MLB playoffs: Ranking every possible World Series matchup - Sports Illustrated

Ranking the Best and Worst Possible World Series Matchups

Not all World Series are created equal. Out of the 25 possible Fall Classic matchups, we ranked the most (and least) entertaining options at our disposal before the postseason gets underway.
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The postseason is finally here, with 10 teams in the running for baseball’s ultimate prize: a big pointy trophy that looks like a lampstand. But in the quest for that flag-festooned hunk of metal, which teams will provide us the most entertainment in the World Series?

Luckily for you, I’m here to help. Join me as I rank the best World Series matchups, from would-be snoozefests to titanic clashes that would live on in eternity. In truth, there’s no such thing as a bad World Series pairing of the 25 possible options—but there are definitely some that are better than others.

Tier 8: Well, Still Beats Football

25. Yankees vs. Brewers

24. Astros vs. Brewers

23. Rays vs. Cardinals

No offense to the Brewers or their fans: Their run to the playoffs has been super impressive, and you have to admire their tenacity after losing Christian Yelich. But this Milwaukee squad has Big 2007 Rockies Energy: an average ballclub getting white-hot at the right time, but one that ultimately can’t hang with the bigger dogs. Given the Brewers’ lack of a rotation and shaky bullpen, I can see both the Astros and Yankees making quick work of them.

As for Rays-Cardinals, it lacks any and all narrative: no history or rivalry, few if any household stars, no quirkiness—no nothing, really. Unless Tampa wins, it’d be a matchup that you’d have to strain to remember in a Sporcle World Series quiz.

Tier 7: These Guys *Again*?

22. Yankees vs. Cardinals

Fun fact: This would be the sixth time these two franchises would meet in a World Series, and the first since 1964, a seven-game thriller that ended up being the end of the Yankees’ then-dynasty. Other fun fact: These two teams have combined to win 38 championships, and both have titles earned in the last decade. In other words: These aren’t exactly long-suffering fanbases. With so many teams looking to break droughts or win it all for the first time, it’s hard to find the appeal in the baseball equivalent of two billionaires having a money-counting contest.

21. Astros vs. Cardinals

In a similar vein, Houston-St. Louis gives us two recent winners and the annoying narrative that would be Jeff Luhnow facing his old team, resurfacing the bizarre Cardinals hacking story. I wonder if Chris Correa’s prison would put the game on for him.

Tier 6: [Etta James voice] At Laaaaast

20. Rays vs. Brewers

19. Rays vs. Nationals

A World Series taking place in Tampa and Milwaukee might make Rob Manfred punch a hole in his desk, but neither team has ever won a championship; the same is true of a Rays-Nationals tilt. So even though these pairings aren’t exactly ancient rivalries renewed nor feature much in the way of big names, they still get a bump because fans that have never experienced the ultimate joy of a title will finally get that sweet release. Still, there are better possible matchups that keep these two down the list.

Tier 5: Sure, Why Not?

18. A’s vs. Cardinals

17. Rays vs. Braves

16. A’s vs. Braves

15. Yankees vs. Nationals

There’s no real history or rivalry to be found in any of these matchups, unless you’re a St. Louisan still sour about how the 1930 World Series against the then-Philadelphia A’s shook out. (The names of George Earnshaw and Lefty Grove are still epithets among the city’s nonagenarians.) But all have something to make them fun. Yankees-Nationals would be a terrific battle of the stars, and a classic clash of strength versus strength in Washington’s three aces rotation against New York’s clobbering lineup. Rays-Braves would feature power arms galore and plenty of speed. A’s-Braves would display plenty of power. And A’s-Cardinals would be a battle for the ghost of Tommy La Russa, freeing him from the bullpen-shaped ethereal prison he’s been trapped in since 1992.

Tier 4: Drought-Be-Gone

14. Twins vs. Brewers

13. A’s vs. Brewers

12. A’s vs. Nationals

11. Twins vs. Nationals, aka Senators Bowl

10. Rays vs. Dodgers

Two things stand out to me about these four options. The first is that, in any of these pairings, a team would either be winning for the first time or ending a long drought (31 years for Los Angeles, 30 years for Oakland, 28 years for Minnesota). Second is that these teams all feel evenly matched, giving us the best possible World Series outcome: a tightly fought series that goes the distance, culminating in a do-or-die Game 7 between franchises desperate for a championship. You can’t get any better than that. (Well, you can, because there are still 10 more matchups to go, but you get my point.)

Tier 3: Back To The Future

9. Twins vs. Cardinals

8. Yankees vs. Braves

7. A’s vs. Dodgers

All three pairings here are rematches of recent World Series past, and few things are more fun than those. A’s-Dodgers would be a hoot (and there’s just something about an all-California clash that I really like), and Yankees-Braves would hopefully feature Ronald Acuña Jr. doing his best Andruw Jones impersonation. When in doubt, always highly rate rematches.

Tier 2: Good Old-Fashioned Fun

6. Twins vs. Braves

5. Astros vs. Braves

4. Twins vs. Dodgers

3. Astros vs. Nationals

There’s no narrative, history or rivalry needed for this tier: These are just tremendous matchups pitting brilliant teams against each other. Twins-Braves is power versus power. Astros-Braves might result in double-digit scoring every night. Twins-Dodgers would be a home run bonanza with no safe lead. And Astros-Nationals is the two best rotations in baseball squaring off. I dare you to hate any of those.

Tier 1: The Best of the Best of the Best

2. Astros vs. Dodgers

1. Yankees vs. Dodgers

The three best teams make for the two best matchups. There’s no doubt that Los Angeles, Houston and New York are the cream of MLB’s crop, and there’s no doubt either that the World Series should, in its ideal form, be a battle between the game’s elite. Well, here they are: the three best lineups in baseball, two of its best rotations, and one of its best bullpens. And each has a compelling story on its own: either a rematch of 2017’s outstanding Fall Classic, or a renewal of one of the sport’s greatest rivalries in a series that would make Bob Costas weep with joy (not to mention that MLB and FOX executives would happily sacrifice their families for the ratings that Yankees-Dodgers would draw).

By virtue of novelty and history, I’ll give the No. 1 spot to New York-Los Angeles. But either of these two final pairings would make for spectacular baseball.