Updated Post-Trade Deadline 2023 MLB Playoff Predictions

Updated Post-Trade Deadline 2023 MLB Playoff Predictions

Updated Post-Trade Deadline 2023 MLB Playoff Predictions

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    HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 20:  New York Mets starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) watches the pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning during the MLB game between the New York Mets and Houston Astros on June 20, 2023 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went with contenders taking their best shots at improvement ahead of a potential postseason run.

    This is an exercise to predict which teams will make the most of their post-deadline rosters.

    Ahead we offer picks not only for which teams make the 2023 playoffs, but how it all unfolds once they get there.

    The impact of the new additions obviously weighed heavily, but so did the way each team is playing at the moment, and how each matches up against other contenders.

    It’s the second season with the expanded playoff format, in which six teams represent each league: three division winners and three wild cards.

    Let’s shake this Magic 8 Ball a few times and see what it says.

Orioles Cruise to AL East Title

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    TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 1: Gunnar Henderson #2 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates a solo home run in the sixth inning of their MLB game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on August 1, 2023 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

    Cole Burston/Getty Images

    No AL team has been better than the Orioles since the All-Star break. They entered Thursday’s schedule at 12-6 post-All-Star break, holding a 1.5-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.

    All of these games have been against over-.500 teams, against which Baltimore owns a MLB-leading 45 wins as of Thursday.

    The Orioles went into the trade deadline looking for starting pitching and they got it by dealing for Jack Flaherty, who’s pitched better over his last five starts.

    This is an interesting time for Flaherty, who can become a free agent after this season and has not been as good the last four years as his velocity has dipped.

    Orioles general Mike Elias spoke about needing help with the innings load down the stretch. Flaherty, having pitched 109.2 innings this season, should at least do that much.

    If Baltimore stays as consistent as it has been for much of the season, it will remain the AL East’s best team.

    Both the Orioles and Rays have performed well against good teams, but Tampa Bay’s remaining schedule is noticeably more difficult than Baltimore’s.

Twins Win AL Central, as Guardians Concede

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 04: Joe Ryan #41 of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Cleveland Guardians on June 4, 2023 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

    Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

    The Twins are going to win this pitiful division, even if by default.

    Minnesota, for a team leading its division, stayed quiet at the trade deadline. That is usually a negative for contenders who should be looking at last-ditch upgrades to their rosters.

    Not the case for the Twins.

    Cleveland appears to have recognized it is a sub-.500 baseball team that’s not going very far this year.

    So the Guardians were sellers. They were a half-game out of the lead when they sent Aaron Civale, their best pitcher, to the Rays. They also sent Josh Bell to the Marlins after an underwhelming first half of the season.

    If it wasn’t clear already, the trade deadline signaled there is only one halfway serious team in the AL Central, and it’s the Twins. They are the only team in the division with a winning record or positive run differential.

    The Twins run ends in the Wild-Card round, when they face the Blue Jays.

Astros Edge Rangers in Tight AL West Race

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    Houston Astros catcher Martin Maldonado and Texas Rangers' Adolis Garcia, third from left, argue as the benches clear following Garcia's grand slam during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, July 26, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/Kevin M. Cox)

    AP Photo/Kevin M. Cox

    The defending World Series champions have been chasing their in-state rival all season.

    To crystalize this back-and-forth between the Astros and the Rangers, take the top two moves from the trade deadline.

    The Mets decided to hit reset and dealt Max Scherzer to the Rangers. This, particularly the Mets paying part of Scherzer’s remaining salary, prompted Astros management to inquire about Justin Verlander.

    The Astros revamped their rotation by adding last year’s AL Cy Young winner who helped guide them to a World Series.

    The Rangers stabilized their rotation with Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery. But the Astros are stronger with Verlander and Framber Valdez, an All-Star who tossed a no-hitter Tuesday, at the top.

    The Astros were already the second-best team since the All-Star break by adding Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez back to the everyday lineup after they missed time with injuries.

    Now, with Verlander, they look a lot more like last year’s champs.

Atlanta Easily Wins NL East Title

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    ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 2: Ronald Acuña Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves hits a home run in the third inning during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Truist Park on August 2, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

    Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

    Barring some major, unforeseeable collapse, Atlanta should be able to claim the NL East with relative ease.

    The closest contender is Philadelphia, which sits 11 games back. Miami is 12.5 games behind Atlanta, but even with their trade deadline moves, the Marlins are not nearly as talented.

    In addition to holding MLB’s best record, Atlanta leads baseball in OPS and home runs, and it leads the NL in runs scored and batting average.

    No team has a better run differential, or winning percentage against teams with records above .500. This is the preeminent team not just in the NL East, but all of MLB.

    Atlanta also had an underrated trade deadline, infielder Nicky Lopez from the Kansas City Royals for pitcher Taylor Hearn, who’d been on the team for a week.

    Lopez won’t offer much offensively, but Atlanta doesn’t need it. He’s an above-average defender at second base and shortstop.

    If Atlanta has any weakness, it’s the infield ranking bottom third in outs above average.

    Atlanta also acquired reliable left-handed reliever Brad Hand from the Colorado Rockies.

Cubs Jump Reds, Brewers to Win NL Central

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 01: Jeimer Candelario #9 of the Chicago Cubs hits a single in the first inning against Ben Lively of the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field on August 01, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    This is the most difficult division to figure out. You have the Reds and Brewers battling at the top, but there are signs the Cubs might be better than both of them.

    Deciding not to trade Marcus Stroman or Cody Bellinger shows how Chicago brass views this situation. The Cubs are four games out of the division lead, trailing two teams with negative run differentials.

    Since the All-Star break, the Cubs are the NL version of the Orioles, outpacing others with a 12-6 record through 18 games. They have actually been really good since June and would lead the division if not for a dreadful 10-18 record in May.

    The Reds made minimal moves at the trade deadline, while the Brewers upgraded a desperate right field position by trading for Mark Canha from the Mets.

    The Cubs traded for Jeimer Candelario, who quietly was having a better season with the Nationals than Canha with the Mets.

Dodgers Win NL West Comfortably

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    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 01:  Lance Lynn #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws against the Oakland Athletics in the first inning at Dodger Stadium on August 01, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Dodgers rotation has its highest ERA in almost 80 years and Los Angeles still leads a talented NL West.

    That’s because the lineup still rakes. Only Atlanta and Texas have a higher OPS or have scored more runs than the Dodgers. Only Atlanta has hit more home runs.

    They just needed more pitching because of the injuries to their staff. Adding Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly does not hit the same as it did a couple of years ago, but the veteran depth should stabilize things ands help down the stretch. Ryan Yarbrough, who was also acquired at the deadline, had a 2.19 ERA in four July starts with the Royals.

    The Giants traded for AJ Pollock and Mark Mathias from the Mariners, but that does not move the meter. They don’t hit well enough to keep up with the Dodgers.

    The Diamondbacks added a much-needed bat to their outfield in Tommy Pham. What they needed even more was starting pitching, and that did not come together for Arizona.

    D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said he explored the starting pitcher market but decided against parting with young talent to get it done. Their pitching, ranking in the bottom third in most relevant statistical categories, is simply not good enough to threaten a juggernaut like the Dodgers.

Rangers Beat Orioles in ALDS, Lose to Astros in ALCS

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    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23:  Jeremy Peña #3 and Jose Altvue #27 of the Houston Astros celebrate on the field after Astros defeated the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, October 23, 2022 in New York, New York. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

    Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    The Orioles are going to win the AL East but lose in the ALDS to the Rangers, who will knock out the Rays in the Wild Card Round.

    The Blue Jays will be a decent challenge to the Astros in the ALDS, but it won’t be enough to stave off the champs.

    For all of the worthwhile discussion about the AL East, where every team has a winning record and positive run differential, the West won the trade deadline.

    The Rangers, with the best offense in the AL, shored up their rotation by adding Scherzer and Montgomery. No team has scored more runs than the Rangers, so both veterans should get plenty of run support.

    Texas and Baltimore went an even 3-3 in six games against each other this season, but all of it before June. A playoff showdown between the two franchises that have struggled to climb back to the top would be compelling.

    The Astros have won six of their 10 matchups so far against the Rangers, but have not yet played the Orioles. Still, adding Verlander jumps Houston into a front-runner.

Cubs Beat Reds, Giants Take Down Phillies in NL Wild Card

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 01: Ian Happ #8 and Cody Bellinger #24 celebrates after Dansby Swanson #7 of the Chicago Cubs hit a two-run home run in the first inning against Ben Lively of the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field on August 01, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    The NL wild-card race is a mess of average to slightly above-average teams that are not as good as the Dodgers or Atlanta.

    We will sort it out anyway, though. The Cubs, as established earlier, are underrated and will become the NL Central winner, which sets up an intradivision Wild Card Round matchup with the Reds.

    The Giants and Phillies will maintain the top wild-card spots and battle for a chance to lose to Atlanta in the NLDS. But it’s the Giants who will emerge over Philly.

    They swept the Phillies when they played in May and have the higher run differential.

    Both teams are average offensively, but San Francisco’s pitching has been slightly better than Philly’s.

None of It Matters, Dodgers and Atlanta Meet in NLCS

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    SEATTLE, WA - JULY 10: Freddie Freeman #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers laughs with former teammates Austin Riley #27 of the Atlanta Braves and Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 during the Gatorade All-Star Workout Day at T-Mobile Park on July 10, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

    Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

    This is a chalk prediction and feels a bit gutless. But the Dodgers and Atlanta are so clearly the two best NL teams.

    The wild cards and Central Division look like a fun mess of teams capable of making a postseason run. The Phillies went to the World Series as a wild-card team last year and the Giants won as a wild-card team nearly a decade ago.

    But Atlanta and Los Angeles are on different levels offensively. Atlanta leads baseball in wRC+, with the Dodgers not too far behind.

    With the moves the Dodgers made to their pitching staff, a collision course between the 2020 and 2021 champions is more likely.

    A fun subplot is Freddie Freeman going against his former team, with the stakes as high as ever.

Atlanta Beats Houston for Second World Series in Three Seasons

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    ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 2: Austin Riley #27 of the Atlanta Braves celebrates with Matt Olson #28 after hitting a home run in the fourth inning during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Truist Park on August 2, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

    Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

    In a rematch of the 2021 World Series, Atlanta once again is victorious against Houston. The difference this time is how much better Atlanta is than everyone else this season.

    It has the best lineup in baseball by most metrics and a top-six ERA. Atlanta is 9-8 since the All-Star break, but it has won five of its last six games, including a sweep against the Brewers and two of three against the Angles.

    Tagging Lucas Giolito for nine runs, eight hits and three home runs on Wednesday was a reminder of how capable Atlanta’s lineup is.

    But the Astros will make this interesting with Verlander back in the mix. For what it’s worth, they went on the road and swept Atlanta in April.

    Atlanta is still the betting favorite to win it all, with Houston having the best odds of any AL team.

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