Four Wild Card Series and four sweeps later the bracket is set for four best of five Division Series. One division winner, the Milwaukee Brewers, has already been eliminated, the other five remain. These series have everything, including lots of guys for Cubs fans to get behind and cheer for as playoff baseball continues. So with no further ado, let’s dive into these matchups.
Orioles over Rangers: The if you build it, they will come bracket
The Orioles get a slim edge over the Rangers for me but honestly, I was torn here. I’m elated that the Rangers and their philosophy of spending big to win a championship defeated the front office platoon expertise and minuscule payroll of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles are designed, top to bottom to be a combination of the Rays brilliant scouting and the Astros patient rebuild — they won 101 games with a payroll that is somehow even less than the Rays and if you wanted to cheer for the Rangers to discourage that type of front office strategy I wouldn’t argue with you about it at all.
That said, the Orioles are not the Rays in some key ways. The Rays have been doing the low-spending success strategy since at least the Joe Maddon days. The Orioles lost 100 games as recently as the 2021 season, and honestly, I think the only reason they didn’t lose 100 games in four seasons in a row is because there were only 60 games played in the 2020 pandemic shortened season. They are managed by former Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde, who saw the teardown through, lost more than 100 games multiple times and came out on the other side. This season for the Orioles feels a lot more like the successful culmination of a rebuild for a once great team than the start of a sustained strategy of never paying guys but winning anyway.
The Orioles are young and fun. Take everything I said about Corbin Carroll being the undisputed NL Rookie of the Year in the Wild Card version of this guide and apply it to Gunnar Henderson for the AL Rookie of the Year. Adley Rutschman is the absolute truth offensively and defensively at catcher — the man switch hit in the home run derby this year and is one of the best defensive catchers in the league. They can hit, they can pitch and they do it at all at Camden Yards, which is the only ballpark I’ve been to that can hold a candle to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. Let’s check out both of these team’s Division Series rosters and Go O’s:
Twins over Astros: The rage against the machine bracket
Watching the Twins win their first postseason series in over 20 years was a thing of joy and the fans at Target Field did not disappoint even a little bit. They were present. They were loud. They were on their feet and believed. They were the most entertaining fans this side of Philadelphia:
It gets more difficult for Minnesota in the Division Round of the playoffs. They will no longer be dueling with another fun team who has a lot of promise and some roster holes. They will have to take on the Houston Astros, the closest thing that baseball has seen to a dynasty since the late 90’s Yankees, albeit with a trashcan lid for an asterisk.
Speaking of that asterisk, this also marks the return of Carlos Correa to Houston, but this time as an opponent, for a postseason matchup that should deliver on drama. You don’t have to like Correa to know that this will be a storyline that will deliver whether he struggles or thrives. It’s the type of hook baseball writers dream about.
To be clear, though, me cheering for the Twins isn’t even really about the cheating scandal. If you’ve read Evan Drellich’s excellent book “Winning Fixes Everything” you likely already know that multiple teams had similar schemes going, but the Astros were the ones who got caught and wore the scandal for the rest of the league. What it is about, at least for me, is seeing new teams win. I’m not even sure the Twins have a better team than the Astros, although they did win four of six meetings between the teams in 2023. I just want to see someone other than Houston in the ALCS. Let’s take a look at the rosters:
D-backs over Dodgers: The I’m not throwing away my shot bracket
The Diamondbacks are a big reason that the Cubs are not in the postseason after they took six of seven from the Cubs to catapult themselves into the Postseason at the expense of the Cubs playoff hopes and dreams. I will totally understand if that’s a reason you want to cheer for 2016 World Series Champion Jason Heyward and the Dodgers instead of Corbin Carroll and the Diamondbacks. I, however, will be cheering for Arizona.
Arizona feels a lot like the 2015 Cubs to me. They are young, scrappy and hungry. They have a great manager in Torey Lovullo who rallied his team after a slump to finish the season as strong as anyone in the Postseason. They made quick work of the Milwaukee Brewers, which I am tremendously grateful for.
They did not win their season series against the Los Angeles Dodgers winning just five of the teams’ 13 matchups, but their last head-to-head bout with the Dodgers was at the end of August before the D-Backs got hot. Additionally, these are not the Dodgers you remember from recent MLB seasons. Yes, they won 100 games, but the pitching staff is being pieced together with Clayton Kershaw followed by a bunch of rookies. They have some big stars who are having exceptional years like Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts, but they are also more platoon dependent than ever before with guys like James Outman and Jason Heyward playing key roles offensively and defensively. Rosters are not finalized for either team at this time, but you can take a look at our SBNation sites’ coverage of the Dodgers roster decisions at True Blue LA and for the Diamondbacks at AZ Snake Pit.
Phillies over Braves: The Red October bracket
I get it — everyone expects the Braves to win this series. They won 104 games this season. Ronald Acuña Jr. had a historic 41-73 season and is likely going to win the National League MVP as a result. The lineup top to bottom is a series of threats to drive in runs and make your life miserable.
And, importantly, I just don’t think the Philadelphia Phillies, led by Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, JT Realmuto, and Nick Castellanos, care about any of that even a little bit at all, and I love them for it. It has nothing to do with head-to-head records, the Braves took eight of 13 from Philadelphia (including winning three of four extra inning games) in 2023. But of all the teams in the postseason (yes, including the Astros and Dodgers) I just believe in my soul that the Phillies have the best chance to take out the Braves.
Earlier this season for Baseball HQ I wrote something to the effect of: The Braves may be the class of the division but the Phillies are the working class of the division. It’s a general vibe and I am convinced it’s going to play out in this five-game series. Specifically, I’m pretty sure a five-game series equalizes these two teams a bit more than a seven-game series would. If the Braves rotation were healthy, this might be more of a mismatch. However, they are not healthy. After Max Fried (who’s just off the injured list) and strikeout king Spencer Strider they’ll turn to Bryce Elder who gave up 13 earned runs over his last 12⅓ innings pitched in his last three starts of the season. The Phillies will counter with a healthy rotation that will lead off the series with Ranger Suárez before Zach Wheler and Aaron Nola take the mound. They’ll also have a handful of guys who can provide lots of solid innings in Cristopher Sánchez, Matt Strahm, Taijaun Walker and Michael Lorenzen. The equivalent multi-inning guys for Atlanta are rookie AJ Smith-Shawver and maybe Michael Tonkin?
Let’s take a look at each of these rosters:
These are all intriguing match-ups in the Division Round of the playoffs. Maybe you’re a fan of teams who have been dominant recently in the postseason like the Dodgers, Astros and Braves. Perhaps you prefer to cheer for the teams who can cause a bit of chaos as underdogs like the Twins, Phillies and Diamondbacks. Or maybe, you just want to see a battle of two teams who haven’t been here in a while and watch fans rejoice in playoff baseball in their home parks like the Rangers and the Orioles. Whatever your flavor of fandom, this Division Series round has something for you. Be sure to let us know who you are cheering for and why in the comments!
Who are you cheering for between the Rangers and Orioles?
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Who are you cheering for between the Twins and the Astros?
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Who are you cheering for between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers?
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Who are you cheering for between the Phillies and the Braves?
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