With both championship series’ already underway, the MLB postseason is rapidly reaching its end. The Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres are the last four teams still in the hunt for the World Series. Each club has a chance to cement themselves into baseball history and enshrine their team among past World Series champions.
How did they get here?
For all four teams, the ways in which they have gotten to this point have all been different. The Yankees and Astros earned the first-round bye and took advantage of the extra rest en route to series defeats of the Guardians and Mariners, respectively. New York struggled to fend off a young and restless Guardians roster that pushed the series to a fifth game, ultimately defeating Cleveland in the decisive rubber match. Some late-inning magic from Cleveland was the difference in both of their wins in the series. A three-run home run in Game 5 from Giancarlo Stanton provided plenty of cushion for the Yankees pitching staff in the winner-take-all finale.
The Astros got off to a rough start in the first game of their series with Seattle. They fell behind early and trailed by four runs in the seventh inning before storming back in the later innings. The game ended on a dramatic walk-off three-run home run by the most powerful bat in the Astros lineup, slugger Yordan Alvarez. They took Game 2 before winning an 18-inning pitchers duel in Seattle by a 1-0 count, ending the Mariner’s cinderella run and finishing off the three-game sweep. Houston has continued their playoff dominance, advancing to their sixth straight ALCS.
In the National League, nothing short of chaos has ensued to this point. The Phillies entered the playoffs as the final NL wild card, forced to play a three-game series in St. Louis. They went on the road and won back-to-back games against the Cardinals, eliminating the NL Central champions. Philadelphia then proceeded to head back on the road to play their heated division rivals in the Atlanta Braves. Philadelphia took Game 1 by a 7-6 count in a game that nearly got away from them in the ninth inning. The Braves took Game 2 in a 3-0 shutout before home field switched to Philadelphia. The Phillies bats came alive in Games 3 and 4, scoring a combined 17 runs off 21 hits. They handily won each game in front of a raucous Philadelphia crowd, ousting the defending champs.
In a similar fashion to Philadelphia, the Padres went on the road as underdogs, needing to win a three-game series. They traveled to New York to play the 101-win Mets and the tantalizing duo of Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. The Padres lit Scherzer up in Game 1 for seven runs in less than five innings, winning in blowout fashion. The Mets bounced back in Game 2, forcing a third and final game. San Diego dominated in the rubber match, shutting out the Mets by a 6-0 score and wiping out New York. The Padres advanced to face their division rivals, the 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers on the road. They dropped Game 1 but evened the series at a game a piece before the series flipped to San Diego. The Padres won the next two games, stunning the NL West champions and sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
What’s at stake?
The Yankees have the most at stake among the final four teams. Since their World Series championship in 2009, the Yankees are making their 10th playoff appearance. They have yet to win an AL Pennant. For manager Aaron Boone, in his fifth season at the helm for New York, he has taken his team to the postseason every year, but lacks a deep run to show for it. If the Yankees are unable to make it past Houston in the ALCS, his already warm seat could turn even hotter.
Aaron Judge finished off an insane statistical season in which he set the AL home run record. He led the lineup in almost every significant offensive category and carried the offense for the majority of the season. His contract expires after 2022 and there has already been plenty of speculation swirling around his status for the future. If the Yankees fall short again, it could be the end of his tenure in a Yankee uniform. A serious void would then need to be filled in order for the club to be as competitive again in 2023.
For the Astros, they have already won a championship in 2017 with the core of some of their superstars. The big problem with that title, however, is the fact that they were notoriously caught cheating during that season. The scandal arose after the 2019 World Series in which Houston fell to the Washington Nationals in a seven-game series. Adding salt to the wound following the World Series defeat, video and audio evidence from throughout the 2017 season was released in the ensuing months, showing blatant signs of cheating that certainly helped Houston gain an advantage over their opponents. Not among the punishments handed out by MLB was a stripping of the title. But needless to say, the 2017 championship has a massive blemish covering it. Houston has a chance to win their first Fall Classic without any arguments surrounding legitimacy. Manager Dusty Baker is still searching for his first championship.
The Padres and Phillies are in a similar boat in 2022. Outside of San Diego’s playoff appearance in 2020, neither team had made a trip to the postseason since 2011. Neither team was expected to make it past the wild card round, so just the fact that one of these teams will represent the NL in the World Series is already a surprise. The pressure to win now is not nearly as evident with these two teams as it is for the two in the AL. However, as we have seen with the Dodgers and Yankees over the last decade, winning a championship is not an easy feat. No matter how star-studded and deep a roster can appear, anything can happen in the postseason. This could very well be the last time either team makes it this deep into the playoffs for a while.