Everything you need for the 2023 MLB playoffs: Odds, X factors and how far all 12 teams will go

Everything you need for the 2023 MLB playoffs: Odds, X factors and how far all 12 teams will go
  • PublishedOctober 3, 2023


Let the 2023 MLB playoffs begin!

Starting with this week’s wild-card series (beginning Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET on ABC), it’s sure to be another thrilling October of postseason baseball. We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know, from the first pitch of the playoffs to the final out of the World Series.

Will the favored Atlanta Braves roll through the National League, or will one of the Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers or Milwaukee Brewers be the NL’s last team standing? Can the Baltimore Orioles turn a 100-plus-win season into a World Series berth, or will we see a deep run from the Texas Rangers or defending champion Houston Astros?

MLB experts Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez and David Schoenfield get you ready for it all with odds for every round, a predicted date of each team’s last game and a name to watch for all 12 World Series hopefuls.

Note: World Series and matchup odds come from Doolittle’s formula using power ratings as the basis for 10,000 simulations to determine the most likely outcomes.

Jump to a team:

American League

Baltimore Orioles

No. 1 seed | 101-61 | AL East champs

ALDS opponent: Rangers or Rays (49.0% chance of reaching ALCS)

World Series odds: 11.5% | Caesars odds: +650

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 23

The one thing that will decide their October fate: Now that All-Star closer Felix Bautista is officially done for the season and will undergo Tommy John surgery, the pressure ramps up on a Baltimore bullpen that was so dominant with the late-game duo of Yennier Cano and Bautista. Cano has been a little more hittable in the second half, especially in the final month. The Orioles are deep in left-handed relievers with Cionel Perez, Danny Coulombe and rookie DL Hall, but they’re scrambling a bit from the right side aside from Cano. Tyler Wells, a starter until he was sent down to the minors in late July, is back as a reliever and could get some high-leverage moments. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October close-up: Last year, when the Orioles rose from 110 losses to the edge of contention within the sport’s most difficult division, it was all about Adley Rutschman. This year, as the Orioles have surged through a 100-win season, it’s all about Gunnar Henderson, a lock for the AL Rookie of the Year award and a legitimate star at the age of 22. Henderson can hit, slug, run and field, but, like Rutschman, he also just seems to have this aura around him, like it’s already so obvious that we’re watching a generational talent. That swing is pure poetry, too. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: This is a franchise that lost 110 games just two seasons ago, making this year’s rise to the top of the American League one of the most dramatic turnarounds in major league history. The Orioles have emerging young stars such as Rutschman and Henderson, plus vets such as Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander who suffered through some terrible seasons in Baltimore. They’re not flashy, but they play good defense, they run the bases well and the lineup is deeper than you might realize. Plus, root for them now when they’re the shiny new thing: You might get tired of them down the road after they make the playoffs every year for the next decade. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: One thing we know about the AL teams in the bracket is that if they play the Braves in the last series of the season, that will mean any questions about them that we have entering the playoffs will have been answered. In the Orioles’ case, that will mean the back of the bullpen has come together (preferably with Bautista) but even more importantly, it would suggest that the stage hasn’t been too big for the O’s. And that would mean their young stars like Henderson and Rutschman are doing their thing. If that happens, all the Orioles have to do is be themselves, because they can match the Braves in terms of raw talent. — Doolittle

Houston Astros

No. 2 seed | 90-72 | AL West champs

ALDS opponent: Twins or Blue Jays (53.6% chance of reaching ALCS)

World Series odds: 12.0% | Caesars odds: +500

Predicted date of their last game: Nov. 3

The one thing that will decide their October fate: Pitching carried the Astros to the World Series title last season — especially the bullpen — as they hit just .232/.302/.389 in the postseason. The pitching doesn’t appear as strong this season, so the offense will have to do better. We all know what Yordan Alvarez can do but the keys are Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Altuve didn’t have a single RBI last postseason and Bregman struggled in the 2021 playoffs, when he was battling an injury. Houston needs both of them to perform this October. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: Michael Brantley remained a major voice in the Astros’ clubhouse during their run to a championship last fall, but his bat was a major void from their lineup. Now he’s back. Brantley returned in August after a 14-month absence that was caused by a torn labrum, and he did what he always does — he performed like one of the best pure hitters in the game. This team is still very much the same Astros that have reached the AL Championship Series in six straight years, but they’ve only performed like that in spurts this season. They’ll really need Brantley’s bat in the playoffs this time. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: Well, chances are you won’t, unless you’re an Astros fan. Even last year you could at least root for Dusty Baker to finally win a World Series. But maybe you’re a fan of baseball history and would appreciate Houston becoming the first team to win consecutive World Series since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000. OK, who am I kidding? You’re not rooting for the Astros unless you live in Houston. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: Remember ’21. If we end up with a pairing of the last two champions in the Fall Classic, it will be a bit of a turnabout. In 2021, an upstart Braves squad that won just 88 regular season games knocked off a 95-win Astros squad in six games. Adding to the indignity was that Atlanta finished off the Astros in Houston. The enduring image from the deciding contest was on a night when the roof was open at Minute Maid Park, Jorge Soler blasted a Luis Garcia pitch over the Crawford Boxes, over the head of the choo-choo commander up on the tracks and out onto the street and into the Texas night. If we get a rematch, we’re talking about a 104-win Braves juggernaut against a wounded champ in Houston, which barely earned its playoff spot. Is revenge the right motivation for a defending champ? Sure, why not? — Doolittle

Minnesota Twins

No. 3 seed | 87-75 | AL Central champs

First opponent: Blue Jays (57.8% chance of advancing)

World Series odds: 5.8% | Caesars odds: +2000

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 11

The one thing that will decide their October fate: Will the Twins get healthy enough? Carlos Correa missed the final two weeks of the regular season with plantar fasciitis, and manager Rocco Baldelli said he’ll play in the playoffs “but won’t be 100%.” Royce Lewis, who hit four grand slams in an eight-game stretch and leads the team in OPS, missed the end of the season with a hamstring issue, and his status is uncertain. Byron Buxton, who didn’t play in the field all season, missed almost all of the final two months (and scuffled at the plate all season anyway). Reliever Brock Stewart, who came out of nowhere to post a sub-1.00 ERA, had been out since June before returning for the final two series. They’ll need these players back and producing to avoid adding another chapter to Minnesota’s lengthy streak of postseason disappointments. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: Lewis spent the first two months of the season recovering from his second torn ACL and didn’t join the team until late May. But he has been the Twins’ most productive hitter, slashing .309/.372/.548 in a 58-game sample. Injuries, unfortunately, continue to be a big part of his story. Lewis missed six weeks around midseason with an oblique strain and finished the year on the injured list, though he seems on track to at least make it back as a designated hitter. The Twins had high hopes for Lewis when they took him with the No. 1 overall pick out of high school in 2017, and he has finally provided glimpses of his potential this year. His real opportunity will come this postseason. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: This is an easy one. You’re certainly tired of the Astros and maybe even the Rays. You’re not ready to jump on the Orioles’ or Rangers’ bandwagons. Your fondest memories of the Blue Jays remain Dave Stieb and George Bell, not Kevin Gausman and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. But the Twins … the Twins have lost an unfathomable 18 consecutive playoff games going back to 2004. The fine people of Minnesota don’t deserve this. Let the Twins win a series (or four). Nobody expects them to win, so if you want an underdog in the AL, the Twins are your team. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: One of the things that makes the Braves so lethal is that despite a historic level of collective power, they don’t strike out that much. Nevertheless, the standout trait of the Twins has been the ability of their pitchers to dominate the strike zone. Minnesota’s hurlers led the majors in strikeout percentage and ranked fourth in walk percentage. The strike zone is a dangerous place to be against the Braves: Their OPS on pitches in the zone was nearly 100 points better than that of any other team. For Sonny Gray, Pablo Lopez and the rest, throwing strikes while staying out of the middle of the plate is their best hope of keeping the Braves in the ballpark and, perhaps just as important, keeping runners off base so when Atlanta does go deep, it’s a solo shot. — Doolittle



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Tampa Bay Rays

No. 4 seed | 99-63 | AL first wild card

Wild-card opponent: Rangers (58.0% chance of advancing)

World Series odds: 8.3% | Caesars odds: +1200

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 13

The one thing that will decide their October fate: Can the offense get hot at the right time? When the Rays had that amazing start, the offense was on fire and led the majors in runs scored through the end of May. It has been solid since then, but nowhere near as dominant. With Wander Franco on administrative leave, Brandon Lowe out with a patella fracture and Luke Raley questionable due to a cervical strain, they’re basically down to Josh Lowe from the left side of the plate (and light-hitting switch hitter Taylor Walls). That means they’re going to face a lot of nasty righty relievers that they’ll have to beat late in games. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: There are few things we can all agree on these days, but this seems to be one of them: Randy Arozarena loves the big stage. We saw it during the 2020 postseason, a dominant showing before he had even registered 50 major league games. We saw it during this year’s World Baseball Classic, with his cowboy boots and sporadic autograph sessions and seemingly endless array of clutch hits. We saw it four months later, when he nearly took down Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to win the Home Run Derby. And we’ll probably see it again in October, for a Rays team that desperately needs his production with its starting rotation decimated by injuries and Wander Franco unavailable. Everyone will be looking at Randy Arozarena — just the way he likes it. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: It has been yet another remarkable “How do they do it?” season from the Rays. They lost key starting pitchers throughout the season — Jeffrey Springs in April, Drew Rasmussen in May and Shane McClanahan in early August — and yet remained in the hunt for the division title in the majors’ toughest division until the final weekend. As always, they’re aggressive on the bases and have a bunch of dominant relievers you’ve probably never heard of (check out the stats for one-time cast-offs Robert Stephenson and Shawn Armstrong). If you want to root for the AL team that does the most with the least amount of money, the Rays are your team. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: Out-homer them. It’s really that simple, and you might say that about every other club that will confront Atlanta. But it’s different when we’re talking about the Rays because they might be better equipped to do it than anybody. The Rays ranked fifth in homer percentage, though they relied on homers for just 41% of their scoring, as opposed to a historic 52% for the Braves. Like Minnesota, the Rays’ staff dominates the strike zone, ranking just behind the Twins in strikeout rate and just ahead of them in walk rate. But what separates the Rays is that they also ranked sixth in homers allowed percentage (third on the road, which filters out some of the park effects). No one has a better profile for winning a series against Atlanta decided by longball prowess. — Doolittle

Texas Rangers

No. 5 seed | 90-72 | AL second wild card

ALDS opponent: Rays (42.0% chance of advancing)

World Series odds: 5.2% | Caesars odds: +1600

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 5

The one thing that will decide their October fate: The bullpen. The Rangers have the worst bullpen ERA of any of the playoff teams and rank 26th in the majors in bullpen win probability added. Will Smith lost his job as closer weeks ago and Aroldis Chapman and Jose Leclerc have shared closer duties in September. Both do have strikeout stuff and the ability to dominate — when they’re not walking everybody. And who sets them up? Andrew Heaney has been pitching out of the bullpen and will get key innings. Jonathan Hernandez had to relieve Chapman the other night in Seattle and gave up a game-losing bases-loaded double. The lack of depth also means it’s imperative for the starters to give Bruce Bochy some length. Jordan Montgomery has been able to do that, but Nathan Eovaldi has yet to go more than five innings while slowly ramping up since his return from the injured list. And Max Scherzer? The Rangers haven’t ruled him out of the postseason — and you don’t want to bet against Scherzer — but his return appears unlikely. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: The Rangers acquired Adolis Garcia for almost nothing. The Cardinals had basically given up on him, and so in December of 2019, the Rangers picked him up for mere cash considerations. He didn’t establish himself in the major leagues until 2021, his age-28 season, but he has improved every year since with his OPS jumping from .741 to .756 to, this year, .836. As the Rangers have lifted themselves into championship contention, Garcia has emerged as one of the sport’s most menacing power hitters. He also has become a lot more discerning within the strike zone. The Rangers, with that very shaky bullpen situation, are going to have to hit their way through October, and Garcia will be a big part of that. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: The Braves’ offense has understandably received much of the national attention, but the Rangers aren’t far behind in runs scored — although they’ve benefited from a huge home-park advantage with 53 more home runs at Globe Life Field than on the road. Like the Braves, they have ridiculous depth from No. 1 to No. 9 in the lineup, with Corey Seager leading the way by putting up one of the greatest offensive seasons ever for a shortstop (other than missing 40 games). They lead the AL in average, home runs, walks, OBP and slugging. Oh, and keep an eye on 21-year-old outfielder Evan Carter, who has torn the cover off the ball since his September call-up. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: The Rangers bashed their way to a breakout season for much of the summer. They won 11 games by 10 or more runs, far and away more than any other team. That includes the homer-happy Braves. If the Rangers survive the AL bracket, it’s almost certainly going to be because they’ve touched the offensive ceiling they displayed earlier in the campaign. The pitching staff, especially the bullpen, has to be better than it was for much of the post-trade-deadline part of the season. But if the Rangers win the World Series, it’s going to be because Marcus Semien, Seager, Garcia and the rest are turning the scoreboard. In particular, that is their formula for beating Atlanta. — Doolittle

Toronto Blue Jays

No. 6 seed | 89-73 | AL third wild card

Wild-card opponent: Twins (42.3% chance of advancing)

World Series odds: 3.7% | Caesars odds: +1800

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 4

The one thing that will decide their October fate: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. When Guerrero and Bichette reached the majors in 2019 — Guerrero at 20 years old and Bichette at 21 — and soon established themselves as two of the top young players in the game, it appeared all the Jays had to do was build around the two future stars. That stardom has been a little hit-and-miss for both players, however, and the Jays have yet to win a playoff game with these two. The Blue Jays have the starting rotation to go all the way, but the offense has been middle-of-the-pack all season. They need Guerrero and Bichette to get hot together. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: Jose Berrios was a shell of himself last year, leading the American League in earned runs allowed and not pitching in the series when the Blue Jays got knocked out by the Seattle Mariners in two wild-card games. He has since bounced back in dramatic fashion, posting a 3.65 ERA in 189⅔ innings. There are questions about the Blue Jays’ underperforming offense heading into the postseason, but their rotation — fronted by Kevin Gausman — stands as a major strength. Berrios’ resurgence has been a major part of that. And he’ll finally get to show why the Blue Jays gave up two high-end prospects to acquire him from the Twins in the summer of 2021, then signed him to a $131 million extension the following offseason. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: When the Blue Jays are clicking, they’re a really fun team to watch. No, Guerrero hasn’t repeated his monster 2021 season, but he’s still one of the biggest names in the sport. The defense, with Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho in the outfield and Matt Chapman at third, is often spectacular and leads the majors in defensive runs saved. Gausman is a legit No. 1 starter with that nasty, unhittable splitter. And it has been 30 years since they were last in a World Series, when Joe Carter touched ’em all. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: Out-defend them. The Toronto pitching staff didn’t do a great job of keeping the ball in the park this season and against the Braves; that’s a less-than-ideal trait. Last we checked, it’s hard to field a ball that flies over the fence, so our recipe here for Toronto has the obvious prerequisite that it has to have some good fortune in the homer-per-fly-ball category. But if that happens, the Blue Jays have a whopping advantage over the Braves in terms of the leading defensive metrics. In particular, their outfield can flat pick it, with the Jays more than doubling the defensive runs saved total of any other outfield. So if the Braves aren’t quite barreling it up on their power swings, the abilities of Varsho and Kiermaier to chase everything down could tip a close series. — Doolittle

National League

Atlanta Braves

No. 1 seed | 104-58 | NL East champs

NLDS opponent: Phillies or Marlins (65.4% chance of reaching NLCS)

World Series odds: 22.4% | Caesars odds: +275

Predicted date of their last game: Nov. 3

The one thing that will decide their October fate: Suddenly there are big concerns about Atlanta’s starting rotation. Max Fried missed his last couple of starts of the regular season with a blister problem. Charlie Morton has already been ruled out of the division series with a finger issue. Bryce Elder was an All-Star in the first half but saw his ERA balloon to over 5.00 in the second half. Even Spencer Strider has had some mediocre outings down the stretch and seen his MLB-leading strikeout rate drop in the final two months. On top of that, the bullpen has some injury issues and had its worst month in September, which puts even more pressure on the rotation. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: Ronald Acuna Jr. was nursing a torn ACL when the Braves won it all in 2021. He had made it back when they returned to the postseason in 2022, but he clearly wasn’t himself yet. This year, he has reached a new level. He’s the NL MVP front-runner, the first member of the 40-70 club and a far more disciplined hitter than he ever has been. At 25, he is the best baseball player on the planet (non-Shohei Ohtani division). And his prowess from the leadoff spot is the biggest reason this Braves lineup has become historic. When the games matter most, Acuna can impact them with his majestic power and blazing speed and rocket arm, and he’s sure to do plenty of that in October. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: The Murderer’s Row Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig. The Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s. The Big Red Machine. The “Idiot” Red Sox of 2004. With a World Series title, the Braves have a chance to cement their place in history as one of the most fearsome lineups of all time. They dominated the regular season — tying the single-season home run record — with a lineup that became the first to feature four players with 35-plus home runs. They’ve been the team to watch all season and now that greatness will be tested in October. — Schoenfield

Why they are the team to beat: The offense is just too good to keep down. And while we’ve seen offensive powerhouses falter before in the crucible of October, the Braves’ attack looks airtight. Their numbers hold up no matter how you split them up. They mash at home and on the road, against lefties and righties, against all kinds of pitch profiles. They have power at every spot in the lineup. Earlier in the season, it looked like the Braves might have become too reliant on homers for scoring, a trait that doesn’t always hold up well in the playoffs. But Atlanta’s offense has gradually become more varied as the season has progressed and right now appears to be without weakness. Sure, the Braves have question marks around their pitching staff, but if their offense is putting up five or more runs a game, that might not matter. — Doolittle

Los Angeles Dodgers

No. 2 seed | 100-62 | NL West champs

NLDS opponent: Brewers or D-backs (63.1% chance of reaching NLCS)

World Series odds: 18.6% | Caesars odds: +500

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 23

The one thing that will decide their October fate: Sure, they’ll need this patched-together starting rotation to step up, but let’s face it: Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman have carried this team all season with their all-around brilliance and L.A. will be relying on those two stars to keep it going. Yes, those two have supporting offensive characters in Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez, who both topped 30 home runs, and Will Smith, but this has been the Mookie and Freddie show. It’s hard to envision a path to the World Series that doesn’t revolve around those two both having big October runs. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: Clayton Kershaw and Lance Lynn will be limited in their starts and the likes of Emmet Sheehan, Ryan Pepiot and Ryan Yarbrough will be used mostly to soak up the middle innings. But Bobby Miller — the 24-year-old power right-hander, the best of an emerging young core of starting pitchers — will essentially be counted on to be the Dodgers’ ace. He has the electric stuff, and the Dodgers believe he also possesses the poise, a la Walker Buehler. Miller dominated at the outset, allowing only two runs in 23 innings through the first four starts of his major league career. He hasn’t been as effective since, but he had a solid month of September. He’ll need to take it to another level in October. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: I get it: The Dodgers are here every year, they’re a blue-blood franchise with a high payroll and you’re about as tired of them as you are of the Astros. But you also have to respect what this organization has accomplished, tying an MLB record with a third straight 100-win season (a stretch that almost certainly would have been five in a row if the entire 2020 season had been played). And yet, their only World Series title during this dynastic run carries an asterisk because it came that shortened campaign with playoff games at neutral sites and the whole weirdness of that season. So, yes, there is part of me that would like the Dodgers to win a World Series in a real season, with fans in the stands, with Mookie hitting home runs, Freddie hitting doubles and maybe even Kershaw dialing up Father Time and having his best October ever. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: While the Braves might be scrambling to fill out an injury-riddled rotation, the Dodgers have been doing that all along. So there doesn’t appear to be an advantage for Atlanta in starting pitching and the Dodgers’ bullpen is deeper and better. If that translates to lower-scoring games than the Braves prefer, the chances of one or two performances tipping the series rise. And for all of Ronald Acuna Jr.’s spectacular play and Matt Olson‘s home runs, would anyone be surprised if Freeman and Betts were enough all on their own to propel the Dodgers past the Braves? Their combined brilliance this season has been breathtaking and the postseason context for both of them is by now old hat. — Doolittle

Milwaukee Brewers

No. 3 seed | 92-70 | NL Central champs

NLDS opponent: D-backs (61.7% chance of advancing)

World Series odds: 4.7% | Caesars odds: +1800

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 14

The one thing that will decide their October fate: The Brewers must get leads to the bullpen, which ranks first in the majors in win probability added (by a large margin). That’s basically a proxy for “clutch” when it comes to reliever performance and that’s what the pen has been all season in leading the Brewers to an excellent record in both one-run and extra-inning games. Closer Devin Williams throws his changeup more than 50% of the time and it’s so good it has a nickname: The Airbender. Batters are hitting .098 against it. Joel Payamps has been the key setup guy while Hoby Milner and Bryse Wilson have been excellent as well — and keep an eye on flame-throwing rookie Abner Uribe, who didn’t come up until July but has pitched himself into a high-leverage role. –Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: William Contreras never got much of a chance on star-studded Braves teams over these past few years, seeing a combined 10 postseason plate appearances in 2021 and 2022. Then the Brewers acquired him as part of the three-team trade that sent Sean Murphy to Atlanta in December 2022, and now Contreras — Willson’s younger brother — stands at the center of a Brewers offense that needs more punch to back up its dynamic pitching staff. Contreras, Christian Yelich and the recently acquired Mark Canha are the only Brewers regulars with an adjusted OPS at least 10% above league average. Contreras needs to produce from the No. 2 spot and handle the rigors of a demanding position. This year, he proved he is up to the task. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: Tired of the Braves and Dodgers? Can’t find yourself rooting for a team from Philly? Then the scrappy, small-market Brewers are for you! Plus, they’ve never won a World Series, making it only once, way back in 1982 when they lost to the Cardinals in seven games. This is their fifth playoff trip in six seasons so they’ve been a consistent contender, with some playoff heartbreak along the way — a Game 7 loss to the Dodgers in the 2018 NLCS, the late blown lead in the 2019 wild-card game. They deserve your playoff love. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: Keep them off the scoreboard. The Brewers are a complete package on the run-prevention side of the game. They have a terrific rotation that looks even better in the postseason format because of their unmatched big three of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. They have an elite end-of-game hammer in Williams, and no one is better at bridging the gap between the starters and the closer than Craig Counsell. On top of all that, the Brewers are an elite defensive team that can win games by taking hits away in the infield and outfield alike. If the offense produces anything in October, the Brewers are going to be a team nobody wants to face. Even the Braves. — Doolittle

Philadelphia Phillies

No. 4 seed | 90-72 | NL first wild card

Wild-card opponent: Marlins (64.4% chance of advancing)

World Series odds: 5.2% | Caesars odds: +1400

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 12

The one thing that will decide their October fate: Home runs. This is true of every team, of course, that you need to hit home runs to win in the postseason, but the Phillies spent the first four months of the season not hitting enough homers. Through the end of July they were 21st in the majors in home runs, topping out at 33 in a month. Then they hit 59 in August and 46 in September to tie the Braves for the most home runs over the final two months. That team — like the one we saw last October with Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber leading the way — is a team that can return to the World Series. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: Phillies fans rallied behind Alec Bohm last year and watched him go from being a mess defensively to a very capable third baseman who became an integral part of a World Series team. The same is taking place with Trea Turner, who signed a $300 million contract over the offseason and struggled mightily through his first four months. He then got a supportive standing ovation from the home crowd, and went off in August and September. It’s probably no coincidence. When Turner is right, he is one of the most dynamic players in the sport. We saw it early this year during the World Baseball Classic. Soon, he’ll get his chance to become a true Philly legend. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: Come on, this is a fun team. Harper is the straw that stirs the drink and he’s must-watch TV in October. Schwarber had one of the wildest, weirdest seasons of all time, with a sub-.200 average but still scoring and driving in 100 runs thanks to his power and walks. Turner got red hot the final two months. Rookie Johan Rojas is electrifying and may be the best defensive center fielder in the game. The bullpen is often a high-wire act, so every Phillies game — whether they’re leading or trailing — feels undecided until that final out. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: The Phillies have star power in the lineup and the collective long ball ability to go toe-to-toe with the Braves. Their outfield defense has improved with personnel changes through the season. The rotation is in much better shape than Atlanta’s injury-marred group. But the most underrated aspect of the Phillies, and where they may have a decisive edge over the Braves, is the bullpen. The Phillies feature high-octane stuff, depth and balance in this area and most of the chief components (Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, Jose Alvarado, Jeff Hoffman, Matt Strahm, Seranthony Domínguez) have been on point as the playoffs approach. In Rob Thomson, they have a skipper who proved last year that he knows how to deploy a bullpen in October. If the Phillies can turn a series against the Braves into a successive battle of the bullpens, look out. — Doolittle

No. 5 seed | 84-77 | NL second wild card

Wild-card opponent: Phillies (35.6% chance of advancing)

World Series odds: 1.2% | Caesars odds: +3300

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 4

The one thing that will decide their October fate: The rotation will have to absolutely crush it, because the Marlins were last in the NL in runs and the bullpen has been shaky at times. The Marlins are here because they excelled in one-run games (the best record in the majors), so if they can translate that success to the lower-scoring environment of playoff baseball, maybe they can surprise. With Sandy Alcantara injured, Jesus Luzardo is the No. 1 starter and when he’s on, he’s very tough: He’s tied for second (behind only Blake Snell) for the most starts this season allowing no more than one run. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: It seems as if we’ve been waiting a little too long for Jazz Chisholm Jr. to emerge as a superstar, but perhaps baseball’s biggest stage will bring that out of him. We know it’s in there. Chisholm, 25, can be lightning in a bottle for this young, scrappy Marlins team, able to impact games with his bat and his legs and his glove (he has played a very nice center field despite never playing there before this season). Chisholm has been good but not great offensively since returning from an oblique strain in late July, but he has shown flashes of brilliance. He probably has more in him. Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: If you like October weirdness, then the Marlins are your team. After all, they have a chance now for a third World Series — even though they’ve never won a division title and made the playoffs in a full season just three times. Indeed, this rotation is reminiscent of the 2003 world championship group, a young staff featuring Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Carl Pavano and Brad Penny, all 27 or younger. Luzardo, Braxton Garrett, Eury Perez and Edward Cabrera are all 25 or younger. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: Keep it close! The Marlins are in the postseason because they have dominated one-run games, pure and simple. They are 20 games over .500 (33-13) in one-run contests and because of that, a team with a run profile that should land them in the mid-70s in the win column is instead in the mid-80s. Of course, “keeping it close” isn’t really a strategy. So as we look at the chances of a team that is hard to explain, we can’t say that the Marlins could blow through the Braves and the rest of the bracket because they won a lot of close games. We can say that if they do wind up in the World Series, the one-run success — wherever it sprang from — will have held up. — Doolittle

Arizona Diamondbacks

No. 6 seed | 84-78 | NL third wild card

Wild-card opponent: Brewers (38.3% chance of advancing)

World Series odds: 1.5% | Caesars odds: +3300

Predicted date of their last game: Oct. 4

The one thing that will decide their October fate: The starting pitchers not named Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. The D-backs’ two co-aces could pitch them into the NLDS, but what happens after that? The only other starter with an ERA under 5.00 was Tommy Henry and he’s injured. Zach Davies was actually in the rotation until he was designated for assignment just a few days before the season ended. That leaves rookies Ryne Nelson and Brandon Pfaadt, who have both been hit hard and struggled with the long ball. Pfaadt has more swing-and-miss stuff, so he’s probably the No. 3 starter, but Arizona will have to find a way to win some non-Gallen/Kelly games. — Schoenfield

Ready for his October closeup: You’d be hard-pressed to find a more electric player than Corbin Carroll, a dynamic defender and an elite hitter who also plays with his hair on fire. Carroll became the first player ever to combine 50-plus steals with 25-plus home runs and 10-plus triples in the same season. He did that as a rookie. David Cone recently said Carroll reminds him of Derek Jeter in his rookie season, largely because of their leadership qualities at a young age. One big difference: Jeter played for one of the world’s most decorated franchises. Carroll, not so much. But that’s what makes the playoffs so cool — the world is about to find out just how good and fun Carroll really is. — Gonzalez

Why you should root for them: We mentioned the Orioles turning it around from 110 losses two seasons ago. Well, the Diamondbacks matched them that year with 110 defeats, so getting to the playoffs just two years later is a great achievement for a young, building team. Carroll is certainly the star attraction but he’s not alone: rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno is going to be another cornerstone player with his defense — check out his arm — and improving bat. In this day of rocket-armed pitchers, Gallen and Kelly are two starters who rely on movement, location and pitch selection more than pure velocity. The art of pitching is alive and well with those two. — Schoenfield

What they do that could take down the Braves: Run, run, run. Despite the uptick in stolen bases this season, this still isn’t baseball, circa 1985. To run on offense, the hitters have to get on base and get the ball in play. If that happens, the Diamondback rolled up 161 stolen bases and did so with a MLB-best 87% success rate. They can drive Sean Murphy and his pitchers crazy. But that’s not the only kind of running we’re talking about. Arizona’s athleticism also paid off on defense as Torey Lovullo’s fielders as a unit was arguably the best in the majors. Like Toronto, if Arizona’s pitchers can keep the Braves’ power bats in the ballpark (easier said than done), Carroll & Co. can impact games by running down balls in the gap — Doolittle


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