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MLB Wild Card Games Live Up to Their Name

Nick Saylor, Staff Writer

Seattle celebrates taking the lead late in Saturday's game. Photo//AP

As the first round of the 2022 MLB Playoffs concluded, there was no shortage of action. A seven-run comeback, a 15-inning game, and one of the highest grossing teams in the sport getting knocked out. It was crazy to watch, and it is going to be even crazier to see what is to come.


A quick rundown of the playoff format change this year in MLB. As the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) came to a close last winter, a new one was written up and made official by the league. When the pen hit the paper, new changes included a universal designated hitter in both leagues and a new playoff system. In 2023, pitch clocks will be instituted, along with larger bases, a ban on defensive shifts, and an automated strike/ball system.


Originally, MLB had five teams from each league make the playoffs. These were the three division winners, and two wild card teams that competed in a one-game series to determine who advanced to the Division Series to play the highest seed in that league.


The difference this year is that six teams will make the playoffs from each league: three division winners along with three wild card teams who will compete in an extra round added before the Division Series. The ALDS/NLDS will have two teams automatically get a bye and await the winners of the Wild Card round.


The new playoff format was a great hit in its debut.


AMERICAN LEAGUE


#6 Tampa Bay Rays vs. #3 Cleveland Guardians


First, we start in Cleveland where the #6 Tampa Bay Rays (86-76) took on the #3 Cleveland Guardians (92-70). The Rays got knocked around this year by division rivals Toronto and New York, but still mustered up a playoff caliber season. With injuries to key players such as Wander Franco and Tyler Glasnow, the Rays persevered and finished 3rd in the AL East to pick up the six seed.


As for Cleveland, they had a year nobody would think they would have. After trading Francisco Lindor two offseasons ago, the times in Cleveland were looking gloomy. With the acquisitions of Andres Gimenez and Ahmed Rosario, along with mainstay slugger Jose Ramirez, the Guardians found a way to make it work this season. With great pitching and a great manager in Terry Francona, Cleveland was hungry to make a run.


Game 1 was a duel. Aces collided as Shane Bieber threw for Cleveland and Shane McClannahan threw for Tampa Bay. Both pitchers went 7+ innings for their squads and combined for 13 strikeouts.


In the 6th inning, the Rays took the lead with a Jose Siri solo home run before Ramirez punched right back with a two-run home run to take the lead for Cleveland. That is all Cleveland needed as Emmanuel Clase shut the door in the 9th to give his team a 1-0 series lead.


Game 2 was one for the ages. No runs were scored in the first 14 innings. Yes, that is not a typo - 14 innings of scoreless baseball. After both teams used eight pitchers and combined for 39 strikeouts, Oscar Gonzalez had enough of it. As Gonzalez made his walk to home plate in the bottom of the 15th, his walkup song of “SpongeBob SquarePants” filled the stadium. Gonzalez then launched a ball over the left center field wall to move the Guardians on to the ALDS to play the Yankees. This game will go down as one of the most iconic playoff games in sports history.


#5 Seattle Mariners vs. #4 Toronto Blue Jays


Now, let's head across the border to Toronto, Canada, where the #4 Toronto Blue Jays (92-70) took on the #5 Seattle Mariners (90-72). Toronto had a great year. Playing in the dogfight of the AL East was not easy at all as the division shifted around non-stop. When all the dust settled, Toronto secured the first wild card position. Their roster consisted of great hitters in Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette along with top arms in Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman. Toronto stayed hungry, looking to beat out multiple division foes in the playoff run.


Now for the Seattle Mariners, WHAT A SEASON. Longest playoff drought streak was snapped, and Seattle will be heading back to the playoffs. With manager Scott Servais keeping everyone in line, the Mariners displayed great chemistry and looked to come together and have a playoff run to remember.

Game 1 was all Mariners from the jump. Cal Raleigh wasted no time with a three-run home run in the first and the loud Toronto crowd was quieted early.


Mariners pitcher Luis Castillo then settled in. The mid-season acquisition would turn in 7+ innings with five strikeouts. Eugenio Suarez added on another run in the fifth with a RBI double. Seattle stayed steady and shocked the Canadian crowd with a 4-0 win to go up 1-0 in the series.


Game 2, where do I even start? The Cleveland-Tampa game was crazy, but this was something else. Let me paint a picture for you. Robbie Ray is walking off of the mound after three innings as Teoscar Hernandez hit his second HR of the game. As Hernandez is taking a curtain call, the Rogers Centre is jumping.


There is no chance Toronto loses this one, right? Think again. As the game headed into the 6th inning, the score was 7-1 in favor of Toronto. A few walks and a few hits by Seattle mustered up a four-spot in the sixth to put the Toronto crowd on standstill for the time being.


A four-run eighth would put the Mariners back into the game. In the ninth inning, the Mariners second baseman Adam Frazier hit a ball into right field, giving Seattle a 10-9 lead. Momentum completely shifted in a stunned Rogers Centre. Seattle rookie George Kirby shut the Jays down in the 9th to give Seattle the largest comeback win in playoff history. The whole country is behind them now as the Mariners will head to Houston to take on the Astros in the ALDS.


The matchups are set for the ALDS:


#5 Seattle Mariners @ #1 Houston Astros

#3 Cleveland Guardians @ #2 New York Yankees


NATIONAL LEAGUE


#6 Philadelphia Phillies vs. #3 St. Louis Cardinals


Let's start in St. Louis where the #6 Philadelphia Phillies (87-75) and the #3 St. Louis Cardinals (93-69) squared off. Philadelphia had the right mojo working under interim manager Rob Thompson, who recently was removed of that title as a two-year deal with the club was inked. Philly had great chemistry along with hot bats and were looking to stand out this postseason.


The sentiment was the same with the Cardinals as they were hoping to end Yadier Molina’s and Albert Pujols’s last rides with St. Louis on high notes. With corner sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, St. Louis was expected to be a contender late into October.


Game 1 was all Cardinals as Juan Yepez’s two-run home run was the strength of the Cardinals. This was up until the 9th inning where closer Ryan Helsley ran into command issues and let up the lead. After Helsley had to exit because of a hand injury, St. Louis tried to put out the fire and was unsuccessful. Philly would score six runs that inning and go on to take Game 1 by a score of 6-2. Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler turned in another quality start.


Game 2 was tight as the final score was just 2-0. Bryce Harper went yard in the first inning and that was all that the Phillies needed. As pitcher Aaron Nola turned in 6.2 innings of great pitching, Philadelphia ruined the possible historic yet magical playoff run for Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols. Both Hall of Famers did record a hit in their last at-bat, but their careers ended unceremoniously in the Wild Card Round. For Philadelphia, they will get ready to tangle with divisional rival Atlanta in the NLDS.


#5 San Diego Padres vs. #4 New York Mets


Finally, wrapping up the Wild Card weekend was the battle of the #5 San Diego Padres (89-73) and the #4 New York Mets (101-61). The Padres lost a huge asset with Fernando Tatis Jr. being suspended for PEDs. They still had a strong core around their great pitching staff, featuring sluggers Manny Machado and midseason acquisition Juan Soto. San Diego was a sleeper team heading into the postseason.


As for the Mets, everyone is waiting, still waiting, and will always be waiting for the Mets to live up to their billion dollar expectation. With a payroll skyrocketing to the top of the league and two Hall of Fame pitchers on staff, the Mets were going to be really competitive. They were the most hungry team in all of the playoffs and so were their fans.


Game 1 was typical for the Mets playoff history landscape. Ace Max Scherzer, who is a first ballot Hall of Famer, got roughed up letting in seven runs in 4.2 innings of work and was booed off the mound. San Diego cruised along to a 7-1 victory as ace Yu Darvish was immaculate, going seven innings and only letting up one run.


Game 2 was better for the Mets. Jacob deGrom, another first ballot Hall of Famer, got the Mets back on track with a great start. He went six innings, giving up two runs. A Francsico Lindor home run and timely hitting would give the Mets a 7-3 win, forcing the only Game 3 of the Wild Card weekend.


Game 3 was all San Diego. Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove was immaculate in his outing, only letting up one hit over seven innings. Mets manager Buck Showalter indicated to the umpires to check Musgrove for “sticky stuff” on his hands to improve his velocity and spin rate, which appeared higher than usual that night.


Musgrove was checked for substances on his body by umpires in Sunday’ s game. Photo//Frank Franklin II/AP

New York ended up losing 6-0 and was sent home again earlier than expected. The Mets, however, will likely still be a contender in the years to come.


The Division Series is set in the National League:


#6 Philadelphia Phillies @ #2 Atlanta Braves

#5 San Diego Padres @ #1 Los Angeles Dodgers

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