The four teams that will reach the 2023 League Championship Series are dominant. They weren’t the teams most people expected.
Only one top-two seed in either league — Houston — has made it to the LCS round. Despite earning a bye in the Division Series, three 100-win teams have never been eliminated: the Braves, Dodgers, and Orioles.
Don’t just assume those clubs are underperforming. Give credit to their opponents too. While it’s nearly impossible to make the LCS without playing good baseball, the Astros, Rangers, Phillies and D-backs have historically won the first two rounds of the 2023 postseason.
Those four teams went a combined 18-2 in the Wild Card Series and Division Series, good for a combined .900 winning percentage, while never missing an elimination game. That’s the third-best winning percentage by any LCS participant in any postseason since the wild card era began in 1995. It gets a little more interesting when you consider the extra games added to the slate through the expanded postseason format.
Best records, combined by LCS participants, since 1995
1-D. 2009: 12-1 (.923)
1-D. 2007: 12-1 (.923)
3. 2023: 18-2 (.900)
4. 2014: 14-2 (.875)
5. 2020: 20-3 (.870)
It’s not just wins and losses: 2023’s LCS contenders are second in run differential per game, third in ERA and eighth in runs per game since 1995.
Largest run differential per game since 1995 by LCS participants combined
1. 2018: +3.64 runs/game
2. 2023: +3.35 runs/game
3. 2007: +3.15 runs/game
4. 2004: +2.63 runs/game
5. 2020: +2.57 runs/game
Since 1995, the lowest total number of LCS participants combined
1. 2010: 1.84
2. 2018: 2.14
3. 2023: 2.21
4. 2009: 2.27
5. 1998: 2.28
Here’s what will dominate each of the four 2023 ALCS and NLCS teams — and how each team got to this point.
How they got here: Twins win in ALDS (3-1)
Of the four teams that have advanced so far, the Astros actually have the lowest run differential (+1.75 runs per game), highest ERA (3.25) and lowest scoring average (5 runs per game) in the 2023 postseason. But these are still the Astros, who have reached the ALCS or better in each of the past seven seasons. None of the teams left in the 2023 field have anywhere near Houston’s playoff experience, not to mention the Astros’ prowess at the plate and on the mound.
While the Astros haven’t been as dominant as they have been in years past — they clinched the AL West in a tiebreaker with Texas on the final day of the regular season — they are once again in control in the postseason.
How they got here: Beat Rays (2-0) in Wild Card Series, Orioles (3-0) in ALDS
The Rangers didn’t finish the regular season very well, dropping three of their last four games against the Mariners and losing to the Astros (thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker) for the AL West title. – round answer. But all they did was win, beating both the Rays and Orioles, despite playing their first four season games on the road.
And they have never been less dominant in doing so. Texas has outscored its postseason opponents by an average of four runs per game, the most since the 2019 Yankees (5.33) through their first division series. Not only do the Rangers have the most runs scored on a 2023 postseason team with 32, but they are currently operating a 2.20 team ERA — more than two runs below their 4.28 in the regular season. Nathan Eovaldi has allowed just two runs in 13 2/3 innings (a 1.32 ERA), while the Rangers’ bullpen has a 2.16 ERA thus far.
Combine that pitching with a dangerous top-to-bottom lineup and make Texas a formidable opponent in October. The Rangers led the AL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage during the regular season, and now they’re back from a broken thumb with Josh Jung and red-hot rookie Evan Carter — not to mention Marcus Siemian, with Corey Seager and Adolise Garcia on top.
The Rangers have been as dominant as anyone could have hoped for in the 2023 postseason, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue.
How they got here: Beat Brewers (2-0) in Wild Card Series, Dodgers (3-0) in NLDS
Arizona earned the NL’s third and final wild-card spot and promptly knocked off two of the league’s top three seeds. Playing each of their first four games on the road, the T-backs swept the Brewers and Dodgers and got the better of some good pitchers, including Corbin Burns, Freddy Peralta and Clayton Kershaw. Now they’re in their first NLCS since 2007, and surely hope it goes better than a 4-0 sweep of the Rockies.
The D-backs, loaded with young talent, including 2023 NL Rookie of the Year favorite Corbin Carroll, have shown they are made for postseason baseball. Carroll, Ketel Marte and Christian Walker lead a potent lineup that averages six runs per game, while Jack Gallen and Meryl Kelly lead a strong starting rotation. Don’t forget the bullpen: After posting a 4.22 ERA in the regular season, which ranked 18th, D-backs relievers have a 1.77 ERA in 20 1/3 postseason innings.
Arizona may have the fewest wins of any team in the 2023 postseason, but the D-Backs are one of four teams still standing. There is a good reason for that.
How they got here: Beat Marlins (2-0) in wild-card series, Braves (3-1) in NLDS
Snapping a 10-year postseason drought in 2022, the Phillies seem to have found a good formula for winning in October: elite front-of-the-rotation starters, a nice tough bullpen and — last but certainly not least — a home run. The Bills slugged 11 homers against the Braves in the NLDS, including six in the Game 3 rout and three solo shots (accounting for all three of their runs) in the Game 4 clincher. Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos each had two in Game 3 and went deep twice in Game 4 to make the Phillies and D-Backs the first player in AL/NL history with consecutive multihomer games in the postseason. With 13 home runs, this should make for a fireworks-filled NLCS.
But how about that Phillies pitching? Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola have combined for a 1.75 ERA in 25 2/3 postseason innings, averaging six innings per outing. Ranger Suarez holds his own against Spencer Strider — twice! The Phillies’ bullpen was shaky at times in Games 2 and 4 of the NLDS, but still got the job done, holding the Braves’ historic offense to just two runs per game along with the team’s starters. They’ve played more postseason games than any other LCS participant, but the Phillies’ plus-21 postseason run is the odd MLB one.
Philadelphia also dominates the basepaths while holding its own defensively, something that couldn’t always be said of previous Phillies teams. Tree Turner and Co. Has stolen nine bases in six games, tied for the top 10 of any postseason team on a per-game basis since 1995. Keeping Kyle Schwarber at designated hitter and letting freshman Johan Rojas man center field with Brandon Marsh in left is huge; Check out Rojas’ heart-stopping catch at the wall to rob Ronald Acuna Jr. of a potentially series-changing victory late in Game 4.
Fueled by historic home-field advantage, the Phillies are firing on all cylinders heading into their second straight NLCS. Of course, they aren’t the only ones dominating this postseason.