MLB playoff picture: Updated postseason bracket, standings, key matchups as Mets-Braves showdown finally arrives

The 2022 MLB season is in the sprint to the finish line. When you're not watching Albert Pujols try to blast beyond 700 career homers, or Aaron Judge try to set the American League homer record ... or win the Triple Crown, it's all about the playoff push. To keep you up to date on the rush toward the postseason, we're laying out the playoff picture every day from now until Game 162 on Oct. 5, and highlighting games that might end up making the difference.

What does MLB’s playoff format look like in 2022?

First things first: You might remember that as part of the collective bargaining agreement that ended the lockout, the team owners and players expanded the postseason. There are now six teams from each league, three division winners and three wild cards. That means a new path to the World Series, and different considerations for watching the races come down to the wire.

When each league’s field is set, it will go like this:

The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds — the two best division winners — get byes into the Division Series, a huge advantage. The other four teams square off in a new three-game wild-card series, replacing the one-game wild-card showdowns, that will be exclusively hosted at the better seed’s park.

The division winner with the worst record will be the No. 3 seed and host the No. 6 seed, the wild-card team with the worst record. The winner of that series will go on to face the No. 2 seed, regardless of which team comes out on top.

The two best wild cards, seeds No. 4 and No. 5, will play each other. The winner will advance to face the top seed.

From there, things will look familiar. The Division Series will be best of five. The Championship Series and World Series will be best of seven, with the team holding the higher seed wielding home-field advantage by hosting Games 1, 2, 6 and 7.

There won't be any Game 163 tiebreakers. Ties will be settled by the teams' head-to-head record. If that is also a tie, the league would go through a procession of other in-season records to find a winner, starting with intradivision records.

How does the playoff picture stand now?

If the season were over and the playoffs started this morning, here's how the standings would look when turned into the league brackets.

American League

No. 1 seed: Houston Astros (AL West clinched)

No. 2 seed: New York Yankees (AL East clinched)

Wild-card series: No. 3 Cleveland Guardians (AL Central clinched) vs. No. 6 Tampa Bay Rays

Wild-card series: No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays (postseason berth clinched) vs. No. 5 Seattle Mariners

Still in the running: Baltimore Orioles (5 games back of wild card)

National League

No. 1 seed: Los Angeles Dodgers (NL West and top seed clinched)

No. 2 seed: New York Mets (postseason berth clinched)

Wild-card series: No. 3 St. Louis Cardinals (NL Central clinched) vs. No. 6 Philadelphia Phillies

Wild-card series: No. 4 Atlanta Braves (postseason berth clinched) vs. No. 5 San Diego Padres

Still in the running: Milwaukee Brewers (0.5 games back of wild card), San Francisco Giants (5.5 games back of wild card)

What are the key races remaining?

Cue the ominous Hans Zimmer music. The dramatic Mets-Braves showdown circled on the calendar for months has arrived. This race — for the NL East crown, the No. 2 seed and chief threat to the Dodgers — is the most important race in baseball by a mile. The Mets enter with a one-game lead. With Atlanta forecast to largely evade Hurricane Ian, the series is set to begin Friday as planned.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are trying to play hot potato with the final NL wild-card spot and the Brewers simply won't take it. The Phillies have lost five in a row after being swept by the rebuilding Cubs Thursday. That game included a patented Phillies collapse play where Jean Segura was thrown out "stealing" second because the scoreboard appeared to show that the batter had walked.

And yet! The Brewers couldn't hold a late lead against the Miami Marlins in a game where a win would have catapulted them ahead of Philadelphia. After five scoreless innings from Eric Lauer, a beleaguered bullpen eventually turned to usual starter Freddy Peralta, making his first relief appearance of the year. He promptly gave up a grand slam, and the Brewers remain on the outside looking in. The Brewers are the only team currently outside the playoff picture with better than a 1% chance of getting into it. FanGraphs places their odds at 31.0% and the Phillies' at 71.9%

In the AL, the jostling is for positioning. The AL wild-card seeding could flip around several times before season's end, with the Blue Jays holding a 1.5-game edge for the No. 4 seed. The Rays slipped into the No. 6 spot behind the Mariners on Thursday.

What are Friday’s important games?

Mets at Braves, 7:20 ET: The most anticipated series of the season will begin with an electrifying pitching matchup. Jacob deGrom takes the mound against Max Fried Friday night in Atlanta. Though his season didn't begin until August, deGrom has faced the Braves twice already. In the first, he took a perfect game into the sixth, striking out 12 in a glorious return to Citi Field. He struck out nine over 6 2/3 innings in the next outing against Atlanta, but gave up three runs and lost a duel to Fried. The most powerful pitcher in the world at the peak of his powers, deGrom is coming off his worst start since 2019 — a five-run, four-walk showing against Oakland.

To add even more spice, the Mets called up top prospect Francisco Álvarez— viewed by some as the No. 1 youngster still in the minors across the sport. He's a powerful catcher prospect who has crushed 27 homers in 112 games this season.

Phillies at Nationals doubleheader, 1:05 and 7:05 ET: Somehow still holding on to the final wild-card spot, the Phillies have two chances to win themselves some breathing room Friday. They are 13-2 against the Nationals this season. Bailey Falter and Noah Syndergaard will be taking the mound.

Marlins at Brewers, 8:10 ET: Holy aces, Batman. The Brewers' attempt to climb into a playoff slot will not be easy. They'll face likely NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara. On the plus side, they'll be sending out 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes.