The Houston Astros have had their sights set on the number 1 AL seed all year, but losing out on it in the end could possibly help them.
For the vast majority of the 2022 season, the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees have been the kings of the American League. The Yankees have had a historic season but experienced an average month of July, which has allowed the Astros to surge ahead in their quest to topple them for the number 1 seed in the AL. The prospect of a postseason rematch between the two teams becomes more enticing by the day.
However, the way the standings are unfolding in the rest of the AL creates an interesting quirk regarding the Astros’ potential path to the World Series: finishing the regular season as the 2-seed might actually be more beneficial than as the 1-seed. Here’s how.
The way the new postseason format works in MLB is the 2 best division winners of the 3 in each league get a bye to the division series. The worst division winner in each league will then host a best-of-3 series against the 6-seed (in other words, the third-ranked wild card team). The 4-seed (first wild card team) will do the same with the 5-seed. This has created an environment where more teams in both the AL and NL feel like they have a shot at the postseason and has increased competitiveness around baseball in general.
From there, the winner of the 4 vs 5 matchup will go on to face the 1 seed and the 3 vs 6 winner will go on to face the 2 seed in the traditional best-of-5 division series and the postseason will continue as was the case in years past. There is no re-seeding.
At the time of writing, the postseason would start with the Minnesota Twins as the 3-seed in the AL, hosting the Rays in the wild card series. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays would host the Seattle Mariners in the other best-of-3. This means that the Astros, who are currently the 2nd-best team in the AL, would face the winner of the Twins/Rays series in the ALDS.
That might actually be a more favorable matchup for Houston than the winner of the Blue Jays/Mariners series. Toronto and Seattle have a combined record of 116-97 (.545 W%), which is slightly better than Tampa Bay and Minnesota’s 113-99 (.533 W%). The only reason the Twins are ranked that high to begin with is that they’re leading a very weak central division. The Rays are the third-ranked wild card team and occupants of the final playoff spot in the AL, but they have a better record than Minnesota as of now.
In terms of the strength of their opponent, it seems like the Astros will have a slightly easier first-round matchup if they don’t catch the Yankees for the honor of having the best record in the AL. The obvious trade-off if that happens is the loss of home field advantage if they face the Yankees in the ALCS, but the Astros more than held their own in a 4-game split at Yankee Stadium at the end of June, throwing a combined no-hitter in one of the victories amidst a hostile crowd.
Of course, this is a win-win situation since the Astros are barreling towards a bye to the ALDS regardless. Also, even though regular season head-to-head results bear little meaning in the postseason, they have owned the Seattle Mariners this year, meaning it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they grabbed the top seed and Seattle’s position doesn’t change. There are still nearly 2 months remaining in the regular season, so it’s worth noting now that it shouldn’t be discouraging whatsoever if the Astros don’t end the season with a better regular season record than the Yankees.