It’s been a postseason full of upsets. Now just four teams remain. Which teams are the favorites in the LCS? With the help of advanced data, we’re ranking them in MLB playoff predictions.
A total of 30 teams started the 2023 season with hopes and dreams of greatness and glory. Now, only four of those squads remain in contention for the World Series trophy.
They might or might not be the four best teams in the league, but they certainly have played like a squad should play in the MLB postseason and are here for a reason.
The ATR help us normalize a team’s performance (for any sport) from league environmental factors that can either inflate or deflate its numbers. The model calculates how many runs per nine innings better or worse teams are compared to the league-average club during that year.
Keep in mind that the model is backward-facing and how well a team has played more recently is factored in, so it’s not necessarily a projection of how well a team will play.
And raw value determines how good a player, pitcher, or team is on a per-pitch basis rather than looking at just the outcome of the at-bat. It includes elements such as quality and quantity of contact, plate discipline, and others in the analysis.
There is total raw value, a cumulative stat; and RV +/-, a rate stat in which 100 is the league average value. For pitchers, anything lower than 100 is desirable, or above average; and the opposite is true for hitters.
Let’s see how the four League Championship Series teams fare:
1. Texas Rangers
- Record/Seed: 90-72/No. 5 in American League
- Adjusted Team Rating: 1st
- Overall Raw Value: 2nd
If the Arizona Diamondbacks are the flaming hot team in the National League, the same can be said about the Rangers in the junior circuit. They swept the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild-card round and then the Baltimore Orioles in the Division Series to reach their first ALCS since 2011.
Now, the Rangers are going to face the intrastate rival Houston Astros, with whom they played 13 times in 2023. The balance heavily favors Houston 9-4, and if we count regular-season games between them since 2017, the reigning World Series champions are up 79-39. However, Texas knows that the past is just that: behind, in the rearview mirror, and this group is ready to write its own history.
The Rangers have been data darlings both in the regular season and the playoffs. ATR has them first overall (second on offense and 11th in defense/pitching), while raw value has them second: seventh pitching-wise and second offensively.
While not as explosive as the D-backs offense (we will get there in a minute), the Rangers have hit seven home runs in five postseason games so far and have four hitters with a .400+ batting average and a 1.000+ OPS: Evan Carter, Corey Seager, Mitch Garver and Josh Jung.
Seager in particular has been carrying the talented offense all year long. He leads all AL hitters with a total raw value of 55.1 and ranks second in MLB in RV+ at 184, behind Aaron Judge’s 185. The shortstop was deadly in the regular season, with 75 extra-base hits in just 119 games and a .327 batting average.
Behind him, there is an army of productive hitters besides Carter, Garver and Jung: Nathaniel Lowe, Marcus Semien, Jonah Heim, Adolis Garcia and Leody Taveras make this lineup hard to navigate. Semien has been a tough matchup for Houston this year, batting .431 (22 for 51) with four homers, two doubles and 12 RBIs in his 13 games in the season series.
Evidently, scoring runs hasn’t been a problem for Texas. Preventing them could prove challenging if only because they will be facing an incredibly deep lineup, just like theirs. Reaching the ALCS without Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer is an achievement in its own right, but can this group limit Houston’s offense?
Scherzer has a good chance of making it back from a teres major strain and could start a game in the series. Former St. Louis Cardinals left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2.79 ERA in 67.2 frames with the Rangers in the regular season) and Nathan Eovaldi (3.63 ERA in 144 IP, 89 RV-) have been excellent leading the staff, and the bullpen has a 2.16 ERA in October so far with great performances from Cody Bradford, Aroldis Chapman, Josh Sborz and Jose Leclerc.
Scherzer, acquired from the New York Mets at the deadline, could be the X-factor in the series. If he shows he is 100% healthy, he could swing the matchup in Texas’ favor.
2. Houston Astros
- Record/Seed: 90-72/2nd in AL
- Adjusted Team Rating: 5th
- Overall Raw Value: 8th
The Astros were close to missing the postseason at one point in September, as they fought with the Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners for spots. Still, the reigning World Series champs were never going down so easily.
The only division winner left in the race, the AL West champs won their ALDS matchup against the pesky Minnesota Twins in four games.
If there is a team that knows how to play in October, it’s the Astros. It’s not a coincidence that they have made seven straight ALCS and won two Fall Classics since 2017.
Despite not being at their sharpest in the regular season with a 90-72 record, the ATR rankings have the Astros at fifth overall: seventh on offense and sixth in “defensive” rating. They are also eighth in overall raw value, fifth offensively and 11th in pitching.
With Cristian Javier hurling his third consecutive outing with at least five innings and no runs allowed in the postseason (two of them were last year, the other was against the Twins), Houston appears to have gotten back a crucial piece to make its rotation longer and more effective behind Justin Verlander (85 RV-, 3.31 ERA with the Astros) and Framber Valdez (3.45 ERA, 200 K).
The offense has never been in question. This is a team that has certified postseason monster Yordan Alvarez. He has four homers in four games and a 1.783 OPS in the playoffs, plus a 174 RV+ if we add in the regular season. There’s also Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, Jose Altuve, Jeremy Pena, Yainer Diaz, Chas McCormick, Jose Abreu (three dingers in the playoffs) and Michael Brantley. There are no weak spots in the lineup.
McCormick hit .438 (14 for 32) with three home runs, five doubles and 15 RBIs in 10 games against the Rangers this season, while Tucker batted .400 (16 for 40) with three homers in his 13 meetings and Jose Altuve hit a team-high seven longballs in just eight games.
For Houston, the key to their success against the Rangers will be starting pitching beyond their two aces. Verlander and Valdez are probably going to be competitive, but if Javier (4.56 ERA in the regular season) and Jose Urquidy can keep the talented and deep Rangers offense at bay, the Astros will have a great chance to make their second World Series in a row.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
- Record/Seed: 90-72/No. 4 in NL
- Adjusted Team Rating: 7th
- Overall Raw Value: 7th
The Phillies reached their second consecutive NLCS by sweeping the Miami Marlins in the wild-card series and then taking the NLDS against the likely NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. and the NL East champion Atlanta Braves in four games.
They have basically the same foundation as the team that beat the San Diego Padres and went to the World Series but with Trea Turner now in the mix. These Phillies, much like the Astros, are built for October with their third-ranked bullpen by raw value and a plethora of power hitters with good OBP potential.
They are seventh in baseball by our adjusted team ratings, with the sixth-best offense and the seventh-best defensive rating (a composite evaluation that meshes pitching and fielding). Raw value has the Phils seventh overall – 17th on offense and first in pitching.
Of course, when you have Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola leading your rotation, life is so much easier. The former had an MLB-best -42.3 total raw value, a 3.61 ERA and 212 strikeouts in the regular season; and the latter checks in at an excellent 82 RV-.
Ranger Suarez and Taijuan Walker are solid starters, too, albeit a tier or two below. And the Phillies enjoyed the breakthrough of young righty Cristopher Sanchez, who had a 3.44 ERA in 99.1 frames in the regular season (90 RV-).
Their bullpen, which has a spectacular 83 RV-, is filled with solid options: Matt Strahm, Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarado, Onion Kerkering, Craig Kimbrel and others. No wonder they are the second in baseball this year by raw value. And in the postseason, the relief corps has a 1.45 ERA in six games.
You probably don’t need us to say that Bryce Harper is the single most important offensive player for the Phillies. His 142 RV+ and .900 regular-season OPS speak for themselves, but not as loud as his three home runs, seven walks and 1.381 OPS in October. He is a playoffs beast, and as Orlando Arcia showed us all, you just don’t poke the bear.
Harper suffered an elbow scare in Game 4 of the NLDS but is expected to be fine for this series and is eager to terrorize Arizona. He is not alone.
Nick Castellanos has hit multiple home runs in consecutive playoff games, giving him four bombs, two doubles and a 1.440 OPS in six postseason contests so far. Turner and J.T. Realmuto also have multiple blasts – in total, the Phillies have gone yard a whopping 13 times. Additionally, Kyle Schwarber is as boom-or-bust as they come (.197 batting average, 47 homers, 126 walks, 215 strikeouts, 118 RV+) but remains very, very dangerous.
Realmuto batted .400 (8 for 20) with two homers, two triples, two doubles and six RBIs in his six meetings with Arizona this season, while Bryson Stott hit .393 (11 for 28) with three home runs, a triple and five RBIs in his seven games in the season series.
The Phillies have been here before and have home-field advantage. However, it appears to be the year of the underdog in baseball, and Philadelphia has to be very careful with Arizona.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
- Record/Seed: 84-78/No. 6 in NL
- Adjusted Team Rating: 14th
- Overall Raw Value: 21st
The Diamondbacks are the Cinderella team of the 2023 postseason. After sneaking into the party with an 84-78 record, they swept the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers and the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers in consecutive series.
Our adjusted team ratings, which include postseason play, have the D-backs as the 14th-best team in the league and the worst among the four that are still alive. They are 11th on offense and 15th in our defensive ratings, which include pitching and fielding.
Raw value rates Arizona even worse than the ATR: the D-backs are 21st overall, 23rd on offense and 20th in pitching. If there is a team in the playoffs that defies projections, odds, rankings and ratings of all types, it’s definitely the Snakes.
Not only have the D-backs won five games in a row, but they have done it in convincing fashion.
They’ll continue to rely on a talented top two in the rotation: Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. The former had a 3.47 ERA in 210 innings, with a 17-9 record, 220 strikeouts and a 93 RV-. Kelly was even better with a 3.29 ERA and an 88 RV-, which ranked 15th in MLB among qualified starters. Both are true workhorses who have carried the pitching staff.
On offense, it may not look like it, but the Diamondbacks have a bevy of weapons. Corbin Carroll became the first rookie in the history of the game to have a season with at least 115 runs, 25 home runs and 50 stolen bases. And while he only has a 102 RV+ which is just above average, it’s hard to argue with his .412/.565/.824 line, two homers and two steals in postseason play.
Christian Walker belted 33 homers in the regular season with an .830 OPS and 103 RBI. His 122 RV+ tells the story of a well above-average hitter – one of the most underrated in the game.
Perhaps the most pleasantly surprising story of the playoffs so far has been Gabriel Moreno’s emergence. His regular season stats weren’t bad: a .747 OPS for a catcher is solid as a rock. However, he already has three round-trippers and a 1.107 OPS in five games in October. He suffered a hand injury against the Dodgers but should be good to go.
Ketel Marte, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Tommy Pham, Alek Thomas and Geraldo Perdomo have all gone yard in the postseason. In total, Arizona has 13 (!) dingers in just five games.
Additionally, the bullpen has been magnificent with a 1.77 ERA in 20.1 innings in the playoffs despite ranking 17th overall in 2023.
The D-backs are going to their first NLCS since 2007 and chase their first World Series title since beating the New York Yankees in 2001. The regular season series favored the Phillies 4-3 this year, but Arizona is up 42-41 since the start of the 2010 campaign (regular season only).
That’s how close these teams are, and have been, in recent years.