Last night clarified a few things. The Chicago White Sox will not be playing postseason baseball. The Detroit Tigers will be, despite having a worse record than both the Angels and Rays, both of whom were eliminated last night. At this point, all that's left is seeding. This makes the last two days of the regular season a bit less interesting, but it does at least guarantee that this post will be shorter than yesterday's.
As you recall, yesterday we covered the American League field as a service to those of you looking for someone to root for in the coming playoffs. One common theme (and not a surprising one) among the comments was a complete lack of interest in rooting for any AL team. As my name and team affiliation would suggest, I approve of this level of grudge-holding, and so today we cover the NL contenders.
So, as we move into the postseason, why root for...
Reasons to root for them: This year marks the first time that our nation's capital has seen postseason baseball since FDR's first year in office. Washington has celebrated a World Series win once, in 1924, a month before the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. They've gone without for a very long time, and I think that's something Boston fans can get on board with. In addition, there is the Stephen Strasburg shutdown. As you may have read somewhere (it wasn't terribly controversial on the internets), Washington decided to limit the innings of their young ace this season in order to preserve his long-term health. It's been debated a million times, and it's not worth rehashing here. I bring it up here because there's a tiny bit of badass to it. It's like the movie hero tossing his sword aside to beat the villain because he doesn't need it. That's worth rooting for.
Reasons to root against them: Of course, as cool as that looks in movies, if in real life you tossed aside your sword out of honor or overconfidence, you would very swiftly be killed by your less-honorable, more-sword-having opponent. Giving up an ace pitcher heading into the postseason, when you've got your franchise's first real shot at a title in ever? Hard to root for. Also I worry just a bit that next year when Strasburg's on his way to a Cy Young, or in twenty years when we're discussing his Hall of Fame case, some dolt will bring up that time the Nats won a World Series without him, and that never would have happened to Jack Morris.
Reasons to root for them: Why, old-timey Boston connections, of course! The Braves were Boston's original pro baseball franchise. Were they any good at all while they were playing here? Well, no. But they were Babe Ruth's final team! He played in 28 games. For those in a more modern greats mood, there is Larry Wayne Jones. The man they call Chipper is in the final season of a Hall of Fame career, spent entirely with Atlanta, and it's hard not to want that to end with a title.
Reasons to root against them: Well, there's the name. And that truly godawful chant that's not only offensive, but stolen from someone else. That alone might just do it for me. Beyond that... Given the pitching they have on the way, I feel like this would be peaking too early. The Braves look potentially set up to go at it with Washington for the next decade, and the baseball fan in me wants to see that.
Reasons to root for them: History again. They are officially the oldest of all the major-league ballclubs, and they've had a pretty rough time of it lately. In player terms, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Joey Votto are all terrifically fun to watch. Cincy's the first team in years to have a top four in their rotation all clearing 200 innings, and that should be interesting to watch unfold in October. Finally, Cincinnati features the last member of the 2004 Red Sox rotation to still be starting: Bronson Arroyo. That's worth a cheer or two.
Reasons to root against them: 1975. Also, the potential burnishing of Dusty Baker's HoF resume.
St. Louis Cardinals (pending)
Reasons to root for them: Carlos Beltran could finally get a ring, which would be a fine capper on an interesting borderline Hall of Fame case. Mike Matheny would win a title in his first year as a manager, which would both be impressive and perhaps provide a bit of perspective on the magical prowess of Tony La Russa.
Reasons to root against them: 1946, 1967. And they did win just last year. There is also the problem end of La Russa: the longer St. Louis is in the playoffs, the longer everyone has an excuse to talk about how totally awesome he was.
Reasons to root for them: Strong internet presence among Giants fans. I occasionally scroll through my Twitter feed, and it's kind of astounding how many Giants fans I know on there. Beyond that, another great city with a great franchise. In terms of Fun Baseball, it's very hard to argue with wanting to see Buster Posey and Matt Cain go as deep into a postseason as possible.
Reasons to root against them: The longer they're in contention, the longer we have to deal with the "is Brian Sabean actually any good at being a general manager" discussions, which are among the few things more useless than the upcoming presidential debates. There's also the "you guys just won one, time to let someone else get a ring," which is sound logic for all teams but the Red Sox, who should follow World Series wins with more World Series wins.
Los Angeles Dodgers (pending)
Reasons to root for them: Great tradition, proper break from crap ownership, potential to rekindle an ancient rivalry, sure. Honestly, at this point partly it's sheer chaos-rooting (as with Tampa and Anaheim before last night). But mostly, it's the desire, born of pure hatred, to see Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez win a ring after being crucified all year in the Boston press.
Reasons to root against them: The Dodgers are setting themselves up to be Yankees West, and having one team like that is bad enough for the league. Also, much though I would love to see those former Sox level a giant middle finger at Boston, I do live in Boston. That would be a hell of a kick to take, and as this season winds down I'm not sure I want to deal with any more such kicks.
Two games left to force New York into a one-game playoff. My confidence is not high. And yet I'll watch anyway.