One of the many things that sets Major League Baseball apart from other professional sports is the sheer volume of games played. We all know this, of course, but we can still get hijacked by the moment. It could be argued we do it far too easily. Think about daily overreactions to individual games played in April. Or even just a series in May. Winning or losing streaks in June.
And though we've witnessed a good majority of the regular season here in 2022, we've only reached August, which means there's plenty of time for a team to get into a groove and ride it all the way to the World Series.
Heading to August last season, the eventual champion Braves were 52-54 and out of playoff position. The 2019 champion Nationals were 57-51 after July, held the second wild card and yet were also only a half-game away from being on the outside looking in. We could mention the 1978 Yankees, or go all the way back to the 1969 Mets. We could also talk about the 2014 Royals going on their run to a pennant or even the 1951 Giants.
This isn't to say we require an upstart. There will be 2018 Red Sox or 2016 Cubs or 1998 Yankees mixed in. In fact, the most likely scenario in 2022 says that the World Series champ comes from the elite foursome we've had most of the year -- Yankees, Mets, Dodgers or Astros. That list might even include both pennant winners.
If we are to see an upstart make a run, though, which teams would be most likely? Let's take a quick look at six that could fit the bill.
1. Mariners -- Now with a potential playoff rotation of Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert and, say, Marco Gonzales in front of a bullpen that can be dominant in stretches, they have the ingredients. Hell, we just saw them win 14 in a row. Things have to break right, so they'll need a fully healthy and functional Mitch Haniger (not to mention the now-injured Julio Rodríguez), but we're talking about a best-case scenario here.
2. Blue Jays -- Given their sky-high expectations entering the season, it seems odd to think this way, but Toronto was only three games over .500 just a few weeks ago and then the team's manager got fired. The Jays will claim a wild card spot, assuming they make the playoffs, so it would be a tall order to make a deep run. But they do have the offensive firepower, and the horses in the rotation to do so.
3. White Sox -- To date, this is the team that is most closely aligned with last year's Braves squad. They won the division last year and had expectations to do so again. They've dealt with injuries and under-performance. It feels like they should be much better, but they can't stay out of their own way. And yet, they are right within striking distance in a very weak division. It might seem far-fetched, but we didn't have much reason for optimism on the Braves last year at this time, other than past performance.
4. Phillies -- Now that Ranger Suárez appears to be settling in, the Phillies could get to October with three frontline-looking pitchers (Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler being the other two). Once Bryce Harper returns, they'll have a lineup with the ability to throw a huge number on the board without notice. I could totally envision a world where these Phillies win the title this year. I could also see them losing around a dozen in a row and missing the playoffs.
5. Cardinals -- They really need to shore up that rotation, but they have the prospect currency in order to do so. They have two superstars in their prime in Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, a group of young players who could all come together while rallying around a trio of franchise legends in their swan song. The weak division would be a big help.
6. Padres -- They were tied for first in late June, but have been pretty bad for roughly six weeks. Now the division is a pipe dream and they are barely holding onto a playoff position. They'll also get a superstar back from injury soon in Fernando Tatis, Jr., could end up landing Juan Soto and already have an MVP candidate in Manny Machado. They also have the arms in their rotation that -- if everyone is throwing to their 90th percentile or so upside -- could dominate in October.
Again, the best picks to win it all would be the foursome that has held the top four spots in the rankings nearly all season. After that, it would trickle down the Braves, Brewers and, I guess, the Twins. If we're looking past these teams for longer shots, however, picking a favorite from the above list of six is the starting point.
|They just went 21-5 in July.||--||100-62|
|It's difficult to make sense of them losing five of their last six to the A's, but they've also gone 2-0 against the Yankees and 6-1 against the Mariners since the break.||1||90-72|
|It would behoove the Mets to sweep the Nats in three games here to start the week, because the Braves visit for a five-game series after that.||1||75-87|
|They started the month with two wins and went 11-13 the rest of the way. They've been pretty well owned by the Astros head-to-head and were swept by the Mets in a two-game series. Everyone is entitled to a lull. I'm just explaining the drop.||2||82-80|
|They won Sunday, 1-0, on an Austin Riley walk-off double. In the month of July, Riley went 44 for 104 (.423) with 14 doubles, 11 homers, 25 RBI and 21 runs in 26 games.||--||104-58|
|José Berríos is back on track. He's 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his last six starts. He's struck out 43 with seven walks in 36 innings in that time. Matt Chapman is on fire at the plate, too. Lots of reason for cautious optimism here.||2||89-73|
|Brandon Woodruff is 4-0 with a 2.06 ERA in his last six starts since returning from injury. Freddy Peralta returns from injury this week. Many of us discussed the Brewers heading into the season with three aces, but they haven't had all three at their best at the same time, yet. And they have a three-game lead.||6||92-70|
|They haven't lost to anyone other than the Astros since July 1. Even though it must be demoralizing for Mariners fans, getting owned by these Astros is no crime.||1||88-74|
|They only play five games in August against teams currently above .500. Time to erase the bitter memories of the 2021 collapse.||1||82-80|
|They've now lost seven of their last nine and the injured list keeps growing. It's a troubling stretch, for sure, but these Rays usually rebound.||4||99-63|
|A big part of the equation where they are rolling come October would be Nick Castellanos becoming the hitter he was last year. In his last seven games, he's 12 for 30 (.400) with a pair of doubles.||4||90-72|
|The only way getting outbid for Frankie Montas would be acceptable is if they got Juan Soto. They need rotation help in the worst way and they should be going all out this year.||1||71-91|
|The Twins started 27-16. Since then, they've gone 26-32. And now they'll have to deal with the Guardians and White Sox the rest of the way.||1||87-75|
|To piggyback on the discussion in the intro regarding the sheer volume of games in a baseball season and how that means we could be treated to extremes, I present the 2022 Red Sox: 20-6 in June; 8-19 in July. That's tough to do.||5||78-84|
|It'll be difficult to find a moment that contains as many emotions as Trey Mancini hitting an inside-the-park home run off a dude's face on Mo Gaba day.||1||101-61|
|You know what might matter down the stretch? The Guardians have played 13 more road games than home so far. They close with 17 of their last 23 at home, including a six-game series against the Royals to end the season.||2||76-86|
|Eloy Jiménez is capable of being a major difference-maker here. He was only hitting .236 with four homers, four walks and 25 strikeouts in 89 at-bats before Sunday. He homered Sunday. Actually, he now has a six-game hitting streak during which time he's 8 for 22 with three home runs. Maybe it's the start of him getting hot. He has enough power to carry an offense.||--||61-101|
|Nothing like a seven-game losing streak out of the break to hammer home the all-too-apparent point that this is not the same team as 2021. I can just see Giants fans standing around screaming, "OK, we get it!" while tapping out.||6||79-83|
|The Rangers are 2-11 against the Mariners and exactly .500 (44-44) against everyone else.||2||90-72|
|Perhaps under the radar, but righty Merrill Kelly was 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA and 0.77 WHIP in his six July starts.||2||84-78|
|Really tough blow with Max Meyer needing Tommy John surgery. They've actually had pretty rough luck, overall, with such a talented stable of young arms. Trevor Rogers, Edward Cabrera, Jesús Luzardo, Meyer and now a rough patch with Pablo López.||1||84-78|
|The Rockies are not contenders. Closer Daniel Bard is 37 years old and having easily his best season since 2010. Relievers are volatile by trade anyway. It seems like a no-brainer to trade him, right? Not if you're the Rockies, the most galaxy-brained organization in sports. They extended him.||3||59-103|
|They've been mediocre for most of the season, but it's impossible to climb back from 3-22. Expect them to keep offloading players here in the next two days.||2||82-80|
|Seiya Suzuki was ridiculous to start the year, then hit really rough times as the league made adjustments. Since returning from injury on July 4, though, he's 24 for 83 (.289) with three doubles and four home runs.||4||83-79|
|You might remember Reid Detmers from "Rookie throws a no-hitter in May." A bit later, some struggles got him demoted back to the minors. Since coming back, however, he had a 1.13 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 24 innings in four starts. It's a nice sign for the future of this currently woeful franchise.||1||73-89|
|Javier Báez homered on Sunday, giving him 10 on the season. The Tigers finally have two players in double digits in home runs, both have exactly 10 and neither was there until July 26. There are four teams so far this season with *seven* players in double digits in home runs. Twelve teams have at least five players there. Twenty-five have at least three. Embarrassing, Tigers.||--||78-84|
|Competent baseball? How? Why? In this economy?!?!? I demand answers. Of course, they've now lost two in a row after inexplicably winning seven of eight. Maybe things are getting back on track.||2||50-112|
|Before Sunday, the Royals were 1-55 when trailing after eight innings this season. Hail Salvy!||1||56-106|
|They've now lost 12 of 14.||6||76-86|
|The 6-19 July was the second-worst in franchise history (they were 5-19 in July of 2008, the year they were bad enough to earn the Stephen Strasburg draft pick).||--||71-91|