Reasons for Non-Biased MLB Fans to Root For, Against Each Playoff Team
Well folks, we made it. The 2013 Major League Baseball regular season has come to an end, and now October baseball is upon us.
The playoffs begin on Tuesday with the National League Wild Card Game, as the Pittsburgh Pirates host the Cincinnati Reds. And, for the next month or so, baseball fans will be enjoying the drama that is the postseason.
The playoff puzzle is complete. We now know each of the 10 teams to make it into October. Some clubs' entry into the postseason comes as no surprise, while others had to fight to the very end to get in. Each team has reasons that all fans should root for and against them, no matter where actual allegiances lie. Here's a look...
The team of the '90s has won its first division title since 2005. After winning 14 consecutive NL East Division crowns from '91-'05, the Atlanta Braves dominated the division in 2013, besting the Washington Nationals by 10 games.
After being arguably robbed during their Wild Card Game last year, the Braves can take solace in the fact that they won't have their season decided by one game. This is a different regime than the club that won so often in the '90s and early '00s. With youngsters like Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen, this team has played well enough to be where they are—NL East Champs.
For some people, an eight-year gap between division titles is not long enough. And anyone who still has the taste of 14 straight division crowns in their memories may feel that having the Braves in the playoffs is nothing new and rather boring.
St. Louis Cardinals
For the second straight year, the St. Louis Cardinals have proven that they don't need Albert Pujols and his $240 million contract to succeed. After winning the Fall Classic in 2011, the Redbirds are back in the postseason, finishing on top of the NL Central and earning the best record in the National League.
As mentioned above, the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011 (their second championship in five years) and took the Giants to Game 7 of the NLCS last year before being eliminated. As such, it could be argued that the Cardinals have had their time in the spotlight, and now it's time to give a team like the Pirates a chance to be in the Fall Classic.
Los Angeles Dodgers
On June 22, Don Mattingly's Dodgers were 9.5 games out of first place in the NL West. In fact, the Dodgers had just a .500 record through the season's first half. And with a 2013 payroll of around $240 million, the boys in blue were falling way short of expectations. There were even talks of a possible managerial change.
Then, coincidentally or not, after the Dodgers promoted Cuban import and phenom Yasiel Puig on June 3, the club went on a hot streak. At the time of Puig's promotion, the Dodgers were in fifth place in the division. Within a month's time, the team made it to second place in the division. And by the end of July, they were top of the division—a position they have held ever since.
After a rough start, the sleeping dragon awoke, and the rest of the West paid the price.
For quite some time, the New York Yankees were frequently looked at as the "evil empire" of Major League Baseball. They won pennant after pennant, often with a very lofty payroll.
Well, the Yankees did not make the playoffs this year. But the Dodgers did, and their payroll is the highest in baseball. And of course, it remains to be seen just how far the team goes. Should the team win it all, some could make the argument that they "bought" their way through the playoffs. Some could find it hard to pull for a team with a payroll that outranks several teams combined.
The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates played a postseason game, Sid Bream narrowly slid in safely, scoring on Fernando Cabrera's unlikely game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth, as the Atlanta Braves advanced to the World Series. That was Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. That was also the last time the Pirates finished a season with a winning record.
Now, the Pirates have a one-game playoff with the Cincinnati Reds to see who will move on as the Wild Card team, and who will go home. There is no reason not root for the Pirates. They are the feel-good story of baseball. Each of the last two seasons, the team looked to be well on its way to postseason play but fizzled out towards the season's end.
But 2013 is different. This team is determined and having fun. How many more times will we be raising the Jolly Roger in 2013? Only time will tell.
There is no reason to root against this team from an unbiased point of view. They are the "Cinderella" team this year and have earned the right to be in the playoffs.
Dusty Baker has been a godsend for the Cincinnati Reds since becoming their skipper in 2008. Since then, the Reds have made the playoffs three times, including their upcoming NL Wild Card Game against the Pirates on Tuesday. This will be the team's second consecutive postseason appearance.
However, each of the last two times the Reds have made it past the regular season ('10 and '12), they were eliminated in the NLDS. In fact, the Reds haven't been in a League Championship Series since 1995, when they were swept by the Atlanta Braves.
With all the hard work this team has put in over the course of the season, it would be refreshing to see them get past the Wild Card and NLDS rounds and play for the pennant. It would be a nice change of pace from the typical Philadelphia Phillies or St. Louis Cardinals.
The Reds are in the playoffs because of MLB's decision to add a second Wild Card in 2012. With the Reds finishing third in the NL Central this season, their season would be over if we were under the old set of rules.
Some would claim that baseball made a mistake in adding an extra playoff team to each league, arguing that the playoffs should be more exclusive than inclusive. You may call these fans "traditionalists," but it is worth a thought. Of course, those same "traditionalists" might also have a problem with the Wild Card in general, which would have precluded the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates from being in this year's postseason, as well.
Boston Red Sox
From worst to first. That was the story of the Boston Red Sox in 2013. After their horrendous 2012 campaign in which they finished with the franchise's worse record since 1965, the Sox were ready to start fresh this year.
They brought in John Farrell to be the team's new skipper, and they also acquired some players to help with team chemistry—such as Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli. And they finished with a 97-65 campaign, good for tops in the American League and their best record since the team's magical 2004 season.
Despite missing the playoffs each of the last three seasons, seeing the Red Sox in postseason play has become somewhat of a familiar sight recently. Between 2003-2009, the team missed the playoffs just once, and won the World Series twice (of course, they had gone 86 years before winning it in '04).
Some could argue that with two World Championships in a four-year span, it's time for someone else to get a chance at the trophy. But like it or not, the Sox are the best team (in terms of record) in the big leagues this year, and they have every right to fight for their third championship in less than 10 years.
What's not to like about the 2013 Cleveland Indians? The team finished just a game behind the Tigers in the AL Central, and with the top Wild Card seed, they have earned their first playoff appearance since 2007.
Of course, it shouldn't come as much surprise. Terry Francona took over the helm at the start of the season, and he brought his previous Boston success to the Tribe. And now, the team finishes the 2013 season with their best record since 2008 and are poised to roll on through the postseason.
Resurgent campaigns from Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir on the mound proved to be instrumental in the Tribe's success, as well.
It's going to be hard for any true baseball fan to not pull for the Indians. They bring a fresh face to the postseason, as they were able to hold of the Yankees from the Wild Card. The team is well-balanced, as evidenced by their team 3.82 ERA and 4.60 runs/game.
True, this is the second consecutive season the Oakland A's have won the AL West division. But it's also the second consecutive season where they weren't really supposed to win the AL West division. With other powerhouses in the division like the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels, the A's were often looked at as underdogs.
Well, those underdogs are making believers out of naysayers. In 2012, the A's bested the Rangers by one game to win the division. This year, they finished five games ahead of the Rangers. And with a payroll of about $70 million, the A's have done it with a full 25-man (and more) roster, true grit and hard-nosed play.
From an unbiased perspective, it's difficult to find a reason not to pull for the Green and Gold. They are everything a true championship-caliber team should be. GM Billy Beane made the right moves for his club, and they didn't overspend on any one free agent. They got plenty of contributions from talent that moved up through their farm system, and fought tooth-and-nail to get where they are.
It's never a good sign when your team gets no-hit (by the Miami Marlins, no less) on the last game of the season, just before the start of the playoffs. But that's exactly what happened to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. Nonetheless, the team won their third consecutive AL Central title and are in the postseason.
With the ageless Jim Leyland at the helm, the Detroit Tigers have been a dominant force in the American League for a number of years. They have finished at least second in the division in six of Leyland's eight seasons in the Motor City.
Leyland was signed to a one-year contract extension during the winter, and his time as a manger could be over at any time (he is in his 22nd managerial season at age 68). Leyland hasn't won a World Series since 1997 with the Florida Marlins. It would be nice to give him one more ring before he calls it a career.
Once again, the Tigers are in the playoffs for the third straight year, having been swept by the Giants in the World Series in 2012, and losing to the Texas Rangers in the ALCS in 2011. They were also on the losing end of the World Series in 2006.
Perhaps this is the year they finally win it all, but we could get tired of seeing the Tigers playing October baseball before too much longer.
Tampa Bay Rays
Well, it took until the 163rd game of the year, but the second AL Wild Card spot has been decided. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Texas Rangers on Monday for the privilege to take on the Cleveland Indians in a one-game playoff on Wednesday at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
It seems whenever the Tampa Bay Rays make it to the playoffs, they have a dramatic storyline behind them. And this year is no different. The Rays overcame playing in the very tough AL East. They overcame having to deal with the Rangers in Game 163 to make it to the postseason. David Price pitched arguably the best game of his career on Monday night, given the circumstances. And with a very young team, there's a lot to like about Joe Maddon's group.
You have to love the style of the Tampa Bay Rays. Joe Maddon leads with a fun but stern persona, keeping his group loose and ready to go. The average age of their roster is under 30, so these kids are having a blast while playing their hearts out to make their way to the Fall Classic.