One of the many things that sets Major League Baseball apart from other professional sports is the sheer volume of games played. We all know this, of course, but we can still get hijacked by the moment. It could be argued we do it far too easily. Think about daily overreactions to individual games played in April. Or even just a series in May. Winning or losing streaks in June.
And though we’ve witnessed a good majority of the regular season here in 2022, we’ve only reached August, which means there’s plenty of time for a team to get into a groove and ride it all the way to the World Series.
Heading to August last season, the eventual champion Braves were 52-54 and out of playoff position. The 2019 champion Nationals were 57-51 after July, held the second wild card and yet were also only a half-game away from being on the outside looking in. We could mention the 1978 Yankees, or go all the way back to the 1969 Mets. We could also talk about the 2014 Royals going on their run to a pennant or even the 1951 Giants.
This isn’t to say we require an upstart. There will be 2018 Red Sox or 2016 Cubs or 1998 Yankees mixed in. In fact, the most likely scenario in 2022 says that the World Series champ comes from the elite foursome we’ve had most of the year — Yankees, Mets, Dodgers or Astros. That list might even include both pennant winners.
If we are to see an upstart make a run, though, which teams would be most likely? Let’s take a quick look at six that could fit the bill.
1. Mariners — Now with a potential playoff rotation of Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo, George Kirby and, say, Marco Gonzales in front of a bullpen that can be dominant in stretches, they have the ingredients. Hell, we just saw them win 14 in a row. Things have to break right, so they’ll need a fully healthy and functional Mitch Haniger (not to mention the now-injured Julio Rodríguez), but we’re talking about a best-case scenario here.
2. Blue Jays — Given their sky-high expectations entering the season, it seems odd to think this way, but Toronto was only three games over .500 just a few weeks ago and then the team’s manager got fired. The Jays will claim a wild card spot, assuming they make the playoffs, so it would be a tall order to make a deep run. But they do have the offensive firepower, and the horses in the rotation to do so.
3. White Sox — To date, this is the team that is most closely aligned with last year’s Braves squad. They won the division last year and had expectations to do so again. They’ve dealt with injuries and under-performance. It feels like they should be much better, but they can’t stay out of their own way. And yet, they are right within striking distance in a very weak division. It might seem far-fetched, but we didn’t have much reason for optimism on the Braves last year at this time, other than past performance.
4. Phillies — Now that Ranger Suárez appears to be settling in, the Phillies could get to October with three frontline-looking pitchers (Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler being the other two). Once Bryce Harper returns, they’ll have a lineup with the ability to throw a huge number on the board without notice. I could totally envision a world where these Phillies win the title this year. I could also see them losing around a dozen in a row and missing the playoffs.
5. Cardinals — They really need to shore up that rotation, but they have the prospect currency in order to do so. They have two superstars in their prime in Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, a group of young players who could all come together while rallying around a trio of franchise legends in their swan song. The weak division would be a big help.
6. Padres — They were tied for first in late June, but have been pretty bad for roughly six weeks. Now the division is a pipe dream and they are barely holding onto a playoff position. They’ll also get a superstar back from injury soon in Fernando Tatis, Jr., could end up landing Juan Soto and already have an MVP candidate in Manny Machado. They also have the arms in their rotation that — if everyone is throwing to their 90th percentile or so upside — could dominate in October.
Again, the best picks to win it all would be the foursome that has held the top four spots in the rankings nearly all season. After that, it would trickle down the Braves, Brewers and, I guess, the Twins. If we’re looking past these teams for longer shots, however, picking a favorite from the above list of six is the starting point.