October 21, 2022 [LINK / comment]

The inaugural wild card series: home field disadvantage

The brand-new MLB Wild Card Series were explicitly designed to give a big edge to the higher-seeded teams, with all three games being played in their stadiums. But the way things turned out, the opposite was true: three of the four home teams were eliminated, and in two of those cases the visitors clinched the series in just two games.

In Queens, New York, the Padres just stunned the Mets. As described earlier this month, the Padres hit four home runs off Max Scherzer in Game 1. The Mets managed bounce back with a win in Game 2, but then the Padres shut out the Mets in the deciding Game 3. Padres' starting pitcher Joe Musgrove threw seven innings of one-hit ball, and the Mets failed to get any hits in the final two innings. It was a stunning collapse, and the fans in Citi Field were miserable, especially since the Mets had held such a big lead in the NL East for most of the 2022 regular season.

In St. Louis, the Phillies likewise inflicted humiliation upon the Cardinals, who had shown steady improvement in the second half of the season and were expected by some to go deep into the postseason. But the Phillies' stunning six-run ninth-inning rally in Game 1 changed everything. Bryce Harper's second-inning home run and Kyle Schwarber's fifth inning RBI sac fly were all the runs the Phillies needed, and the fans in Busch Stadium exited quite glumly. It turned out to be a melancholy swan song for Albert Pujols and his long-time Cardinal team mate Yadier Molina.

In Toronto, the Mariners dealt harshly with the Blue Jays, who likewise had high hopes of advancing to the ALDS. Not this year. Toronto had an 8-1 lead after five innings, but then Seattle came storming back in the late innings, winning the game by a score of 10-9. And that was that: no need for a Game 3!

Progressive Field was rockin' as the Cleveland Guardians (formerly known as the Indians) hosted the Tampa Bay Rays. (Cleveland's last AL Central Division title was in 2018.) Both games were classic pitchers' duels, and it took 15 innings to resolve the deciding Game 2, on a walk-off homer by Oscar Gonzalez. I learned that, much like "Baby Shark" became a (rather childish) rallying icon for the Washington Nationals in 2019 thanks to Gerardo Parra, "Sponge Bob" has filled that role for the Cleveland Indians this fall thanks to Oscar Gonzalez.

For the record, I generally dislike expanding the postseason, though I'll admit that the new series does add more excitement. But how would you feel if you were a fan of the Dodgers (111-51), Braves (101-61), or Mets (101-61), and saw your team overtaken by teams with much lower regular season records? (Maybe you are such a fan.) I know I was a bit peeved that the Nationals were ousted by the second NL wild card team (the Cardinals) in the 2012 NLDS, the first year there was more than one wild card team in each league. Adding a third wild card team only adds to the confusion and frustration.

Divisional series: favored AL teams win, favored NL teams lose

In ALDS Game 1, the top-seeded Houston Astros were on the verge of being upset by the visiting Seattle Mariners, who had a 7-3 lead late in the game. (They scored six runs off the Astros' ace Justin Verlander!) The Astros narrowed the gap by two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, and then with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Yordan Alvarez crushed a three-run homer to right field to give the home team a 8-7 victory. That instantly changed the tenor of the entire series. The Mariners had a 2-1 lead for two innings in Game 2, but the Astros came back and won it, 4-2. Game 3 took place in Seattle two days later, and it was one for the record books: neither team scored at all until the top of the 18th inning, when Jeremy Peña hit a solo home run. Spirits in Seattle were crushed. That game was a lot like Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS (see October 6, 2014), when the Giants beat the Nationals 2-1 in 18 innings. Defeats like that are awfully hard to swallow.

In the other ALDS, the #2-seed Yankees took a 2-0 lead over the Guardians in the first inning of Game 2 thanks to a home run by Giancarlo Stanton, but they somehow failed to score at all after that. The Guardians tied it, and the game went into the tenth inning. That's when Oscar Gonzalez did it again, belting a two-run single that ended up deciding the outcome of that game. Back at home in Cleveland, the Guardians won Game 3 by a score of 6-5, but then the Yankees came back beat them in Game 4, and in Game 5 (which had been postponed a day due to rain) as well. That result seemed almost foreordained. Nevertheless, Cleveland outperformed expectations this year, and should do very well next year as well.

In the Los Angeles NLDS, the San Diego Padres managed to shock the top-seeded L.A. Dodgers in Game 2, evening the series. After the series shifted to San Diego, the Padres seemed to handle everything very calmly, and they beat the Dodgers twice to take the series -- against all odds! It was a vindication for the Padres' front office acquisition of Juan Soto and Josh Bell in early August in the trade with the Washington Nationals. Without that series win, the disappointing performances of Soto and Bell in the final two months of the regular season would have made that deal look very bad.

In Atlanta's Truist Park, the Philadelphia Phillies wasted no time: they hit four consecutive singles in the first inning, scoring two runs, and kept adding more runs after that. The Braves made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth, when Matt Olson hit a three-run homer to make it a 7-6 game, but the next two batters failed to reach base and the game ended. Game 2 was quite a pitchers' duel, but the Braves hit three consecutive singles in the sixth inning, scoring the only three runs of the game. Game 3 shifted to Philadelphia, and the Phillies blew away the Braves' rookie pitcher Spencer Strider with a six-run rally in the third inning, capped by a Bryce Harper home run. There were high hopes for Srider, who had just signed a six-year $75 million contract, but his lack of experience showed. The Phillies won that game, 9-1. In Game 4, Brandon Marsh hit a three-run homer in the second inning, giving the the Phillies a lead they would not relinquish. Braves pitcher Charlie Morton had been hit on the elbow by a leadoff single but kept pitching, which may have been a mistake. The Phillies kept adding on runs, and clinched a series victory with an 8-3 win over the defending World Series champions.

League championship series begin

The American League Championship Series got underway in Houston, and the visiting Yankees were at a disadvantage due to the lack of rest after ALDS Game 5 was postponed by a day due to rain. Nevertheless, the Yankees' new star Harrison Bader got his team on the board first with a home run in the second inning. But the Astros' Martin Maldonado did likewise in the bottom of that inning, and two more home runs in the sixth inning put the Astros ahead for good. On Thursday night, a three-run homer by Alex Bregman in the third inning was all the Astros needed to win the game. On Saturday the Yankees Will try to bounce back from a 2-0 series deficit. The oddsmakers probably say that either of those top-seeded AL teams is heavily favored to win the World Series, but the way things are going this year, you just don't know.

Having upset both the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves in the first two rounds, the surprise upstart Philadelphia Phillies kept up their momentum as the National League Championship Series got underway in San Diego's Petco Park on Tuesday. In Game 2, things looked terrible for the Padres when the Phillies staged a four-run rally in the top of the second inning, thanks to a series of fluke hits, including a double that right fielder Juan Soto lost in the sun. But the Padres bounced back with two runs in the bottom of that inning, and then scored five runs in the fifth inning. Against all odds, Blake Snell got the win. This evening the Phillies beat the Padres 4-2, as yet another first-inning leadoff home run by Kyle Schwarber gave the early momentum to the home team. The #4-seeded Padres have their work cut out for them if they want to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1998.

It happens that Philadelphia's pro football team -- the Eagles -- is also having great success this year, with a 6-0 record atop the NFL East Division. In today's Washington Post, Adam Kilgore discusses the City of Brotherly Love's unusual elevated mood. During the first two NLCS games in San Diego, fans in Philadelphia watched the game at the massive Xfinity Live sports bar, located near Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field. (Might those two adjacent venues host games on the same day this month or next?) The article points out that the Phillies had fired their manager Joe Girardi at the beginning of June, and few people back then thought that they could make it as far as they have this October.

Not having any strong preferences among this year's postseason teams, I've been rooting for the teams that include former Nationals players, of whom there are many in this postseason: Juan Soto and Josh Bell on the Padres, Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, and Brad Hand on the Phillies, and Max Scherzer on the Mets. The current Padres-Phillies NLCS therefore puts me in an awkward position! None of the postseason American League teams have any former Nats, but my lingering allegiance to the Yankees makes me partial in the showdown with the Astros. Another factor: the Yankees have not won an AL pennant since 2009, whereas the Astros have won three pennants during that time span: 2017, 2019, and 2021. Odd as this may sound, the Yankees are due for a pennant! smile

Ranking the postseason stadiums

Another way to choose teams for those of us who [were] "left behind" in the postseason is on the basis on their stadiums. So, I extracted the following list from the Stadium rankings page. (Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field is not listed because no 2022 postseason games were played there.)

Stadium Team The Clem Criteria: Years when I visited
(incl. games, tours, etc.)
PETCO Park San Diego Padres 7.2  
Progressive Field Cleveland Indians 7.0 1998, 2012
Busch Stadium III St. Louis Cardinals 6.6 2009, 2011, 2015
Citi Field New York Mets 6.4 2008 u.c., 2016
Citizens Bank Ballpark Philadelphia Phillies 6.4 2005, 2016
T-Mobile Park Seattle Mariners 6.4  
Minute Maid Park Houston Astros 6.2  
Truist Park Atlanta Braves 6.2 2021
Yankee Stadium II New York Yankees 5.6 2008 u.c.
Dodger Stadium Los Angeles Dodgers 5.4  
Rogers Centre Toronto Blue Jays 4.8 2015, 2022

NOTE: The names of teams that made it to the respective league championship series are underlined.