catcher William Contreras. The X factor here is Milwaukee outfielder Christian Yelich, who was having a very good bounce-back season until a back problem flared up late in the season. Over the final two months Yelich batted .248 with only three homers and a .363 slugging percentage.
Pick: The Brewers, because of their reinforced bullpen that’s much more reliable than Arizona’s. FanGraphs has a tight forecast, giving Milwaukee a 50.7% chance of advancing.
Miami Marlins (5) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (4)
Winner will face Atlanta in the NLDS.
The Phillies are 20 games over .500 since late April and are loaded with power, with six guys bombing 20+ homers including Kyle Schwarber’s 47. The Marlins were a preposterous 33-13 in one-run games but don’t have an imposing offense, ranking 20th in wRC+. Timely hitting will be essential for Miami. The starting pitching is about even. Philly’s bullpen ranked 8th in Win Probability Added but leveled off in the second half. The Phils have a big edge in slugging and homers over a Miami lineup that finished way down in the rankings in both categories. I’m up with the Phillies but have some reservations about the bullpen. I’m happy for first-year Marlins manager Skip Schumaker. But as The Athletic noted, the Marlins have the worst run differential of any team to make the playoffs (excluding the short-season 2020.) Miami was outscored by 52 runs this season. Based on that the Fish should have had a record of 75-86.
Pick: Philadelphia. FanGraphs gives the Phils a 59.6 percent chance to win the round.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the baseball …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.