The 2023 MLB playoff field is set, with 10 teams competing for the ultimate prize: the World Series trophy. Who has the edge in each series? Which players will make the difference? And who will emerge as the champion? ESPN’s Jeff Passan breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of each team, and gives his predictions for the postseason bracket.
Dodgers vs. Cardinals: NL wild-card game
The defending champions face a tough challenge in the one-game playoff, as they face the red-hot Cardinals, who won 17 games in a row in September to clinch the second wild-card spot. The Dodgers have the best record in baseball, but they finished one game behind the Giants in the NL West, forcing them to play in this do-or-die game.
The Dodgers have the advantage in pitching, as they will start Max Scherzer, who has been dominant since joining the team at the trade deadline. Scherzer has a 1.98 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP in 11 starts with the Dodgers, and he has plenty of postseason experience, having won the World Series with the Nationals in 2019. The Cardinals will counter with Adam Wainwright, who has been a reliable veteran for the team, posting a 3.05 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 32 starts. Wainwright also has a history of success in October, winning the World Series with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011.
The Dodgers also have the edge in offense, as they led the majors in runs scored, home runs, and OPS. They have a deep and balanced lineup, featuring stars like Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, and Max Muncy. The Cardinals have a more modest offense, ranking 15th in runs scored, 18th in home runs, and 13th in OPS. They rely on their speed and defense, led by outfielders Tommy Edman, Harrison Bader, and Tyler O’Neill. They also have one of the best players in the game in Paul Goldschmidt, who hit .294 with 31 home runs and 99 RBIs.
The Dodgers have the experience and the talent to win this game, but the Cardinals have the momentum and the magic. It will be a close and exciting game, but in the end, Scherzer will outduel Wainwright, and the Dodgers will advance to the NLDS.
Rays vs. Blue Jays: ALDS
The Rays won the AL East for the second straight year, posting the best record in the American League. They did it with their usual formula of pitching, defense, and platoons, overcoming injuries and trades to key players. The Blue Jays made a late surge to secure the first wild-card spot, riding their powerful offense and improved pitching. They have one of the most explosive lineups in baseball, featuring four players with 30 or more home runs: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, and Teoscar Hernandez.
The Rays have the advantage in pitching, as they have a deep and versatile staff that can mix and match starters and relievers. They have a Cy Young candidate in Shane McClanahan, who went 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 25 starts. They also have a dominant closer in Andrew Kittredge, who had 14 saves and a 1.63 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP in 55 appearances. The Blue Jays have a solid rotation, led by Robbie Ray, who led the AL in ERA (2.84) and strikeouts (248). They also have a reliable closer in Jordan Romano, who had 21 saves and a 2.14 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP in 65 games.
The Blue Jays have the edge in offense, as they led the majors in runs scored, home runs, and OPS. They have a potential MVP in Guerrero, who hit .311 with 48 home runs and 111 RBIs, leading the AL in all three categories. They also have a strong supporting cast, including Semien, who set a record for most home runs by a second baseman (45), and Bichette, who hit .298 with 29 home runs and 102 RBIs. The Rays have a more balanced offense, ranking fourth in runs scored, sixth in home runs, and seventh in OPS. They have a breakout star in Randy Arozarena, who hit .274 with 20 home runs and 69 RBIs, and a clutch hitter in Austin Meadows, who led the team with 27 home runs and 106 RBIs.
The Rays have the experience and the depth to win this series, but the Blue Jays have the firepower and the hunger. It will be a high-scoring and thrilling series, but in the end, Guerrero will lead the Blue Jays to an upset over the Rays.
Giants vs. Dodgers/Cardinals: NLDS
The Giants won the NL West for the first time since 2012, edging out the Dodgers by one game. They had the best record in baseball, surprising many experts and fans with their consistent and resilient performance. They did it with a mix of veterans and newcomers, who all contributed to the team’s success. The Dodgers or the Cardinals will be their opponent in the NLDS, depending on the outcome of the wild-card game. Both teams are familiar foes for the Giants, who have faced them many times in the postseason.
The Giants have the advantage in pitching, as they have a stellar rotation, featuring three All-Stars: Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, and Logan Webb. Gausman was the ace of the staff, going 14-6 with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 33 starts. DeSclafani was a bargain signing, going 13-7 with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 31 starts. Webb was a revelation, going 10-3 with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 26 starts. The Giants also have a solid bullpen, anchored by Jake McGee, who had 31 saves and a 2.77 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP in 57 games.
The Dodgers or the Cardinals have the edge in offense, as they both have more potent and proven lineups than the Giants. The Dodgers led the majors in runs scored, home runs, and OPS, while the Cardinals ranked 15th in runs scored, 18th in home runs, and 13th in OPS. The Dodgers have a deep and balanced lineup, featuring stars like Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, and Max Muncy. The Cardinals have a more modest offense, relying on their speed and defense, led by outfielders Tommy Edman, Harrison Bader, and Tyler O’Neill. They also have one of the best players in the game in Paul Goldschmidt, who hit .294 with 31 home runs and 99 RBIs.
The Giants have the confidence and the chemistry to win this series, but the Dodgers or the Cardinals have the talent and the experience. It will be a tight and tense series, but in the end, the Dodgers or the Cardinals will prevail over the Giants.
Astros vs. White Sox: ALDS
The Astros won the AL West for the fourth time in five years, posting the second-best record in the American League. They did it with their core of stars, who bounced back from a disappointing and controversial 2020 season. They have one of the most balanced and dangerous lineups in baseball, featuring four players with 25 or more home runs: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker. The White Sox won the AL Central for the first time since 2008, dominating their division with their young and talented roster. They have one of the most dynamic and diverse lineups in baseball, featuring four players with 20 or more home runs: Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, and Luis Robert.
The Astros have the advantage in pitching, as they have a strong and experienced rotation, led by Lance McCullers Jr., who went 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 30 starts. They also have a reliable closer in Ryan Pressly, who had 26 saves and a 2.34 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP in 63 games. The White Sox have a formidable rotation, featuring two Cy Young candidates: Lance Lynn, who went 11-6 with a 2.69 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 27 starts, and Carlos Rodon, who went 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in 24 starts. They also have a dominant closer in Liam Hendriks, who had 38 saves and a 2.54 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP in 69 games.
The Astros and the White Sox have the edge in offense, as they both have explosive and versatile lineups that can score in different ways. The Astros led the AL in runs scored, batting average, and OPS, while the White Sox ranked third in runs scored, second in batting average, and fourth in OPS. The Astros have a core of stars, who have been together for a long time and have won