Full MLB playoff bracket set as Astros win AL West: Which series could be on upset watch?

The complete MLB playoff bracket is finalized with the Houston Astros’ 8-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Astros earned their third consecutive American League West divisional title and sixth since 2017 with the win.
  • The playoffs will begin Tuesday with the Wild Card Series in each league.
  • The Diamondbacks’ spot in the National League Wild Card Series is secure despite Sunday’s loss and they will face the Milwaukee Brewers.
  • Following those best-of-three series, the Division Series round will begin Oct. 7.

Full playoff bracket

AL Wild Card Series (No. 1 Orioles and No. 2 Astros have byes)

NL Wild Card Series (No. 1 Braves and No. 2 Dodgers have byes)

  • No. 6 Diamondbacks vs. No. 3 Brewers
  • No. 5 Marlins vs. No. 4 Phillies

AL Divison Series

  • Rays or Rangers vs. Orioles
  • Twins or Blue Jays vs. Astros

NL Divison Series

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

Who should be the World Series favorite?

I have my concerns about the Braves rotation, but I have my concerns about the Dodgers’ rotation, and Atlanta had the best offense in baseball, so I think they’re the most rational pick in the NL. The Orioles led the majors in wins this year but were actually behind the Rays in runs scored and runs allowed, and now the O’s are without their All-Star closer in Félix Bautista, so I’ll give the slight edge to Tampa Bay, and would go Atlanta over Tampa for the ring. — Law

Best chance for an upset

The Blue Jays finished third in the AL East but had a better win / loss record than the Twins by two games, leading the American League in team ERA, and might have the best playoff rotation in the league considering who’s currently available and healthy for all of the postseason entrants.

Minnesota does a lot of damage on contact, ranking second in the majors in barrel rate and fifth in hard-hit rate, but its hitters led the majors in strikeouts and will be going against the pitching staff ranked second in the AL in strikeouts (behind, as it turns out, the Twins’ staff). The Twins’ lineup is also very right-handed, and the Blue Jays’ pitching staff is especially good against right-handed hitting, holding right-handed batters to a .237/.296/.378 line this year.

The Twins comes in as the home team but sportsbooks have the Jays as favorites, which could be as simple as looking at their records or could derive from some of these smaller advantages that point toward Toronto. — Law

Which series could be the most one-sided?

The Marlins are the worst team ever to make the MLB playoffs by run differential and Pythagorean record outside of the 2020 season; the Miami was outscored by 52 runs this season and had a 75-86 Pythagorean record, coming in below the 2005 Padres, who were outscored by 42 runs for a 77-85 Pythagorean record. That San Diego team only made the playoffs because it won the NL West with an 82-80 record, but the Marlins got in because of the expanded playoffs.

Past teams with sub-.500 Pythagorean records to make the playoffs haven’t fared that well; the Padres were swept in the first round, the 2007 Diamondbacks were swept in the NLCS, the 1984 Royals were swept in the ALCS, the 1981 Royals were swept in the first round, and the 1997 Giants were swept in the first round.

Only the 1987 Twins reached the World Series, and of course they won it all.

The Phillies may have the healthiest roster among contenders right now, missing just first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who could still return at some point, and have more pitchers worthy of starting a playoff game than they have need in a short series. Along with Atlanta and the Dodgers, they’re one of just three teams in the NL postseason who were above the league average in run scoring and run prevention.

Baseball history shows us that three-game series are scarcely more predictable than a coin flip, but this should be a laugher. — Law

Some players to watch

Yennier Cano, Baltimore: With Bautista out, Cano becomes far more critical to the O’s in high-leverage situations, as Baltimore doesn’t really have a strong right-hander in the pen to step into the void behind him. Cano hasn’t recorded five or more outs in any game since the first half, so it will also be interesting to see if Brandon Hyde tries to extend him at any point.

Vlad Guerrero, Jr., Toronto: What happened to the guy who hit 48 homers and finished second in the AL MVP voting two years ago? He still hits the ball extremely hard, but the results haven’t matched the contact quality — he underperformed his expected batting average by 27 points and his expected slugging by 50.

A Vlad October would make the Jays much stronger World Series contenders, and it’s not unrealistic given the batted-ball data.

Brandon Pfaadt, Arizona: It looks like Pfaadt will start game 1 for the Snakes against Milwaukee, rather than either Zac Gallen or Merrill Kelly starting on short rest. Pfaadt came into the year as Arizona’s No. 1 pitching prospect but his major-league debut didn’t go so well, especially as hitters teed off on his four-seamer, with 13 homers and a .650 slugging percentage off that pitch alone in his 19 outings.

The Brewers aren’t a great offensive team but they have several guys who can whack a fastball, including recent addition Carlos Santana and the resurgent Christian Yelich. Pfaadt has to change the plan or it will be a short night for him Tuesday. — Law

Required reading

(Photo: Joe Camporeale / USA Today)

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