Chaos reigned in the Divisional round of the 2023 postseason. Gone are the 100-win Braves, Dodgers and Orioles, who managed to win exactly one of nines games in October. Now we’re down to the final four, with the Championship round beginning with Game 1 between the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros set for 8:15 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 15. Before the ALCS and NLCS get rolling, though, it’s time to make some picks: Which teams will punch their ticket to the Fall Classic, and who will be sent home? Here are our predictions for each Championship series.
American League prediction
Texas Rangers vs. Houston Astros
Houston is a deserved favorite here: Not only did they eventually track down Texas in the regular season, but they went 9-4 in the season series against the Rangers this year — and many of those nine wins weren’t particularly close. The Astros scored 83 runs in those nine wins, including a whopping 39 over a three-game sweep in September that featured games started by Eovaldi and Scherzer. Not even the Twins’ impressive staff could keep Houston’s lineup in check, and despite Eovaldi and Montgomery’s efforts so far this postseason, it remains to be seen whether the Rangers have the pitching depth to survive a seven-game series. The potential returns of Scherzer and Gray should help, but neither of them are built up to a normal starter’s workload, and even if they can go they’ll likely have to piggyback with guys like Andrew Heaney or Martin Perez.
Of course, the back-end of the Astros rotation is also a bit shaky, a lack of depth that was sufficiently masked in a best-of-five series. A seven-game series, however, might make Houston have to rely a bit more on young righties Hunter Brown and J.P. France, each of whom were shaky down the stretch. Still, given Cristian Javier’s improving form — and his 14-inning postseason scoreless streak — you have to give the edge to the Astros’ big three of Javier, Verlander and Framber Valdez. And really, that’s why I’m backing Houston here: These are two offenses that can wear you out, and I think the reigning world champs have a bit more in the rotation and bullpen to withstand what should be a long series. There’s also the intangible factor: At this point, the Astros just feel inevitable, like the big bad in a slasher movie; they aren’t dead until the final out is recorded, and they just find ways to win this time of year. Texas’ offense should make this awfully competitive, but in the end I think Houston outscores them in what should be a box-office series.
Winner: Astros in 7
National League prediction
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Philadelphia Phillies
It’s not hard to see why. Philly was the better team during the regular season, finishing six games ahead of Arizona in the standings with a substantially better run differential (+81 vs. -15). We also have a longer track record of success with this group; they came within two games of a world title last year, after all, while the D-backs weren’t even expected to reach the playoffs at all when spring training began. And while both teams dispatched heavyweights in the Divisional Round, it’s hard not to feel a bit more impressed by the Phillies’ performance — the Braves’ record-setting offense was totally silenced by Philly’s pitching staff, whereas it’s hard not to feel like the Dodgers’ NLDS collapse was part Arizona, part a flawed team collapsing under the weight of a long season.
Which isn’t to say that the D-backs aren’t very live ‘dogs here, or that they don’t have a path to victory in this series. Arizona has two legit aces to match Philly’s, with Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly rested and ready to go for Games 1 and 2 next week. They also have an underrated top of the order — yes, Corbin Carroll is a star, but Ketel Marte and Christian Walker have also been very good all year long, while rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno is busting out in October. And, most importantly, they have a bullpen that was rocky a times during the year but has been nails come playoff time. Really, this team feels a lot like the Phillies ... just with a slightly lesser version of the same blueprint.
These teams want to win in roughly the same way — two rotation anchors, lots of homers, great relief work — but everywhere you look, Philly has the slight edge. If this is the Aaron Nola we’re getting for the rest of the year, I think he and Wheeler are slightly better than Gallen and Kelly; the D-backs bullpen has carried them this far, but they’re still relying heavily on guys like Ryan Thompson, Andrew Saalfrank and Kevin Ginkel that feel a bit harder to trust than Craig Kimbrel, Jose Alvarado and Co; and there are more weak points in Arizona’s lineup to pick at, with Alek Thomas, Evan Longoria and Geraldo Perdomo representing a nice landing spot at the bottom of the order. I also think that the best-of-five format hid the Snakes’ biggest weakness, allowing them to throw Gallen and Kelly in two of three games — in a best-of-seven, however, guys like Brandon Pfaadt and Ryne Nelson will play bigger roles, which seems suboptimal. Anything can happen in the chaos of October, but Philly’s vibes are off the charts right now, and they’re made to win in these series.
Winner: Phillies in 6