MLB 2022: Mid-Season Report

by Larry Ness

The NL jumped all over Tampa Bay's Shane McClanahan for two runs and four hits in the bottom of the first inning in the first All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium in 42 years Tuesday night. Paul Goldschmidt hit a solo HR and then Mookie Betts singled in Ronald Acuna Jr, after his double. However, the final score looked all too familiar. The American League won 3-2 for its NINTH straight All-Star victory and 21st in the last 25 Midsummer Classics. The game turned in the fourth inning when Giancarlo Stanton (game-tying two-run shot) and Byron Buxton (solo shot) delivered back-to-back HRs off the Los Angeles Dodgers' Tony Gonsolin. Giancarlo Stanton was named MVP and is now one of FIVE players to win a league MVP Award, a Home Run Derby and an All-Star Game MVP, joining Ken Griffey Jr, Miguel Tejada, Cal Ripken Jr and Dave Parker.

Yes, the AL has now won NINE straight All-Star Games and holds a 27-6 advantage since 1988, but the World Series has been a much closer battle, as the AL leads 17-16 in that same time span. The second half of the 2022 MLB season resumes on Thursday, with the regular season ending Wednesday, October 5th. There is a new postseason format this year, as in the 2022 collective bargaining negotiations, owners and players agreed to a 12-team postseason with six teams per league. Seedings for the six teams are as follows: Division winners are seeded one, two, three and wild card teams four, five, six. The top two division winners in each league will receive byes into the division series. The lowest-seeded division winner and three wild card teams, each seeded according to regular season record, will play a best-of-three Wild Card round, with the higher seed hosting ALL three games. The tie-breaker game (a.k.a. "Game 163") was also eliminated with playoff spots now determined through tie-breaker formulas. The Division Series will have the top-seed play the fourth-fifth winner, while the runner-up plays the third-sixth winner. The brackets remain fixed, with no re-seeding. The team with the best record will own the home field edge in both two LCS and the same holds true in the World Series.

 The 2022 season opened with the LA Dodgers owning the longest active streak of postseason appearances, followed by the Astros and the Yankees, each tied at FIVE playoff appearances in a row. Seattle owned the longest playoff drought (20 years!) of any team, with Philadelphia having missed 10 consecutive postseasons. Let me start with those five teams and then move on to the playoff 'picture' as of the All-Star break. The Dodgers saw their run of EIGHT consecutive NL West titles end last season, when the Giants won 107 games but LA's 106 wins extended their run of consecutive postseason appearances to NINE in a row. The Dodgers 60-30 Dodgers seem well on their way to another NL West title and a 10th straight postseason appearance is a virtual 'lock.' The team's plus-169 run differential is more than double that of any other NL team. LA's averaging 5.13 RPG (2nd-best in MLB) and owns the lowest team ERA of any team at 2.96.

The Astros, the team everyone "loves to hate' is 59-32, giving them a NINE-game lead in the AL West at the break, and owns MLB's second-best team ERA at 2.98. Houston will again be a threat come October. The NY Yankees won FOUR World Series titles from 1996-2000 but have won just ONE since 2001. New York began the season having made 17 of the last 21 postseason but its ONLY World Series title in that span came back in 2009. The Yankees seem determined to end that 'drought' here in 2022. They own MLB's best record at 64-28, putting them on pace to win 113 games. Th team record for most wins in a season is 114 (set in 1998) and the MLB record is 116 (Cubs of 1906 and Mariners of 2001), so the Yanks own a legitimate shot at breaking BOTH of those records. The Yanks own MLB's best run differential (plus-199).  New York is MLB's highest scoring team (5.40 RPG), its 157 HRs are more than any team and the team's ERA of 3.08 ranks third, behind the Dodgers and Astros (see above). 

Seattle finished second in the American League West in 2021 with a 90-72 record, just two games out of a wild-card berth. That extended Seattle's postseason drought to 20 years, as the Mariners last made the playoffs back in 2001. Ironically, that team won 116 games, tying a MLB record for most wins in a single season. The Mariners were headed 'nowhere' with a 29-39 record through June 19 but then went 22-3 to close the first half to reach 51-29. The Mariners have won 14 in a row, the longest ever winning streak heading into the All-Star break. However, the Mariners are still NINE games behind the first-place Astros in the AL West plus their recent surge put them right in the mix of the wild cards race, but SEVEN teams are battling for just THREE open spots. Is this the year Seattle breaks its 20-year postseason drought? Do you believe in karma? The only other teams to have a 10-plus game winning streak heading into the All-Star break were the 1935 Tigers and the 1975 Reds. BOTH teams would go on to win the World Series!

Philadelphia's 10-year playoff drought is just HALF that of Seattle's. Philadelphia fired Joe Girardi on June 3 and Rob Thomson took over as interim manager and won his first EIGHT games! and 14 of his first 16. However, they've cooled since, having gone 13-12 their last 25 games prior to the break. Philadelphia is currently 49-43 and 8 1/2-games behind the NL East-leading Mets, as well as SIX games behind the four-time defending division champion Braves. The Phillies find themselves in a virtual tie with the 50-44 Cards for the third and final NL wild card spot, with both teams just a half-game better than the SF Giants.

The AL East is MLB's best division with the Yankees owning MLB's best record plus NONE of their four rivals own losing records. The Tampa Bay Rays entered the current season off three straight postseason appearances (team won the AL East in both 2020 and 2021) and is currently second with a 51-41 record. The Toronto Blue Jays missed a wild card spot by ONE game in 2021 but were a 'sexy' preseason pick to best the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees in the brutally tough AL East in 2022. That has NOT been the case but even at a disappointing 50-43, the Jays are right in the wild card mix. The Red Sox have won four World Series titles since 2004 but Boston struggled to a 24-36 record in the 2020 season, before surprising most by going 92-70 in 2021. The Red Sox made it to the ALCS last season but lost 4-2 to the Astros. Boston is currently 48-45 and like the Rays and Jays, battling for one of THREE wild card spots. Then there is Baltimore. The Orioles have missed the postseason in each of the last FIVE years, losing 100-plus games in THREE of the four full seasons, including tying Arizona for MLB's worst record in 2021 at 52-110. However, Baltimore ended the first half on an 11-2 run and will open the second half at 46-6.

Over in the AL West, Houston seems like a 'lock' to win the division with the only "unknown" being can Seattle finally break its 20-year playoff drought by earning one of THREE wild card spots. The Chicago White Sox ended an 11-year postseason drought in 2020 with a wild card appearance. They then ran away with the American League Central title last season with a 93-69 record, winning the division by 13 games over Cleveland. Chicago was a heavy favorite to win the division in 2022 but the White Sox check in at just 46-46 at the break. The Minnesota Twins went just 73-89 in 2021 (20 games behind the division-winning White Sox), after winning the AL Central in 2019 and 2020. The Twins have been atop the division for most of the first half and will begin the second half at 50-44, giving them a two-game lead over Cleveland and a three-game lead over the White Sox. Cleveland began a new era in 2022 (no longer the Indians, now the Guardians). Cleveland lost to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series (led 3-1, before losing the final three games) and followed with THREE more postseason appearances in the next four years (exception was in 2019 when the team won 93 games). However, Cleveland would go just 80-82 in 2021, Based on the first half, 46-44 Cleveland has as good a chance as Minnesota and Chicago has to earn the AL's No. 3 seed by winning the AL Central.

The Braves were just 51-53 in late-July of 2021 but went 37-20 the rest of the way and won the NL East (for the FOURTH straight season) before capturing the franchise's first World Series title since 1995. In stark contrast, the Mets went 22-38 down the stretch to finish in third place at 77-85, 11 1/2 games out of first place. The Mets made the 2015 World Series (lost 4-1 to KC) and made a one-game wild card appearance in 2016, but they've been playoff-less the last five years, The Mets got off to a great start this season and were 34-17 through the end of May. As for the Braves, Atlanta was just 23-27, 10 1/2-games behind New York at that time. However, the Braves opened June by winning their first 14 games and ended the month 21-6. They have followed by going 10-5 in June, closing to within 2 1/2-games of the 58-35 Mets at 56-38.

The Milwaukee Brewers entered the current season having made the last four postseasons, winning the NL Central in 2021 and were favorites to do so again in 2022. Milwaukee was 32-18 through May 30 but ended the first half at just 51-41, going 18-23 prior to the break. The 50-40 Cardinals have been postseason regulars this decade, making the playoffs in 15 of the last 20 seasons. St Louis has been able to pull within a half-game of Milwaukee in the NL Central due to Milwaukee's poor play heading into the break. I've already touched on LA's domination of the NL West but both San Diego (52-42) and San Francisco (48-43) are still wild card contenders. That said, the Padres open the second half having lost 14 of 21 and the Padres resume play on an 11-16 run.

With so many teams in the hunt, expanding to a 12-team playoff field turned out to be a good idea. The trade deadline is August 2 and could provide 'fireworks.' I'll check back around Labor Day for a 'state of the union' update.

Closing note: A record-tying number of teams are on pace for both 100 wins and 100 losses (four each). Possible 100-game winners are the Yankees (113-win pace), Dodgers (108), Astros (105) and Mets. Possible 100-game losers are the Nationals (109), A's (105), Reds (101) and Cubs (100).

Good luck...Larry

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