MLB Playoffs: AL Wild Card Preview and Predictions

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The long, grueling MLB season comes to a close today. Although some teams still need to play their 162nd game, the playoff field has already been set. In the new MLB playoff format, there are three Wild Card teams in each league and they play a three-game series. In the American League, the 3-seeded Cleveland Guardians host the 6-seeded Tampa Bay Rays for a chance to play the Yankees, and the 4-seeded Toronto Blue Jays host the 5-seeded Seattle Mariners for a chance to play the Houston Astros.

Tampa Bay at Cleveland

The Tampa Bay Rays have made the playoffs for the fourth year in a row despite looking much different each year. This iteration of the roster features Cy Young candidate Shane McClanahan and the American League’s 2nd best rotation (by ERA). Despite Nick Anderson missing the entire season, their bullpen ranks fourth in the American League in ERA and leads all of baseball in innings pitched with 679.1.

Offensively, the Rays are hit-or-miss. While they aren’t the most consistent and don’t have any superstar bats, Yandy Diaz, Randy Arozarena, Isaac Parades, and Wander Franco have all had great years at the dish. Overall, they rank 14th in Major League Baseball in wRC+ and 15th in hitter fWAR.

The Guardians may be the biggest surprise of the season. They were projected to win just 76 games by PECOTA and their Vegas over/under was set at 76.5. They were +350 to make the playoffs and were +1000 to win the AL Central. They ended up winning the division by 11 games and going 92-70 on the year.

Their rotation is one of the best in baseball, led by Shane Bieber, who posted a 2.88 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 2.98 xFIP, and 3.21 SIERA while throwing 200.0 innings. Behind him, Triston McKenzie threw 191.1 innings of 2.96 ERA baseball and Cal Quantrill threw 18.1 innings to the tune of a 3.38 ERA. Although they don’t strike out a ton of hitters as a staff, they give up a ton of soft contact and work very efficiently.

On offense, the Guardians are a traditional fan’s dream. They almost never strike out, they slap the ball around and hit for a high average. Perhaps the poster child for their offensive playstyle is their leadoff hitter and rookie outfielder Steven Kwan. He slashed .298/.373/.400 on the year while walking (9.7%) more than he struck out (9.4%). Following him at the top of the lineup is Jose Ramirez, who had a relative down year but still put up a 137 wRC+ and 5.9 fWAR.

Probable Pitchers

Game 1: Shane McClanahan vs Shane Bieber
Game 2: Tyler Glasnow vs Triston McKenzie
Game 3: Drew Rasmussen vs Cal Quantrill

Prediction: Cleveland Guardians in 3

The Rays’ offense will have a tough time keeping up with Cleveland’s elite pitching staff. Shane McClanahan and Shane Bieber should put up a solid pitcher’s duel in game one, but McKenzie and Quantrill give the Guardians a sizeable advantage in games two and three. While neither team has a great offense, Cleveland’s star power with Ramirez, Kwan, and Andres Gimenez is more than the Rays have to offer.

Seattle at Toronto

Two of the league’s most fun, young teams will face off in a three-game set in Toronto for a chance to play the Houston Astros in the ALDS. The Mariners ended their playoff drought, which dated back to 2001, on a Cal Raleigh walk-off home run just last week. The Blue Jays finished just one game out of a playoff spot last year but went 92-70 in 2022.

Both teams have top-heavy rotations that will lead to some great matchups in this series. The Mariners dealt away many of their top prospects for Reds’ ace Luis Castillo at the deadline, and he has been great ever since getting to Seattle. Behind Castillo, the Mariners have options for games two and three. Logan Gilbert and George Kirby are two young starters who had incredible years in 2022, while Robbie Ray won the 2021 AL Cy Young and brings a lot more experience to the table.

The Blue Jays announced that second-year starter Alek Manoah will get the ball in Game 1, which allows for the Blue Jays to line up Kevin Gausman and Ross Stripling behind him. Manoah made his first all-star appearance while putting up a 2.24 ERA in 196.2 innings, while Kevin Gausman had the 2nd most fWAR among AL pitchers.

The Mariners and Blue Jays both have great offenses as well, ranking 4th and 1st in the American League, respectively. The Mariners will be without Jesse Winker, however, who was just placed on the IL with a neck issue. Julio Rodriguez, the presumed AL Rookie of the Year and the Mariners’ best hitter, was activated from the IL this week and will be ready to go for the postseason.

The Blue Jays offense, led by young stars Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, and Bo Bichette, trailed only the Los Angeles Dodgers in team wRC+ this year. They are an absolute juggernaut and have dangerous hitters all the way down their lineup.

Probable Pitchers

Game 1: Luis Castillo vs Alek Manoah
Game 2: Logan Gilbert vs Kevin Gausman
Game 3: Robbie Ray vs Ross Stripling

Prediction: Seattle Mariners in 3

Getting past Gausman and Manoah will be tough, but Castillo and Gilbert match up pretty well. Behind them, the Mariners have the deepest bullpen in the Major Leagues and won’t hesitate to use their top arms. Neither of these teams have a ton of playoff experience but George Springer is one of the most decorated playoff stars of this generation. Despite that, the Mariners will win a close, hard-fought series between two teams with the brightest futures in the American League.

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James Valentinas is a 17-year-old Cubs, Knicks, and Bears fan who loves to write about his favorite teams.