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Breaking Down the Contenders for the 2023 MLB Playoffs

The Favorites:

Atlanta Braves

Lineup: The Atlanta Braves are the best team in baseball. Led by the clear National League MVP Ronald Acuna, the entire lineup mashes. They had 3 players with more than 40 home runs, 5 players with 30 or more home runs, 4 guys in the lineup with 100+ RBI, and only one regular bat with an OPS+ under 100 (Orlando Arcia with 98). There is not a single easy out in the lineup that tied the record for most home runs by a team in a season with 307, and led the league is run with 947, team batting average of .276, and SLG with .505 (the next closest team was almost .050 points below with the Rangers at .455).

Rotation: The rotation and the health of the rotation could be the Achilles heel for the Braves, with two key starters Max Fried and Charlie Morton hitting the injury list the last two weeks of the season. Charlie Morton will be out at least through the NLDS and Fried is currently in line to start game 2 of the NLDS but his health remains a question. With those two injuries that leaves the Braves with Spencer Strider (a potential Cy Young Award finalist) and Bryce Elder, a solid back end of the rotation type of guy, but not who you would like to see starting game 2 of a playoff series. If Fried is healthy for the NLDS expect to see the Braves opt for a 3-man rotation in the NLDS and hope Morton can be good to go for the NLCS.

Bullpen: The bullpen faltered a bit in September, but the Braves still have the 5th best bullpen in the NL with an ERA of 3.81. Raisel Iglesias is a reliable closer who should serve the Braves well in October. Jesse Chavez and Pierce Johnson have proven to be dominant, and Kirby Yates, AJ Minter, and Joe Jimenez all make serviceable late to middle inning arms. Michael Tomkin, if he makes the roster should be able to eat some much-needed innings in a game 3 or game 4 of the NLDS and can get the win if the Braves provide their usual run support.

Bottom Line: The Braves should be able to mash their way through their NLDS opponent and if Morton and Fried are both fully healthy for the NLCS this team may be on their way to their second championship in three years.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Lineup: The Dodgers are also heavy favorites, but will have the task of having to get through a stacked National League for their shot at their second title in four years. Another stacked lineup led by the two guys who will likely be sitting next to Acuna as NL MVP finalists: Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. The Dodgers offense was second in the league in runs scored with 906, hit the second most home runs with 249, and had a team OBP of .340 also second in the league. With the best 1-2 punch in the game of Betts-Freeman supported by, Will Smith, Max Muncy, JD Martinez, and James Outmann all of whom had an OPS+ above 110, the Dodgers lineup is formidable and only second to the Braves.

If Betts and Freeman get hot, watch out because only the Braves can match this lineup when they’re producing. The pair scorched the ball in 2023, with OPSs of .987 and .976 respectively, a combined 68 home runs, 390 hits, 209 RBIs, and 257 runs scored, they are a duo to be feared.

Rotation: The Dodgers rotation is a prime example of the next man-up mantra, losing many arms throughout the year and consistently finding someone new to replace them. It is also the Dodgers weakness, with a starter rotation of 4.57, the second worst amongst any playoff team, with their top three options for the NLDS being Clayton Kershaw (who will likely only throw 5 or 6 innings), standout rookie Bobby Miller, and a disaster waiting to happen in Lance Lynn. While Kershaw has been amazing this season, at his age, he no longer can go as deep into ball games as he used to and he has proven to be inconsistent in the playoffs. Matchup this rotation against the Brewers deadly trio in the NLDS and the Dodgers could be going home early.

Bullpen: The Dodgers bullpen is amongst the best in the big leagues and could be this team's saving grace. The Dodgers have the third-best bullpen ERA in the big leagues at 3.42 and man can they eat innings. The Dodgers had Evan Phillips and Brusdar Graterol locking things down late in games and went and got Ryan Brasier from the Red Sox who appeared to be on his way out the door. Since joining the Dodgers, Brasier has thrown 38.2 innings allowing, 3 earned runs, 27 total hits, good for an ERA+ of 627. On top of that the Dodgers will add Caleb Ferguson (60.1 innings + 3.43 ERA), Shelby Miller (42 innings + 1.71 ERA), and Ryan Pepiot (42 innings + 2.14 ERA) to that elite bullpen to lock things down. If the Dodgers can get their bullpen the ball with a lead, they will be very hard to beat.

Bottom Line: The Dodgers are World Series favorites for a reason, they have a formidable line-up, bench depth, and arguably the best bullpen in the postseason, the Dodgers will need someone to get hot in the rotation and Kershaw will need to do what he has been unable to do yet in his career, turn in three rounds of phenomenal pitching. The national league is stacked and the Dodgers will need to outlast the Braves if they want to get to the World Series, if they can do this, there is a good chance the Dodgers will be raising another World Series title. If they have to face the Brewers in round one, and their rotation cannot give the bullpen the ball with the lead, they will be going home in the NLDS.

Legit Contenders:

Baltimore Orioles

Lineup: The Baltimore Orioles strung together an improbable 2023. Few reporters and analysts expected them to win the American League East, let alone claim the #1 seed in the American League. The Orioles are one of the best coached teams in baseball and they do everything at least above average. They also have one of the most annoying lineups in baseball. The Orioles lineup is a platoon nightmare for opposing managers, with multiple switch hitters and a solid consistency a lefty followed by a righty followed by another lefty. Not only do they match up well against both right-handers and left-handers but everyone in the lineup produces. The Orioles as a team rank 7th in the league in runs scored with 807, thanks to their ability to run the bases carefully and take advantage of situations with runners in scoring position. Despite nobody in the lineup, standing out amongst the league's best hitters, led by Rustchman, Henderson, Mullins, and Santander, they get the job done.

Rotation: The Orioles at least in the ALDS will likely go with a trio of Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, and John Means. Kyle Bradish is this team's standout ace and can go toe to toe with any other ace in the American League, sporting a 2.83 ERA, 9.0 strikeouts per 9 innings, and a WHIP just above 1.0. From there things get a bit murky with Grayson Rodriguez who admittedly has had a great second half with a 2.58 ERA compared to a 7.35 first-half ERA, however, he has been inconsistent and may not provide a stellar second arm in the rotation. John Means will likely line up as the third starter in this rotation. Means just came back from Tommy John surgery and threw 23.2 innings in 4 starts with a 2.66 ERA. If this trio can put it together they may be amongst the best in the AL or they could be amongst the worst rotation in the AL playoffs.

Bullpen: The Orioles bullpen has received brutal news with star closer, Felix Bautista needing Tommy john surgery, he will miss the postseason and likely the entire 2024 season. Without Bautista, their bullpen is still above average but they will be missing their lockdown guy whom most World Series favorites have, a role that will be taken over by Yennier Cano. Cano has had a phenomenal season but does not have the same overpowering stuff Bautista has. Cano will likely be supported by Tyler Wells who can eat innings, Mike Baumann, Cionel Perez, Danny Caloumbe, who all add above-average stuff in the pen, and potentially Jack Flaherty.

Bottom Line: The Orioles despite being without their star closer will be fine. They are still AL favorites, the post-season tends to be dominated by close games and the Orioles win close games better than any other team in the majors (except for maybe the Marlins). This should serve them well, however, the AL is anyone’s game and they have some tough competition to get by if they want to compete for a title.

Milwaukee Brewers

Lineup: The brewers admittedly have a less-than-stellar line-up that lacks power. But when you have a pitching staff like the Brewers have your lineup just needs to be good enough to win ball games. And that is exactly what they do. Led by Christian Yelich’s bounceback year, William Contreras’s ability to get on base, and the pop Willy Adames provides from SS, the Brewers do just enough to win ball games. This could prove to be an issue if they face off against one of the powerhouse offenses like LA or the Braves.

Rotation: The Brewers have the best rotation in the postseason. Led by Corbin Burnes who has been phenomenal in the second half (2.71 ERA, 10.2 k/9), Brandon Woodruff who when healthy might be the best pitcher in baseball (2.28 ERA in 67 innings), Freddy Peralta who has also dominated the second half with his overpowering stuff (2.81 ERA 12k/9), and Wade Miley who compliments this rotation so perfectly (3.14 ERA in 120 innings) the Brewers are a tough ticket in any best of 3 or best of 4 series and will embarrass opposing lineups.

Bullpen: Not only do the Brewers have a dominant rotation, they also have a dominant bullpen with the best 9th-inning guy in the playoffs. Devin Williams had himself a year with a 1.53 ERA in 58.2 innings, a 13.3 k/9, and 36 of 40 on save opportunities, he is a man to be feared by opposing hitters. Compliment him with Hoby Milner (238 ERA+ in 64 innings), Bryse Wilson (2.58 ERA in 76.2 innings), Joel Payamps (2.55 ERA in 70.2 innings), Abner Uribe (1.76 ERA in 30.2 innings) and throw Colin Rea or Adrian Houser in the pen to eat innings and you’ve got a scary situation on your hands.

Bottom Line: If the Brewers want to stand a chance at winning their first World Series in franchise history, the rotation will need to be as good as they were in the second half, the bullpen needs to be consistently dominant and the lineup needs to be better than they have been. They have a favorable wild card matchup against the Diamondbacks, but from there they will need to take on the Dodgers and likely the Braves to make it to the World Series. Of all the teams in the playoffs, they have the potential hardest path to the World Series.

Tampa Bay Rays

Lineup: The modern-day Moneyball team. The Rays get on base consistently with a team OBP of .331 good for third in the league and hit the ball hard with a team SLG of .445 good for fourth in the league. From top to bottom, the entire lineup produces, with only one everyday regular having an OPS+ below 100. With breakout star Yandy Diaz taking home the AL batting title with an average of .330, supported by the pop Isaac Paredes provides, Randy Arozarena who has been known to go off in the postseason, and the consistency of Josh Lowe. This lineup should provide enough pop to win ball games.

Rotation: Tyler Glasnow leads a sturdy Tampa Bay rotation, backed by Zach Eflin, and Aaron Civale the rotation should again be sturdy enough to give the Rays a shot at winning the World Series.

Bullpen: The Rays have a dominating bullpen led by closer Peter Fairbanks, Colin Poche, Jake Diekman, and Shawn Armstrong all having an ERA below 2.50 and a K/9 above 9.0. If the Rays can get their bullpen the ball with a lead, with Kevin Cash’s bullpen management the Rays should win those games.

Bottom Line: The Rays have one of the most complete rosters in the postseason, as they excel at every aspect of the game and have a legitimate chance to compete for their first World Series title this year.

Potential Contenders:

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have one of the better rotations in the American League with potential Cy Young finalist Kevin Gausmann, and any combination of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berios, and Yusei Kikuchi they really can’t go wrong. Jordan Romano is amongst the best closers in the game but outside of him, Erik Swanson and Tim Mayza the Blue Jays bullpen is inconsistent at best. In a modern-day postseason dominated by perfect game management and outstanding bullpens, the Blue Jays may find themselves outmatched.

The Blue Jays lineup has been a bit underwhelming with many underperforming players, the biggest being Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who has yet to match the magic he found in 2021. He has 26 homers, 94 RBI and an improved ability to get on base via the walk is nothing to scoff at. Bo Bichette provides the most consistency from the SS position with an OPS+ of 123. Whit Merrifield can get on base and cause terrors on the base paths. If George Springer and Matt Chapman can get hot this October the Blue Jays could bump themselves up to legit contenders.

Philadelphia Phillies

The reigning National League champs have claimed the top wild-card spot and will take on division rivals Miami in their wild-card matchup. This Phillies lineup can mash scoring the 8th most runs in 2023, hitting the 8th most home runs with 220, and possessing elite baserunning skills with 141 stolen bases (7th best in the league) with only 26 caught steals. Trea Turner has been on fire in the second half with an OPS+ of 141, a .292 BA, a .553 SLG, and 16 home runs. On top of that Trea was a perfect 30/30 on stolen base attempts this year. Bryce Harper is healthy and mashing the ball and will look to recapture some magic of his epic 2022 postseason. Nick Castellanos has finally been as advertised, Brandon Marsh has been a surprisingly solid bat, JT Realmuto remains amongst the game's best catchers, and Kyle Schwarber hits nukes.

The pitching staff however is a different story. Yes, Zack Wheeler is amongst the best aces in the national league, but from there Aaron Nola has been hit hard, surrendering 32 home runs to the tune of a 4.46 ERA, while Taijuan Walker and Ranger Suarez have struggled to keep runners off the bases with respective WHIPs of 1.31 and 1.41. The bullpen has been solid, with a 6th-best 3.56 ERA, and 608 strikeouts in 543 innings. What concerns me is their ability to eat innings, something that is important in the playoffs with their 543 innings pitched being the lowest in the majors. Their closer Craig Kimbrel has earned the nickname Cardiac Kimbrel during his time in Boston with a career postseason ERA of 4.13 in 24 innings pitched. The entire pitching staff will need to get it together if there is to be more bedlam at the bank this October.

Houston Astros

Just a week ago I was writing about how I didn’t think the Astros would make the postseason after a disastrous series against the Royals. Well not only did the Astros secure a playoff spot, they also secured the American League West, which comes with the #2 seed in the American League and a first-round bye. Despite all they went through, Altuve missing 72 games, Yordan missing 48 games, Abreu producing a negative WAR, Christian Javier having a 4.50 ERA, Hunter Brown having a 5.09 ERA, losing Luis Garcia to Tommy John surgery, they still won the AL West. They are never going to go away. This is the most unappealing Astros postseason roster in recent history, but they have Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Yordan Alvarez which means they automatically get one of the ALCS spots (sorry to the rest of the AL, I don’t make the rules).

In all seriousness the Astros have a solid team here, Kyle Tucker had a 30/30 season and is likely the AL MVP Runner-Up to Ohtani, Jose Altuve, and Yordan Alvarez mashed when healthy with OPSs of .915 and .990 respectively, and Alex Bregman had a bounce-back year with a 4.9 WAR. With these 4 alone, it is a lineup to be feared. Add in Jeremy Pena’s ability to be a stud in the playoffs a slash line of .345/.367/.638, and 4 home runs in the 2022 postseason en route to the ALCS and WS MVP, and the Astros are a scary team.

Add in the postseason resume of Justin Verlander, if Framber Valdez can bounce back from a rough second half, and JP France, Christian Javier, or Hunter Brown can shine in the rotation the Astros might just win back-to-back World Series.

The Pretenders:

Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers have a formidable lineup and a sturdy rotation. But add in a terrible bullpen and the bad luck of the 5th seed having to face the Rays rather than being the 6th seed and facing the Twins and the Rangers are unfortunately pretenders. The Rangers did do this to themselves though getting shutout 1-0 against the Mariners who were playing a meaningless game 162 after being eliminated from postseason contention the day before, allowing the Astros to capture the division title.

Now the Rangers did score the 3rd most runs in the league, led by arguably the best middle infield in the league Marcus Semien, and Corey Seager (who is a god without the shift by the way). The lineup adds some further pop with Leody Tavares (31 home runs), Adolis Garcia (39 home runs), and Mitch Garver (19 home runs in 87 games). Their lineup is formidable but I have a hard time believing Nathan Eovaldi, Dane Dunning, and Andrew Heaney or Jordan Montgomery along with the worst bullpen in the postseason will be able to get past the Tampa Bay Rays, maybe try locking down your division next year Texas, if Scherzer and DeGrom were healthy this would likely be a different story.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The future is bright in Arizona, and they will be back better. They have the unfortunate round 1 matchup against the Milwaukee Brewers, a series I have a hard time believing they can win. Their lineup is led by Corbin Carroll who locked down the NL rookie of the year and a possible top 5 MVP finish on the heels of a 25 home run, 54 stolen base season. Christian Walker provides some pop with 33 home runs, and Ketel Marte provides a well-rounded bat with a .276/.358/.485 slash line. The Diamondbacks have a solid 1-2 punch in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, but outside of that the rotation and bullpen is a question mark coming into the postseason with a team ERA of 4.48, the 20th best in the major leagues and the worst amongst all postseason teams.

This being said the future is bright in Arizona.

I’d Be More Than Shocked:

Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins second half started in disaster losing 8 straight games. Luckily the Wild Card field in the national league was not as good as the American League and the Marlins were able to stay in contention despite their struggles and they went 18-10-1 in September, allowing them to capture the 2nd wild card in the National League. The Marlins have the 3rd worst ERA amongst all postseason teams with a team ERA of 4.22. Sandy Alcantara and Eury Perez are both hurt and their bullpen is less than impressive with the 2nd worst bullpen era amongst teams in the playoffs. On top of that their offense was 25th in runs scored with 668 and their best hitter is a guy who hit 10 home runs en route to the NL Batting title, Lois Arraez who hit .354 this year.

Maybe I’m being a Debbie downer but I’d be shocked if the Marlins win their wild card matchup against the Phillies let alone make it to the World Series.

Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins had the advantage of playing in one of the worst divisions in baseball and despite having the #3 seed in the American League, they have the worst record amongst American League teams in the postseason. The Twins have not won a playoff game since 2004 and have not won a playoff series since the 2002 ALDS, with 18 consecutive postseason losses surely this has to end right?

Well, I could see it not ending, as the Twins have a tough matchup in their wild-card matchup, the Toronto Blue Jays. The wins scored the 10th most runs in 2023 with 778, with the third most home runs at 233. However, injuries have devastated this lineup with Carlos Correa, Royce Lewis, Byron Buxton, and Joey Gallo all ending the year on the injury list. If they can all or if most of them can return the Twins stand a chance against Toronto, however, that remains to be seen as we wait for the Twins to reveal their 25-man roster for the Wild Card series. The rotation is solid with Sonny Gray and Pablo Lopez leading the way supported by Bailey Ober and your choice of Joe Ryan or Kenta Maeda. The bullpen however is less than stellar, and I have a hard time believing in the Twins.

Who Will Win It All:

The Milwaukee Brewers will take home their franchise's first world series title in the 2023 postseason. Call me crazy, but I believe if anyone can get through the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers, and the Braves and beat the best the American League has to offer it will be the Brewers. Led by Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta this team will shut down some of the best lineups in baseball, and the lineup will be led by Christian Yelich and perform better than they have all year. The Brewers are coming into the playoffs hot, and although it will be a long shot I believe the Brewers could take the crown in 2023.

My Bracket:

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