With the Wild Card round over in a flash, we turn our attention to the Division Series and welcome in the heavyweights of the 2023 MLB regular season. Will the 100-game winning Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers cruise to the Championship Series? Will the Houston Astros’ postseason experience give them an edge after an up-and-down regular season? Or will the underdogs rise in this best-of-five format?
Once again, we polled 18 of The Athletic’s MLB experts to get their thoughts on who will advance and who will be headed for vacation in this year’s MLB Division Series round.
Staff predictions for PHI/ATL series
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Phillies vs. Braves NLDS predictions, pitching matchups and what you need to know
Sam Blum (Atlanta): The Braves’ offense is just too good. For as dominant as Philadelphia looked against Miami, this matchup presents a whole different beast.
Brittany Ghiroli (Philadelphia): I have the Phillies because regular-season success doesn’t always translate to the playoffs, where the best teams don’t often win. Atlanta will be favored here and they should be. They have a historic offense. But the Braves have some starting pitching concerns with Charlie Morton out and Max Fried dealing with a blister that ended his regular season. Philly needs Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola to step up like they did against the Marlins and the lineup to keep constant pressure on Atlanta’s starting staff.
David O’Brien (Atlanta): It’ll be a hard-fought series between division rivals who’ve played a lot of close games in the regular season, but the Braves’ deep, power-laden lineup has shown it can hit Phillies’ pitching enough to outscore them in various types of games.
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Brendan Kuty (Atlanta): Man, the Phillies can be electric, especially when they’re playing at home. But the Braves are the best all-around team in baseball and I don’t see anyone stopping them.
Jen McCaffrey (Philadelphia): The Braves are the best team in baseball, no doubt. But there’s something about the Phillies that makes me think they could pull this off.
Fabian Ardaya (Atlanta): This might be the best series of this round. Philadelphia has all the pieces to run back the magic of last October. The Braves feel more vulnerable with their pitching than they did earlier in the season. And yet … this Braves club is a juggernaut. It’s hard to pick against them.
Tim Britton (Atlanta): I’d be fine if this series went the distance — five games, seven games, nine games, 21 games. While Philly’s lineup is good enough to win a championship, Atlanta’s is good enough to make history, and its depth will eventually wear down even a good, deep pitching staff like Philadelphia’s. As long as Max Fried resembles himself, Atlanta gets its revenge.
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Steve Berman (Philadelphia): The Braves are playing simulated games during their bye period, and maybe that’ll help. But the Phillies seem like they’re poised to win the whole thing.
Andy McCullough (Atlanta): This is the marquee series of the round. The Phillies will make it exciting, but Atlanta’s preposterous offense will be too much to overcome.
Katie Woo (Atlanta): This might be the series to watch this postseason. The 104-win Braves are the postseason favorites, but that doesn’t make the Phillies any less dangerous. Both teams can slug, though Philadelphia has the better bullpen. Still, the Phillies had to burn their tandem of Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in the Wild Card Series, which gives a fully rested Atlanta squad the advantage here.
Chad Jennings (Atlanta): I’ll consider the winner of this matchup to be the favorite to win the World Series. If any team can beat the Braves, it might be the Phillies with that home run pop and top-heavy pitching staff. I’m just not sure anyone can beat the Braves.
Staff predictions for AZ/LA series
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Diamondbacks vs. Dodgers NLDS predictions, pitching matchups and what you need to know
Levi Weaver (Los Angeles): Battered rotation notwithstanding, the Dodgers present an issue for Arizona the Brewers couldn’t: a lineup that includes two MVP-caliber hitters in Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. The Dodgers went 8-5 against Arizona this year, so while anything could happen, the safe bet is the Dodgers.
Kaitlyn McGrath (Arizona): There are questions about the Dodgers’ pitching but this is more about Arizona being my pick for the plucky team of destiny this year.
Brendan Kuty (Los Angeles): One of the game’s best offenses in Los Angeles (34.4 fWAR) squares up against one of the best defenses in Arizona (46 DRS). Still, give me the team with Mookie Betts.
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Brittany Ghiroli (Arizona): The D-backs are set up well for a five-game series in that they can use Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen twice if need be. They’re riding high off an upset in Milwaukee and momentum in baseball can be a dangerous thing. To do it, they have to limit the damage by Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts and find a way to jump on the Dodgers pitching staff early.
Chad Jennings (Los Angeles): The Dodgers’ pitching is a bit of a mess, and there’s a lot to like about the Diamondbacks’ young hitters and top two starters. But until proven otherwise, I just can’t go against Los Angeles here.
Steve Berman (Arizona): Clayton Kershaw is in a tough spot as the Dodgers’ Game 1 starter. If he pitches like he often has in the playoffs, Arizona will have the early advantage.
Fabian Ardaya (Los Angeles): For as many challenges as the Diamondbacks presented to the Dodgers early in the season, the Dodgers just have too much firepower not to swing a series to their advantage.
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Katie Woo (Los Angeles): This isn’t the powerhouse team you’ve come to expect from Los Angeles, but it’s hard not to put your faith in Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.
Sam Blum (Los Angeles): This series will be closer than people think. Arizona is set up well in a short series with their two top starters. But the Dodgers have one of the best lineups in the game and home-field advantage. It would be malpractice to pick against them in this series.
David O’Brien (Los Angeles): The Dodgers lineup is just too deep, and its bullpen good enough to offset starting-pitching issues.
Tim Britton (Los Angeles): Sometimes we obsess so much over pitching matchups in the postseason that we overlook massive advantages elsewhere. And frankly, the most important 1-2 punch in this postseason isn’t Zac Gallen-Merrill Kelly (or Zack Wheeler-Aaron Nola or any other pitching duo). It’s Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, and it’s why the Dodgers will advance.
Texas Rangers (6) vs. Baltimore Orioles (1)
Staff predictions for TEX/BAL series
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Rangers vs. Orioles ALDS predictions, pitching matchups and what you need to know
Brittany Ghiroli (Baltimore): The Rangers offense is potent, but the Orioles can swing it too. And even without closer Félix Bautista, the O’s relief corps should have an edge against a Rangers group that had the most blown saves (33) in baseball. The O’s lead MLB in comeback wins and no lead seems safe. This series could be a classic.
Chad Jennings (Texas): It would be so much fun to see the young Orioles go wild this postseason, but I’m going to put my faith in those Texas veterans. Their late-season push to try to win the division ended in a tie, but suggested they’re ready to keep going.
Brendan Kuty (Baltimore): The O’s probably have the AL’s best starting rotation. The Rangers likely have its best lineup. In that kind of matchup, I’m going with the arms.
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Andy McCullough (Texas): The experience and star power of the Rangers — I’m envisioning a big series from Corey Seager — will trump Baltimore’s youthful exuberance.
Sam Blum (Baltimore): The Rangers’ celebration to win the wild card round was just a little too raucous. KIDDING. Regardless, the Texas bullpen has struggled much of the season, and the Orioles have long felt like a team built to do something special.
Steve Berman (Texas): Bruce Bochy’s team has one weakness, its bullpen. But managing a bullpen in the playoffs is his superpower.
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Tim Britton (Baltimore): They still talk about the rumble you could hear throughout Baltimore on Delmon Young’s double to beat the Tigers in 2014. Camden Yards is gonna be rocking like Citizens Bank Park has these last two Octobers, and a young Orioles team with a pitching staff hitting its stride will ride that wave past Texas’ shallow staff.
Katie Woo (Texas): The Orioles are America’s sweethearts this October, and rightfully so. But the postseason is a different beast. Experience matters.
Kaitlyn McGrath (Baltimore): I like the Orioles to advance, but I expect this to be a high-scoring series for both teams.
Jen McCaffrey (Baltimore): Baltimore’s emergence has been the best storyline in baseball this season. I don’t think they’re done yet.
Levi Weaver (Baltimore): The Rangers have been extremely streaky, especially in the second half. That can obviously go either way, but I gotta take the team that has been more consistent. I’ve been saying since about mid-August that I think the Orioles “have the juice” to win the AL pennant. They haven’t really done anything to change my mind.
Staff predictions for MIN/HOU series
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Twins vs. Astros ALDS predictions, pitching matchups and what you need to know
Chad Jennings (Houston): The Twins had a better ERA than the Astros this season, but I still prefer this Astros staff. Especially in October.
Katie Woo (Minnesota): I’m here for the Carlos Correa vs. Astros storyline. I’m also here for more Jhoan Duran. Houston is a tough draw for Minnesota, but the Twins are getting hot at the right time.
Levi Weaver (Houston): I keep thinking the Astros are done this year, and they keep being Not Done. They’re the defending champs, so until someone beats them, it’s hard to bet against them.
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Sam Blum (Minnesota): This Astros team played so poorly at home all season, and particularly in really meaningful September games. Maybe that will change in the playoffs, but Minnesota looks formidable right now.
Tim Britton (Houston): Ultimately, this just comes down to trust. Houston has four elite hitters in the middle of its lineup, and I’m not sure which non-Jhoan Duran relievers for Minnesota are navigating that part of the order in big spots.
Jen McCaffrey (Minnesota): Houston’s playoff résumé should give them the edge here, but this Astros club isn’t as strong compared to previous years and the Twins’ momentum winning their first postseason series in 20 years might mean something.
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Fabian Ardaya (Houston): This Astros club feels built for October. Their lineup still has all the pieces. Their bullpen is solid. And there’s reason to believe some of their arms that have overwhelmed will rekindle some of that expected performance when the lights get brighter. It’s difficult to pick against the reigning champ until they get knocked out.
Steve Berman (Minnesota): The Twins finally broke through and won a playoff game. Then a series. It’s because they have the best pitching staff in the American League.
Andy McCullough (Houston): I have a personal policy: I won’t pick against Houston in an American League postseason series until after I’ve seen them lose.
Brittany Ghiroli (Minnesota): Much like the D-backs, the Twins are riding momentum, though theirs is maybe even stronger after a two-decade playoff win drought. These aren’t the Astros of the last five seasons, as Houston has some weaknesses and the Twins have a homer-happy lineup capable of putting up some crooked numbers. It will come down to pitching on both sides, Houston keeping the ball in the park and the Twins — led by former Astro Carlos Correa — following the exact blueprint that saw them overpower the Blue Jays.
David O’Brien (Houston): The Twins ended their unbelievable postseason losing streak in the Wild Card round, but now they’re facing a whole different level of opponent in the Astros, who’ve done this so many times that it would be stunning for them not to advance past the Twins.
(Top photo of a regular-season matchup between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks: Matt Kartozian / USA Today)