Five-and-a-half weeks of the 2022 Major League Baseball season remain. Fortunately, there's plenty of jockeying to be done for the 12 playoff spots. There are 15 teams remaining that look like playoff contenders, and we can stretch things to include two more if we wanted to squint the way George Costanza does when he's spotting dimes.
Who would win it all, though? Let's break things down into World Series tiers, from the obvious to the teams hoping for a pot of gold.
The Other Powerhouses
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Underestimate at your peril
Cardinals - The Cards are a step below the "powerhouse" group above in terms of record and run differential. If they were sitting in the opposite dugout of a powerhouse in a playoff series right now, however, it would be a hard-fought series without a true favorite. They have a pair of MVP candidates (Hall of Fame types, actually) atop a well-rounded roster of position players. Thanks to the trade deadline acquisitions, the rotation has rounded into shape and the bullpen is anchored by a beast of a fireman in Ryan Helsley. The Cardinals are not one of the top four bets to win the title, but they are the strongest bet beyond those four.
Rays - If I tried to go and lay this out on paper, it wouldn't really work. The Rays are dangerous because they are the Rays. This is one of those "if you know, you know" things. It isn't unreasonable to believe Shane McClanahan, Corey Kluber and Drew Rasmussen form a lethal top three in the playoff rotation while the Rays' bullpen shuts everyone down and Playoff Randy Arozarena carries the offense.
Yankees - I initially had no idea where to put the Bronx Bombers. I thought about putting them in a category on their own with a shrug emoji or maybe "The Sleeping Giant." Even with the five-game winning streak last week, it's hard to have confidence in the team we've witnessed them become for the last seven weeks. After all, they looked totally inept with two straight losses to the hapless A's after said winning streak. They were also historically good before these last seven weeks and it's mostly the same personnel. That's why it would be folly to gloss over them. There's still plenty of time to get everything in order, so they are a fit here. You can't underestimate them (of course, now I'm picturing them as Michael Scott saying, "yeah, well maybe next time you will estimate me").
The 'Just Get Hot' Zone
Teams can overcome flaws and serious consistency issues to win the title. We've seen it before. You could argue last season's Braves, the 2019 Nationals or go back to the 2014 Giants. The principle is to just get as many players as possible playing well at the right time and ride the wave to postseason success, even against more talented and accomplished opponents.
Each of these teams, if you look at them with rose-colored glasses, presents a compelling case.
Phillies - A pair of aces (if Zack Wheeler can return healthy) atop a good-to-great playoff rotation along with a powerful lineup capable of being scary. That's enticing. There's big upside here and this is probably my favorite pick of the group.
Blue Jays - If the offense found consistency and they got the best versions of Jose Berrios and Ross Stripling as their 3-4 starters behind the two aces, there's absolutely World Series champion talent here. They were my preseason prediction to win it all and while that's lost a ton of steam, the possibility remains.
Mariners - In Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray, they have a pair of playoff aces. The best versions of two from George Kirby, Logan Gilbert and Marco Gonzales give them a solid playoff rotation in front of a lock-down, late-inning bullpen. The offense has the pieces to be powerful enough in stretches.
Padres - They feature a pair of MVP-caliber position players and an offense that could be loaded when everyone is going. Could they get the best versions of Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Mike Clevinger in the rotation? Can they get vintage Josh Hader? The pieces are here for a run.
Guardians - I never count Terry Francona out. The Guardians' good gap power and team speed could play well in October. They also have some ace-caliber arms and a lockdown closer. It could happen.
The Miracle Zone
One of the things that was great about the 2021 playoffs is that heading in, there was legitimate talk that any of the 10 teams could realistically win it. Sure enough, the team with the lowest win total took the crown. The field is expanding by two teams this season, but there's also a fall off in contenders down to a tier where I just can't see certain teams staying hot for an entire month the way the 2021 Braves did.
And though I'm opening myself up to possibly being owned on the internet, should one of these teams prove my wrong, I'm setting a zero percent chance any of these teams win the 2022 World Series.
Now, since I could be wrong, we'll acknowledge the possibility that one of these teams does the things noted in the "Just Get Hot" Zone. It would just take a series of miracles. For some of them -- cough, RED SOX AND GIANTS, cough -- it would have to start right away.
|Trayce Thompson has been discarded by the Yankees, A's, White Sox, Guardians, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Padres and Tigers since the start of the 2018 season. He's now hitting .297/.384/.563 with 11 doubles, a triple and six homers in 146 plate appearances since the Dodgers acquired him back in late June. This team is a machine.||--||111-51|
|They have so much starting pitching that they traded Jake Odorizzi, Cristian Javier is now working out of the bullpen and they might not even try all that hard to retain Justin Verlander after the season. Amazing infrastructure.||1||106-56|
|Possible NLCS preview? The Mets host the Dodgers for a three-game series starting on Tuesday. Should be lots of fun.||1||101-61|
|The Braves are playing at a pace that would see them end the season with 100 wins. They haven't done that since 2003. This means we could see them follow an 88-win team that won the World Series with the best regular-season team in nearly two decades, yet still finish in second place.||--||101-61|
|The five-game winning streak might've eased some minds and blood pressure, but then the Yankees followed that up by getting just one hit in 11 innings against the A's on Saturday and then only scoring one run in another loss Sunday. They are far from fixed.||--||99-63|
|We'll have more on the matter this coming week, but take note of the run Paul Goldschmidt is making at the triple crown. Remember, in 2012 Miguel Cabrera won the first one since Carl Yastrzemski did so in 1967. Those were both AL winners, though. In fact, the last six Triple Crown winners were on the AL side. To find the last NL Triple Crown, you have to go to 1937 and Hall of Famer Joe "Ducky" Medwick.||--||93-69|
|Sunday was a bummer, but still, the Phillies have Bryce Harper back and won six of seven last week. They've only lost two series this month after closing July with five straight wins and those two series losses were the to the Mets. They don't have to play the Mets again this regular season.||--||87-75|
|Here they come again. They've now won 12 of 16.||2||86-76|
|I absolutely love the Julio Rodríguez contract for all parties involved. He's the face of Seattle sports for a long time and will prove worthy of the distinction.||--||90-72|
|The Jays had won seven of eight and I'm sure it was all very exciting. Then they got swept by the Angels, at home, and were outscored 22-3 in the three-game series.||2||92-70|
|I mentioned "ace-caliber arms" above and while Shane Bieber is obvious, have you noticed Triston McKenzie's last 10 starts? 2.14 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 69 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings.||--||92-70|
|Christian Yelich went 7 for 10 with two home runs in the Brewers' last two games, both wins. Now in his last 11 games, he's hitting .383. Him morphing back into MVP Yelich would be one of those miracles I mentioned above.||1||86-76|
|Look, breaking up statistical occurrences into months is really only for convenience and it's pretty arbitrary. Anyone smart knows this. Otherwise "month of May" stats don't mean anything different at all than, say, April 15-May 15. Still, a lens through which we can view the progress these Orioles have made can be done using their monthly records. They had a winning month in Aug. of 2017 (17-12). They had zero in 2018, zero in 2019 (the 2-1 March doesn't count, as it is lumped in with April), zero in 2020 and zero in 2021. They finally broke their drought in June this season, going 14-12. They then went 16-9 in July. They are 16-8 in August. That is: Three straight winning months after none since August of 2017. Wow.||1||83-79|
|They continue to uninspire. Sunday, Manny Machado and Juan Soto combined for three homers, five runs and six RBI and the Padres were still blown out by the Royals.||2||89-73|
|After six straight losses, the Twins swept the Giants in three games, so maybe that's the start of a hot streak? Something to watch: Carlos Correa went 8 for 12 with a double, homer and four RBI in that series.||1||78-84|
|At some point, this is just who they are. It's a mediocre baseball team. They've been trying to tell us all season and I guess it took me about 125 games to finally listen.||1||81-81|
|I was probably being way too generous in including them in the World Series tiers above. Consider it their participation trophy for the season as faux-contenders.||--||78-84|
|See the Red Sox comment. Now basically apply it here. This is the NL version.||--||81-81|
|Christian Walker has 30 home runs with over a month to go. The franchise record (Luis Gonzalez with 53 in 2001) isn't touchable, but there's only one other 40-homer season (Mark Reynolds, 44, 2009) in franchise history. There have only been six seasons with at least 36, so Walker is moving toward rarefied Arizona air.||1||74-88|
|The Rangers lead all of baseball with 27 one-run losses. It's so extreme that they trailed 9-0 at one point Sunday, but then staged a major rally and nearly pulled off the comeback. Instead, they fell short. One run short, of course. Amazing.||1||68-94|
|Something to watch as the Cubs look to aggressively move back toward contention: First baseman Matt Mervis was an undrafted signee by the Cubs in 2020 (remember the shortened draft) out of Duke. He started this season in High-A, but he's been promoted all the way up to Triple-A. In 111 total games this season, he has 36 doubles, 27 homers and 100 RBI. If he's the first baseman of the future, they don't need to invest free-agent dollars there.||--||74-88|
|They had lost nine of 10 and then went into Toronto and thoroughly dominated a likely playoff team for three games. Baseball!||--||73-89|
|Jesús Luzardo has made five starts in August, pitching to a 2.67 ERA and 0.86 WHIP with 28 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. Nice to see. Remember, he's a former top-10 overall prospect. And he's only 24 years old.||2||69-93|
|The win Sunday snapped a seven-game road losing streak. Fret not, Official Power Rankings fans, though, because the Rockies still have the worst road record in baseball at 19-42.||1||68-94|
|Jose Barrero has now played in 68 career MLB games. It's divided up over three season and one of them was as a 22-year-old in 2020. Still, he has struck out 84 times in 198 at-bats against just six walks. He's 13 for 81 (.160) this season. It's still a relatively small sample and he's still only 24, but it's concerning.||1||62-100|
|The Royals have made 19 outs at home plate this season. It's tied for the major-league lead with the team ranked 30th. It seems like being bad at getting on base and getting thrown out at home plate is a less-than-desirable combination.||--||65-97|
|Thanks to the Yankees forgetting now to hit a baseball, the A's have won two in a row at home. They are now 22-43 at home and no longer on pace for one of the worst home seasons we've ever seen. Depressing stuff.||--||60-102|
|Riley Greene has a modest seven-game hitting streak, but he's had multiple hits in six of those games. He's 14 for 30 (.468) with two doubles, a triple and two home runs in there. It's pretty nice to see as we approach the end of his rookie year.||--||66-96|
|Good stuff, again, on Sunday from rookie hurler Roansy Contreras. He's only 22 and has thrown 102 1/3 innings between Triple-A and the majors this season, which means he could be progressing toward a full-time rotation role next season. Let's hope that's the case.||--||62-100|
|The last 20-game loser was Mike Maroth in 2003. Before that, you'd have to go back to 1980 (Brian Kingman). The last time it happened with this franchise was Steve Rogers with 22 losses for the 1974 Montreal Expos. Right now, Patrick Corbin is 5-17.||--||55-107|