Mandatory Credit: Photo by Gregory Bull/AP/Shutterstock (12907852v) San Diego Padres’ Manny Machado, right, embraces Los Angeles Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman as he stands on first base after hitting a single during the third inning of a baseball game, in San Diego Dodgers Padres Baseball, San Diego, United States – 22 Apr 2022
Cleveland Guardians (92-70) at New York Yankees (99-63)
Game 1: Tuesday, 6:37pm CT
Game 2: Thursday, 6:37pm CT
The New York Yankees were the toast of baseball for much of the season’s first half, cruising to the best record in the league for several months before tapering off as injuries began to take their toll. They’d still finish the season with 99 wins and a division title in the difficult AL East, earning a bye into the ALDS as a result. They’ll host the Cleveland Guardians in a five-game series that begins at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night and will get things started with ace Gerrit Cole on the mound. Cole posted another strong season in the Bronx, but was less dominant than he had been the previous few. He struggled down the stretch, posting a 4.80 ERA in September and allowing three or more runs in his last five consecutive starts. He did pitch well against the young Guardians’ offense this season, hurling 12 ⅔ innings while allowing just two runs over two starts. He pitched well against Cleveland in the 2020 Postseason as well but was hit around in his only October appearance last year against Boston. Behind Gerrit Cole, New York will turn to a group of starters including Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon, and Nestor Cortes Jr. It’s a fine rotation, but not exactly one of the league’s best – putting even more importance on winning Game 1 for New York before the Guardians can turn back to their pitching studs Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie.
Cleveland enters the series after a two-game sweep of Tampa Bay in the Wild Card series in which they only allowed one run in 24 innings. The aforementioned Bieber and McKenzie were dominant, and the Guardians’ highly touted bullpen went through both games completely unscathed. Cleveland’s brand of baseball is old school, less reliant on power and more reliant on timely contact hitting, great defense, and running the bases well. They did not see much offensive success against Tampa Bay, a formula that will likely have to change if they want to topple the mighty Yankees – especially with either rotation starter Cal Quantrill or Aaron Civale on the bump in Game 1 in New York.
Philadelphia Phillies (87-75) at Atlanta Braves (101-61)
Game 1: Tuesday, 12:07pm CT
Game 2: Wednesday, 3:35pm CT
The reigning World Series Champion Atlanta Braves used a late sweep of the Mets and a blistering second half to unseat the Metropolitans from the NL East division crown, allowing them a bye into the NLDS while they awaited the winner of Philadelphia’s Wild Card Series with St. Louis. Atlanta is plenty familiar with their NLDS foes, a divisional rival they beat 11 of 19 times during the regular season. The Braves enter the Postseason with a rather complete looking roster, and it’s hard to argue with their success of late as they’ve now won five consecutive NL East titles. They boast a powerful young lineup and seem to be one of the hottest teams in the league at the right time of year once again. Their starting staff is anchored by ace Max Fried, who will take the mound in Game 1 against the Phillies. Fried had an excellent season, posting a 14-7 record with a 2.48 ERA – and he saw plenty of the Philadelphia Phillies along the way. Fried made four starts against Philadelphia, allowing seven runs over 23 innings for an ERA of 2.74. The rotation that follows Fried is strong as well, with Kyle Wright (3.19 ERA), NL Rookie of the Year candidate Spencer Strider (2.67 ERA), and veteran stalwart Charlie Morton (4.34 ERA) in the mix the rest of the way.
Philadelphia heads to Atlanta fresh off a two-game sweep of the Cardinals in St. Louis in which they rode clutch hitting and two stellar starting pitching performances to get the job done. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola likely won’t be available until Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia though, so they’ll need strong performances from Ranger Suarez (3.65 ERA) and possibly Kyle Gibson (5.05 ERA) if they want to avoid a 0-2 hole. Should Philadelphia manage to split the two road games at Truist Park, their confidence of an upset series win will likely soar as they head home. Likely Game 3 starter Zack Wheeler pitched well in three starts against Atlanta this season, allowing just six runs in 20 innings of work.
San Diego Padres (89-73) at Los Angeles Dodgers (111-51)
Game 1: Tuesday, 8:37pm CT
Game 2: Wednesday, 7:37pm CT
The Los Angeles Dodgers were a juggernaut of sorts in 2022, finishing second all-time in wins by a National League team and tying the fourth most wins in Major League Baseball history with 111. As such, they wrapped up their NL West division title over the Padres in early September and finished 22 games ahead of San Diego before all was said and done. Los Angeles absurdly led Major League Baseball in both ERA (2.80) and runs scored per game (5.23) this season and finished with a run differential (+344) more than 100 runs better than the second-place Yankees in that category. If they have a perceived weakness, it’s depth of starting pitching given the injuries they’ve sustained this season – Walker Buehler had Tommy John surgery and is unavailable, while Dustin May is unlikely to pitch in the NLDS after missing most of 2022 and being put back on the injured list on September 24. Still, though, a Dodgers’ weakness is a relative strength – their 2.75 starters’ ERA is best in baseball topping the second place Astros by 0.20 runs in that category. They’ll likely turn to lefties Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw in Games 1 and 2. Both pitchers have absolutely dominated the San Diego Padres this season. Los Angeles won all six of their series this season against San Diego, going 14-5 against the Friars overall. Julio Urias (17-7 record), the National League’s ERA champion at just 2.16, was especially dominant against San Diego this year posting a 3-0 record in the matchup while allowing just four runs in 24 innings of work (1.50 ERA). LA’s bullpen is a bit more of a mystery, with Craig Kimbrel losing his role as closer – and potentially his spot on the postseason roster – in September. Like the Dodgers’ starting pitching “problems”, though, things are measured on a bit different scale in Los Angeles. The Dodgers’ bullpen finished the season with a 2.87 ERA, trailing only Houston as the best in baseball in that category.
The San Diego Padres are tasked with unseating the “monster up north”, and will have to silence hordes of Dodgers fans at Petco Park in Games 3 and 4 to do so. San Diego hopes that their familiarity with the Dodgers provides an advantage despite the regular season results, and boast one of baseball’s most talented rosters after a trade deadline frenzy. Standout offensive weapons, Juan Soto and Trent Grisham both seemed to have heated up in the Padres’ Wild Card Series win over the New York Mets, and veteran Manny Machado has been a consistent force all season. San Diego knows Blake Snell is capable of success against LA’s lineup in a postseason setting after watching the 2020 World Series, and have seen hurlers Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove shut down LA at times in the past as well. They’ll like their chances better if they can get a strong Game 1 start from Mike Clevinger, who was pushed around for 14 earned runs in just 13 innings over his three starts in the matchup this year (9.70 ERA). Another potential advantage for San Diego may be the closer role, which they have much more clearly defined than Los Angeles knowing that All-Star Josh Hader awaits to protect potential leads.