Let’s do something that is bound to blow up in our faces and attempt to rank the offenses and the pitching staffs in this 2023 MLB postseason field.
This is a daunting exercise for a variety of reasons. It’s usually senseless to cite regular-season stats -- not just because anything can happen in the one-month sample that is October baseball -- but because the postseason schedule is so different than the regular-season schedule that rosters condense to their most essential elements and therefore operate much differently than they did in the previous six months.
So … why do we do this? Because it’s fun and will fire people up, that’s why! It’s a catch-all way to rate the relative strengths of these squads … and then get yelled at by strangers.
To the (very much subjective) rankings!
This is not a lineup, it’s a video game. The Braves had a record-breaking team slugging percentage and a team weighted runs created plus mark similar to that of the ’27 Yankees. Matt Olson led the Majors in homers and set franchise records for homers and RBIs… and wasn’t even the most productive player on his own squad (that would be Ronald Acuña Jr., obviously).
The Rangers had 10 guys qualify for the batting title with OPS+ marks above league average. When this lineup clicks, it does so in a big way, as evidenced by an MLB-leading (and franchise record-breaking) 26 games with 10 runs or more. Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Adolis García all performed like the stars that they are, and Mitch Garver had a big bounceback season.
With Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman both in MVP-level form this year, J.D. Martinez and Jason Heyward proving to be impact acquisitions, Max Muncy bouncing back and rookie James Outman instantly asserting himself, the Dodgers are as dangerous as ever. They get on base and hit for power at elite rates, and they got a bit more aggressive on the basepaths as the season evolved to become less station-to-station.
Injury issues may have hampered the Astros’ overall output this season. But ultimately, this group remains a force of nature, made all the more dangerous by the breakouts of center fielder Chas McCormick and catcher Yainer Diaz and the recent return of Michael Brantley. The Astros hit for power and for contact, are balanced and experienced and are just generally a total handful.
Though the Rays’ early-season onslaught predictably regressed more toward the mean, this was still a stunning year for Tampa Bay's bats. Their runs per game increased from 4.1 in ’22 to 5.3, and their home runs per game went from 0.9 to 1.4. This is a group with the power and speed to change games.
The Phillies almost bashed their way to a World Series title last year. Thanks to the arrival of Trea Turner, who turned it on in the second half, the quick healing of Bryce Harper, the return to prominence of Nick Castellanos and the maturation of Bryson Stott, Brandon Marsh and Alec Bohm, this year’s lineup is even better, even with Rhys Hoskins on the shelf all season.
Though a young core fronted by Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson is exciting, the O’s only produce home runs at a middle-of-the-pack rate. But they are adept at situational hitting -- with the best batting average in MLB with runners in scoring position -- and at taking the extra bag on the basepaths. They also limit strikeouts. The postseason typically rewards raw power, but the new rules environment heightens the impact of the things the O’s do well.
8) Blue Jays
This might be the most frustrating lineup in MLB. Toronto has a ton of talent and seemingly improved its balance in the offseason. But after finishing second in the AL in runs last season, the Jays tumbled to the middle of the pack this year with a maddeningly inconsistent output. Pedestrian years for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Matt Chapman and George Springer hampered the run production, but we can’t rule out the possibility that the Jays will get hot when it matters most.
Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton both had OPS+ marks below league average, Joey Gallo wasn’t much better and the Twins lead the Majors in strikeouts by a wide margin. Take note, though, that the Twins had the AL’s second-highest rate of runs per game in the second half, predominantly because a mostly right-handed lineup greatly improved against lefties. The Twins were pretty banged up down the stretch, with Correa, Buxton and Royce Lewis all on the shelf, but the emergence of rookies Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner make this lineup a real X-factor.
Arizona is middle of the pack in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and other major categories. But the Corbin Carroll-led club’s youth and speed can be a difference-maker on the postseason stage.
Thanks in part to their in-season acquisitions, most notably outfielder Mark Canha, the Brewers have been more productive in the second half than the first, increasing their runs per game by more than half a run and putting together more big innings. William Contreras was a tremendous offseason add, and Christian Yelich has had his best offensive season since his 2018-19 peak. All that said, no one would claim offense is the backbone of this club.
The Marlins aced the Trade Deadline with the impact acquisitions of Josh Bell and Jake Burger, and of course the offseason arrival of Luis Arraez and a bounceback year for Jorge Soler have clearly moved the needle, too. But this remains one of the lowest-scoring teams in MLB, in part because of one of the league’s lowest walk rates and second-half struggles with runners in scoring position. Arraez also dealt with an ankle injury late in the year.
If Milwaukee is going to punch up in this postseason field and come out with an NL pennant, an elite pitching staff will lead the way. In the second half, this group has allowed the fewest runs in MLB, thanks to co-aces Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta surging simultaneously. Even with Woodruff (shoulder) out for at least the Wild Card Series, this is still a strong group. The emergence of rookie Abner Uribe to go with Hoby Milner and Joel Payamps has helped build a strong bridge to unhittable closer Devin Williams.
2) Blue Jays
Despite a disastrous season from Opening Day starter Alek Manoah, the Blue Jays are as well positioned in the starting staff as any postseason club. Toronto is the only MLB team with four starters who have logged at least 160 innings (Chris Bassitt, José Berríos, Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi), and all of them have been above league-average. Hyun Jin Ryu has also returned from injury to assert himself as an option. This puts the Jays in position to ease the pressure on a very good bullpen that has been boosted by the in-season acquisition of Jordan Hicks.
It’s been a long, long time since the Twins entered October with a rotation outlook as strong as what they’ll be rolling out in the Wild Card Series with Pablo López, Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan, all of whom rank in the top 10 in the AL in xERA. Then they can turn it over to a bullpen that recently returned Chris Paddack and Brock Stewart from injury to join Jhoan Duran, Emilio Pagán, Caleb Thielbar, et. al. The Twins also have a nice synthesis between the statheads and manager Rocco Baldelli that should help them maximize matchups.
Having two frontline aces in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola is what made the sixth-seeded Phillies so dangerous going into October last year. The wear of all the extra October/November work might have muted their performance this season, but that’s still a difficult matchup in a short series, and Taijuan Walker and Ranger Suárez are both viable options to round it out. The bullpen looks deeper than a year ago, though Craig Kimbrel can endure some shaky stretches. Recent callup Orion Kerkering is a really interesting wild card.
The loss of closer Félix Bautista to an elbow issue was one of baseball’s biggest late-season bummers, and Trade Deadline acquisition Jack Flaherty was not able to boost a rotation in need. That said, don’t sleep on Kyle Bradish’s breakout, Grayson Rodriguez’s in-season development and John Means’ return from Tommy John, all of which give the rotation a much different sheen than it had a short time ago. DL Hall, Tyler Wells and Flaherty are interesting wild cards in the Bautista-less bullpen.
A pretty typical Rays season. Because of their inclination toward elite raw stuff that comes with debatable dependability, they used 16 starting pitchers and had one of the lowest starters’ ERA marks and lowest starters’ innings totals. They also had a bullpen that evolved in personnel and improved considerably as the season rolled along. You’d feel an awful lot better about the Rays’ chances if Shane McClanahan were in the rotation mix, and the recent loss of setup man Jason Adam to an oblique injury is another blow. It comes down to faith that elite skipper Kevin Cash can put the right pieces in the right places, as he tends to do.
Houston’s October pitching staff just isn’t the same without Justin Verlander, and … oh, wait, what’s that? He’s back? Ah, right. Well, then. It actually looks very similar to last year. Alas, the performance of the rotation featuring Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and rookies J.P. France and Hunter Brown has not been up to last year’s caliber, especially with a soaring home run rate in the second half. Rafael Montero’s disastrous season has also hindered the bullpen a bit. Don’t get us wrong, this is still a very strong group. But the outlook has more question marks than a year ago.
Atlanta waltzed its way to yet another NL East title behind a ruthless lineup. But the pitching staff does have legit concerns going into the NLDS. Veteran Charlie Morton will miss at least that round due to a sprained index finger, and Max Fried has dealt with a lingering blister issue. Spencer Strider is elite but can be bit by the long ball, and Bryce Elder has been a rotation savior but doesn’t miss many bats. The worry is that the Braves don’t get length from their starters and tax the bullpen.
This will be nothing if not interesting. We’ve watched the Dodgers’ starting staff wither away. Clayton Kershaw leads the team in innings. The top rotation options after him are a raw rookie in Bobby Miller and a veteran in Lance Lynn, who, until recently, looked washed. Manager Dave Roberts is going to use openers, tandems, quick hooks and lean heavily on what has been a terrific bullpen. As always, the Dodgers have a lot of weapons, but the questions about how to deploy them and piece together the innings it takes to advance cloud their ranking here.
Jesús Luzardo has looked like an ace and Braxton Garrett has also been excellent this year. But the rotation is not the same without reigning NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara and rookie sensation Eury Pérez, whose absences put a big damper on what could have been a fascinating fall for the Fish. The bullpen, in which Tanner Scott has emerged as the closer and Andrew Nardi has been a revelation, is capable but has been asked to carry the freight of late.
You can get whiplash thinking about all the twists and turns for this group over the last year. Between the Jacob deGrom signing and subsequent injury, the Max Scherzer trade and subsequent injury, the Aroldis Chapman trade and subsequent shakiness, it’s been a ride. The Rangers are among the MLB leaders in blown saves and, as of this writing, have a September staff ERA north of 5, so they’re not going to get a lot of love on this list. But Jordan Montgomery was a huge addition, Nathan Eovaldi has returned from injury, Scherzer is engaged in a throwing program, and there’s no telling where this rollercoaster goes.
At the top end of the rotation, the D-backs have Cy Young candidate Zac Gallen and the reliable Merrill Kelly. In the back end of the bullpen, the recently acquired Paul Sewald and setup man Kevin Ginkel have been a strength. In an October environment in which your best arms occupy the most innings, perhaps Arizona can make the most of these stabilizing pieces. But on the whole, this is one of the thinner staffs in the field.