Hot Stove #235 – ALCS/NLCS Final Four – Houston and Three Wild Card Teams

The first two rounds of the MLB postseason have been completed: The “Hankook Wild Card” round and the “ ALDS/NLDS” round. The “LoanDepot ALCS/NLCS” round is underway, and the winners will play in the “CapitalOne World Series.”

2023 MLB playoff and World Series schedule

On the next to the last day of the regular season, Rita and I were at Chase Field in Phoenix. We saw the middle game of a three-game sweep as the Astros dominated the Diamondbacks. The strong finish by the Astros gave them the AL West title and a bye in the Wild Card round. The Diamondbacks squeezed into the Wild Card round as the 6th (last) seed in the National League. Both teams have advanced to the final four of the 2023 postseason.

The big story of the playoffs so far is that three Wild Card teams made it to the final four round. Below, the season records for the 12 teams in the playoffs, the final four being shown in bold. All five teams winning more than 90 games have been eliminated (a combined 1-13 in the postseason).

Atlanta Braves: 104-58

Baltimore Orioles: 101-61

Los Angeles Dodgers: 100-62

Tampa Bay Rays: 99-63

Milwaukee Brewers: 92-70

Houston Astros: 90-72

Texas Rangers: 90-72

Philadelphia Phillies: 90-72

Toronto Blue Jays: 89-73

Minnesota Twins: 87-75

Miami Marlins: 84-78

Arizona Diamondbacks: 84-78

Is the MLB Postseason a Crapshoot?: The early elimination of the top teams predictably revives the talk about regular season standings taking a backseat to a series of short playoff rounds (a baseball version of the Hunger Games per Joe Posnanski). Sportswriter Lindsey Adler wrote about this in a Wall Street Journal article titled “Baseball’s Favorite Word at Playoff Time Is Crapshoot.”

Crapshoot Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster

Adler says this is the word frequently used by baseball executives to describe MLB’s playoff experience. She traces the use back to Moneyball, the influential 2003 book by Michael Lewis. Lewis assigns the word “crapshoot” to the concept of playoffs (borrowing the word from Oakland GM Billy Beane). The word is even more appropriate now that there are four rounds in the postseason – many opportunities to hit an unlucky slump and be eliminated.

In a short series, any elite team can lose. It happens all the time during the regular season, but with 162 games, the highs and lows level out. For example, the Royals lost 106 games compared to Houston’s 72 losses – a 34-loss differential. The Royals played the Astros six times in a ten-day period in September. The Royals won five of those games. Lucky for the Astros the Royals missed the postseason.

There is an argument for giving more weight to the regular season, but that ship has sailed. More fan bases are touched by the expanded postseason, and the TV money is huge. The baseball establishment has accepted this, as reflected in Adler’s article by this Godfather like statement from Dodgers GM Brandon Gomes: “This is the business we’ve chosen, and you understand that what we do has some random parts. That’s what’s frustrating about baseball, and also what’s beautiful about it.” And the business he chose set up his 2023 Dodgers (100-62) to be eliminated by the Diamondbacks (84-78).

Summary: The regular season is a blend of skill games, say blackjack and poker. The playoffs are closer to another part of the casino, the craps table.

Division Series storylines to watch in 2023 MLB playoffs

NLDS – Diamondbacks Over Dodgers (3-0): Although the Dodgers found a way to win 100 games this year, the injuries to their pitching staff left them with only one veteran starter in the postseason. This was Clayton Kershaw who started Game 1 and was lifted after getting only one out and allowing six runs. Final score was 11-2. The Diamondbacks also took early leads in Games 2 and 3, winning each by a score of 4-2. The Dodgers two MVP candidates, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, combined for one hit in 21 at bats.

In the third inning of Game 3, Arizona became the first postseason team to hit four home runs in one inning. After the first three were hit, Gabriel Moreno came to the plate and hit what looked like #4, but on replay, it was called foul. On the next pitch, Moreno hit another blast over the fence, this time in fair territory (video here).

 Royals Trivia: Moreno’s foul/fair home runs remind me of Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. In the second inning of the Royals/Cardinals matchup, the Royals Darryl Motley blasted a ball to left that looked like a homer, but it hooked foul. Upset that it was not fair, Motley hit his bat on the ground and cracked it. Taking a new a bat, he hit the next pitch over the fence in fair territory, putting the Royals up 2-0 on the way to winning their first World Series. Video here.

1985 Topps Darryl Motley  Kansas City Royals #561 Near Mint NM - Picture 1 of 2

NLDS – Phillies Over Braves (3-1): The Phillies shut out the Braves in Game 1 and took a 4-0 lead in Game 2. But the Braves came back with runs in the 6th, 7th and 8th to win 5-4, ending the game when center fielder Michael Harris II made a great catch (below) and doubled Bryce Harper off first base (a walk-off double play; video here).

Photos: Michael Harris II makes game-saving catch to lift Braves

Atlanta’s fun was short-lived. The Phillies went homer crazy in Game 3 (six dingers) and won 10-2. They only hit three home runs in Game 4 but that was enough to win 3-1. The big hero was Nick Castellanos (below) who hit two home runs in each of the games to become the first player to have multiple homers in two consecutive playoff games.

NLDS Braves Phillies Baseball

This was the second year in a row the Phillies upset the Braves in the NLDS. Atlanta’s poor showing this year was led by their two MVP candidates, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Matt Olson, who combined for one extra base hit and one RBI.

ALDS – Astros Over Twins (3-1): The Twins won the weak AL Central and swept Toronto in the Wild Card round. But Houston was too much, beginning with a strong pitching performance in Game 1 by 40-year-old Justin Verlander. Yordan Alvarez led the offense with four home runs in the four games. Houston is a juggernaut, advancing to their 7th straight ALCS round.

 Astros' Yordan Álvarez and José Abreu both crush home runs in the ninth of  a 9-1 win over Twins | FOX Sports

ALDS – Rangers Over Orioles (3-0): The Orioles had the best record in the American League, winning 101 games. The Rangers won 90. But in some ways Texas looked like the better team, and one indicator was the…

 Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball (a creation of Bill James): A formula based on the idea that runs scored compared to runs allowed is a better indicator of a team’s future performance than a team’s actual winning percentage.

Texas scored 165 more runs than its 2023 opponents. The Baltimore number was 129. Under the Pythagorean Theorem, Baltimore should have won 94 games and Texas 96. Baltimore just did a better job of distributing their runs, such as going 36-10 in one run games.

So, it was not an upset when Texas beat Baltimore. The surprise was that they swept them, Texas winning a close Game 1 (3-2) and then slugging their way to victories in Game 2 (11-8) and Game 3 (7-1).

Baltimore had not been swept in the 91 prior consecutive series, dating back to May of 2022. The only two longer streaks in MLB history were the 1903-05 New York Giants (106) and the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals (125).

Royals Trivia: Chris Young pitched in 34 games for the World Champion 2015 Royals (11-6, ERA 3.06). He is currently the general manager of the Texas Rangers.

MLB Postseason: Playoff Bracket and World Series Schedule |

Play in the ALCS began last night with the Rangers shutting out the Astros 2-0. Both leagues have games tonight. Here are the matchups.

NLCS – Arizona Diamondbacks v. Philadelphia Phillies: I don’t have a strong favorite in this series. I could like Arizona because (i) I have many friends who live in the state, and (ii) Rita has a rally towel that she got when we went to Chase Field last month. The #25 reflects that this season is the 25th anniversary of the expansion franchise founded in 1998.


I could like the Phillies because I enjoy their rabid fans. “It’s always loud in Philadelphia” (click here).

Per Jay Cuda on X (nee Twitter), in the recent history of head-to-head Diamondbacks/Phillies games, they are dead even:


I hope the NLCS is this competitive.

 ALCS – Houston Astros v. Texas Rangers: As reported in the prior Hot Stove, I favor the Texas Rangers to go all the way. Why? They are the only team in the final four that has not won a World Series.

Per Jay Cuda, the Astros and Rangers head-to-head since 2010:


This season, both teams went 90-72 in the AL West. Houston won the tiebreaker by winning the season series between the two teams. This makes the two teams sound close, but it’s not so. Since 2017, (a) the Astros have advanced to the ALCS every year, won the pennant four times and the World Series twice, and (b) the Rangers have not played in the postseason. Although the Astros remain unpopular outside of Houston because of the 2017 sign-stealing scandal, they are bordering on being a dynasty.

One Texas institution is trying to take a neutral stance on the ALCS:


Rangers History – The World Series of 2011: The long-suffering fans of the Rangers were hit especially hard in 2011. Texas was one out away from winning the World Series against the Cardinals. What happened after that was so big that it is ranked #22 in Joe Posnanski’s new book, Why We Love Baseball: A History In 50 Moments (“David Freese Lives His Best Life”).

It was Game 6 in St. Louis, and the Rangers led the Series three games to two. In the bottom of the 9th, the Cardinals were behind 7-5 with two outs – only one more out and the Rangers would be World Champions. Two men were on, and David Freese was at the plate. He hit a long fly ball that bounced off the fence for a triple, scoring two runs to push the game into extra innings. Each team scored twice in the 10th, knotting the score at 9-9. In the bottom of the 11th, Freese came to the plate and hit a walk-off homer for a Cardinals victory.

 2011 World Series - Wikipedia.png

 The next day, the Cardinals won Game 7 to take the World Series. Texas fans were left to lament being one out away from celebration.

 Royals Trivia: In 1985, the Cardinals had been on the losing end of that same scenario. St. Louis was one inning away from winning the World Series. Then came the Don Denkinger missed call in the 9th inning that led to the Royals winning Game 6 and then Game 7 the next night (see Darryl Motley above). For the Cardinal fans who will vent at me over this memory, I am linking Hot Stove #79 for the section titled The Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame Don Denkinger.

 Rangers History – President George W. Bush and Jose Canseco: In 1989, George W. Bush joined an investment group purchasing the Texas Rangers. He was named managing general partner and served in that capacity until 1994 when he left to run for governor. Bush is a big baseball fan, and he recently wrote to Joe Posnanski about Why We Love Baseball:

The Bush reference to “Jose’s head” relates to what Posnanski believes to be “the funniest moment in baseball history,” and which Joe ranks at #25 in his book (“Ball Conks Off Canseco’s Head”). On May 26, 1993, during Bush’s time as managing general partner, Canseco was playing right field for the Rangers. Cleveland hitter Carlos Martinez lofted a fly ball to deep right center and Canseco drifted back toward the wall. He lifted his glove for the catch, but the ball conked him on the top of the head and bounced over the wall for a home run. Video here.

On This Day in 1993: Jose Canseco Tries Using His Head...It Didn't Work Out  Well | Couch Guy Sports

In 2014, Canseco tweeted: “I see today is the 21st anniversary of the ball off my head game. Poor ball was never the same.”

 Retractable Roof Trivia: I have not done the research, but I’m thinking that 2023 may be a record-breaking year for retractable roofs in the ALCS/NLCS. There are seven MLB stadiums with retractable roofs, and three are still in play (Phoenix, Houston and Texas). The others are in Milwaukee, Miami, Seattle and Toronto. Tampa Bay has a fixed dome. The remaining 22 stadiums, including Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, are open air.

So, rain will not be a factor with the three venues having a retractable roof, nor at the fourth venue because…

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 15 Ratings - canceled + renewed  TV shows, ratings - TV Series Finale

Lonnie’s Jukebox – Isley Brothers Edition: Last Wednesday, Rudolph Isley died at the age of 84. He and his brothers Ronald and O’Kelly founded the Isley Brothers in the late 1950s. The group added other family members over the years for decades of music. Rudolph left the group in 1989 to become a minister. O’Kelly died in 1986 at the age of 48. Ronald is now 82.

In the fall of 1959, I started engineering school in Rolla, Missouri and joined Sigma Nu fraternity. The most popular music artist at the fraternity house was Ray Charles whose recordings like “I Got a Woman” and “What’d I Say” were great dance songs for party weekends. Charles use of gospel music’s call-and-response delivered at a frenetic pace was an inspiration for the Isley Brothers. They developed their own classic party song, “Shout,” and it became a fixture on the playlist at the fraternity house.

Just like Charles had done with “What’d I Say,” the build-up of “Shout” required more time than a normal record, so it was split into Part 1 (2:15) and Part 2 (2:10) for the A and B sides.

“Shout” by the Isley Brothers (1959). When the record first came out, it peaked at #47, but its longevity pushed it to gold record status.

“Shout” by Otis Day and the Knights (Animal House, 1978). The song gained new fame in 1978 when it was featured in Animal House. As depicted in the movie clip, the beauty of “Shout” is the participatory connection of the dance moves to the lyrics. “Throw my hands up and shout!” And that moment when you hear “Now wait a minute…take it easy” and then start to wiggle down as they sing “a little bit softer now, a little bit softer now,” followed by ascending to “a little bit louder now, a little bit louder now…”. Best party song ever.

I had a sense of déjà vu when I saw the movie. The scene looked very much like the toga parties and dancing at the Sigma Nu house in my college days.

“Shout” by Bruce Springsteen (in concert, 2014).

“Shout” on Cheers (1986). Carla rocks.

Below, from left, founding members Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph Isley.

ISLEY BROTHERS - Motown Anthology - Music

“Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers (1962). This song was written by Bill Medley and Bert Burns and was first recorded by the Top Notes. The Isley Brothers covered the song in 1962 and took it to #17. Two years later, the Beatles version went to #2.

“This Old Heart of Mine” by the Isley Brothers (1966).

“It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers (1969). Their biggest hit, peaking at #2.

“That Lady” by the Isley Brothers (1973).

“Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers (1975).

“Contagious” by the Isley Brothers (2001). Ronald Isley was the lead singer on this song which was written and produced by R. Kelly. The only other Isley performing was brother Ernie who played guitar. The song peaked at #19 and made the Isley Brothers the first group to score a hit in six consecutive decades on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The Isley Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Which makes me want to kick my heels up and SHOUT!

Shout! (Isley Brothers album) - Wikipedia