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2023 MLB playoffs: Four things to know about repeat World Series matchups as Astros, Phillies aim for rematch

Major League Baseball’s postseason will resume on Sunday with the start of the American League Championship Series between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros. The National League’s, pitting the Philadelphia Phillies against the Arizona Diamondbacks, will get underway on Monday. Sooner than later, we’ll learn who will play one another in this fall’s World Series.

The Astros and the Phillies reaching MLB’s version of the final four means that they have the opportunity to do something that has not been accomplished in nearly a half century: meet in consecutive World Series. Indeed, MLB has not witnessed a rematch in the World Series since 1978, when the New York Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers two Fall Classics in a row. 

To honor the possibility of the Astros and Phillies running it back this fall, here are four other things to know about World Series rematches.

1. Used to happen more frequently 

World Series rematches used to be more commonplace. 

MLB.com’s David Adler chronicled all the rematches a few falls ago. The Yankees-Dodgers repeat is the only one to happen since the ’70s (for reasons we’ll expand upon below). Prior to that, MLB had at least one rematch in four of the preceding five decades. Heck, MLB had two separate rematches in the ’30s, and in the ’20s, had the same World Series matchup three years in a row. 

So, why have World Series rematches become a rare occurrence? At the risk of stating the obvious, expansion to both the league and the postseason has made it trickier for the same teams to dominate the playoff scene. Consider that the Phillies have already had to win a pair of playoff series to reach the LCS. Back in 1978, the Yankees and the Dodgers started their postseason in the LCS. (The Yankees had to defeat the Boston Red Sox in a division tiebreaker game.)

It’s probably not a coincidence that World Series rematches have all but vanished since free agency was permitted, as teams are no longer able to hoard talent the way they could under the reserve clause. 

2. No clear favorite in rematches

You might wonder if one team or the other has an advantage the second or third consecutive time they meet in a World Series. Perhaps the reigning champions get a little complacent, or the runner-up proves more hungry. We’re here to report that there is no clear trend to how rematches go.

It’s true that those ’77-78 Yankees bested the Dodgers in both World Series. But if you look at the 10 rematches in World Series history (counting the 1921-23 matchups between the Yankees and New York Giants as two separate rematches) then you get a 5-5 count in terms of sweeps versus splits.

Take a look:

Years Matchup First winner Second winner Outcome

1907-08

Cubs vs. Tigers

Cubs

Cubs

Sweep

1921-22

Yankees vs. Giants

Giants

Giants

Sweep

1922-23

Yankees vs. Giants

Giants

Yankees

Split

1930-31

Athletics vs. Cardinals

Athletics

Cardinals

Split

1936-37

Yankees vs. Giants

Yankees

Yankees

Sweep

1942-43

Yankees vs. Cardinals

Cardinals

Yankees

Split

1952-53

Yankees vs. Dodgers

Yankees

Yankees

Sweep

1955-56

Dodgers vs. Yankees

Dodgers

Yankees

Split

1957-58

Braves v.s Yankees

Braves

Yankees

Split

1977-78

Yankees vs. Dodgers

Yankees

Yankees

Sweep

Everyone will have their preferred narrative if the Astros and the Phillies do meet again this October — the Phillies looking to get revenge for last fall, or the Astros proving they’re the more dominant team. Based on the historical data, it doesn’t appear that there’s any real predictive power to be found there.

3. Most recent close calls

While there hasn’t been a World Series rematch in nearly a half-century, there have been occasions over the last three decades where one seemed in the cards.

The Yankees and the Atlanta Braves dominated their respective leagues during the ’90s. Consider that those teams occupied nine of the 20 World Series slots available from 1990 through 2000. The Yankees and Braves even met in two World Series, albeit a few years apart: first in 1996, and then later in 1999. That does not count as a true rematch since it wasn’t in back-to-back years.

Since the last round of MLB expansion, back in 1998, there have been eight teams who have reached consecutive World Series. (For reference: we’re classifying teams who reached three in a row as two separate repeats.) The most recent team to do it is, well, these Astros. They lost to the Braves in the 2021 Fall Classic before rallying and upending the Phillies last fall.

Speaking of the Astros ….

4. Astros have been championship mainstay 

If we do get a World Series rematch this fall, it will be fitting that the Astros are part of the equation. After all, they’re playing in their seventh consecutive ALCS. The Astros have made four World Series during that time, winning a pair of them. They’ve faced different foes each time, however, and have inspired their fair amount of controversy along the way

Here’s a quick look at their playoff journeys over that time: 

  • 2017: The Astros win the franchise’s first World Series in a seven-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 
  • 2018: The Astros lose in five games to the Red Sox in the ALCS, causing them to miss out on a rematch with the Dodgers. The Dodgers, meanwhile, lose to the Red Sox in five games.
  • 2019: The Astros return to the World Series, this time losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games.
  • 2020: The Astros lose in the ALCS to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays then lose to the Dodgers.
  • 2021: The Astros return to the World Series, where they lose to the Braves in six games.
  • 2022: The Astros again return to the World Series. They defeat the Phillies in six games. 

We’ll find out soon enough where the Astros’ 2023 postseason trek takes them. For now, it appears a familiar opponent may lie ahead.

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