Ava’s Angle: Was the wild card break too much for top teams to handle? 

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The MLB playoffs are heating up more as we get deeper into October. With each day that goes by, there are more surprises from every game. The main shocks from the recent divisional series are the number of upset wins, specifically in the NLDS. 

While the Houston Astros took down the lower-seeded Seattle Mariners with ease, it’s worth noting that the Astros have a trend of postseason success, having reached the ALCS for the sixth straight time. The rest of the DS series haven’t been as top-team dominant. 

The other matchup of the American League is the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Guardians. Currently, this series is tied 2-2 and Game 5 is scheduled for Monday night. If the Yankees win, they will join the Astros in being the only division leaders who had a bye that are still standing. 

Now for the shocks of the National League, all three division winners: the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals all fell short in their playoff runs. Also, with the addition of the New York Mets being eliminated, who won a total of 101 games this season. 

While the American League is playing out somewhat as predicted, the National League has been completely flipped upside down. In the most recent divisional series, the San Diego Padres defeated the Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the reigning champions Braves. 

Beside the Astros who had 106 wins this season, all the other teams with 100 or more wins have been knocked out. Many baseball fans are wondering how this could happen and why there is such a turn of events. A simple answer can be that the Braves and the Dodgers got outplayed by their two division foes who came into the playoffs as wild card teams. But, under the surface, it goes much deeper than that.   

A debate that has been mentioned is surrounding the new playoff format and the five day break that the first four seeds were ‘awarded’ with while the Wild Card Series was in play. 

During the regular season, teams rarely get two days off. In the playoff bracket, their five day break before the divisional series seemed like eternity. During breaks, teams have their high-tech equipment and pitching machines to keep hitters sharp without gameplay. Pitchers stay loose with constant practice and throwing sessions in the bullpen. In the end, all of this just didn’t seem like enough as all the teams who earned byes struggled in the division series. 

The Phillies finished the season with 87 wins, 14 games behind the Braves and the Mets. In the divisional series, they played clean defense and destroyed Atlanta’s pitching. Philadelphia is known for their weak bullpen, but their relievers ultimately made significant contributions. In Game 4, closer Seranthony Domínguez sealed the win for the Phillies by striking out the side in the top of the ninth, sending them to the NLCS. Their offense is what kept them on top of the Braves, scoring 16 runs and holding Atlanta to just seven runs over three games.  

Now for the west coast (WC), credit is due to the Padres who asserted dominance in all aspects of the game. They started by knocking out the New York Mets in the WC who they have overpowered all year going 4-2 in regular season play.  

Los Angeles is coming off a historic season with a 111-51 record, having the fourth-best record in MLB history. The Dodgers offense who have averaged 5.23 per game (led the majors) were contained by San Diego’s starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. In this series, the Padres bullpen did not allow a run over 13 innings with Josh Hader closing out both of their wins. Their offense has thrived throughout the playoffs led by third baseman Manny Machado and right fielder Juan Soto. Additionally in the first three games, the bottom of the lineup played a part with center fielder Trent Grisham and catcher Austin Nola hitting a combined 6-19 (.316). 

The Padres upset one of their biggest rivals and are now advancing to the NLCS. In the NL West division, San Diego finished 22 games behind Los Angeles. The Dodgers starting pitchers, bullpen depth and production from the entire lineup top to bottom has made Los Angeles one of the most dangerous teams over the last decade but this season they were cut short. 

The result of the Braves and Dodgers proves that getting the advantage of a bye doesn’t always give the best outcome. In the last month of the regular season, the Braves and the Mets were in an intense battle for the NL East title. Now before the championship series commences, both of them have been sent home.  

The typically dominant Braves played uncharacteristically and out of their usual rhythm. The difference is that Philadelphia thrived off their momentum that they created during the Wild Card Series.  

The Phillies starting rotation led by Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler have been productive all year but specifically in their playoff run. In the wild-card round, they pitched 13 combined shutout innings. Being the longest-tenured Philly on the roster, Aaron Nola shut down the Braves and is potentially pitching the best baseball of his career. 

Arguably, the Phillies have the best defensive catcher in J.T. Realmuto. He has control of the run game and strong blocking abilities. This key position on the diamond has helped them uplift the Phillies in their known defense deficiencies. The Phillies offense erupted against the Braves, giving them minimal chances to comeback. Before 2022, the Phillies had never scored five runs in a postseason inning. Generally, the Braves lineup is dangerous all the way down but then the Phillies had them at a halt. Coming off an injury-filled season, Bryce Harper’s bat has spiked and has played a huge role in Philadelphia’s tremendous offense.  

Even though the Astros advanced, the Mariners gave them a run for their money in those three games. The Guardians, who played in the Wild Card series, have forced the Yankees to a fifth game which not many people expected. Although the Guardians are a division winner, the difference is that they have maintained their momentum through playing in the Wild Card.  

Overall, the turnout of the playoffs so far has been far from the predictions. It cannot always be assumed that the top teams are going to become World Series Champions and this postseason has drastically proved that.  

While the American League has mainly followed its path, the National League has been full of upsets. The best-of-seven Championship Series will begin on Tuesday and only four teams will remain standing. Will the National League’s trend of upsets continue moving into the Fall Classic? Only time will tell with what team makes it to the World Series and ultimately becomes the 2022 World Series Champion.  

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