Greatest rivalries in baseball, ranked

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Today for the first time since a World Series that somehow seems more intense today than it did then – and it was very, very intense then! – The Los Angeles Dodgers will be hosting the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium in front of real fans, which you can watch for free on MLB.TV at 10 p.m. ET. And presumably these fans will have a lot of thoughts that Astros players will love to hear. It’s the next chapter in a rivalry that has become one of the toughest in baseball, and indeed all sports, in just four seasons.

You can expect fireworks to fly – wait for Joe Kelly to throw up – but then again, that’s the case with many of baseball’s best rivalries, both classic and newfangled. Some teams have rivalries between different players; Javier Báez and Amir Garrett will be linked for the rest of their careers. Some have geographic ties, some seem to evolve overnight, and some have been around for more than 100 years.

In honor of today’s Dodgers Astros game, here’s a look at the four biggest rivalries across three different categories: Classic, Geographic, and Recent Heat. The latter category includes the kind of rotating rivalries that pop up every now and then. (Do you remember when the Rangers and Blue Jays hated each other?)

4) Mets-Phillies
This one has had legs for decades – hell, both of them will always say Tug McGraw – but he’s been particularly excited over the past 20 years when both teams have been stellar for long periods of time. (Remember how much Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley used to piss off Mets fans?) It may seem a little cooler lately, but it probably shouldn’t: you’re 1-2 in this division, after all, and will yourself face ton down the line.

3) Cardinals-Cubs
There is still a distinct gap between 1-3 and 4 in this foursome, and the order of the first three tends to alternate. Both teams are having bad years in 2021 and the Cubs seem to be starting from scratch from scratch, but for the past 10 years this has been an absolutely addicting rivalry. The Cardinals dominated the Cubs for many years, but the 2010s was the time for the Cubs to culminate in their 2015 NLDS shellacking the Cardinals and of course their 2016 title. These are two of baseball’s signature franchises that are forever linked.

2) Dodgers giants
This season could mark a new high in the 100+ year battle between these two franchises, which of course were once rivals in the same sleepy east coast town. They might be the best two teams in baseball right now, but only one can win the division. The Dodgers have owned the NL West for a while, but no Giants fan will let them forget that they have three titles this century, unlike the Dodgers. Will any of them have more show-off rights this year?

1) Yankees Red Sox
Sure, it hasn’t really been the best Yankees-Red Sox in a couple of years, which means it has gone from being the simplest rivalry in baseball to being simple comfortable the best rivalry in baseball. It may never get better than 2003-04 when it felt like a centuries-old blood feud … but watching baseball will always be a must, even if neither team is good. But don’t worry: they’re almost always good.

4) Astros Ranger
Texas is obviously a huge state, but it still never feels big enough for these two teams. They were in separate leagues until the Astros moved to AL West in 2013, but even before that there was a healthy amount of animosity. Astros fans have had the right to brag for the past decade, but the Rangers, uh, have a few more boosters nationwide in this rivalry than they used to, even without the success on the field.

3) A’s giants
The Giants pride themselves on their three World Series titles since moving to San Francisco, but it’s the A’s that have won more games over the past 20 years – a lot more games. Of course, this rivalry revolves so much about the bay itself, how different Oakland and San Francisco are, and how different, of course, their stadium situations are. The A’s are a bit rougher, the Giants a bit more Silicon Valley. But both are almost always great, especially lately.

2) Cubs-White Sox
Most of these geographic rivals have big brother-little-brother dynamics, and this is no different: even if the White Sox win the World Series, as they did in 2005, people are paying more attention to the Cubs. The White Sox sure look like they’ll have the field to themselves for a while, but that wouldn’t stop people flocking to Wrigley anyway. And talk about your celebrity fans: the White Sox have Barack Obama and the Cubs have Bill Murray. Choose your fighter.

1) Mets-Yankees
The ultimate little brother – big brother, there still isn’t a Mets fan who won’t remind you that the Mets were run in NYC in the 80s. That seems like a tough deal today, but either way, these are two huge franchises that feel like they’re going to meet in another Subway Series Fall Classic one day. Anything either of these teams does shakes the rest of baseball. Imagine what happens when they meet.

4) Braves marlins
Let’s not forget that last year these were the two playoff teams from NL Ost. But the recent malice here may be related to the Marlins’ unfortunate and consistent habit of beating Ronald Acuña Jr. As a racket, Acuña has dominated the Marlins, and they have responded by becoming part of an ever-growing string of brawls with the Braves, apparently every series they play. With Acuña out for the rest of the year, this feud is on hiatus, but it is sure to flare up again in 2022.

3) Red Sox Rays
Speaking of fights, I know a friend of mine who has the picture of James Shields trying to beat Coco Crisp during a fight in 2008 as his desktop on his computer. For two teams that are constantly changing their roster, the bad blood between the Sox and the Rays always boils a bit and it can’t help but be exposed this year with the two teams fighting for first place in the AL East. The only thing that unites these teams and their fans is, of course, the hatred of the Yankees. (And one could argue that the Yankees and Rays deserve a spot here, too.)

2) Dodgers-Padres
Perhaps the most intriguing rivalry in recent times. The Dodgers have been beating the Padres for years, but now San Diego has clearly had enough of it. The Padres have directly targeted the Dodgers both on and off the field, and this has resulted in some truly incredible games over the past few years. Both teams pushed each other to be great – their bidding war for Max Scherzer was just the latest example – and we are all the beneficiaries. If you end up playing in an elimination wild card game, watch out.

1) Astros-Dodgers
Yes, that’s the big one, and right now it could be the biggest. And just forget tonight: these are both playoff teams. Can you imagine if they met in the World Series? once again? (Last year, in fact, it almost happened, but this year there would be home games and home fans. Mercy.)