The 14 most common postseason matchups

January 21st, 2023

Sometimes, the postseason brings us matchups that just don't happen very often -- like the 2015 National League Division Series between the Cubs and Cardinals, which was the longtime rivals' first -- and thus far, only -- postseason matchup. But often times, there are matchups that come around in multiple postseasons, with each new year building upon past grudge matches.

With the 49ers and Cowboys meeting for a ninth time in the postseason Sunday, tying an NFL record, it's a good time to look back on the list for baseball's playoff history.

Here’s a look at the most common playoff series confrontations. (Note: Wild Card Games are counted as series for the purposes of this list).

1) Yankees-Dodgers (11 series)
Yankees 8, Dodgers 3
Most recent matchup: 1981 World Series
Notable matchup: 1955 World Series (Dodgers, 4-3)

The Dodgers finally broke through against the Yankees in 1955, beating them in the World Series for the first time after five previous defeats at the hands of New York, and seven overall, to capture the franchise’s first championship. A few years later, the clubs went from crosstown counterparts to cross-country foes, but the distance didn’t put a stop to the rivalry, which continued through the '60s, '70s and '80s. The teams’ most recent postseason matchup was in 1981, the second-to-last time the Dodgers won it all (they also won more recently in '88).

2) Yankees-Giants (7 series)
Yankees 5, Giants 2
Most recent matchup: 1962 World Series
Notable matchup: 1923 World Series (Yankees, 4-2)

It stands to reason that the second-most frequent matchup was between the Yankees and their other former crosstown rivals. One of the most impressive facts about the Yankees’ record 27 World Series titles is that the franchise didn’t even win its first one until 1923 -- in a matchup against the GIants. The Yankees had dropped the first two head-to-head postseason series with the Giants, in '21 and '22, but returned to the Fall Classic in '23 and took down the local foe to win the team’s first title. They haven’t lost a series to the Giants in the postseason since, though they last faced off in '62.

3-T) Yankees-Twins (6 series)
Yankees 6, Twins 0
Most recent matchup: 2019 ALDS
Notable matchup: 2003 ALDS (Yankees, 3-1)

All six postseason matchups between these two teams have come since 2003, and there were far more similarities between the iterations of the teams involved in the first four matchups than to 2017, when the teams met in the AL Wild Card game, or '19. The '03-04 and '09-10 postseason matchups were stories of the dynastic Yankees, on the heels of World Series titles or headed to the World Series later that fall, depending on the year. In '03, a 90-win Twins team faced the Yankees in the ALDS after an ALCS appearance in '02 and won Game 1 before dropping the subsequent three -- and that essentially set the tone for this head-to-head postseason matchup. The Yankees currently own a 13-game postseason win streak against the Twins after sweeping them in the 2019 ALDS, the longest for any team against a single opponent in October history.

3-T) Reds-Pirates (6 series)
Reds 4, Pirates 2
Most recent matchup: 2013 NL Wild Card Game
Notable matchup: 1972 NLCS (Reds 3, Pirates 2)

The two teams faced off five times between 1970-1990, before meeting again in the 2013 NL Wild Card Game. While the most enduring recent memory will be the “Cueto” chants in Pittsburgh causing the Reds’ ace to drop the ball on the mound and eventually turn in a less-than-stellar outing, our most notable matchup here brings a history lesson instead. In 1972, when the LCS round was still best-of-five, the Pirates led the Reds, 3-2, headed to the bottom of the 9th in a decisive Game 5 in Cincinnati. But Johnny Bench led off the half-inning with a game-tying solo homer off the Pirates’ Dave Giusti, and Tony Perez singled a batter later. After another single by Denis Menke, the Pirates brought in Bob Moose, who induced two outs to bring the team to an out away from a World Series appearance with runners on first and third. But with Hal McRae batting, Moose threw a wild pitch and George Foster, who’d pinch-run for Perez and taken third on a fly ball, scampered home to give the Reds a walk-off win in Roberto Clemente's final game.

3-T) Guardians-Yankees (6 series)
Results: Yankees 4, Cleveland 2
Most recent matchup: 2022 ALDS
Notable matchup: 1998 ALCS (Yankees, 4-2)

Postseason matchups between these two teams are a product of the Wild Card Era and the advent of central divisions, as the two teams were together in the AL East before '94. Cleveland won the first matchup in the 1997 ALDS, winning a decisive Game 5. The team hasn't won a winner-take-all game since, against any opponent. And of course, we can't talk Cleveland-Yankees postseason series without mentioning the midges, which descended upon Joba Chamberlain in the 2007 ALDS, which Cleveland won.

3-T) Braves-Astros (6 series)
Braves 4, Astros 2
Most recent matchup: 2021 World Series
Notable matchup: 2001 NLDS (Braves, 3-0)

The Braves won the series the first three times these two teams met in the postseason, before dropping the next two matchups. The teams met five times between 1997-2005 in the midst of the Braves’ record streak of division titles. Then, in 2021, the teams met in the World Series, with the Astros now in the AL. Atlanta won that matchup in six games.

3-T) Cardinals-Dodgers (6 series)
Cardinals 4, Dodgers 2
Most recent matchup: 2021 NL Wild Card Game
Notable matchup: 2013 NLCS (Cardinals, 4-2)

The '13 matchup got off to a marathon start, with the first game going 13 innings as the Cardinals finally won, 3-2. The Cardinals got out to a 2-0 series lead with a Game 2 win in a 1-0 game where L.A. ace Clayton Kershaw allowed just an unearned run. Game 6 featured Kershaw again, and this time, the Kershaw postseason struggles narrative gained fodder as he allowed seven runs on 10 hits in four innings with his team needing a win to stave off elimination and force a Game 7.

8-T) Cardinals-Yankees (5 series)
Cardinals 3, Yankees 2
Most recent matchup: 1964 World Series
Notable matchup: 1964 World Series (Cardinals, 4-3)

Of the five World Series between these two teams, two have gone the distance -- the first matchup, in 1926, and the most recent, in '64. The first Game 7 saw the Cardinals grab a 3-1 lead on an error and a single in a game they’d eventually win, 3-2. The more recent Game 7, in '64, featured a complete -game performance by Bob Gibson -- though he did allow five runs, including three home runs. But the Cards scored more, tacking on seven runs off a combo of Yankees pitchers. St. Louis got out to a 6-0 lead in a game they’d eventually win, 7-5, on sequences in the fourth and fifth innings that included Tim McCarver stealing home and a Lou Brock home run.

8-T) Cleveland-Red Sox (5 series)
Cleveland 3, Red Sox 2
Most recent matchup: 2016 ALCS
Notable matchup: 2007 ALCS (Red Sox, 4-3)

The postseason series between these two teams have come down to a decisive game twice, in the 1999 ALDS and the 2007 ALCS, with the Red Sox winning each of those series. Cleveland took a 3-1 series lead in the 2007 ALCS, but then lost the next three games, as the Red Sox outscored them, 30-5, over that span. Cleveland ace CC Sabathia, who would be awarded the first and only Cy Young Award of his career that November, allowed four runs in six innings in Game 5 when Cleveland had a chance to clinch the series at home, and the team lost, 7-1, and saw their offense go quietly in the next two games, too. The Red Sox would reach the World Series and win it for their second title in four years.

8-T) Red Sox-Angels (5 series)
Red Sox 4, Angels 1
Most recent matchup: 2009 ALDS
Notable matchup: 2009 ALDS (Angels, 3-0)

After four previous matchups, all losses by the Angels, Los Angeles finally broke through against Boston in 2009. The Red Sox had taken down the Angels en route to World Series appearances in 1986, 2004 and '07, with the latter two resulting in Boston championships. In the '09 sweep, Angels pitchers held the Red Sox to just a .158 team batting average and one homer in the series.

8-T) Phillies-Dodgers (5 series)
Phillies 3, Dodgers 2
Most recent matchup: 2009 NLCS
Notable matchup: 2009 NLCS (Phillies, 4-1)

The matchups between these two teams have come in bunches, as they met in 1977, '78 and 1983, and then again in 2008 and '09. The Dodgers won the first two postseason series between these teams, but haven’t taken the Phillies down in a playoff series since. The series have featured plenty of emotions -- including some bench-clearing in Game 3 of the '08 NLCS -- and exciting moments. In Game 4 of the '09 series, which the Phillies entered with a 2-1 series lead, Jonathan Broxton was tasked with protecting a one-run lead as the Dodgers led, 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth. After a Raul Ibanez groundout, Broxton walked Matt Stairs, then hit Carlos Ruiz with a pitch, sending pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett to second. After a Greg Dobbs lineout, Jimmy Rollins stepped to the plate for the Phils and knocked a 1-1 pitch for a walk-off double. With any potential momentum in the Dodgers’ favor having very quickly shifted, the Phillies won, 10-4, in Game 5 to seal the series win and a second straight trip to the World Series.

8-T) Dodgers-Braves (5 series)
Results: Dodgers 3, Braves 2
Most recent matchup: 2021 NLCS
Notable matchup: 2021 NLCS (Braves, 4-2)

These two teams met for the first time in the postseason in 1996, and have now met four more times since 2013. In '21, the Braves took down the 106-win Dodgers in the NLCS. Atlanta had won 18 fewer regular-season games than Los Angeles, making it the fourth-largest regular-season wins upset in a postseason series.

8-T) Cardinals-Braves (5 series)
Results: Cardinals 4, Braves 1
Most recent matchup: 2019 NLDS
Notable matchup: 1996 NLCS (Braves, 4-3)

The two largest series-clinching wins in postseason history have both come in matchups between these two clubs. The Braves won NLCS Game 7, 15-0, marking the largest. And in 2019, the Cardinals won NLDS Game 5, 13-1, with that 12-run margin being the second-largest in a playoff series clincher by any team.

8-T) Red Sox-Yankees (5 series)
Red Sox 3, Yankees 2
Most recent matchup: 2021 AL Wild Card Game
Notable matchup: 2004 ALCS (Red Sox, 4-3)

This matchup has given us iconic moments, like Aaron Boone's Game 7 walk-off home run in the 2003 ALCS. But the most memorable and historic fact associated with this rivalry's postseason exploits is the '04 ALCS. That's when the Red Sox engineered the only 3-0 comeback in a best-of-seven series in MLB postseason history.