We began with 16 teams. We are down to 16 scenarios.
With half of the 2020 postseason field remaining in the wake of the first-ever Wild Card Series round, 16 possible World Series matchups are still on the table as we head into the American League and National League Division Series this week.
Let’s rank each of those potential matchups here in terms of how compelling they would be.
1) Yankees vs. Dodgers
There’s no getting around it. This would be the star-powered, history-soaked showdown that would attract the most eyes from coast to coast. It would be the record 12th World Series pairing of these two iconic franchises but the first since 1981 — nine years before Gerrit Cole and 11 years before Mookie Betts was born.
You’d have Dave Roberts vs. the team he burned with that signature stolen base for the 2004 Red Sox. You’d have Cody Bellinger facing the team his dad, Clay, won two rings with. You’d have Cole facing the other team that reportedly offered him $300 million last winter. You’d have Betts and Aaron Judge, who rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in national jersey sales. And you’d have two franchises whose championship droughts (32 years for the Dodgers, 11 for the Yankees) loom large, given the extraordinary expenditures they’ve made.
2) Rays vs. Dodgers
The No. 1 seeds and the Andrew Friedman Bowl. His imprint is still all over the Rays in terms of infrastructure — the creativity and collaborative culture it takes to consistently win with a low payroll. And obviously, his imprint is all over this great Dodgers team, which can best be boiled down to, “the Rays, but with lots and lots of money.” Whether the Rays get their first World Series title at the expense of the guy who dramatically changed their franchise or Friedman’s Dodgers end their 32-year drought at the expense of his former team, the stakes would be large.
Even beyond that narrative, there is this: Despite the vast gap between pennant-winning payrolls, these are two of the deepest and most well-constructed rosters in the game, with matchup options aplenty. It would be fun to watch Roberts and Kevin Cash match wits.
3) Yankees vs. Padres
The Friars were simply overmatched when they suffered a sweep at the hands of the Yanks in 1998, and they haven’t been back to the World Series since. To get there now — and to bring arguably the most entertaining lineup in MLB up to bat against Cole in a high-stakes environment — would be a treat.
There would be pinstripes of blue and brown, Manny Machado vs. the team so many expected to sign him and a ringless team against the franchise with the most rings in history.
4) Astros vs. Dodgers
The 2017 rematch, less than a year after the sign-stealing revelations that rocked the baseball world. The fact that these two teams already faced each other four times in the regular season — a previously unplanned result of the all-regional schedule — takes some of the juice out of this one. We already had the Joe Kelly pitch and pouty face. Plus, the Astros just aren’t the same team they were in ’17.
But with the Dodgers thirsting for revenge in the results, this would still be intriguing.
5) Yankees vs. Braves
Let’s party like it’s 1999. Or ’96. Or ’58. Or ’57. You get the idea. These two franchises have met on this stage plenty in the past, though not since the ’99 Fall Classic that was a clean sweep for the Yanks.
This matchup would pack a lot of power. Between Freddie Freeman (.640), Marcell Ozuna (.636), Luke Voit (.610), DJ LeMahieu (.590) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (.581), these two teams accounted for five of the top 14 individual slugging percentages in baseball this season. And Cole vs. Max Fried in a Game 1 sounds fun.
6) A’s vs. Dodgers
Sorry, no Kirk Gibson and Dennis Eckersley this time. But while that immortal 1988 moment will never be repeated, there is this: The Dodgers are on their 14th postseason visit since that upset of the Bash Brothers and have yet to finish the job in that span. The A’s went on to win it all in ’89 but are on their 13th trip since and have also come up empty, to date.
So fans of whoever wins this matchup would have extra incentive to celebrate … perhaps even with a Gibson-like arm pump. It would be an especially satisfying accomplishment for the A’s, given the massive payroll difference here.
7) Rays vs. Padres
Both would be looking for their franchise’s first title, and they both would have slayed the behemoths in their division — the Rays vs. the Yankees, the Padres vs. the Dodgers — to have gotten to this point. They also both won at least one-third of their regular-season games in comeback fashion (the Padres with an MLB-high 22, the Rays finishing second with 20). And interestingly, they’ve made an imprint on each other, with the Tommy Pham-Hunter Renfroe and Emilio Pagán-Manuel Margot swaps last winter and the three-team deal that sent Wil Myers to San Diego prior to 2014.
8) Yankees vs. Marlins
Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly going against the Yankees in the World Series? Pardon the wet floor; that’s just some New York-based sportswriters salivating.
From a baseball standpoint, watching the electric Sixto Sánchez try to tame that deep Yankees lineup would be interesting. And from a historic standpoint, of course, there is 2003, when the Fish had the sixth-lowest payroll in the sport and managed to take down a Yankees team that had outspent everybody. That was great baseball theater, and a similar scenario would present itself, as the Yankees were again No. 1 and the Marlins No. 28 in payroll — the largest possible difference among these remaining Series matchups.
9) Rays vs. Braves
What happens when arguably the deepest pitching staff in the AL faces one of the most explosive lineups in the NL? We didn’t get a definitive answer in the regular season, as the two teams split the four-game season series (with the Rays outscoring the Braves, 24-16), but we would get one now.
10) A’s vs. Padres
OK, so it might not be the first matchup that comes to mind when you think of California, but these are still two exciting teams. The A’s led the Majors in walk-off wins (six) and extra-inning wins (six). The Padres had the highest slugging percentage with the bases loaded in history (.902) and had an MLB-high 22 comeback wins.
11) A’s vs. Braves
A rematch! Well, granted, it’s a rematch of the 1914 World Series between Philadelphia and Boston. That was two relocations ago for both franchises (the A’s to Kansas City, then Oakland, and the Braves to Milwaukee, then Atlanta). Whatever. Still counts!
In other words, you wouldn’t want to turn off your TV mid-game.
12) Rays vs. Marlins
The Citrus Series goes national! This World Series would be played under a roof in a building with limited attendance and, well, both of these clubs had experience with that long before COVID-19.
But really, that’s part of what would make this matchup great. These teams were both built on relatively tiny budgets — the Rays into a bona fide AL power and the Marlins into 2020’s most pleasant surprise. This wouldn’t be the first time the Rays would try to take down a Jeter team, and their closer, Nick Anderson, was acquired from the Fish just last year. A Sixto vs. Tyler Glasnow matchup in Game 2 (if both teams maintained their rotations from the first round) would be a showcase of two of the more high-octane young arms in the sport.
13) Astros vs. Padres
The Expansion Era special. The Padres kind of have the feel of the 2015 Astros, who were coming off a long trail of losing seasons but had a young, fun lineup that suddenly sprung to life and pushed them into the postseason (where they fell, coincidentally enough, to Eric Hosmer’s Royals). This would be an absurd array of infield talent on the same field (Fernando Tatis Jr., Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Machado, Jose Altuve, Jake Cronenworth). San Diego is at the beginning of its championship window, while Houston’s run of contention might be nearing its end.
14) A’s vs. Marlins
Similar to Rays-Marlins in terms of the puny payrolls, but obviously without the intrastate stakes built in.
15) Astros vs. Braves
A key storyline here would be the tremendous rotation adversity both teams would have overcome to get to this stage. The Braves were decimated by injuries (Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels) and ineffectiveness ( Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb) and Félix Hernández electing not to play. The Astros lost their two Cy Young Award contenders from 2019 — Cole to free agency and Justin Verlander to Tommy John. To get this far would be a triumph.
16) Astros vs. Marlins
Mattingly would have a chance to get the World Series ring that eluded him in a great playing career, and Dusty Baker would have a chance to get the World Series ring that has eluded him in a great managerial career. The combined .500 winning percentage for these two clubs would be the lowest of any matchup in World Series history.