10 Dream Matchups We Want to See in 2023 MLB Postseason
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Given how entertaining the regular season has been, Major League Baseball’s 2023 postseason will be a thrilling month-long ride, regardless of who faces whom.
But there are a handful of possible matchups that would really move the proverbial needle.
For this discussion, all forms of matchups are on the table: batter vs. batter, pitcher vs. pitcher, batter vs. pitcher, player vs. team, team vs. team, manager vs. any of the above.
Anything where the content almost writes itself, either because of previous meetings, one party’s dominance, historic relevance or a combination of it all.
Basically, it’s a bunch of, “Oh yeah, that’d be a ton of fun.”
We made sure to include every team with at least a 10 percent chance of making the postseason in at least one of these 10 matchups. This way, it’s not just a whole bunch of Braves/Dodgers/Astros hot air. We didn’t even include possible World Series rematches from 2022 (Houston-Philadelphia), 2021 (Atlanta-Houston), 2020 (Los Angeles-Tampa Bay) or 2017 (Houston-Los Angeles), even though those would surely be entertaining.
The list is presented in no particular order.
Ronald Acuña Jr. vs. Mookie Betts (and Atlanta vs. Los Angeles in General)
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Over the course of what’s left of the regular season, the debate between Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mookie Betts for NL MVP is certain to be one of the biggest daily talking points.
Acuña is leading the majors in hits, runs, stolen bases and on-base percentage, and has already become the first ever member of the 30/60 club with 35 home runs, 64 stolen bases and counting. But Betts had a sensational August, surging into the NL lead in slugging and OPS and storming back into the MVP conversation.
If I had a vote, it would go to Acuña. But that could change down the stretch.
Either way, it’s just about a foregone conclusion that they will finish 1-2 in one order or the other. And with all due respect to the other contenders in the National League, it has felt for some time now like we are destined for an Atlanta-Los Angeles NLCS showdown.
And while you might assume that the MVP winner and first runner-up square off in the postseason on a fairly regular basis, they don’t.
Dating back to 2010, it has only happened twice: Houston’s José Altuve vs. New York’s Aaron Judge in the 2017 ALCS and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman vs. Los Angeles’ Betts in the 2020 NLCS. Both series were seven-game classics, with Betts the only member of the quartet who didn’t hit multiple home runs in the series.
But the vote wasn’t exactly split in either of those years. Altuve got 27 of the 30 first-place votes in 2017; Freeman received 28 of 30 in 2020.
The last time there was any MVP debate whatsoever heading into a postseason meeting (the vote is held before the postseason begins, but the results aren’t revealed until November) was in 2007 when Matt Holliday and the Colorado Rockies swept Jimmy Rollins and the Philadelphia Phillies out of the NLDS.
Rollins ended up winning MVP by a margin of 17 votes, but it was Holliday who hit five home runs in his 11 postseason games.
Cody Bellinger vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
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Of all the matchups on this list, if we had to pick one and only one to actually come to fruition, it would be Cody Bellinger squaring off with his former team.
Bellinger had been absolutely woeful at the plate over the previous two years. He hit .193 with a .611 OPS between 2021-22, and he wasn’t exactly showing signs of improvement, batting .227 with a .617 OPS and two home runs over his final 36 games of last season.
Among the 172 players who made at least 800 plate appearances between 2021-22, only Kevin Newman and Martin Maldonado had worse wRC+ than Bellinger’s extremely-not-nice mark of 69.
While struggling to find his swing, he cost the Dodgers $16.1 million in 2021, another $17 million in 2022 and was going to end up getting a similar amount in his final year of arbitration in 2023. So they non-tendered him and instead invested that $17-ish million in the trio of J.D. Martinez, David Peralta and Jason Heyward, which has worked out pretty well for them.
But Bellinger came back with a vengeance with the Chicago Cubs.
He isn’t quite slugging like he did while winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2017 or while winning NL MVP in 2019, but there’s a chance he’ll end this season with more home runs (currently 25) than he had in the previous two seasons combined (29). His batting average (.318) is better than ever, he’s stealing more bases (20) than ever and he’s striking out less often (15.9 percent) than in any previous season.
By kicking him to the curb, the Dodgers lit a fire inside of Bellinger, and he has been especially motivated to kick their asses, posting a 1.300 OPS with six extra-base hits in his seven games against Los Angeles this season.
Los Angeles is pretty well entrenched as the NL’s No. 2 seed, and Chicago still could overtake Milwaukee to win the NL Central and secure the No. 3 seed. If that happens, the Cubs would just need to win their wild-card matchup with the No. 6 seed in order to set up the dream Bellinger-Dodgers showdown.
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Toronto Blue Jays
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We also had this one on last year’s list of dream postseason matchups, but this October will mark the 30-year anniversary of what is easily one of the five most memorable moments in World Series history: Joe Carter’s series-ending, walk-off home run against Mitch Williams in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.
The Philadelphia Phillies have at least won a World Series since then, taking down the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. However, the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t been back to the Fall Classic since 1993, and last year was the first time they both made the postseason in the same year, each making the cut as a wild-card team.
Step one in setting up this possible rematch is actually getting both teams into the field again.
The Phillies are certainly in good shape with a five-game cushion above the cut line. They’ve been penciled in as the National League’s No. 4 seed for a good while now.
The Blue Jays are much more likely to be a photo finish, currently partaking in a gigantic four-game series against the Texas Rangers. They also still have six games against the Rays later this month, making it anyone’s guess whether Toronto will be able to sneak in as either the AL’s No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
If they do both make it, though, it’s maybe the best possible World Series pairing from a historical perspective.
Corbin Carroll vs. Gunnar Henderson
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Who’s ready for the random historical trivia tidbit of the article?
Since Major League Baseball started awarding a Rookie of the Year in both the American League and the National League in 1949, there have been just three cases of those Rookies of the Year meeting in the World Series: Gil McDougald and Willie Mays in 1951, Dave Righetti and Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, and Buster Posey and Neftalí Feliz in 2010.
Could we be headed for a fourth such showdown with Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson squaring off with Arizona’s Corbin Carroll?
Whether or not they both will win the award is something of a foregone conclusion at this point, as the two preseason favorites have run away with those crowns.
Henderson took a seriously roundabout route to that end, getting out to a brutal start for the first two months and not re-emerging as the favorite until after Texas’ Josh Jung suffered a broken thumb in early August. Nevertheless, the engravers can go ahead and start etching these names on those trophies.
And if we do end up with Arizona vs. Baltimore, it’d be difficult to overstate how crucial these rookies have been in both teams being better than anyone expected, each leading their team in WAR by a sizable margin.
Baltimore’s preseason win total was 76.5. Arizona’s was 75.5. Obviously the O’s have overachieved more than the Diamondbacks have, but it’s hard to believe we can even dream of this World Series pairing.
Max Scherzer vs. Justin Verlander
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We just got this pitching matchup last Wednesday, and it wasn’t anywhere near the duel gem that we hoped it would be.
After allowing Marcus Semien to hit a home run on his first pitch of the night, Justin Verlander more than held up his end of the bargain, giving up just one more unearned run in his seven innings of work.
But Max Scherzer got hammered for seven earned runs in just three innings as the Astros put the finishing touches on their domination of the Rangers in that three-game series.
But, come on. You know you want to see them square off at least one more time in the postseason.
In MLB history, only 11 pitchers have won at least three Cy Young Awards. And in MLB postseason history, there have been six* head-to-head matchups within that club:
- Jim Palmer vs. Sandy Koufax (1966 World Series Game 2) [Palmer tossed a complete-game shutout]
- Randy Johnson vs. Greg Maddux (2001 NLCS Game 1) [Johnson tossed a complete-game shutout]
- Max Scherzer vs. Clayton Kershaw (2016 NLDS Game 1)
- Three instances of Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens (1999 ALCS Game 3, 2003 ALCS Game 3 and 2003 ALCS Game 7)
That means this would be just the second such matchup in the past two decades.
But a Scherzer-Verlander showdown would pack a little extra intrigue since they were both traded by the Mets just six weeks ago, and since they were both so good for the Detroit Tigers back in the 2010-14 timeframe.
It’s not quite the actual brother vs. brother pairing that we had in last year’s NLCS when Aaron Nola faced Austin Nola, but it would feel similar if the stars aligned for a Verlander-Scherzer duel.
*Excluding games in which one of the three-time Cy Young winners made a relief appearance, which would bring the total to 10.
Carlos Correa vs. San Francisco Giants
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The “revenge” factor here isn’t quite as high as a possible Bellinger-Dodgers showdown.
Los Angeles kicked its former star to the curb after six seasons. Carlos Correa never played a game with the Giants and was only unofficially on their roster for about six days this past offseason.
Still, could you even imagine the fireworks if Minnesota faced San Francisco in the World Series after the Giants balked at signing Correa to a 13-year, $350 million contract?
As the Dodgers did with Bellinger, the Giants made a business decision with Correa.
It was Correa’s medical records that led San Francisco to renege on that colossal deal, fearing that the shortstop, who turns 29 this month, would be falling apart long before reaching the end of that contract’s terms in 2035.
Correa said a few months ago that he isn’t holding a grudge against the Giants—nor the Mets, who also extended him a 12-year, $315 million contract before backing out of it.
But you can’t tell me he wouldn’t be extra motivated if the Twins ran into the Giants.
No one needs any help getting hyped to play in the World Series. But y’all, if Correa homered in San Francisco and then repeatedly while rounding the bases pointed to the previously broken right leg believed to be the cause for concern in his medical history, I would have no choice but to give him a standing ovation.
Eury Pérez vs. Elly De La Cruz
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While a Phillies-Blue Jays rematch from 1993 would be nostalgic for an entire generation of baseball fans, how about a matchup between two tantalizing rookies who weren’t even alive when Luis Gonzalez walked it off against Mariano Rivera in 2001?
Cincinnati’s Elly De La Cruz turned 21 in January and has been an instant sensation since his MLB debut in early June. When he either homers or steals a base, the Reds are 23-9. They’ve also been near-unbeatable when EDLC records multiple hits, going 20-2 in those contests. He’s not the singular reason the Reds have arrived a few years ahead of schedule, but he’s certainly the most entertaining reason.
And then there’s Miami’s Eury Pérez, who doesn’t even reach legal drinking age until next April, but has a 2.90 ERA through 17 career starts. In five of those 16 starts, he has gone six innings without allowing an earned run. And if you take out the only disastrous outing against Atlanta (six earned runs in 0.1 IP), his ERA plummets to 2.27.
These two future faces of Major League Baseball did battle last month. De La Cruz went 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout, but the Reds chased Pérez in the fifth inning and got the win.
It’s pretty unlikely that both Miami and Cincinnati make the playoffs, as they are battling each other for the No. 6 seed. They would both need to leapfrog the Cubs (or Brewers or Phillies) in order to get in. And even then, the odds of meeting in the NLCS as the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds aren’t great. (However, San Diego and Philadelphia just pulled it off last year.)
We can still dream, though.
Baltimore Orioles vs. Tampa Bay Rays
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Yes, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays have the two best records in the American League.
And, yes, their battle for the AL East crown and the No. 1 seed that likely comes with it has been fascinating to watch for months. Baltimore has been able to consistently keep Tampa Bay at bay since late July, but that could change in a hurry when they square off for four games at Camden Yards this weekend.
However, Baltimore-Tampa Bay isn’t on the list because they are, arguably, the two best teams in the American League.
Rather, it’s here because the “Budget Battle” would be such a colossal kick in the teeth for the entire New York market.
Factoring in luxury tax, the New York Mets are going to end up spending approximately $480 million this season, while the New York Yankees will be in second place at around $325 million. They both spent recklessly throughout the offseason to put themselves in a position to square off in the World Series for the first time since 2000.
But they’ll be watching the postseason just like the rest of us.
And wouldn’t it be fascinating if we could get Mets owner Steve Cohen and Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner together into a room with some cameras and microphones during Game 1 between the $79 million Rays and the $71 million Orioles?
Between the two teams, only James McCann ($12 million), Zach Eflin ($11 million) and Kyle Gibson ($10 million) are making eight figures this season—and the Mets are paying all but $1 million of McCann’s salary for the Orioles.
Sure, the big spenders will probably be back in the playoffs again next year. But like a Cinderella team making a deep run in March Madness, it’s fun to see two small-market teams throw down in the playoffs.
(Whether Baltimore-Tampa Bay would actually be good for national ratings is another story.)
Seattle Mariners vs. Milwaukee Brewers
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The executives whose holiday bonuses depend on TV ratings wouldn’t be too thrilled with this matchup, either, but it’d be a fun one on several levels.
For starters, Milwaukee “stole” baseball from Seattle half a century ago. The Seattle Pilots were an expansion team in 1969, but they lasted just one money-hemorrhaging season before declaring bankruptcy, allowing Bud Selig to buy the franchise and move it to Milwaukee.
The Mariners didn’t arrive until seven years later and didn’t have their first winning season until 14 years after that.
But the much bigger historical selling point for a Mariners-Brewers World Series is that neither team has ever won one.
The Mariners are the only franchise that has never even been to a World Series, while the Brewers and the Colorado Rockies are the only two franchises that have gone 0-for-1 in the Fall Classic. (Tampa Bay, Texas and San Diego have also never won it all, but they’ve at least gotten there twice each.)
Either way, it’d be a first-time champion.
And for what it’s worth, the respective stars have fared pretty well in the rare meetings between these teams. Christian Yelich has a 1.008 OPS in 12 career games against Seattle, and Julio Rodríguez homered in two of his three games against Milwaukee.
Moreover, pitching matchups such as Corbin Burnes vs. Luis Castillo, Brandon Woodruff vs. Logan Gilbert and Freddy Peralta vs. George Kirby would be all sorts of great theater.
Atlanta’s Batters vs. Tampa Bay’s Pitchers
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Atlanta is likely going to set a new MLB record for home runs in a single season. The record currently belongs to the 2019 Minnesota Twins with 307, and the Braves are on pace for 311.
But some lot of good it did those Twins in the postseason, immediately swept out of the ALDS by the Yankees. That year, the homer-heavy lineups of the Dodgers (279) and Astros (288) were also not enough to take down the Washington Nationals, who rode Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and a strong pitching staff to a World Series title.
So, who is best equipped to potentially stifle Atlanta’s daily homer party?
Would you believe after all of its pitching injuries that Tampa Bay has had the best pitching staff since the All-Star Break?
Per FanGraphs, Rays pitchers have been worth a collective 9.0 wins above replacement in the second half of the season, well ahead of Philadelphia, Toronto, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Seattle as the closest runners-up.
They’ve done a great job of limiting damage from homers, particularly Tyler Glasnow (three HR in 58.0 IP) and trade deadline acquisition Aaron Civale (three HR in 35.2 IP). And the five primary relievers—Pete Fairbanks, Colin Poche, Shawn Armstrong, Jason Adam and Robert Stephenson—have been excellent as of late.
When Atlanta and Tampa Bay met right before the All-Star Break, the Braves hit a grand total of three home runs in that three-game series.
Tampa Bay still lost the series 2-1 because it only scored one run in each of the first two games. But if you can hold this juggernaut of an offense to one home run per game, you’ve got a chance to win the series. The Braves are 59-16 when hitting multiple home runs, but just 34-33 when held to zero or one dingers.