I used to live in Cleveland. For seven years. Granted, it was my early childhood, but I saw my first baseball game, rode my first bus to school, and departed on my first airplane. It was simultaneously the glory days of the Indians and the non-days of the Browns.
I hate the Indians.
No, I can't really explain it. Not winning a World Series when I lived there was one reason. Another reason is Cleveland's yearly routine of dominating Kansas City--the Indians have won the season series between the two teams 9 out of the past 10 years. Cleveland puling stunts like this past week of baseball is a reason as well. After sweeping the Royals in Kauffman Stadium to 100,000+ total fans, they went to Cleveland, where they proceeded to be smashed by the Detroit Tigers, all while pulling in half the fans of the Royals.
And yet, I was rooting for them.
It's that time of year to root for teams we hate. For the Royals, that's a foreign feeling, and perhaps that's why we are such a jaded group of fans. We haven't ever had to be forced to root for a team not our own because of the utility they provide to Kansas City. Rooting builds character. I think. I don't know, because Kansas City is a baseball hell and I am unaware of anything beyond crippling disappointment.
The Indians, who peddle in crippling disappointment, managed to massively frustrate two cities over the week. Some of the teams who have a measure of power over the Royals' playoff chances the rest of the season have huge flaws, are losing teams, or just aren't very compelling. Brace yourself to be disappointed.
I'll list the squads based on how many games they play against the Royals' main four adversaries, ranked here from most deadly to least: Detroit, Seattle, New York, and Cleveland. So, who are we rooting for...
1. Minnesota Twins, 13 games (7 vs. DET, 6 vs. CLE), .436, 5th Place
That's right, folks, the winner for who you should root for the most is the Minnesota Twins. Even if they didn't play a single game against any of the other competing contender, they would be the most important because they play seven games against Detroit. Seven. The Cleveland sextet is just a throw-in, but an important one.
This is not a good thing. The Twins are bad. You know all those years wishing the Twins would conjoin and implode into a neutron star? Think happy thoughts. May the star explode against their competitors.
2. Los Angeles Angels, 8 games (7 vs. SEA, 1 vs. CLE), .604, 1st Place
ON the very opposite side of the spectrum lies the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States. They are in first place and, arguably, are the best team in baseball. Oakland has sputtered to a stop but commands a sizable lead in the Wild Card and projects to be better going forward than everybody else.
Seattle is the second most dangerous team in the Royals' way. If KC does not win the division, they must acquire a Wild Card slot to make the playoffs. With the first being occupied by LA/Oakland until they prove they can't handle it, only the second Wild Card is realistically in play. And Seattle is a buzzsaw, with a positive run differential in the triple digits. Hope the Angels do work against the Mariners, but unlike the Twins, this is quite reasonable to ask. The one game against Cleveland is a rainout from earlier, a bonus, kind of like the last waffle fry in your Chik-Fil-A bag that you somehow missed the first time.
3. Toronto Blue Jays, 8 games (4 vs. SEA, 4 vs. NYY), .518, 3rd Place
At one time the Blue Jays were top in the AL East, and it looked like a great story. Since then, they have bombed pretty hard, and find themselves only in 3rd place; if the season ended today would go without a playoff berth of any kind. Lately, however, they have been on a decent tear, and have won 5 games in a row.
Again, the 4 games vs. Seattle is key. Toronto also plays a quartet of games against the Yankees, who stand a half game a head of the azure avians. New York isn't a huge threat, but is a threat the same. Toronto would be effectively as great a threat, except that they play the Mariners and the Yankees do not.
4. Tampa Bay Rays, 9 games (6 vs. NYY, 3 vs. CLE), .475, 4th Place
Tampa's had a weird year. Picked by many to be a serious contender, injuries to cornerstones like Matt Moore and Wil Myers in addition to situational producers like David DeJesus brought them to their knees. Evan Longoria is hitting 27% below his career average. Then, just a little while ago, the Rays picked up steam, but they seem to have lost all of it now and are back to being just bad. The Rays won't likely be a vital part of the AL Central race, but they will affect the second wild card spot.
These teams play a combined 38 games against Detroit, Seattle, New York, and Cleveland. They are the four to root for, to send good fortune to, to whom we should wish good health. However, there is one team with more impact than all of them...
Kansas City Royals, 12 games (6 vs. DET, 3 vs. NYY, 3 vs. CLE)
The Royals control their own destiny for sure. The two series against Detroit are the most important sets of games since 1985. Still, it's nice to get by with a little help from your friends. Say it with me: Go Twins/Angels/Blue Jays/Rays!
That feels weird. This whole season feels weird. But a good kind of weird.