As I sit down to write this on Thursday afternoon, three of the four teams that will compete in the league championship series are set. In the National League, the Dodgers will face the Cardinals and, over in the American League, the Red Sox will face the winner of the Athletics/Tigers game five on Thursday night.
If the Tigers end up winning the game, that will leave three bonafide large market teams and the perennially contending Cardinals. All four teams have extensive recent postseason resumes and hefty payrolls. If that’s what we’re looking at for a final four, is there anything there you’ll be rooting for?
If the Tigers win, then let’s say four large market/payroll teams since the Cardinals fall inside the top-10 payrolls for 2013. They’re far from a tiny upstart defying odds and clawing their way through the postseason. Spoiler: I am not rooting for St. Louis in the postseason. They will occupy the last spot on my list regardless of the teams participating in the the League Championship Series.
As you said, this is written before Game 5 between the Tigers and Athletics, so I’m clearly on the side of the A’s. Let me be clear, this is not a Moneyball thing. I grew up in Madison in the 80’s when the Madison Muskies were the low-A affiliate for Oakland, so there was always a rooting interest for the A’s since guys like Jose (and Ozzie) Canseco, Terry Steinbach and Walt Weiss made their way through Madison. Plus, I was at that age when the Bash Brothers were a thing and vividly remember watching the 1989 Earthquake series.
That shouldn’t diminish the fact that 2013 A’s are a fun team to watch. Josh Donaldson is a legit MVP candidate, Yoenis Cespedes is a freak and the young pitching staff is really good. Sonny Gray has 10 career major League starts and Oakland is putting him on the bump for an elimination game against Justin Verlander. Your organization is swinging a brass pair when you make a decision like that.
Like you, I grew up in Madison going to Muskie games and had something of an affection for those Bash Brothers A’s teams. In fact, I’m fairly sure the first sports bet I made was putting a dime (literally) on the A’s in the 1990 World Series. I should have taken that loss as a sign.
I’m not going to say that the whole Moneyball thing isn’t a factor for me, though. The book opened my eyes up to a bunch of things going on in the game that I wasn’t aware of. It also gave me hope that, with good management, the Brewers too could compete with the best in the game despite some rather significant financial limitations. I still have a little emotional attachment to the A’s for that reason as well, even though it’s no longer the referendum it was once in my mind.
Beyond them, it gets pretty depressing fast. I was a pretty big Red Sox fan in the 2003-07 era, both because it was a cool story and also because they were so openly analytically inclined. I certainly am impressed with how they quick rebuilt this year’s club and how many things they did well, but now that they’ve won a couple World Series they’re just not nearly as interesting. Plus, the deeper they go, the more we have to hear about The Beards, like no one else in the game wears obnoxiously large facial hair or something.
In the NLCS I’m rooting for the Dodgers basically only because the Cardinals are on the other side of the field. I have little respect for how the Dodgers built this team, or how it’s run on a day to day basis by the front office and the field staff. I guess I’ll force myself to just root for Clay Kershaw and Zack Greinke to dominate, for Yasiel Puig to shut down the insane narratives being spun about him and for Ned Colletti to get a big fat extension to do some serious long-term damage to the club. Still, rooting for a Ned Colletti club to win feels a lot like rooting for a Michael Bay production to do well at the box office. Take away the big budget and you’re left with nothing but garbage.
Yes, I know that the Cardinals are well run and built largely from within. I generally tend to root for teams like that. I also know that most of the people that I found so obnoxious in the organization when they beat the Brewers in the 2011 NLCS are gone, save for Yadier Molina. But they’re the Cardinals and I just can’t wish anything but the worst for them when it comes to winning in the playoffs. Not with the knowledge of how happy it will make The Best Fans in Baseball (NSFW) if they win.
The Cardinals are largely built from within, but let’s not overlook the fact that they have the cash to go out and extend Matt Holliday and sign Carlos Beltran. That’s far from insignificant. Again, they are not a “small market” team, even if they like to act as if they’re overcoming some great odds. At least they’re stuck sucking down Budweiser because they deserve that dirty swill.
I don’t have any objection to the Tigers’ roster. Verlander and Max Scherzer are awesome, and it’s a strong line-up that can put runs on the board. It might be a little more exciting if Miguel Cabrera wasn’t hobbled, but he kept playing since Detroit wasn’t able to lock up the AL Central with enough time to rest guys. They’re a team that wins 93 games and seems like an underachiever. Maybe that perception has to do with the fact that I don’t like Jim Leyland. He’s not fun. Sportswriters like him because they vomit up columns about old school baseball. What would Leyland do if he couldn’t throw Verlander on the bump for 130+ pitches? Probably quit like he did in Colorado.
Top reason to not hate the Dodgers is Zack Greinke, who cemented his dry awesomeness with his comments to catcher A.J. Ellis. Asked by Ellis how he’d improve the team, Greinke first took time to think about the question, then informed Ellis that he’d trade him and sign Brian McCann. I want the national media to ask him questions non-stop for a couple weeks just for the refreshingly blunt answers.
If they A’s get knocked out (and Verlander’s perfect game attempt is probably going to do it) then the Red Sox are my default rooting interest. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are fun to watch and I give GM Ben Cherrington credit for shedding those long-term contracts identifying shorter signings that could pay off just as well without locking down roster spots for half a decade. The whole beard thing sucks. Boston got more than enough mileage out of “The Idiots” in 2004. They don’t need gimmicks.
Well, there it is.
The final four teams left in the 2013 postseason are the Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers and Cardinals. I guess that’ll do as an order for my personal rooting interest from here on out, though none of it really makes me very happy. It would be nice to see either Prince Fielder or Zack Greinke win a World Series, even if it wasn’t with the Brewers, I guess. The Red Sox are a well run organization and maybe if they win we’ll get another good book on it from Baseball Prospectus or something.
Really, at this point, it’s all about hoping for some good dramatic baseball and rooting against the Cardinals. Like it seems to be every year. Yeah, it’s small, petty and more than a little hypocritical to just hate a team that really does do things in a sound way. But I do hate them and I’m sure I’m not alone among Brewers’ fans when I implore the baseball gods in saying: anyone but the Cardinals.