Monday, October 5, 2015

A Nats Fan Guide to Picking a Playoff Team

After an exciting last day of games, the playoffs are finally here. But the Nationals will be watching from home. What’s a Nationals fan to do now? In picking which playoff team to root for, there are obviously pros and cons to each team. This guide runs through each team and makes the case for and against rooting for them in October, so you know what you are getting into when you pick a team.


Dodgers

Pro:
The Dodgers have two of the best pitchers in the majors right now in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Either one could win the Cy Young award but, really, it only seems fair if they could share it. While the Dodgers haven’t had much success in the playoffs of late, this year could be their year. Greinke is a free agent after this season (technically he has a player option on his contract for 2016 but there is zero chance he doesn’t opt to hit the free agent market given his performance this season), so 2015 may be the best shot the Dodgers have at bringing home a title behind their fantastic one two punch of Kershaw and Greinke. On top of that, the Dodgers have an exciting mix of young and veteran talent. Young guys like Joc Pederson, Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig bring their love them or hate them personalities to the field. Assuming you don’t subscribe to the Brian McCann 1900s version of baseball etiquette, these guys will be fun to watch. On top of that, they have some veteran leaders in Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and AJ Ellis who are chasing what could possibly be their last shot at a title. Plus, they will face the Mets in the NLDS.

Con:
The Dodgers have basically turned into the Yankees West. The reason the Dodgers employ the likes of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford is because they were willing to absorb their huge contracts from the Red Sox a couple of season ago. And then, backed by the Guggenheim Partner’s coffers, they went right on spending. They are paying Andre Ethier All Star talent money and not even using him as an everyday player. They acquired Yasmani Grandal, one of the most exciting young catchers in the game, from the Padres by agreeing to pay most of Matt Kemp’s massive contract while he plays below average baseball for their in state “rival” Padres. Come the offseason, the Dodgers have the resources to throw wads of cash at any free agent or international signee they want. Do you really want to root for a team that can buy its way to a ring?

Pirates

Pro:
The Pirates are a championship starved franchise. They have a lot of talent, and have done it the old fashioned way: through scouting and player development. Their core consists of consistent MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, who is hard not to root for, former number one draft pick Gerrit Cole, and exciting young players still developing like Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates won an electric Wild Card game last year and, although they have the second best record in the NL, will again be playing in the single elimination Wild Card game against the Cubs. Plus, when the Pirates need a big right handed bat off the bench, they call on Nationals’ favorite Mike Morse.

Con:
Jose Tabata. That is all.

Cardinals

Pro:
The Cardinals have used their patented devil magic to overcome a level of injuries that actually rivals the injuries the Nationals have experienced this year. Despite losing starting players like Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina for extended periods of time, the Cardinals have put up the best record in the NL by plugging in guys like Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham, and Kevin Siegrist without missing a beat.

Con:
The Cards have already won a couple World Series titles recently in 2006 and 2011. Their fans very humbly call themselves the best fans in baseball at any opportunity. They still employ Pete F’ing Kozma.

Cubs

Pro:
Chicago is desperate for the Cubs to be good and behind the leadership of Theo Epstein, Cubs fans finally have a team to cheer for. Lead by fringe MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo and possible Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, the Cubs have a fun and entertaining team and are led by one of the best managers in baseball in Joe Maddon, who is basically the anti-Matt Williams. Plus, Wrigley field is one of the classic baseball stadiums and it will be rocking should the Cubs advance past the Pirates in the one game Wild Card and get to host an NLDS series.

Con:
These are the same Cubs fans who terrorized Steve Bartman after he (along with his entire seating section) reached out to catch a foul ball and may have possibly gotten in the way of Moises Alou making a play on the ball. Bartman won’t even come out in public now, 12 years later, when some Cubs fans put together a mea culpa, crowd funded package to send him to the Wild Card game because of how badly he was treated at the time. Plus, there is a very real chance that, if the Cubs win the World Series, Cubs fans go from loveable losers to annoying band wagoners, similar to the evolution of Red Sox fans following their first World Series title this century.

Blue Jays

Pro:
Yet another team with a long playoff drought, the Blue Jays steam rolled to the AL East title thanks to some wheeling and dealing at the trade deadline. To an already stacked starting lineup, they added Troy Tulowitzki and to a starting rotation that was keeping its head above water but certainly not dominating, they added former Cy Young winner David Price. Now, the Blue Jays sport a lineup with power potential in every spot and a one two punch of David Price and young phenom Marcus Stroman, recently returned to form after tearing his ACL only a few months ago in Spring Training. The city seems to have really jumped on board and the home games down the stretch have been rocking. Add in the dome that reverberates all that noise and Rogers Centre is an intimidating and entertaining place for playoff baseball.

Con:
Seeing how the Blue Jays are the only team in the playoffs not based in the United States, it does seem a little un-American to root for the one Canadian team in the playoffs.

Yankees Pro:
TBD

Con:
Reflection kissing, post steroid Alex Rodriguez. Stickler for the unwritten rulebook, Brian McCann. Hired guns Chase Headley, CC Sabathia and Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees will once again try for a championship by overpaying for big name veteran players. Just when it seemed like that strategy was doomed to fail, as the roster was looking too old to succeed, the Yankees somehow have struck gold yet again and find themselves in the Wild Card game. Who wants to root for that?

Kansas City Royals 

Pro:
After a surprising run to the World Series last year, analysts didn’t give the 2015 Royals team much of a chance to succeed. Instead, the team dominated out of the gate and never really looked back as they steamrolled through the AL Central. The team is built on great defense, especially in the outfield, great speed on the basepaths, and an offense that refuses to strike out. That makes for some pretty entertaining baseball. On the pitching side, the Royals employ an armada of hard throwing starters and relievers. Yordano Ventura regularly hits 98 MPH in his starts, Johnny Cueto has added a shimmy to his windup and still throws gas, and of course the dominate bullpen led by Wade Davis shuts down opposing teams in the late innings of ball games by throwing fastballs by people.

Con:
It was a fun run last year for the Royals, going from plucky Wild Card underdog who barely made the playoffs to near World Series Champs. This year, the narrative is flipped and the Royals are now the big bad favorite who has been in first for practically the whole year. That underdog story will have to come from somewhere else.

Rangers Pro:
The Rangers came almost out of nowhere this season. They were hit hard by injuries early in the year, none bigger than losing their ace Yu Darvish before the season even got under way. As a result, the team pretty much got written off for 2015. When the Rangers traded for Cole Hamels at the trade deadline this season, it was painted as a move for 2016, not this season. Instead, the Rangers have exploded in the second half to take down the hard charging Astros and the AL West crown. Lead by future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre at third, Prince Fielder at first, and Cole Hamels on the mound, the Rangers have an enticing mix of power, defense, and pitching.

Con:
The Rangers had their chance at a World Series title recently, coming one strike away from winning it all in their last appearance. Plus, this team wasn’t built to succeed this season. Once the injuries hit, the team started setting up for 2016 by trading for Hamels, giving every day playing time to Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr, and sending down big name prospect Rougned Odor after a rough start to the season. In response, the team went on to win the AL West and is set up nicely for 2016 as well. It just doesn’t seem fair.

Astros Pro:
This is a team literally built from the ground up. The core of the team consists of young players who have finally matriculated through the farm system of the Astros and reached the big leagues like George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Lance McCullers. This is a team that strikes out a lot, but hits for a lot of power. No player better encompasses this mentality than OF/C/DH Evan Gattis, who has his own great backstory. If you were to re-write Moneyball today, it would have to be about the Astros. Their front office has been pushing the envelope analytically, kicking off the trend of shifting that is now commonplace in the majors. They have drafted and promoted their star talent aggressively, and it’s finally paid off this year.

Con:
Before the Philadelphia 76ers made tanking cool, the Astros were actively losing games as part of their long term strategy. They basically told their fans that they didn’t plan on putting a competitive big league squad on the field for several years, so fans were going to have to grin and bear it. They famously got into an argument over the health of one of their top draft picks, refusing to sign him to a deal they had verbally agreed to. Moreover, their backing out of that deal had a domino effect that resulted in them being unable to sign another one of their draftees with whom they had also reached a verbal agreement. Their reputation was so bad among players that many refused to sign with the Astros or, like Cole Hamels just this summer, refused to waive their no trade clause to allow for a trade to the Astros.

3 comments:

  1. Wait, Tabata is a Dodger. He was traded for Morse.

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    Replies
    1. True, he technically finished the year playing for the Dodgers AAA squad, but I'm petty enough to still hold it against the Pirates for putting him in the lineup to ruin the perfect game in the first place

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    2. Gotcha. I see what you mean. Read it literally.

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