2022 MLB playoff predictions: 101-win New York Mets are the favorites for wild card weekend

Let the wild card weekend begin.

With Major League Baseball's new expanded playoff system, the postseason kicks off with four best-of-three wild card series.

The higher seed will host all three games.

In the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays face the Seattle Mariners, who will appear in the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. The Blue Jays will host the Cleveland Guardians in Toronto.

In the National League, the 101-win New York Mets host the San Diego Padres while the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies meet at Busch Stadium.

Here's how USA TODAY Sports' MLB staff sees the wild weekend playing out:

Alek Manoah will start Game 1 for the Blue Jays.
Alek Manoah will start Game 1 for the Blue Jays.

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Bob Nightengale – @BNightengale

Guardians over Rays in 3: The scouting reports will tell you that the Rays are clearly the better team. The Guardians are too inexperienced, one of the youngest postseason teams in history. They don’t have enough pop, ranking 29th in home runs. But didn’t the AL Central champion Guardians hear the same thing all season? Cleveland has home-field advantage and the Rays may be fatigued, going 14-19 in September and October

Blue Jays over Mariners in 3: The Mariners’ starting trio of Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray and Logan Gilbert scares the daylights out of everyone. The Mariners can certainly win this series, having won five of seven games against Toronto during the regular season, but having a young roster in a hostile environment may shatter that glass slipper.

Cardinals over Phillies in 3: The starting pitching matchups in the first two games of this series is the biggest mismatch of the entire postseason. The Phillies clearly have the advantage with Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in Games 1 and 2 over Jose Quintana and Miles Mikolas. Then again, didn’t we say the same thing in 2011 when they last met in the postseason? There’s something about October that brings out the greatness with the Cardinals, and now they have Albert Pujols hitting home runs as if he’s 20 years younger.

Mets over Padres in 3: The Padres are dangerous with a starting trio of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove and are capable of ruining everyone’s MLB bracket pool. Darvish (16-8, 3.10 ERA) has been phenomenal this year, going 5-1 with a 1.95 ERA in September. He out-dueled Mets ace Max Scherzer in their only meeting this year, yielding just one run and striking out nine in seven innings. The Padres have to win Game 1 to have a chance.

Gabe Lacques – @GabeLacques

Rays over Guardians in 3: Battle-tested and imaginative, the Rays ride the return of Tyler Glasnow, in part, to quiet Cleveland.

Blue Jays over Mariners in 2: Alek Manoah is this year’s playoff buzzsaw. Toronto’s gaggle of right-handed sluggers has its way with old friend Robbie Ray.

Phillies over Cardinals in 2: Zack Wheeler sets the tone and a revamped Phillies bullpen keeps St. Louis quiet enough. October still belongs to Kyle Schwarber.

Mets over Padres in 2: For the Padres, it’s all up to Yu Darvish to continue his brilliance in a hostile environment. That’s too tall an order against a better-constructed Mets team that should bounce back from Atlanta’s pilfering of the NL East title.

Steve Gardner – @SteveAGardner

Rays over Guardians in 3: Getting a potential ace in Tyler Glasnow back just in time for the playoffs gives the Rays a nice 1-2 punch with Shane McClanahan that could battle Cleveland’s excellent rotation to a draw. If that’s the case, the Rays’ superior depth and ability to create favorable matchups will allow them to pull off the upset in Cleveland.

Blue Jays over Mariners in 2: Luis Castillo gives the Mariners a chance, but with star rookie Julio Rodriguez perhaps not quite 100% due to a back injury, it’s going to be difficult for Seattle to outslug the homestanding Blue Jays. Boasting the AL’s second-best offense, Toronto will provide plenty of support for top starters Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman.

Cardinals over Phillies in 3: Zack Wheeler (1 ER in his last 22 innings vs. St. Louis) and Aaron Nola will push the homestanding Cardinals to the brink of elimination, but defense is the difference in this series as the Cardinals’ significant advantage in that area will be magnified in a pair of close wins. Paul Goldschmidt, who hasn’t homered since Sept. 7, finally breaks out of his mini-slump.

Mets over Padres in 3: The most compelling series of the wild card round lives up to its billing with the Mets making the most of their minuscule edge on the mound. Given a fresh start in the playoffs, new Padres Juan Soto, Josh Bell and Josh Hader can put their second-half struggles behind them. In the end though, the Mets’ deep bench will be the key to victory as an unlikely hero emerges.

Scott Boeck – @ScottBoeck

Rays over Guardians in 3: Tampa Bay rode another strong season to their fourth straight trip to the postseason – without their ace Tyler Glasnow. Glasnow, who had two short, but strong outings coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery, showed enough that he's ready for October baseball.

Blue Jays over Mariners in 2: The Mariners' 21-year playoff drought is over, but their fans will have to wait at least one more year before Seattle will host a home playoff game. The Blue Jays are loaded with talent, both on the mound and and at the plate. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer leads a powerful lineup that led the American League in on-base percentage and OPS.

Cardinals over Phillies in 2: The Phillies struggled mightily down the stretch of the season. And while the Phillies have the rotation advantage, the Cardinals have two of the best sluggers in baseball – 1B Paul Goldschmidt and 3B Nolan Arenado – who carried the offense to new heights.

Padres over Mets in 3: Padres ace Yu Darvish has been lights out over his past six starts, striking out 44 batters over 39 innings with a 1.85 ERA. He will need to step up big along with the offense to have a chance to beat Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom at  Citi Field.

Chris Bumbaca – @BOOMbaca

Rays over Guardians in 3: Tyler Glasnow returning from Tommy John and in line to start Game 2 is a boost for the Rays in the pitching-heavy series. This will also be a battle on the benches between Cleveland manager Terry Francona and Tampa Bay skipper Kevin Cash, two of the best in the game.

Mariners over Jays in 3: The vibes are all on Seattle’s side and they will become the darlings of the 2022 postseason.

Cardinals over Phillies in 2: This season has had Cardinals Devil Magic written all over it since June. The Phillies aren’t as talented, although the starting pitching will keep them in both games.

Mets over Padres in 3: The Mets are reeling and it may take them a game to find their stride. Home-field advantage here is the key.

Jesse Yomtov – @JesseYomtov

Rays over Guardians in 3: Tampa Bay slumped through September and October, but they should be able to conjure up enough of their magic to outlast Cleveland on the road – particularly with Tyler Glasnow back on the mound.

Blue Jays over Mariners in 2: Facing Toronto’s powerful lineup, Seattle’s postseason return should be a short one. Mariners lefty Robbie Ray, last year’s AL Cy Young winner with the Jays, gave up 28 homers against right-handed batters this season, the most in the majors. Toronto could have eight in their lineup.

Cardinals over Phillies in 2: Philadelphia has the rotation advantage with Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola slated to start the first two but St. Louis won all year without a bonafide ace. The Cardinals will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at least once in this series.

Mets over Padres in 3: It may take the full weekend, but the 101-win Mets will earn themselves the honors of playing the Dodgers in the NLDS, finding the timely hits that elude San Diego.

Steve Borelli – @StephenBorelli

Guardians over Rays in 3: It has been a magical season for the Guardians and, despite Cleveland getting pushed by Tampa Bay, it continues to the Division Series. Cleveland went on an 18-3 September run to close out the AL Central. Playing at home, it can run out the AL’s sixth-best scoring offense at Tampa Bay, as well as three front-line starting pitchers in Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill.

Blue Jays over Mariners in 2: Both teams have powerful offenses but Toronto’s, behind five players with 24 or more homers, is tops in the AL. Toronto has been steady at home and has two front-line starters (Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman) plus a top closer (Jordan Romano) was has a 1.21 ERA since Aug. 13.

Cardinals over Phillies in 3: The Cardinals have been too good at home (53-28) and have just enough of a balance of hitting and pitching to let this one slip away. The Phillies dominated the Nationals (16-3) and Marlins (12-7) and other weak opponents to skate into the playoffs. But one of Philly’s two dominant starters (Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola) helps push the series to three games.

Padres over Mets in 3: The Mets dominated most of the season but exposed their vulnerability against a team with strong pitching in coughing up the division to the Braves. The Padres have shown signs of getting it together after well-chronicled struggles after landing Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Brandon Drury and Josh Hader at the trade deadline. They also have three starting pitchers with swing-and-miss-stuff (Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell) and big bats that could get to a Mets staff that has given up 171 homers.

Bobby Nightengale – @nightengalejr

Rays over Guardians in 3: The Guardians are the youngest team in the majors, but the next step is learning how to win in the postseason. The Rays have already been there before.

Blue Jays over Mariners in 2: Congrats to the Mariners on snapping their 21-year playoff drought, but they struggled down the stretch against lesser teams. Alek Manoah, the league’s best pitcher in September, can set the tone in Game 1.

Cardinals over Phillies in 2: The Cardinals don’t have the top-tier starting pitching to match the Phillies, but their offense is more consistent and defense always plays big in October.

Mets over Padres in 3: Atlanta proved its possible, but it’s hard to beat Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom in back-to-back games. The Padres just never clicked as expected after their big trade deadline.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB playoff predictions: Wild card series features 101-win Mets