Before the 2023 MLB playoffs get underway, we’re going to be treated to a furious few weeks of jockeying in the standings, notably in the wild-card standings in both leagues. Once that happens, the dust will settle for about a day and then we’ll have what’s sure to be some outstanding Wild Card Series to kick off the playoffs.
To underline that point, we’re going to look at some of the best potential matchups for the wild-card round of the playoffs right here.
First, let’s point out a few realities:
- The Braves and Dodgers won’t be involved. They are each cruising to byes.
- Whoever wins the AL East and whoever wins the AL West will also get byes.
- Also on the AL side, it’s incredibly unlikely the Red Sox make a playoff run while everyone below them is toast. That means we’re looking at seven teams for six slots with the Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays or Astros being the team left out in the cold while the Twins, Orioles and Rays are sure things.
- On the NL side, the Padres and everyone below them are done. Still, after the Braves and Dodgers there are four playoff spots remaining and seven teams with a reasonable shot to get in.
- The Wild Card Series feature division winners. The third division winner from each league hosts the third wild-card team (No. 6 seed) for a three-game series while the other two wild cards square off with the No. 5 seed hosting No. 5 for a best-of-three bout.
We’re only looking at matchups that have a decent chance of happening. Keep in mind, either the Rays or Orioles will be the four seed with the Twins as the three, so we unfortunately can’t dream much on AL West matchups in the first round.
Here are, according to me, the five best potential Wild Card Series matchups.
5. Twins vs. anyone
We’ll start with a little cheating from me since I didn’t pick a specific opponent, but there’s intrigue around the worst division winner this season no matter who they play. The Twins organization has lost 18 consecutive playoff games, going all the way back to 2004. Johan Santana vs. Mike Mussina was the pitching matchup with Joe Nathan securing the save for the Twins in Game 1. The Twins then lost three straight to the Yankees to drop that series and haven’t won a playoff game since. There’s intrigue around any possible series here. It’ll be against either the Blue Jays or one of the three West contenders. If forced to pick one here and avoid the cheating, I’ll go with the Astros. They are the defending champs and also were the last team to beat the Twins in the playoffs.
Of the upstart teams fighting for the final spot in the NL playoff race — a group that includes the Marlins and Diamondbacks — the Reds are the most exciting to watch. They have a handful of rookies, a penchant for dramatic games and one of the most exciting players in baseball in Elly De La Cruz.
There’s also this nugget: The difference in the division between these two teams right now is solely the Brewers’ head-to-head dominance. The Brewers lead the Reds by seven games heading into Tuesday and they lead the season series 10-3. It would be a fun storyline to see if the Reds could reverse their fortunes in a quick series in Milwaukee.
3. Cubs vs. Brewers
The most likely path to this matchup would be the Cubs falling down the six seed while the Brewers hold on in the NL Central. It’s only two games away from happening.
These two teams have actually been sparring for years and the fan bases don’t particularly care for another, notably the Milwaukee fans who get peeved at seeing Cubs fans hop on the highway and drive north to invade American Family Field.
The season series to this point is a 5-5 split and the two teams face off the final three games of the season. It’s entirely possible for the division to be up for grabs during that series while the loser could end up in the six spot and there’s all kinds of drama in that.
2. Astros vs. Orioles
As noted above, we’re unfortunately a bit handcuffed in the AL side, logistically. I couldn’t put together an AL West battle (Mariners-Astros and Astros-Rangers would both be incredibly juicy) and I couldn’t even go with the ol’ Rangers-Blue Jays heavyweight bout (the Bautista-Odor Bowl).
At this point, it’s likely this Astros-Orioles series wouldn’t happen until the ALDS or, more likely, ALCS.
It is still possible to happen in the Wild Card Series, though. It’s a very intriguing matchup. Orioles architect Mike Elias came from the Astros and followed a very similar blueprint in building the O’s in the Astros mold. It’s also a team with very, very little playoff experience for a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2016 taking on a team that hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2016 and who has also won four pennants and two World Series titles since.
We could get specific with stuff like the playoff fixtures (Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez et al) against the newbies (Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson et al), but the point is, we’ve seen these types of playoff matchups many times all across sports and it’s always appointment television.
Hopefully this matchup happens, even if not the first round.
This is how things are slotted right now and it would be the No. 1 draw for the networks. It is two of baseball’s oldest franchises with two of the most rabid fan bases and two large markets. They have never played each other in the playoffs.
The Phillies have former Cubs Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos in the lineup and former Cubs reliever Craig Kimbrel as their current closer. The Phillies are the defending NL champs after their unlikely run from the third wild-card spot last season and have gone 5-1 against the Cubs this season.
The Cubs have actually been one of the best teams in baseball for a bit. Only the Braves, Orioles and Dodgers have been better since June 8. The Phillies are right behind the Cubs in that span, though.
We know about the Phillies’ workhorses in the rotation from last season, but the biggest Cy Young contender here is Cubs lefty Justin Steele. The Cubs have playoff stalwarts in Dansby Swanson and Cody Bellinger — who is having a monster bounce-back season — while the Phillies sport all kinds of star power, starting with Bryce Harper and a resurgent Trea Turner.
There’s more, but the main point is this will be a tasty matchup and it looks like it’s going to happen.
Honorable mention possibilities:
- Marlins vs. Phillies
- Reds vs. Cubs
- Diamondbacks vs. Brewers
- Blue Jays vs. Rays
- Blue Jays vs. Orioles