After a 162-game marathon, we’re finally here. The 2023 MLB playoffs begin in earnest on Tuesday, with four Game 1 matchups in the Wild Card Round beginning with the Rangers at the Rays at 3:08 p.m. ET. Before the postseason gets rolling, though, it’s time to take a step back and assess the lay of the land. Which teams have the best chances of advancing to a Division Series, and who will be sent home early? Who’s hot and who’s not as the calendar flips to October? What better way to answer those questions than with a pre-postseason power ranking of all 12 playoff teams — looking at both their entire body of work and how they’ve looked (and how healthy they are) of late.
2023 MLB postseason power rankings
1. Atlanta Braves
Look, the Braves certainly aren’t perfect. Their pitching has been actively bad for the last month or so, even allowing for the fact that Atlanta eased up on guys like Max Fried and Charlie Morton in order to ensure that they’d be healthy for the playoffs. Spencer Strider still has to prove that he can do it under the bright lights, and beyond he and Fried, things get iffy awfully quick — even Morton has shown that his command can go haywire a moment’s notice. (None of which is even addressing the bullpen, which seems awfully vulnerable at the moment.)
Still: If you were to rank these teams by confidence in them, the Braves would obviously be at the top of the list. Every team in this postseason has question marks and weaknesses, but only Atlanta has an offense so overwhelming that it can make you forget about them for weeks at a time.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
We mentioned that every team has at least one major question mark or weakness, and the Dodgers are further evidence: They won 100 games and posted the league’s second-best run differential, and yet their postseason rotation is a clearly-diminished Clayton Kershaw and ... as many as four different rookies. Granted, most teams would kill to have young pitchers as good as Bobby Miller and Ryan Pepiot, but that’s still not the position you’d like to be in heading into October. Of course, they’re still the Dodgers, and they’re ranked here for a reason: They have possibly the best one-two punch in baseball in Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, their offense has nearly unmatched platoon flexibility and they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt — which narrowly edges them ahead of the next team on this list.
3. Baltimore Orioles
Full disclosure: I went back and forth between the O’s and Rays here, despite Baltimore beating them out for the AL East crown. (Tampa Bay does have the better run differential, after all.) I am concerned about the loss of Felix Bautista — you can recite Baltimore’s post-injury bullpen ERA at me all you want, I still don’t love the idea of Yennier Cano, Shintaro Fujinami and Danny Coulombe in the highest-leverage innings — and there’s still a ton we don’t know about this rotation. But Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and the returning John Means is a better top three than you think, and this lineup bangs with the best of them. In the end, the depth of their lineup — and having home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs — gave them the edge for me over Tampa, though the Rays aren’t falling far.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
It’s remarkable to consider how much the Rays have lost so far this year and then look at where they are in the standings, with 99 wins and a 34-19 record since the start of August. Despite being without Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs, Tampa still has a solid top three in Tyler Glasnow, Zach Eflin and Aaron Civale, and Kevin Cash knows how to mix and match a pitching staff as well as anyone. The offense came back to Earth a bit after their historically hot start to the season, and while I wonder whether guys like Isaac Paredes, Harold Ramirez and Josh Lowe can keep raking deep into October, their overall depth of talent and body of work this year insists that I drop them no further than this.
5. Houston Astros
Man, I’m awfully conflicted about this team. The objective half of my brain looks at how shaky pretty much every member of this starting rotation has been in the second half, and at how quickly the lineup falls off after the big four of Altuve, Bregman, Alvarez and Tucker, and a 13-14 record over their last 17 (including series losses to Oakland and Kansas City). And then the lizard half of my brain looks at the name on the uniform, and what this team has done in the postseason over the last few years, and how inevitable their theft of the AL West felt over the last week of the regular season, and it’s just awfully hard to count them out. They’re like Michael Myers in a Halloween movie; no matter how left for dead you think they are, you better make sure the body is cold before you count them out. (Plus, Justin Verlander and Cristian Javier are rounding into form, and that big four is still awfully potent.) Consider this the end of the inner circle of contention, as we move into the realm of World Series dark horses.
6. Milwaukee Brewers
I’ve been on the Brewers as NL sleepers bandwagon for weeks now, and I’m not getting off any time soon. Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta are the great equalizer in any short series, William Contreras is the best player you haven’t heard of and Christian Yelich is having the quietest very good season from a former MVP maybe ever. If Milwaukee is going to finally get over the postseason hump, this could be the year — neutralizing the Braves’ bats is no small feat, but these three (plus Devin Williams in the late innings) could be the ones to do it, and if you can keep Atlanta from running away with games, they become very vulnerable. They’re sixth for a reason, of course — this lineup on the whole is mediocre, and there’s no margin for error if Woodruff, Burnes and Peralta aren’t absolute dynamite — but sleep on them at your own risk.
7. Philadelphia Phillies
I want to buy in on the Phils; we saw the sort of devil magic they conjured up during last season’s run to the World Series, and there were times down the stretch this year that they started feeling that way again. They just haven’t been able to do it with any sort of consistency, and unless Ace Aaron Nola magically shows up for October, I have some questions about the rotation — Philly has a ton of guys who could start postseason games, but not many beyond Zack Wheeler make you feel particularly good about it. Plus, have you seen Craig Kimbrel lately? I don’t know, it all just feels a bit more rickety than it should, especially with this lineup stuck in second gear.
8. Texas Rangers
Speaking of rickety: woof. Maybe this is overly harsh, but Texas is about to run out Jordan Montgomery, a clearly-diminished Nathan Eovaldi and ... Dane Dunning on short rest for the second straight week? Andrew Heaney? Martin Perez? It’s, in a word, not what you want, and while you can point to Texas’ yearlong offensive production and argue that they can hit their way out of any issues, I think that’s an overly rosy view based on how this lineup has played over the last couple of months. Oh, and they have probably the sketchiest bullpen situation of any playoff team, to boot. Maybe Corey Seager and Co. bang their way to a World Series, but they’re going to need every run they score — and taking two of three in Tampa is a tough ask.
9. Minnesota Twins
Consider the Twins a sort of Brewers-lite, a team with dynamite rotation depth — Pablo Lopez, Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober/Kenta Maeda as probable starters is pretty good — and a lineup that leaves you wanting. The difference here is largely based on matchups: The Brewers get the D-backs in the Wild Card round, while I have no trouble seeing the Twins getting bounced on their home field by the next team on this list. Any lineup that leads the Majors in strikeouts is liable to going quiet in October, Ryan’s recent shakiness — plus some bullpen uncertainty — have me fading them a bit.
10. Toronto Blue Jays
Again, you can have Toronto one or two spots higher here and I wouldn’t quibble; heck, I might even pick them to win their Wild Card matchup with Minnesota, even though I think the Twins have more upside if it all comes together. Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt and Jose Berrios is a tough road to hoe for a Minnesota offense that’s struggled against right-handed pitching all year, and Toronto’s loaded-on-paper lineup has started to realize that potential a bit more of late. I still can’t trust the bats until I see it more consistently, though, and they seem to have came up small in nearly every big moment this year — including getting waxed twice this past weekend at home by the Rays.
11. Arizona Diamondbacks
We’ve now reached the negative run differential portion of the program, aka the Just Happy to Be Here tier. Okay, that’s a little rude — Arizona and Miami deserve a ton of credit for how they’ve played over the past few weeks, and they have some very talented players — but someone has to bring up the rear. Arizona gets the nod over the Marlins because they’ll have arguably the best player on the field in most matchups (Corbin Carroll) and a legitimate one-two punch atop the rotation (Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly). Still, I have concerns about this lineup, which needs Ketel Marte and Christian Walker to play like stars if they want to make any kind of run.
12. Miami Marlins
If Miami had a healthy Sandy Alcantara and Eury Perez, maybe I would feel differently. But this team had a whopping -56 run differential this year, sneaking in thanks to the Cubs’ collapse and a 33-13 record in one-run games. We’ve seen teams bottle that magic in short spurts before, and the Phillies are vulnerable to getting upset if their bullpen continues to glitch, but I have a hard time seeing the Fish scoring enough runs to really put a scare in any of the big boys of the National League bracket. Jesus Luzardo, Braxton Garrett and Edward Cabrera can put a scare into you on their best day, though, so be careful.