And then there were eight.
The Wild Card Series have come and gone, and the Division Series, all four of them, will kick off on Saturday in the usual 2-2-1 format.
The schedules are a bit funky – the American League will only be off for travel days (Oct. 9 and Oct. 12), while the National League teams will have an off day between Games 1 and 2 (Oct. 8), in addition to their travel days (Oct. 10, Oct. 13).
Both series in the National League feature division rivals, while the path still runs through the kings of the American League, who have been perennial postseason contenders for years.
With that, here’s a deep dive into all four series:
The Atlanta Braves earned the bye after winning 104 games and their sixth consecutive NL East title – leading them to be the first team to clinch a postseason spot. They beat the team they are facing in this series to earn their bid, and at that point, they led the Phillies by a whopping 17 games.
Atlanta led the majors in just about every offensive category: batting average (.276), on-base percentage (.344), slugging percentage (.501 – an MLB record), home runs (another MLB record at 307), and runs (947). They’re led by likely NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr., who founded the 40-70 club, and MLB home run leader Matt Olson, who hit 54 dingers this season. Atlanta is rightfully the favorite to not only win this series, but the whole darn thing.
But make no mistake, the Philadelphia Phillies aren’t a cakewalk. The defending NL champs took down the Braves in last year’s NLDS and seemed like a Cinderella story to win it all until they ran into the Houston Astros. Aside from Kyle Schwarber’s 47 homers, the team doesn’t have any eye-popping numbers on offense, but their advantage comes in the rotation, notably with co-aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola who just mowed down the Miami Marlins in the wild card round.
Atlanta went 8-5 against Philadelphia in the regular season and is surely hungry for revenge after last season, but if Philly is able to steal one in Georgia, Citizens Bank Park is a nightmare for any visitor.
Despite losing Trea Turner in the offseason and taking a back seat through the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Dodgers still won the NL West and 100 games.
Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts, who bolstered OPS’s of .976 and .987, respectively, are two of the best players in baseball and have put up MVP-type seasons. In turn, they have two other 30-plus home run hitters in Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez.
Their rotation has taken hit after hit this season: Dustin May was lost for the season with an injury and Julio Urias experienced troubling allegations of domestic violence that cost him his 2023 campaign. They also didn’t have Walker Buehler all year, but still managed a 3.42 ERA out of the bullpen – one of the best out of remaining postseason teams, so Dave Roberts won’t be afraid to go there one bit. Oh, and Clayton Kershaw is still dominant when he pitches, posting a 2.46 ERA in 24 starts this year for his 16th season.
As for the Arizona Diamondbacks, not many expected them to be here, but Cy Young Award candidate Zac Gallen, likely Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll, and league veteran Ketel Marte carried them to October. The D-Backs rank around league-average in just about every category, and they actually had a -15 run differential this season, but have gone 29-19 dating back to Aug. 12. Sometimes it’s all about getting hot at the right time.
Los Angeles went 8-5 in the season series, including winning each of the last five.
Everyone knew the Baltimore Orioles were on the come up, but it’s hard to find anybody who had them winning 101 games and the AL East after the past four seasons where they lost 79, 115, 108 and 110 games, respectively.
In his rookie season, Gunnar Henderson’s .814 OPS was the best on the team, and his 82 RBIs were second. Baltimore’s offense isn’t overpowering, but everybody is a tough out. Jorge Mateo has Gold Glove talent at short, and as a unit, the Orioles are one of the best defensive teams in baseball.
They’re going to need that against a stout Texas Rangers offense that hit .263 as a team, the second-highest mark in the majors, and slugged .455, the third-best in baseball. If Shohei Ohtani didn’t exist, Corey Seager would probably win the AL MVP. Adolis Garcia added 39 homers and 107 RBIs, while Marcus Semien belted 29 of his own round-trippers and drove in 100 runs.
Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi mowed down the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild card round, and if they can get Max Scherzer back, that is one scary three-headed monster. However, their rotation will have to give them length: their bullpen’s 4.77 ERA was the seventh-worst in baseball and is the highest mark out of all remaining postseason teams.
Both teams lost 100-plus games two years ago. Now, they will fight for a trip to be a part of the final four after splitting the season series in the regular season.
The Houston Astros are aiming for their second straight World Series title, their third straight appearance in the Fall Classic, and their seventh-consecutive ALCS. Everything about the Astros speaks for itself – they have Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, their dominant bullpen, and just about everybody else from last year’s championship-winning squad. Even in a down year, they still won the AL West, and given their postseason experience, nobody should be surprised if they go back-to-back, considering the moment will never be too big for these guys.
On the other hand, something is brewing in Minnesota. Maybe it’s too early to describe it as a magic carpet ride, but the Twins just won their first postseason series in 21 years – their Game 1 victory snapped an 18-game postseason losing streak that stretched all the way back to 2004.
The Twins have pop, as they hit the third-most home runs in the majors, but they do strike out a ton. They went down on strikes in 26.6% of their plate appearances in the regular season (the most in baseball) and we know what elite pitching does to strikeout-prone teams. While it’s long been proven that home runs win (sorry, small ball lovers, but it’s the truth), Minnesota will have to shorten up when they don’t exactly need a homer.
Speaking of elite pitching, the Twins have it. Their starters posted a combined 3.82 ERA, the second-best in baseball and lowest among postseason teams.
And speaking of the big moment, are the Twins ready for it? They sure looked it when they swept the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild card, who seemed to crumble under pressure. But Houston is a different animal.
Minnesota won four of the six matchups during the season, so they’ll be looking to keep that up.