MLB's Nightmare Scenario for 2013 Playoff Teams

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2013

MLB's Nightmare Scenario for 2013 Playoff Teams

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    Even the commissioner of baseball and the powers that be in MLB have nightmares.

    While some of us wake up in a cold sweat at 3 a.m. because we dreamt that we were falling or being chased by monsters, their nightmares involve a short list of contenders making the playoffs.

    There a number of reasons why a team would end up on that list, from a lack of local fan support and the size of their market to being without a genuine superstar that even the most casual of baseball fans is familiar with.

    Not every division has a nightmare scenario that can play out this season, as some divisional races involve only teams that MLB would love to see in the postseason, but those are few-and-far between. That said, those teams that would cause sleepless nights as division champions would do the same as wild-card teams, so for our purposes, we'll only look at each individual division.

    The only prerequisite for a team to be considered for the nightmare scenario is that they must still be mathematically alive to make the playoffs—that's it. 

    So which potential playoff scenarios are keeping the most powerful people in the game up at night?

    Take a look...if you dare.

    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and current through games of September 9.

    *All attendance figures courtesy of ESPN's Attendance Report.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays

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    If Tampa Bay makes the playoffs, will anyone show up at Tropicana Field?

    For the second year in a row, Tampa Bay has drawn fewer fans at home than any other team in baseball.

    The Rays average 18,719 fans per home game—roughly 500 fewer fans per game than Miami draws to the monstrosity that Jeffrey Loria built in the middle of Little Havana and opened in 2012.

    Things don't get much better for the team when they hit the road, with only Houston drawing fewer fans to the opposition's home park than Tampa Bay does, which leads to a potential nightmare for MLB should the Rays make the postseason—a playoff team that nobody cares about.

    A team that few people have an emotional attachment to is one that MLB doesn't want anywhere near the playoffs, especially in a division that has two of the most popular teams on the planet (Red Sox and Yankees) as well as the Orioles, a team that has a lengthy history and a fairly rabid fanbase.

AL Central: Kansas City Royals

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    This isn't the Royals of the early-to-mid 1980s, with a future Hall of Famer in George Brett and stars like Brett Saberhagen, Frank White and Willie Wilson.

    No, this year's version of the Kansas City Royals has guys like Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer and James Shields, all quality ballplayers but none with the star appeal that Detroit has throughout its roster or that Cleveland has in the dugout.

    Kansas City doesn't draw particularly well, ranking 25th in home attendance and 24th on the road, playing in stadiums that are nearly 40 percent empty.

    While the team making the postseason after a nearly 20-year absence would be a feel-good story, MLB already has that in Pittsburgh. Were the Pirates not going to make the postseason, it would be a different story.

    But it's not.

AL West: Oakland Athletics

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    That's a photo of Yoenis Cespedes for those wondering, and the fact that I needed to tell you who that was is indicative of why MLB would prefer that the A's not make the postseason.

    If nobody can recognize a team's star player without seeing the name on the back of his jersey, nobody outside of the Bay Area is going to care all that much about a team of non-descript players making its second consecutive playoff appearance.

    There's the other rub. 

    Last year, Oakland was baseball's "Cinderella Story," the underdog who came out of nowhere to shock the mighty Rangers and stymie the superstar-laden Angels. But as the defending AL West champions, there is no underdog role for the team to play.

    While the A's draw better on the road (29,052 fans per game) than they do at home (22,312 fans per game), neither number ranks any higher than 20th in the league.

    There's simply no mass appeal with Oakland, while there's plenty of mass appeal—and firepower—with Texas, the only team that MLB would like to see come out of the AL West.

NL East: Nobody

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    MLB would be thrilled if both Atlanta and Washington made it to the postseason this year.

    Both teams have star appeal (the Upton brothers in Atlanta, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg in Washington), play in relatively large markets and draw well, both at home and on the road.

    The way it looks right now, however, Atlanta will be the NL East's lone representative in the playoffs.

NL Central: Nobody

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    There isn't a better story in baseball this season than the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that has ended a 20-year run of losing seasons and is poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 1992, back when Jim Leyland was the team's manager and Barry Bonds was not yet associated with PEDs.

    Baseball loves feel good stories.

    Few cities in the game are as big of a baseball town as St. Louis is, and the Cardinals rabid fanbase makes them a team that MLB loves to see in the playoffs on a yearly basis.

    Cincinnati has star power, a potent lineup and, with the 2015 All-Star Game being played at Great American Ballpark, a playoff appearance by the Reds gives MLB some extra chances to begin pumping up the game, even if it is two years away.

    Chances are that all three will be playing meaningful baseball in October, and nothing would make the powers that be in MLB happier.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    While Arizona ranks sixth in baseball when it comes to drawing power on the road, the team only ranks 18th in overall attendance thanks to a fanbase that simply doesn't come out to Chase Field in droves.

    The Diamondbacks are a lot like Tampa Bay, in that they have some excellent players in Patrick Corbin, Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill and Martin Prado, but none of them are household names that resonate with the casual fan or those in markets without a contender. 

    Arizona just doesn't get people fired up to cheer for—or to root against.

    That makes the D-Backs a nightmare playoff team for MLB.