October is upon us, and out of the 30 Major League Baseball teams in competition for the 2023 season, four remain standing. Throughout the course of 162 regular season games and two playoff rounds, the wheat has been separated from the chaff and the field of World Series hopefuls has been culled.
Among the remaining contenders are a yearly fixture of the American League playoffs, a team that hasn’t won a World Series in their 62 years of existence, and a team hungry for revenge after falling just short of glory one year ago.
None of the remaining teams won their division single-handedly, and it looks like they all have a good chance to fight for the title. As the League Championship Series gets underway this week, it is time for an overview of where all four teams stand and a recap of the stakes at hand as they fight for a fall classic appearance.
The American League heavyweights and defending world champs are making their seventh straight ALCS appearance as their streak of dominance continues. Some old favorites returned to the picture for the Astros this year, most notably being 40-year-old flamethrower Justin Verlander. The three-time Cy Young award winner started the year with the Mets before their season flamed out, and he was returned to his old team. Verlander pitched to the tune of a 3.22 ERA across 162.1 innings in his 18th year as a Major Leaguer.
Other players to watch for Houston are University of Maine alumni Jeremy Peña and elite starting pitcher Framber Valdez. Looking as strong as ever, the Astros are once again a pretty good bet to go all the way as they chase their third title since 2017.
Houston’s American League counterpart is also their cross-town rival. The Texas Rangers are making their first playoff appearance since 2016, which is ironically the last year that the Astros failed to make the playoffs themselves. Seeking their first World Series berth since 2011 and their first title in the history of their franchise, the Rangers have been hot and cold all season, going on massive win streaks and losing skids.
Important pieces for Texas as they try to remain hot include Jordan Montgomery, a pitch-to-contact lefty whom they acquired at the trade deadline. Offensively, look out for Corey Seager, whose regular season OPS totaled greater than 1.000.
The Rangers are also betting on a veteran right–handed starter, as two-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is eyeing a return from injury in the ALCS.
Making their first playoff appearance since 2017, the D-Backs have been underdogs throughout the course of the season, playing third banana in the NL West to the Dodgers and Padres, who were surrounded by much more hype in the preseason.
Righty Zac Gallen was a Cy Young contender for Arizona this season before he backslid in the second half. Gallen did finish with an impressive 220 strikeouts in 210 innings. Watch for him to mow down opposing hitters if the Diamondbacks are going to have success.
Full of attitude and hungry for a title, the Phillies are looking for payback after losing last year’s World Series in six games to the Astros. Philadelphia finished 14 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East but won when it mattered, defeating their division foe in the NLDS in five games.
Team star Bryce Harper has been electric as usual, raking for a .368 average and three home runs so far this postseason. His leadership and energy are at the center of the Phillies’ success.
Phillies’ ace Aaron Nola is coming off of a substandard regular season but has been a force so far in the playoffs, with an ERA of 1.42 and 12 strikeouts across 12.2 postseason innings. His bounce-back has been critical in Philadelphia’s run at a second straight World Series berth.