At last, we know the four teams that will populate each of our League Championship Series. We have the Phillies, a raucous, brash and joyously intense team with a home crowd that matches their unique charisma and noise. We have the D-backs, the most unlikely team to have made it this far and one that, it should be said, has yet to lose in this postseason. We have the Rangers, a team that is also yet to lose this October and has some of its key players returning from injury just when they need them the most. And we have the Astros, the defending champions, trying to do something that hasn’t been done this century: Win two World Series in a row.
Each of these teams has its own dramas and storylines and narratives, but it’s what happens when you combine these teams together, in theoretical World Series matchups, that they’re the most fascinating. As the ALCS preps to begin on Sunday night (and the NLCS on Monday), here’s a look at the major theme of each of the four potential World Series matchups. One of these is going to actually happen. Here’s what we’ll be talking about when it does.
Phillies-Rangers: The Free Agency Works! Series
Every Hot Stove season, you hear it from the efficiency experts: Signing players to mega-contracts is a risky strategy! These are players entering their decline phases with contracts that are destined to turn out poorly! Well, the Phillies and Rangers would be two extremely high-profile refutations to that notion.
These teams were in many ways built with free agency. The Phillies spent big to bring in all their stars: Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Zack Wheeler, even Craig Kimbrel. And the Rangers were even more all-in on free agents. This franchise announced its insistence on busting out of the AL West cellar by paying big money to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien (as well as Jon Gray) prior to 2022, then followed it up a year later with Jacob deGrom (who, of course, won’t be here) and Nathan Eovaldi. The next time a team executive tries to argue that they shouldn’t be spending money in the offseason, if this matchup happens, you’ll simply need to point to the World Series. Spending is how they got here.
D-backs-Rangers: The Quick Rebuild Series
We’ve already established how the Rangers turned themselves around -- spending! -- but we haven’t really looked that closely at just how quickly they did it. The Rangers lost 102 games just two seasons ago, with a team that gave regular at-bats to players like David Dahl, Eli White, DJ Peters and Brock Holt. (That team got 24 starts from Mike Foltynewicz!) It’s not like last year was much better: They lost 94 in 2022.
But that’s still a better total record than the D-backs have had over the last two seasons. They lost a stunning 110 games in 2021, a year in which Zac Gallen went 4-10. (It’s hard to even imagine Zac Gallen going 4-10.) They weren’t quite as bad last year, losing 88 games, but this certainly wasn’t a team anyone ticketed for the World Series anytime soon. But Corbin Carroll – the NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner -- gave the team a bona fide superstar. Ketel Marte got healthy and played like an All-Star. Christian Walker continued to show he’s one of the better late-bloomers in recent history. Oh, and Gallen was a Cy Young contender. Voila, you have a contender.
If your team is struggling, even if it has been struggling for a while, these two teams are proof that a turnaround for you could be just around the corner.
Astros-D-backs: The David vs. Goliath Series
It’s difficult, in a league with just 30 teams, in a sport where last-place teams win series over first-place teams all the time, to try to find a true massive underdog out there. But this one is about as close as you could come, right? The Astros just reached their seventh straight ALCS, and are trying to make the World Series for the fifth time in seven years. They’re also trying to become the first team to win two consecutive World Series since the 1998-2000 Yankees. That was a long time ago. It was such a long time ago that the D-backs -- in their last World Series appearance -- were the team that ended that streak. The D-backs won only 84 regular-season games, and were considered by some to be the worst team heading into this postseason. And they’d be facing the juggernaut, the team trying to make history. It would be tough to find a bigger underdog. And everybody loves an underdog.
Phillies-Astros: The Rematch Series
You would think that World Series rematches would happen a lot more often than they do. The Braves and Yankees basically dominated the ‘90s, but they never met two seasons in a row (and only twice overall, in 1996 and 1999); same with the Astros and Dodgers over the last decade, and they only met once (2017) in the Fall Classic. But if the Phillies and Astros can win their LCS, we’ll have the first World Series rematch since … 1978.
That was the Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin Yankees beating the Dodgers in six games in two straight World Series. Before then, we hadn’t had one since 1958. (You can see the full history of World Series rematches here.) Last year’s World Series was a fun one, but with franchises like the Astros and the Phillies, there’s a lot more drama here to mine. If these two teams meet again, there’s every reason to believe this one would be even better.