After a dramatic and memorable 162-game regular season, the 2023 MLB postseason has already featured multiple disappointments, with the format again favoring the wild card teams over the top two-seeded squads in each league.
Biggest Disappointments in the MLB Postseason Thus Far
AL East Postseason Woes Persist
This season’s best-of-three Wild Card round witnessed a couple of sizable upsets as the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays and the 92-win National League Central champion Milwaukee Brewers went home earlier than expected.
The Rays had a stellar regular season as they posed a season-long challenge to the division-winner Baltimore Orioles, securing the American League’s (AL) first wildcard position with a couple of weeks to spare. As always, the Rays got the most out of every hitter and pitcher on their roster, especially their bullpen, which heavily contributed to the team’s winning ways in the wake of starting pitchers Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs, and Drew Rasmussen all suffering season-ending injuries. Tampa Bay also was without starting shortstop Wander Franco for the last month as he is on administrative leave while under a legal investigation.
Still, they had to like their chances as the club hosted the Texas Rangers, who let the Houston Astros overtake them for the AL West division title at the end of the season and barely snuck into the playoffs at the Seattle Mariners’ expense. Yet, the Rays had another promising season end in playoff disappointment.
Steered by future Hall-of-Famer manager Bruce Bochy, 21-year-old rookie sensation Evan Carter, and the superstar middle-infield duo Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, the Rangers swept the Rays in the wildcard round. They carried that momentum into the AL Division Series, becoming the first team to sweep the 101-win Orioles since Baltimore promoted catcher Adley Rutschman from Triple-A in May 2022.
The Orioles were a trendy pick to make it far in the playoffs as they won the most games in their league this year and have a talented young roster fronted by Rutschman and 2023 AL Rookie of the Year favorite, Gunnar Henderson. However, Seager and the rest of the Rangers’ offense overwhelmed the Orioles’ pitching staff, allowing the club to steal both games in Baltimore before returning home to finish off the sweep in Texas’ first postseason game at Globe Life Field.
The third AL East team in the playoffs, the Toronto Blue Jays, got swept in the wild card round, losing the first two games to the AL Central champion Minnesota Twins. Despite featuring elite batters George Springer, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Toronto’s offense got shut down by Twins’ starting pitchers Pablo López and Sonny Gray, and the Twins scored just enough runs to win both games. With all three AL East franchises failing to win a postseason game, the perennially strong division’s playoff losing streak is at 11 games.
October struggles for the Dodgers and Brewers
The National League (NL) Central champion Milwaukee Brewers got swept at home by the six-seeded Arizona Diamondbacks, who barely snuck into these playoffs. The Brewers scored first in each game. Led by NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner Corbin Carroll, Arizona’s offense stormed back to take the lead. Then their bullpen, fortified by the club’s trade-deadline deal for closer Paul Sewald from the Seattle Mariners, shut down the Central champs.
The Diamondbacks also carried their momentum into the following round, scoring early and capturing the first two games at Dodger Stadium. The powerhouse Dodgers, who won 100 games this year and captured their 10th NL West title in the past 11 years, are on the brink of elimination and needed to win both games in Arizona to force a game five back in Los Angeles. Alas, they were swept.
Arizona’s top two starting pitchers, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, performed well. They both largely neutralized the Dodgers’ offense, especially the elite one-two punch of Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. On the other hand, the Dodgers’ questionable starting pitching reared its ugly head.
In Game 1, future Hall-of-Famer Clayton Kershaw had another horrible playoff appearance. He gave up seven hits and six runs and only recorded one out before being removed from the game in the first inning. His postseason ERA (4.49) is now over two runs higher than his regular season ERA (2.48), and that outing was the ninth time he allowed at least five runs in 32 playoff starts.
In the next game, the Diamondbacks scored three first-inning runs against LA rookie pitcher Bobby Miller and hung on to win 4-2. If the Dodgers lose this series, it will mark their second straight year of getting eliminated in the NLDS by the NL West division’s second-place finisher and another disappointment for a club that only won the World Series in 2020’s COVID-shortened season despite being one of the best teams and making the playoffs in just about every season this past decade.
For some of these disappointing clubs, the future is brighter than others. For instance, the Dodgers have Betts and Freeman under contract for the foreseeable future, the ability to consistently win, and the money to make the team better by signing players like Shohei Ohtani in this winter’s free agency.
In addition, while the Orioles came up short this postseason, they already exceeded expectations and are about to get even better whenever they promote shortstop Jackson Holliday next year. In his first season since being taken first overall in the 2022 MLB Draft out of high school, the 19-year-old son of former MLB player Matt Holliday dominated the minor leagues, going from Single-A to Triple-A. For clubs like the Brewers and Rays, their smaller-market status may make it harder for them to keep their core together to ensure more winning seasons.