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Wild Card Series preview and MLB playoff predictions

The PSA staff weighs in on the first round and more.

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB playoffs are finally at hand. Usually, we don’t have to wade too far into October for the playoffs to arrive, but due to the spring training lockout, everything got pushed back a week. With the expansion of the playoff field, we also have a brand new round: the Wild Card Series. In every season from 2012-21 (sans the COVID-impacted 2020), the two Wild Card teams in each league would play one win-or-go-home elimination game to determine which would advance to the Division Series. Now, there are three Wild Card teams in each league, and we’ll get a quartet of best-of-three series to determine the ALDS and NLDS matchups.

Part of the setup for this new format involved awarding first-round byes to the top two division winners in each league. The Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, and Braves earned these advantages, and they will move straight to the Division Series. I don’t particularly fancy watching my team face the prospect of elimination after two games any more than I did with one, so I will happily accept New York sitting on the sidelines for the Wild Card, sipping tea. And to those worried about building rust, well, three other powerhouses will also have to work around it. They’ll take the trade-off.

So let’s sit back, relax, and preview some non-Yankees playoff baseball this weekend! Unlike other playoff rounds, these showdowns will each take place in one ballpark, the home-field of the higher seed. This allows MLB to expedite the Wild Card Series and get the Division Series started as soon as possible (October 11th).

Note: All listed Game 3 start times are only assuming that they’re necessary. Games on Sunday may be moved around if any of the four series ends after two games. If a question mark is listed after starter’s name, it means that the team has not yet confirmed him as probable.

Cleveland Guardians vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Progressive Field in Cleveland
(winner faces Yankees in ALDS)

Game 1: Shane Bieber (CLE) vs. Shane McClanahan (TB)
First pitch: Friday Oct. 7th, 12:07pm ET (ESPN)
Game 2: Triston McKenzie (CLE) vs. Tyler Glasnow (TB)
First pitch: Saturday Oct. 8th, 12:07pm ET (ESPN2)
Game 3: Cal Quantrill (CLE) vs. Drew Rasmussen? (TB)
First pitch: Sunday Oct. 9th, 4:07pm ET (ESPN)

Guardians preview | Rays preview

This is the highest-priority series for Yankees fans since they’ll square off with the victors, so I’ll go a little bit longer on this one. The Guardians captured the AL Central with a red-hot final month, and they won 21 of 25 to run away from the White Sox and Twins to seize the division title. They’re the youngest ballclub in the majors with an average age of 26, but they’re also the toughest team to strike out with a league-low 18.2-percent clip.

Although Cleveland doesn’t hit many homers (127; only Detroit hit fewer), José Ramírez, Josh Naylor, and Andrés Giménez led them to a league-average offense anyway. Their pitching will likely have to be what carries them, and each of their three main starters can capably stymie an offense. If the Guardians get a late lead, then look out; they have a dominant bullpen, and both Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak are good at extinguishing hope (Gio Urshela slams notwithstanding).

To be sure, the Rays’ pitchers have high potential in their own right, but perhaps a little more risk given McClanahan’s recent injuries and Glasnow only just returning from Tommy John surgery. Their ever-present roll call of random relievers (Garrett Cleavinger? Jason Adam? Chord Overstreet?) will have to do some work keeping Cleveland at bay, though at least they don’t exactly feature a 1927 Yankees offense.

At bat, Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena, and Yandy Díaz will probably have to lead the attack because it’s not hard to envision the Guardian hurlers dominating the rest of the lineup. Nonetheless, the Rays are a playoff-tested team, and while experience isn’t always the difference-maker, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

My pick: Cleveland in 2

Bonus: Why you should root for the Guardians | Why you should root for the Rays

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Seattle Mariners

Rogers Centre in Toronto
(winner faces Astros in ALDS)

Game 1: Alek Manoah (TOR) vs. Luis Castillo (SEA)
First pitch: Friday Oct. 7th, 4:07pm ET (ESPN)
Game 2: Kevin Gausman? (TOR) vs. Robbie Ray (SEA)
First pitch: Saturday Oct. 8th, 4:07pm ET (ESPN)
Game 3: Ross Stripling? (TOR) vs. Logan Gilbert (SEA)
First pitch: Sunday Oct. 9th, 2:07pm ET (ABC)

Blue Jays preview | Mariners preview

The two teams born in 1977 have never even made the postseason in the same year (let alone faced off), so this will be a first. Both were Wild Card teams, and they finished with identical records from May 15th onward, though it took Seattle another month of subpar play to really get going. As Yankees fans are well-aware, the Blue Jays lineup is full of bruisers who can hang in a slugfest with just about anyone. Only the Dodgers surpassed them in team wRC+ at 118, and the names that can thump are all familiar: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández ... the list goes on. Their pitching leaves more to be desired, but it can’t be denied that Manoah and Gausman make for a powerful one-two punch.

Meanwhile, the M’s will need the man they acquired at the trade deadline to go toe-to-toe with Manoah to steal Game 1 on the road; otherwise, I don’t know if Ray is good enough in 2022 to bail them out. At least they have of plenty of reasons to be optimistic about an ace like Castillo. Add in Rookie of the Year contender Julio Rodríguez, 30-homer bat Eugenio Suárez, and some timely hits from the likes of Ty France, Mitch Haniger, and clinching hero Cal Raleigh, and maybe there’s an upset in here. The M’s do at least have an edge in the bullpen, which is a little more reliable than Toronto’s.

My pick: Blue Jays in 2

New York Mets vs. San Diego Padres

Citi Field in New York
(winner faces Dodgers in NLDS)

Game 1: Max Scherzer (NYM) vs. Yu Darvish (SD)
First pitch: Friday Oct. 7th, 8:07pm ET (ESPN)
Game 2: Jacob deGrom? (NYM) vs. Blake Snell (SD)
First pitch: Saturday Oct. 8th, 7:37pm ET (ESPN)
Game 3: Chris Bassitt? (NYM) vs. Joe Musgrove? (SD)
First pitch: Sunday Oct. 9th, 7:37pm ET (ESPN)

Mets preview | Padres preview

The Mets probably got hurt the most by the new MLB rules eliminating Game 163 tiebreakers. Would they haves still tied with the Braves atop the NL East if Atlanta hadn’t already clinched a couple days and taken it easy? No one will ever know, but that was the final outcome of the season records, and instead of their 101 wins meaning a potential first-round bye, they have to dispatch a quietly dangerous Padres team to reach a possible Division Series date in LA. Rough.

To be clear, the Mets should still be the favorite here, and I just like San Diego. Manny Machado has a legitimate MVP case, Juan Soto is oozing with the potential to easily take over a short series, and while Darvish and Musgrove aren’t Scherzer and deGrom, they’re not exactly easy guys to hit, either. (Note that the Mets have question marks for Games 2 and 3 because they may flip-flop the order based on the Game 1 outcome.) Still, the smart money’s on the ballclub that was 12 wins better in the regular season, and while the Mets miss Starling Marte, they have eight regulars with above-average bats. I simply have a sneaking suspicion about the Dads.

My pick: Padres in 3

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Busch Stadium in St. Louis
(winner faces Braves in NLDS)

Game 1: José Quintana (STL) vs. Zack Wheeler (PHI)
First pitch: Friday Oct. 7th, 2:07pm ET (ABC)
Game 2: Miles Mikolas (STL) vs. Aaron Nola (PHI)
First pitch: Saturday Oct. 8th, 8:37pm ET (ESPN2)
Game 3: TBD (STL) vs. Ranger Suárez (PHI)
First pitch: Sunday Oct. 9th, 8:37pm ET (ESPN)

Cardinals preview | Phillies preview

So here’s the thing: The moment that this matchup was announced, I immediately thought “Well, I’m happy for my friends in Philly who get to watch playoff baseball for the first time since I was in college, but the Cards are going to make this quick and brutal.” And they still might! The only reason that Machado likely won’t win the MVP is because many members of the voting bloc already decided that Paul Goldschmidt’s incredible year for St. Louis was MVP-worthy, and honestly, Nolan Arenado might be even better. To have both Goldschmidt and Arenado in the same lineup, not to mention a Fountain of Youth-imbibing Albert Pujols? Jiminy Christmas.

However, I look at these probables and am just extremely unimpressed by St. Louis. Quintana, Mikolas, and one of Jordan Montgomery, Adam Wainwright, or Jack Flaherty for Game 3? I don’t know. Cardinals Devil Magic is a meme for a reason, and they can probably make it work — especially with Goldy and Nolan around. But Wheeler and Nola can really shove at the top of their game, and if just a few of the Phillies’ top sluggers (Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, and National League home run leader Kyle Schwarber) get rolling, then this could be an upset. Yes, I know that Philly doesn’t have much of a bullpen and their gloves are often full of cement, but I think I’m Wawa-pilled here and dreaming of Tastykakes and dingers. Let’s go Phightins.

My pick: Phillies in 3

So that’s what lies ahead in the Wild Card round. Who will win each of the series matchups, though? I had the PSA staff take a stab at predicting the outcomes, and here are the results:

The votes were very close in the two American League series, though the staff was a little more decisive in the National League. I agree that Cardinals and Mets are the smarter picks! I’m just going to be a little daring (read: stupid).

And since we’re forecasting playoff baseball, why not look ahead to the remaining rounds? Who will be the four teams remaining by the time that Championship Series play begins on October 18th? Who wins it all? Once again, we took a shot:

We’re going chalk for the ALCS and NLCS, but the World Series is a little more unclear. Since this is a Yankees site, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’re going for them to win it all, though the specific matchup is mostly divided between the Dodgers and Braves.

As for the World Series MVP? Let us know your own thoughts! Hell, let us know all of your picks! After all, that’s the fun of a playoff bracket.