How can you not love this team? (ESPN.com)
At a little after 5pm ET on Friday, Kris Medlen is going to kick off the 2012 playoffs with a pitch to Jon Jay (most likely) of the Cardinals in a one-game NL Wild Card playoff matchup as the October tournament officially gets underway. Extending a drought that is nearly a quarter-century long, the team that’s lifting the championship trophy at the end of the month won’t be the Dodgers. So who are Dodger fans to root for?
That’s a question which has a different answer for each person. Some like to see the NL come out on top; some have a particular player they always like to pull for. For me, I like stories, and there’s no shortage of that this season:
1) Athletics. With apologies to Baltimore, this is the greatest story of the year, doing what they’re doing behind five rookie starting pitchers to catch Texas on the final day. Lest we forget, they were thirteen games out at the end of June, and if that sounds familiar, it should; it’s the same margin as the 1951 New York Giants overcame. (Albeit from later in the season.) I guarantee most people who aren’t very serious baseball fans couldn’t name more than one player on this team – if even that – and more of America needs to know who Brandon McCarthy, Yoenis Cespedes, A.J. Griffin, Sean Doolittle, Josh Reddick, and friends are. But mostly, I just want to see Grant Balfour coming in to more games, because watching a few thousand Oakland fans go nuts to the dulcet tones of Metallica’s “One” is one of my favorite things about this run.
This team is beyond fun, winning approximately 198 games this year in walk-off fashion, and it might also draw more attention to the horrible stadium limbo they’re in as Bud Selig refuses to make any sort of progress in their battle with the Giants. Besides, If they win, it’ might finally get all of the anti-Beane fanatics to shut up, though they aren’t exactly a traditional “Moneyball” team – they hit a lot of homers and aren’t great at getting on base.
You know what else? I love the green n’ gold. Not enough pro teams wear green anymore. Let’s go A’s.
Former Dodgers: none
2) Nationals. I know it’s a bit more complicated than this, since they weren’t even in the sport for a few decades, but Washington hasn’t had a baseball championship since 1924. So yeah, they’re due. This is a fun team too, with Ryan Zimmerman constantly underrated and some legitimate mashers in Mike Morse & Adam LaRoche. Oh, and there’s that Bryce Harper guy, and love him or hate him, there is no way that having your 19-year-old superstar on the biggest stage around can be a bad thing for the game of baseball. You’d feel bad for Expos fans, I guess, but it’d really solidify what a quality franchise the Nationals have become.
Bonus: we can avoid a lifetime of “should the Nationals really have shut down Stephen Strasburg?!” second-guessing.
Former Dodgers: Cesar Izturis (briefly), Edwin Jackson, Jayson Werth
3) Orioles. The Orioles are arguably an even bigger story than the A’s, given that they won 93 games in the brutal AL East – though I would note that with Boston down this year, the AL West might actually have the toughest competition in Texas and Los Angeles. I find them confounding, however. Bringing back Dan Duquette out of cryogenic storage shouldn’t be seen as a good thing, and while a whole lot of the crap he threw against the wall worked somehow, it’s not exactly a model that anyone should be following for success. Still, that’s a minor quibble; Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are legitimate stars who deserve recognition, Manny Machado is only barely behind Harper in the “incredibly youthful player making his mark” standings, Dylan Bundy could be too if they let him on the roster and Chris Davis has long been a favorite of mine. And that bullpen… well, you probably can’t name half of them without looking it up, but it’s unbelievable.
Baltimore’s a great baseball town, however, or at least it was before the team became unwatchable over the last 15 years, and it’s good for the sport when the Orioles are good. When it’s full, Camden Yards is still one of the best parks in the sport, which is another reason why I want them to beat Texas tomorrow – so they get at least one home game. Hey, how fun would a Beltway series be?
Former Dodgers: Wilson Betemit, Dana Eveland, Steve Johnson, Jim Thome, Randy Wolf
4/5) Reds. I really don’t like Dusty Baker, but this is another one of those midwest teams with a ton of tradition that hasn’t seen success in a while. It’s not quite Pirates-level bad, of course, yet it has been 23 years since their last title. When healthy, Joey Votto is potentially the best hitter in baseball – once again, someone who deserves more attention – and the back end of the bullpen is absolutely filthy. Just a fun team to watch.
Former Dodgers: Jonathan Broxton, Dioner Navarro, Xavier Paul, Wilson Valdez
4/5) Tigers. Ridiculous arguments over Miguel Cabrera‘s AL MVP candidacy aside, there’s not a lot to dislike about the Tigers. Justin Verlander is almost indisputably the best pitcher in the sport, and watching Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Alex Avila, Austin Jackson, & friends go up against Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman or Gio Gonzalez or Medlen in the World Series would be a fantastic sight to see. You have to respect owner Mike Ilitch, anyway; he’s 83 years old and he’s proven he’s willing to do whatever it takes financially to bring a title back to his hometown. That’s not something a lot of owners can say, and it’s a nice story.
If the Tigers & Reds match up, it’ll be hard for me to have a rooting interest; that’ll just be a good, fun, series against two teams with a ton of history and no championships since at least 1990.
Former Dodgers: Octavio Dotel
6) Braves. I am surprisingly ambivalent towards the Braves. I have no strong feelings really for or against them; I wouldn’t really be excited if they won, nor would I be all that unhappy. I suppose I can’t decide if Chipper Jones ending his career with a title would be just an amazing story or fantastically annoying.
Former Dodgers: Reed Johnson, David Ross
7) Rangers. The tough thing with rooting for Texas to win the AL, I suppose, is that it could set them up to be the baseball version of the Buffalo Bills if they drop yet another World Series. The tougher thing is my intense dislike of Michael Young and Ron Washington’s worship of him, and while it’d be nice to see this team finally get over the hump for their first title, I’m not all that excited about the prospect of seeing them back again.
Former Dodgers: Adrian Beltre
8) Yankees. Unlike a lot of people, I have no particular hatred for the Yankees, and while they’re always in the playoffs, they’ve won the World Series once in the last eleven seasons, so they’ve hardly been dominating the league. The “former Dodgers” category is tough; while I’ll always love Hiroki Kuroda, I’m not sure I can abide seeing a ring get put on Andruw Jones‘ stubby fingers. Still, I’m only rooting for them if they’re playing St. Louis or San Francisco.
Former Dodgers: Jones, Kuroda, Derek Lowe, Russell Martin, Cory Wade
9) Cardinals. I find the Cardinals a lot less unlikeable – a lot – now that Tony LaRussa is gone. That said, they had their moment last year, and they are of course the team that beat the Dodgers out for the final spot this year, so it’s really only because of the presence of San Francisco that they’re not dead last here. Besides, can you imagine the hundreds of infuriating articles we’d have to live with if they win after letting Albert Pujols go sign for eleventy billion dollars elsewhere? Not interested.
Former Dodgers: Rafael Furcal.
10) Giants. Oh, please.