Who are the two best teams in the American League this year? The answer has been clear for months. Even though the New York Yankees stumbled throughout most of the regular season’s second half, they and the Houston Astros have sat as the AL’s top two seeds for the bulk of the year. Their success is rewarded with a bye through the Wild Card Round in the 2022 MLB playoffs. Here’s a quick look at each team.
American League teams with a bye
While the Yankees got off to a white-hot start before a prolonged slump, the Astros have just been consistently great all year long; they posted a winning record in every month of the season and had a win percentage above .600 for every month other than April. That enabled them to grab the No. 1 seed in the AL. As such, they will face the winner of the first-round series between the league’s top two Wild Card teams.
Houston’s offense contains a bunch of familiar names — Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez — who was a legitimate AL MVP candidate for most of the season. But the real reason for the Astros’ success is their pitching staff. Led by 39-year-old ace and AL Cy Young Award favorite Justin Verlander, the Astros led the junior circuit in ERA, WHIP, opponents’ batting average and strikeout rate. With Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia, Houston has a surplus of highly effective starting pitchers who can take over a game.
On June 19, we were asking if the Yankees could break the MLB record for most wins in a single season. They were 49-16 at that point, on pace for 122 victories, so it was worth at least some consideration.
Then the Yankees suddenly turned from the best team in baseball to one of the worst, losing 26 of 41 games coming out of the All-Star break. Although their hold on the AL East weakened the Yankees never lost control of the division thanks to the huge lead they established early, and a strong finish in September allowed them to lock up the No. 2 seed in the AL playoffs.
Obviously, the 2022 Yankees begin with AL MVP favorite Aaron Judge. Even while the Yanks were besieged by injuries during the season’s second half, Judge was a constant in the lineup — and he was constantly hitting home runs. Now the Yankees are relatively healthy and looking to win their 28th World Series title. The Bronx Bombers haven’t lifted the Commissioner’s Trophy since 2009; the franchise’s 13-year title drought is the third-longest over the past 100 years.