Well, here we are for the third year in a row without obvious rooting interests for the playoffs. That's right, folks, the Phillies are absent from the playoffs yet again despite carrying the 3rd highest payroll in baseball and employing two former MVPs and a Cy Young winner. The saying is that time heals all wounds, but, in the case of baseball players, we are seeing that it more often creates new ones and diminished ability.
Even though the Phillies will not be participating, the MLB Playoffs are still scheduled to occur, beginning with the A.L. Wild Card game between the Royals and Athletics tonight. These things, i.e. playoff tournaments, are always more fun when one engages with them with an emotional stake in their outcome. It is high time that we, Phillies fans, invest our emotions in the success of some other team for the next month.
So, which team will it be? Your choice will play non-trivial role in determining your happiness over the next two days to one month, so it is imperative that you choose wisely. Luckily for you, I have, below, identified reasons you might want to cheer for a team and matched them with real life 2014 playoff teams. All you have to do is pick the cause you want to get behind, and devote yourself to the team that represents it.
I want fun former-Phillies to cheer for!
Look no further than all the way across the country. While they might not have the most former Phillies under their employ, a distinction that as best as I can tell belongs to the Nationals, the Oakland Athletics have the most fun former Phillies. Sure, the Pirates' Vance Worley has the best appearance, the Orioles have Delmon Young, and the Royals' Raul Ibanez looks like Voldemort, but just listen to this interview with Brandon Moss. We can debate whether there was a place for him in Philadelphia, but there is no debating how cool that interview is. He's so refreshingly honest about his strengths and limitations as a player, which is something one rarely gets out of a professional athlete. Also, he hates batting average.
They also have Nick Punto, who played for the Phillies centuries ago, it seems.
Jimmy Rollins Got It Right, I'm a Front Runner. Give me the Winner!
There are a couple of contenders for this title, but if you held a gun to my head--please don't I'm telling you my answer anyway--I'd pick the Nationals as the most likely to win it all. They'll have a difficult time picking a playoff rotation because they have 5 deserving pitchers, including two of the best in the game in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman. Add a lineup featuring Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, and Ian Desmond to what is probably the deepest rotation in the playoffs, and it's difficult to find a true weakness with this team. You might not feel totally comfortable rooting for a division rival to win it all, but if you're a true front-runner, you'll overcome that discomfort after a couple of wins.
As Part of My Over-Played Philly Blue-Collar Chip-On-My-Shoulder Personality, I want the Grittiest Underdog
You have two strong choices here--the Royals and the Orioles. The Royals, on paper, don't seem to have that great of a team. Their outfield is relatively light on offense, but astoundingly awesome defensively. Alex Gordon got some controversial MVP buzz this season because of the gaudy values advanced defensive metrics placed on his defense. Their lineup is populated by Sal Perez and a bunch of underachieving former top prospects in Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Mike Moustakas. Their pitching staff his fronted by James Shields, who's solidly above average, but it's filled out with some unknown quantities in Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. They might have to start Jason Vargas if they make it out of the Wild Card, which is tantamount to starting Kyle Kendrick in the playoffs. You can't realistically pick this team to do anything in the playoffs, making them an ideal blue-collar pick.
Ultimately, however, I would go with the Orioles with this spot if for no other reason than that they are guaranteed to play more than one game. Despite injuries to catcher Matt Weiters and phenom Manny Machado, the underperformance and subsequent suspension of Chris Davis, and a pitching staff featuring only one above average pitcher, based on FIP, in rookie Kevin Gausman, they managed to win the AL East with 96 wins. Delmon Young also plays a lot. I don't know how this team is any good. Lack of actual talent + narratives of overcoming adversity = ideal blue-collar pick.
I want to live in the moment and have the most fun watching games
You may resent the extreme extent to which it seems they have purchased an elite baseball team, but there is no denying the Dodgers are a fun team to watch. I don't need to tell you how fun it is to watch Clayton Kershaw pitch or Yasiel Puig wearing his enormously joyful heart on his sleeve at all times. But there's one other guy who makes the Dodgers fun for me to watch--Dee Gordon. He's that pesky, fast, light-on-power middle infielder that disappeared from baseball for a moment earlier this century, but is slowly reappearing on competitve rosters. Gordon led the league in stolen bases, outpacing speed phenom Billy Hamilton. His ability to get on and torment pitchers on the bases gets buried under Kershaw's dominance and Puig's unabashed unabashedness, but that lack of prominence on the public perception of the Dodgers does not make him any less enjoyable. You can have a blast watching the Dodgers, just don't think too much about how much they each get paid.
I love America. Which team best represents American values?
You have to go with the Angels here. Like the Orioles, they lack a pitcher whose appearance on the mound will comfort fans, but they do feature the best offense in baseball by runs scored. The divide between their offense and their pitching is reminiscent of the division of wealth in America in that it is concentrated almost entirely in one sector of society and unavailable to the other sector. With injuries to Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, they have experienced an increasing bifurcation of wealth between the upper class (offense) and middle/lower classes (pitching). If growing concentration of wealth isn't the American condition in a nutshell, I don't know what is. The Angels might represent the ideal triumph of capitalism on the shoulders of the upper classes. God Bless the Angels!
I want a team I can imagine myself actually being a fan of
Obviously, on the internet, a community with a more analytical bent, the A's are an obvious choice. Too obvious, even. Luckily, I've already put them under the "most entertaining former Phillies" category, so I can dismiss them here for reasons other than saying, "let's share the love."
The Pirates are a fun team to be a fan of. They have the right combination of home-grown talent in Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Starling Marte and fun reclamation projects (to various degrees) in Josh Harrison (also, homegrown), Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and Phillies-favorite Vance Worley to allow for guilt-free fandom. They've also invested in analytics at all levels of the organization from defensive shifts to Russell Martin's heart-rate-based training regimen to employing Mike Fitzgerald as a sort of analytics liaison between the front office, the coaching staff, and players. They seem to be a team transitioning (or already-transitioned) into sabermetrics with a measured approach that involves integrating and not alienating the traditional baseball people in the organization. It's amazing what can happen when all members of an organization approach their sport with an open mind.
I don't want to learn a new type of fandom, who is the closest thing to the Phillies
The Phillies tried their hand at the strategy of putting a contending team together around an aging core; the Tigers succeeded. You might have heard of Miguel Cabrera for stealing MVP awards from Mike Trout the past 2 season. Victor Martinez has been around forever, it seems. Justin Verlander has been historically dominant in the past, but not so much this season. They were able to flip their own over-compensated, overweight first baseman for elite help at another position of need. If you want to see the best that can be made of an aging, deteriorating core by a franchise with deep pockets, the Tigers are your team.
Under no Circumstances Cheer for These Teams
These two go without saying. We obviously can't cheer for the Cardinals and the Giants here; there's just too much history between us. On top of that, the Cardinals have their self-righteous fanbase and pretentious Cardinal Way. Yadier Molina may be the best catcher in the game, but he has a terrible neck tattoo. Sure, they're probably the best run organization, top to bottom, in baseball, but I just can't bring myself to even fake cheer for them for a month.
Sadly, the Giants seem to be a relatively likeable bunch this year. Buster Posey is both good and, I have on good information, cute; Hunter Pence provides one of the most unique viewing experiences in the game built on a giant disconnect between how good he is and how good he looks doing it. But, the Giants, too, have an obnoxious fanbase and their team has brought too much sorrow on Phillies fans recently. I can't forgive them for what they've done in the past and how obnoxiously they did it.
So there you have it--a complete guide of who to cheer for for the next month. Personally, I'll be practicing fantasy fandom with the Pirates. Who will you be cheering for?