As the divisional series kick off today, MLB gets one step closer to crowning a champion, which makes it time to rank all 16 of the potential matchups for the World Series.
What are we ranking by? A “good” matchup is subjective and touches on several factors: The pairing with the most compelling play on the field doesn’t necessarily equal the one with the most compelling storylines and, of course, the postseason is famously hard to predict. And it’s worth saying, too, that there will be good stuff in any World Series, even the ones that seem to lack any star power or narrative. With all that in mind... let’s rank:
This pairing would be unprecedented—the first team to make it as far as the divisional series with a losing record meets the first team to do so after spending a lengthy chunk of the season sidelined by viral outbreak. A fitting way to end 2020? Absolutely. A great series to watch? … Probably not.
Sure, you could call it the Florida Series, or you could call it the Bad-Jokes-About-Paltry-Attendance Series.
The Braves’ slugging lineup should be fun to watch no matter who they’re up against. But, uh, not much else here.
Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to have all the Marlins’ options ranked so low. It’s hard to recommend them on the quality of their baseball. (Though, of course, comparing their stats to those of other teams is tricky in that the club looked significantly different at various points throughout the summer.) But that makes them a more interesting story, if not necessarily a more engaging choice to watch, and that’s enjoyable in its own way. (Which is not to say that there aren’t engaging players to watch here: Sixto Sanchez, anyone?)
Maybe it comes down to where you calibrate your personal meter between “absurd” and “fun”: If the former can easily veer into then latter for you, go ahead, mentally bump up a few spots for the Marlins.
Here’s a fun fact: The Rays’ offense (4.82 runs per game) and Braves’ pitching (4.80) are more closely aligned than that of any other potential pairing. (Not the catchiest way to brand a series, sure, but we’ll take what we can get.)
A perfectly solid matchup... without any particularly engaging storylines. Onward.
The Jeter WORLD 2ERIE2.
This pairing just may be baseball’s least likeable club versus its most likeable. (It’s hard to say definitively that the Astros and Padres can lay claim to those respective titles but… it’s close.) Whether that seems like a perfect matchup or a too-on-the-nose metaphor is up to you.
The 90s are back!
This one features two teams that have never won a World Series—a very different viewing experience than, say, a renewed rivalry between storied franchises, but let’s call it equal-but-opposite. And if the Padres’ rotation is back to full strength by this point, this should be especially fun, given that these two staffs sit close to each other near the top of the leaderboard for strikeout rate.
The Padres scored more than any other team in the later innings this year. (109 runs from the seventh inning on.) The A’s have one of the strongest bullpens in baseball. (50 runs allowed from the seventh on—less than any other team except the Cardinals, who, uh, did not really play much from the seventh on.) The question of which would win out here is a great one to pin a series on.
A meeting of the No. 1 seeds! That’s always a good call, even if it comes without any particularly interesting storylines, as this one does.
On the one hand, the quality of play here likely would not be as sharp or as evenly matched as it was in the 2017 World Series. On the other hand... the power of the storylines here could sustain the electrical grid of a small nation for an entire year.
Revenge! Comeuppance! Drama! These teams’ first encounter this season gave us Joe Kelly’s iconic pout and the stupid brilliance of “nice swing, bitch.” For them to meet again in the World Series? Incredible. This is an easy No. 1 in the “off-the-field narratives” category. But it’s hard to argue that the current version of the Astros would make this an elite pairing on the field, and so for that, it has to be knocked down a few slots.
The single most fun World Series that baseball could have had was White Sox-Padres, which, unfortunately, is now out of the question. (A moment of silence for the combined potential bat flips.) But Yankees-Padres is the most fun of the options remaining—two dynamic, spirited, engaging rosters.
One team would end a drought here: Oakland is 31 years removed from its last championship, Los Angeles, 32. There’s a fun NorCal-SoCal thing going on. And two great teams on the field—just about as equally matched as any opponent can be when it comes to the 2020 Dodgers. Oh yeah, and there's 1988.
If it seems like Yankees-Dodgers always gets the top spot on these rankings… it’s for a reason. The pairing is the perfect blend of tradition, excitement, and quality play. The history is remarkable: The Yankees and Dodgers have faced off in the World Series 11 times—Don Larsen’s perfect game! Sandy Koufax in ‘63! Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in three pitches!—but they haven’t done so since 1981, which makes the matchup feel much more novel than its storied tradition might imply. As for how these specific versions of the clubs compare in 2020? With the Yankees at full strength, as they are for the moment, they’re a worthy match for the Dodgers. What more could you ask for?