A few weeks back, when Boston's season was officially pronounced dead, Ben took the time to offer OTM's endorsements for rooting interests down the stretch. Well, the final stretch is here, and the field has largely sorted itself out. Now, it's certainly possible to watch the playoffs from a completely neutral perspective, and I'll freely admit that Game 6 of last year's World Series would have been absolute torture if I'd been rooting for either St. Louis or Texas. So if your plan is to stay aloof, I certainly support that.
But at the same time, the playoffs can lack a certain intensity when your rooting interest is merely Fun Baseball. For this reason, I've decided to put together a guide for everyone trying to decide on their surrogate team for October. I'm not going to endorse any team in these playoffs, since they all suffer the crippling flaw of being not the Red Sox. But there are entirely good reasons to root for any of these teams.
Additionally, there are truly wondrous reasons to root against most of these teams. And pure spite can be an excellent method for October viewing. One warning, though: rooting specifically against one team reverses the normal way of things. In these cases, the ideal scenario is that the team you're following most closely will play very few games. However, if you lay out a strong set of contingency plans (i.e. rooting against NY, then Texas, then Atlanta), then a bitter October will work out.
So, why should you spend October rooting for...
Reasons to root for them: You are a bad human being who loves seal-clubbers, robber barons, and roots for Lex Luthor in the non-Red Son universes. It is also possible, however unlikely, that you are a good and decent soul who was simply raised poorly and/or somewhere near the Hudson River.
Reasons to root against them: They are the New York Yankees.
Reasons to root for them: Baltimore's actually a really great baseball town. They gave the world Babe Ruth, they've got a grand legacy of players from Jim Palmer to Cal Ripken to Mike Mussina, and it's been a rough decade and a half down that way. More importantly, one of the greatest things about baseball is its inherent unpredictability, and this year's Orioles are nothing if not unpredictable. They've barely outscored their opponents on the season, there's not a player on the club in serious contention for any individual award, and the general response to their playoff run has been "No, but seriously, how the hell are they doing that?" Wackiness is to be rewarded and celebrated, and the Orioles are this year's Wacky League representative.
Reasons to root against them: Robert #$%^^%$&*%$^?<&%#$@^)*^!@$ing Andino. Also an entire offseason of "See, nerds? All that run-differential and WAR crap is no match for grit and clutchitude!" But mostly Andino.
Reasons to root for them: They're an extremely well-run organization with an assortment of likable players. Texas has won the AL pennant two years running, and both times lost absolute heartbreakers in the World Series. Throw in that the team has never won a title in their 52-year history (eleven of those years in Washington) and they could use a win this year. Adrian Beltre's on the Rangers, and he's just the best. Finally, it is highly likely that if he finds out you're not rooting for Texas, Nolan Ryan will come to your house and punch you in the head.
Reasons to root against them: Another playoff exit without a title makes it all the more likely that Texas will look to shake things up with some offseason moves. As fans of a team in need of a slugging first baseman and a reliable shortstop, any outcome that increases the odds of Mike Napoli or Elvis Andrus in a Sox uniform is a good outcome. Additionally, Texas really should be seen as the favorite, at least in the AL, and it's always fun to root against the favorite.
Oakland Athletics (pending)
Reasons to root for them: Every time a Billy Beane-constructed team does well, it drives old-school sportswriters completely up the wall. And that's just when they make the playoffs. If they actually won a World Series, the BBWAA's membership would drop instantly by half from the brain-exploding. This would, of course, be tragic. Although it would quickly increase Jeff Bagwell's chances of making the Hall of Fame. In terms of pure aesthetics, the more games we all get to watch Yoenis Cespedes in action, the better.
Reasons to root against them: The ugliest uniforms in baseball. More importantly, though, if Josh Reddick wins a ring this year, the Boston media will be absolutely insufferable. Like, a level of insufferable we haven't even seen yet And honestly, I think I'd include us in that. Just not a scenario I want to deal with.
Detroit Tigers (pending)
Reasons to root for them: They're the only team thusfar listed that's an original AL team in its original city. There's something to be said for respecting that sort of tradition. In terms of fun players to watch, Justin Verlander carrying a team deep into the playoffs? Yes please.
Reasons to root against them: As has become traditional, the winner of the AL Central is going to sneak into the playoffs. Detroit's currently 86-73, a worse record than both the Angels and Rays, two teams likely to be eliminated as early as tonight. That geography is the main factor in getting them to the playoffs is annoying. Along those same lines, Detroit making the playoffs while LA misses out will be one more cannon shot in the endlessly irritating "Miguel Cabrera is totally the MVP, nerds!" onslaught. Also, I'm still a bit pissed at them for sweeping the Sox to open this season.
Reasons to root for them: I'm lumping these three together here because each is one loss or one win by Oakland (TB and LAA) or Detroit (CWS) from elimination. As such, if any of them made it into the playoffs, it would be borderline miraculous, and it's fun to root for teams that get in by pure good fortune. In player terms, Youk's still on the White Sox, and it'd be nice to see him have a taste of October after the last few years. An Anaheim appearance would be full of wondrous Mike Trout highlights. There is no legitimate reason to root for Tampa Bay. End them tonight, Yanks.
Reasons to root against them: Honestly, right now I think rooting for these guys to raise a little havoc and keep the races going is in everyone's interest. If any of them make it, I'll find reasons to root against them. Again, this does not apply to Tampa Bay.
Tomorrow, for those of you who for some reason enjoy watching pitchers flail helplessly at outside fastballs until they're lifted in the sixth for pinch-hitters, I'll cover the National League. Enjoy the games tonight.