The 2023 MLB postseason is upon us. The postseason begins with Game 1 of all four Wild Card Series on Tuesday, and by the end of the day Thursday, the postseason field will have been whittled down from 12 teams to eight..
BYE: No. 1 Baltimore Orioles and No. 2 Houston Astros
WC1: No. 6 Toronto Blue Jays at No. 3 Minnesota Twins (winner plays Astros)
WC2: No. 5 Texas Rangers at No. 4 Tampa Bay Rays (winner plays Orioles)
BYE: No. 1 Atlanta Braves and No. 2 Los Angeles Dodgers
WC1: No. 6 Arizona Diamondbacks at No. 3 Milwaukee Brewers (winner plays Dodgers)
WC2: No. 5 Miami Marlins at No. 4 Philadelphia Phillies (winner plays Braves)
The Orioles and Rangers are both back in the postseason for the first time since 2016, and the D-Backs have returned for the first time since 2017. The O's and D-backs both lost 110 games as recently as 2021. Impressively quick turnarounds by them. We also have three teams (Brewers, Rangers, Rays) searching for their first ever World Series championship.
With the postseason comes pressure, and some players are under more pressure than others. Here are 12 players -- one per team -- feeling the heat now that October has arrived.
Astros: Cristian Javier
You know, I'm not really sure anyone on the Astros feels much pressure this postseason. They are the defending World Series champs, after all, and that has a way of relieving pressure. When you've been there and done that, you know you can do it again. Because I have to pick someone, I'll go with Javier, who was a postseason star last year and pretty blah this year. His ERA rose by two runs and his strikeout rate dropped from top-of-the-line 33.2% of batters faced last year to a league average 23.1% this year. The Astros have a strong 1-2 punch in Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez. Javier being what he was last postseason and giving Houston a more than capable No. 3 could put the Astros over the top again.
Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Two things are true: .264/.345/.444 and 26 home runs is a very strong season but also a disappointing year for Vlad Jr., who has not come particularly close to approaching his 2021 MVP runner-up heights. The Blue Jays have a strong lineup with a lot of star power -- Bo Bichette, former World Series MVP George Springer, the resurgent Brandon Belt, etc. -- though it's really hard to see them making a deep run without Guerrero being an offensive force. He has the talent to shift the balance of power in a postseason series by himself. He just needs to go out and do it. The Blue Jays have yet to win a postseason game in the Bichette/Guerrero era and I don't think it's unreasonable to say Vlad Jr. is under more pressure than any single player this postseason.
Braves: Spencer Strider
The Braves won 104 games this season, their most since going 106-56 in 1998, and they were the sport's best team just about all summer. They are not at full strength heading into the postseason though. Charlie Morton will miss at least the NLDS with a finger injury and Max Fried is dealing with a blister, which are notoriously finicky and slow to heal. . He also pitched to a 4.39 ERA in the second half. Atlanta has the offensive firepower to make up for less-than-elite pitching, but getting the ace version of Strider would give the team a nice shot in the arm with Fried and Morton compromised.
Brewers: Willy Adames
Even with Brandon Woodruff injured, Milwaukee boasts a strong 1-2 punch in Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. Wade Miley is a solid fill-in No. 3 too. The offense leaves something to be desired though, even with the midseason Mark Canha and Carlos Santana additions. Adames had his best month in September and he did swat 24 home runs, which is great for a shortstop. The overall slash line (.217/.310/.407) was a step down from 2022 though and one reason the Brewers finished only 17th in runs scored. Adames has plenty of postseason experience (30 games) but he hasn't really performed in October (.194/.318/.323). The Brewers really need Adames to carry his hot September into the postseason.
Diamondbacks: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
I almost went Zac Gallen because Arizona's rotation is stretched very thin, and it's hard to see the D-backs making any sort of deep postseason run without Gallen pitching like a true ace. I'm going with Gurriel. The D-backs will need their offense to give the pitching staff some breathing room, and he's the one guy at the bottom of the lineup who can be an impact hitter. The top four of the lineup is excellent -- Corbin Carroll, Ketel Marte, Tommy Pham, Christian Walker -- but things thin out after that. Gurriel having a big October would help Arizona quite a bit. Also, . Performing well in October never hurt anyone's wallet.
Dodgers: Bobby Miller
Ready or not, Miller is being counted on to make an impact in October. Clayton Kershaw has been dealing with a nagging shoulder issue, Lance Lynn led baseball with 44 homers allowed, and the trio of Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, and Dustin May are unavailable due to elbow surgery rehab. Miller had a fantastic regular season -- he was at his best in August and September -- but he is a 24-year-old rookie who has already thrown 26 1/3 more innings than his previous career high. The Dodgers are asking a lot of the kid this October.because
Marlins: Jesús Luzardo
With all due respect to perfectly cromulent Braxton Garrett, Luzardo is the closest thing the Marlins have to an ace with Sandy Alcantara (elbow) and Eury Pérez (hip) injured. He possesses the high-octane bat-missing stuff that allows him to dominate even the deepest lineups on his best days. Because of injuries, Miami is very short on pitching, and Luzardo is getting the ball in Game 1 against the Phillies. Getting a strong start from him sets the Marlins up well for the rest of the Wild Card Series. But, drop Game 1 behind Luzardo, and Miami will have a hard time cobbling together enough quality innings to mount a comeback.
Orioles: Yennier Cano
For much of the season the O's boasted the best setup man/closer tandem in baseball in Cano and Félix Bautista. Then Bautista injured his elbow late August, , and now Cano is the man in the late innings. Manager Brandon Hyde likes to use Cano against the other team's best hitters in the late innings of close games, but with Bautista no longer around to slam the door in the ninth, it's a little more difficult to use Cano outside the ninth inning. Baltimore can hit and the O's have just enough starting pitching. They're going to lean on Cano to get the biggest outs in the late innings. Bautista is no longer around as a safety net.
Phillies: Aaron Nola
This was not the free agent year Nola envisioned. He continued to chow down on innings -- Nola's 193 2/3 innings were the 10th most during the regular season -- but those innings came with a 4.46 ERA and his lowest strikeout rate since 2018. Last year Nola and Zack Wheeler were a formidable 1-2 punch that carried Philadelphia to the World Series. Wheeler's still excellent, though Nola is a bit more of a question mark now. He can make up for his underwhelming regular season with a strong postseason, . Nola pitching well in October is good for the Phillies and good for his bank account.
Rangers: Jordan Montgomery
The Rangers have invested so much in their rotation and yet they're going into the postseason without Jacob deGrom (Tommy John surgery) and Max Scherzer (teres major muscle strain), and a limited Nathan Eovaldi (hasn't thrown more than 86 pitches since coming off the injured list Sept. 5). Montgomery lines up to start Game 1 of the Wild Card Series and he is the club's de facto ace. The Rangers can score runs. What they really need is Montgomery to pitch deep into Game 1 so they can a) avoid their shaky bullpen as much as possible, and b) have their relievers fresh behind Eovaldi in Game 2. Also, . He's going to cash in nicely anyway, but he has a chance to really put an exclamation point on his contract year with a strong postseason.
Rays: Josh Lowe
Injuries to Brandon Lowe (knee) and Luke Raley (neck) mean Lowe is the only real left-handed threat in Tampa's lineup. I say that with all due respect to Jonathan Aranda, who's spent most of the season in Triple-A, and switch-hitter Taylor Walls, who stands out most for his glove. Lowe, a former first-round pick, had a breakout season that saw him go 20/30 with his lowest strikeout rate at any level. The Rays need him to provide balance to a lineup that, right now, is decidedly right-handed. It won't be particularly difficult for opposing managers to find a pocket of righty hitters for their go-to righty reliever.
Twins: Carlos Correa
The first year of Correa's new six-year contract with Minnesota did not go according to plan. Well, the Twins won the AL Central, so it wasn't all bad, but Correa hit .230/.312/.399 and grounded in an MLB-leading 30 double plays. He also played through multiple injuries and has not played since Sept. 18 because of a foot issue. Needless to say, the Twins hope Correa can be a difference-maker in October. He's won a World Series and he's had more than a few memorable October moments. He is the kind of player a team signs when they're trying to get over the hump. Now it's time for Correa to hold up his end of end of the bargain.