Happy Friday, everyone! The 2022 MLB postseason is finally here and it's more exciting than ever now that we have more teams (12) than in years gone by in accordance with the playoff expansion baked into the new collective bargaining agreement. Eight teams will be competing in a best-of-three series that will all take place this weekend. The games start tonight and run through Sunday which gives us the opportunity to have what could be the greatest Sunday in sports -- NFL Week 5 (starting early with a London game) and potentially up to four elimination Major League Baseball playoff games. Doesn't get much better than that!
So let's set the stage a little bit. The top two seeds in each league (Dodgers, Braves, Astros and Yankees) earned a first-round bye. The teams competing in the Wild Card (and their matchups) look like this: Guardians-Rays, Blue Jays-Mariners, Cardinals-Phillies and Mets-Padres. Once the Wild Card Series have been determined, we'll get a best-of-five Division Series, best-of-five Championship series and a best-of-seven World Series.
Below, we'll dive into our thoughts on each Wild Card Series and also feature Scott White's latest early rankings for the following positions: Catcher, First Base, Second Base. We'll also look into some of the awards and superlatives Scott gave out for player performances during the 2022 season.
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The 101-win Mets find themselves stuck in a Wild Card Series against a Padres team many expected to have World Series aspirations prior to the season, but that's just how the cookie crumbles. The good news for the Mets is that outfielder Starling Marte made the Wild Card roster -- that has kept him out since Sept. 6. Marte was an All-Star this season with a .292 batting average, 16 homers and 18 stolen bases in 118 games before the injury.
Max Scherzer will start Game 1 for the Mets tonight and the Padres will send out Yu Darvish against him. This should be an excellent pitcher's duel to kick off the series. The Padres have already named Blake Snell as their Game 2 starter, but the Mets -- perhaps strategically -- have yet to name their starter. Mets manager Buck Showalter said that his plans for Saturday's Game 2 could be influenced by the results of Game 1, according to MLB.com's Anthony DiComo.
For a while there, it looked like the Phillies were going to choke a big lead for that last Wild Card spot and hand it over to the Brewers, but they prevailed and now enter this Wild Card Series with a clear pitching strength heading into their first playoff series since 2011. Zach Wheeler gets the Game 1 start against Jose Quintana in a game that is slated to begin at 2:07 p.m. ET. Wheeler has won four of his past six decisions.
However, the Cardinals have won two of the last three games against the Phillies and may have the X factor in Nolan Arenado. In six games vs. Philadelphia this season, Arenado hit .455 with three homers, five total extra base hits and six RBI.
The Mariners are the feel-good story of the postseason after breaking the longest playoff drought in baseball to get in. They also have the likely Rookie of the Year and one of the most exciting players in baseball in Julio Rodriguez. First pitch is at 4:07 p.m. ET in Toronto and the Blue Jays enter this game as -135 favorites with Alek Manoah (16-7, 2.24 ERA) on the mound against Luis Castillo (8-6, 2.99 ERA) for Game 1.
Another postseason for the Rays and they'll kick things off by sending their ace Shane McClanahan (a Fantasy Baseball Today favorite for me and Frank Stampfl) against the Guardians' ace Shane Bieber. Both pitchers threw to a sub-3.00 ERA this season and McClanahan made a push for the Cy Young, so this should be a pitcher's duel.
Scott's 2022 Fantasy Baseball Awards
You can find all of Scott's 2022 superlatives and awards, but we're going to highlight a few of our favorites.
Most improved hitter: Nate Lowe, 1B, Rangers: "A .264-hitting, 18-homer first baseman, as Lowe was in 2021, probably doesn't have a future as an everyday player, but what a difference a year makes. From June 1 on, he hit .317 with 24 homers and a .914 OPS."
Most improved pitcher: Kyle Wright, SP, Braves: "He was on nobody's draft board at the start of the year and ultimately became the majors' only 20-game winner, finally capitalizing on his latent prospect potential at age 26."
Biggest collapse: Pablo Lopez, SP, Marlins: "Lopez was single-handedly responsible for so many teams' reversal of fortune in the pitching categories. He had a 1.05 ERA through his first seven starts compared to a 4.60 ERA the rest of the way. A strong four-start stretch to end the season wasn't enough to redeem him."
Fakest fakeout award: Taylor Ward, OF, Angels: "Ward hit .370 with a 1.194 OPS in his first 30 games and .205 with a .601 OPS over his next 69. Should have known better, shouldn't we? Well, then he hit .353 with a .976 OPS over his final 36 games, so who's the smart guy now?"
Biggest overacheiver: Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays: "This year marked the second straight in which Arozarena outperformed his xBA by at least 30 points and his xSLG by at least 70, which probably means we can ignore them in his case."
Scott laid out a dozen or so more awards -- and a lot of really fun ones -- so be sure to check it out.
Early 2023 C rankings
It's never too early for Mr. White to hit the lab and get cranking on his 2023 season prep, and that's already underway over at CBSSports.com/Fantasy. His early catcher rankings feature a top-20 overall with blurbs on every player -- you can find that. These two rankings stood out most as we head into the offseason:
No. 4: Adley Rutschman, Orioles: "It took him a couple months to get acclimated, but once the rookie began walking like he did in the minors (say, July 1 on), he was about an .850 OPS guy, which would be good enough to lead the position most years. The power only figures to improve, and the Orioles have already shown a willingness to DH him on his "off" days."
No. 6: Alejandro Kirk, Blue Jays: "Kirk's best trait is that he seldom strikes out, which counts for more in points leagues, and if the Blue Jays' catcher surplus didn't compromise his playing time so he might challenge for the top spot in that format. He's not all batting average, though. His exit velocities suggest even more power could be in store."
Early 2023 1B rankings
You can find Scott's top-20 first basemen for 2023 and a blurb on each.
Scott has Jose Abreu all the way up at No. 7 overall and he could provide a nice value in drafts this spring after his 2022 performance went overlooked: "Even though he hit about half as many homers, Abreu actually had a better xSLG in 2022 than in 2021, according to Statcast. It's tempting to write him off as a victim of the deadened ball or his 35 years of age (36 next year), but the data suggests that the lack of power was simply a fluke. He was still pretty good considering."
Christian Walker cracks the top 10 in Scott's preseason rankings for the first time in his career after his best season: "Though most had written off Walker as a major Fantasy contributor prior to 2022, the data backs up his transformation into a top slugger and even suggests there's room to improve in batting average. The 31-year-old keeps his strikeouts in check and was one of the most shifted-upon right-handed hitters in 2022, so there may be something to it."
Early 2023 2B rankings
You can find Scott's top-20 second basemen for 2023 and a blurb on each.
Jose Altuve comes in at No. 1 overall, and I already feel like I'm going to have a tough time investing that much draft capital in an aging player who dominated in the last two months of the season -- but that's a me problem. Scott feels Altuve gives an edge specifically due to the shallow nature of the position heading into 2023: "Take out Trea Turner, take out Mookie Betts, and the gap between Altuve and the No. 2 second baseman is bigger than at any position other than outfield (Aaron Judge, as measured by Head-to-Head points per game). His final two months were especially productive, seeing him bat over .330, and it looks like he's back to being a viable base-stealer as well."
Andres Gimenez cracked the top-10 at No. 7 overall: "Gimenez has developed into an even better real-life player, but he's pretty good in the Fantasy game, too, having come close to 20/20 production in his age-23 season. There's reason to believe the batting average and home runs could both regress next year, but he's so young that continued growth is also a reasonable expectation."
For the rest of Scott's position rankings, be sure to check back in the coming weeks over at CBSSports.com/Fantasy and enjoy the Wildcard weekend!