The MLB playoffs begin today, and for the sixth consecutive season, the Royals will not be a part of them (the curse of Lucas Duda?) The playoffs reverted to the regular three-division winners/two wild-card format this year after a year of expanded playoffs in the COVID-19 shortened season. We had a chance at some interesting new teams this year, but the Padres flopped, the Mariners ran out of pixie dust, and the high-powered Blue Jays offense fell a game short of making the playoffs.
Instead, we’re left with ten teams that, frankly, are tough for me to root for, in varying degrees. Let’s start with the least objectionable contender:
1. Milwaukee Brewers
If there is a fanbase all Royals fans can rally around this post-season, it’s our beer-swilling friends to the north, a land I like to call “Milwaukee.”
The Brew Crew have been sneaky good for awhile now, reaching the post-season for a fourth consecutive season with two divisional titles over that time. Their 95 wins are tied for the fourth-most in baseball and they have a pitching staff that can rival the Dodgers and Giants, leading all of baseball in strikeouts.
They also have beloved former Royals centerfield Lorenzo Cain, Whit’s college buddy Jackie Bradley, Jr., large adult sons Dan Vogelbach and Rowdy Tellez, and comedian-turned-reliever Brent Suter. How can you not be pulling for a team that re-enacted scenes from The Sandlot?
2. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are a team to root for as a small market brethren, one that has never won a title in their first 23 seasons. They came closest last year, falling to the Dodgers in six games, and they stormed to their first 100-win season in franchise history, lapping the American League. They’re the smartest kid in the room, running their team with maximum efficiency using cutting edge analytics and technology.
But they’re also getting a bit annoying. Ownership uses “efficiency” as a way to be cheap. Instead of investing even more to get them over the hump, the Rays have a lower payroll than they did seven years ago. They are now threatening to play a significant amount of games in Montreal in a ballsy attempt to extort not just one, but two cities to build new ballparks to share the team. And the fans haven’t shown up - they averaged just under 10,000 fans per game, about 5,00 fewer fans per game than the Royals. The stadium isn’t great and it’s in a bad location, but it’s not like it’s on volcano island or anything. Plus Tampa sports fans have already celebrated a Super Bowl and Stanley Cup win in the last calendar year, let’s not give them a big head.
Still, Wander Franco is one of the best young players in the game, Randy Arozarena is fun to watch, and former Royals outfielder Brett Phillips is a fan favorite. You have to respect a team that ran circles around the high-spending Yankees and Red Sox. Go Rays.
3. San Francisco Giants
Yes, there are still some hard feelings about 2014, but this isn’t your older brother’s Giants club. Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and Madison Bumgarner are long gone, replaced largely by a seemingly random assortment of players that have all drastically improved upon coming to San Francisco. The Giants got a combined 11.2 WAR from free agents Darin Ruf, Wilmer Flores, Donovan Solano, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Wood for less than the Royals paid for Carlos Santana and Mike Minor. They got another 3.9 WAR in minor trades for Mike Yastrzemski and LaMonte Wade, Jr. Club President Farhan Zaidi has the Midas Touch.
The Giants were by far the biggest surprise in baseball, projected to win 75 games by ZIPS and stunning the baseball world with an MLB-high of 107 wins. It would be kind of cool to see them finish off the stunning season with a title. On the other hand, Giants fans have already celebrated three titles in the last 11 years. Enough already.
4. Atlanta Braves
The Phillies and Mets were completely uninterested in winning the division, so kudos to the Braves for stepping up and winning by default. It’s been a tough go for Atlanta sports fans lately, so they could use the Braves going on a nice run here. It would also be a nice feather in the cap of potential Hall of Famer Freddie Freeman. And who doesn’t want to see former Royals Jorge Soler slugging dingers with the aide of hitting coach Kevin Seitzer?
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
Yea, we’re already at the point where the defending champions that spent a gazillion dollars are one of the more likable teams in this post-season. This year’s Dodgers won 106 games, but will have to play in the Wild Card game just to make it to the divisional round. Max Scherzer and Trea Turner are fun guys to root for and may be the best mid-season pickup a contending team has ever traded for. Mookie Betts is always fun, and the Dodgers could allow Albert Pujols to ride off into the sunset a champ.
6. Boston Red Sox
Yes, Boston sports fans are insufferable, and the Red Sox have won four titles in the last 20 years, but this is the biggest underdog team the Red Sox have had in the post-season in awhile. This was supposed to be a year to retool, but Boston somehow found a way to win 92 games with a roster held together by duct tape and chewing gum. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are fun young players to watch, but you don’t get the feeling they’ll be able to drag this bullpen deep into the post-season. But Boston sports seems to be charmed the last two decades, so maybe there’s some magic left.
7. Chicago White Sox
They’re division rivals, ones we’ve had a few beefs with in the past, but save for Tim Anderson, the young crop of players has nothing to do with those past quarrels. Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez are dynamic young players and Jose Abreu is one of the most respected run producers.
They’re also managed by Tony LaRussa, who rubs some people the wrong way with his self-righteous attitude at times, despite some run-ins with the law. I don’t know, maybe we can cheer for the White Sox to win it all, get a big head about it, then tank in the division next season
8. Houston Astros
Yes, they’re cheaters and they have to wear that for awhile. I’m just not as upset about that as most fans - I’m pretty confident most teams have used similar tactics. Still, the Astros definitely got caught, and their seeming unwillingness to accept responsibility for the sign-stealing scandal has only added fuel to the fire. Even if they win it, many fans won’t accept it as legitimate (audit the World Series!) I’ll be happy for Zack Greinke to win his first ring, but it’s hard to root for the Astros as an organization at this point.
9. New York Yankees
No. George Brett put it best.
Jason Sudeikis' signed bat, from George Brett, as he showed on Letterman a few years back. pic.twitter.com/oQdDM4huJj— Royals Review (@royalsreview) May 15, 2015
This isn’t a particularly fun team to watch - their lineup is just a bunch of home run derby hitters. I guess the Yankees are no longer the Evil Empire - they haven’t won a World Series since Obama’s first year in office! But their fans must be made to suffer.
10. St. Louis Cardinals
Who will win the World Series?
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Yankees
San Francisco Giants
St. Louis Cardinals
Tampa Bay Rays