It is now… *checks watch*… 186 days until Opening Day 2012. And while we might all be anxious to see what the Dodger lineup will look like when the team takes the field in early April, there’s still a whole lot of baseball to be played in 2011. But in the seven hours or so before C.J. Wilson throws the first pitch of the playoffs against Tampa Bay (starting Matt Moore, a decision that – right or wrong – I just can’t get over because of the sheer bravado involved), Dodger fans have a decision to make: who are we pulling for to win the title this year?
First, the good news: it can’t be the Giants again. As someone (and I forget who, so sorry) noted on Twitter during Wednesday night’s wildness, “we don’t have to deal with Brian Wilson this October, so that means we’re all winners.” Truer words were never spoken. Even if they weren’t spoken, but rather Tweeted, and then paraphrased by me.
At ESPN, Jim Caple attempts to measure a team’s “Rootability Index” through a complex series of criteria, but sometimes it’s more fun to be subjective. Let’s look at the competitors through Dodger-tinged glasses, from most offensive to least.
Absolutely No Way In Hell Division
Like I even need to explain why, right? The Phillies not only have a recent championship and two recent NL pennants, they crushed the Dodger postseason dreams in both ’08 and ’09 in the most brutal ways possible. That alone disqualifies them from consideration. Plus who among us doesn’t find Shane Victorino to be insufferable? Besides, it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed the collection of rotation aces they’ve put together from a fan point of view, but I do like the idea that simply having a roster like that doesn’t automatically equal victory.
Oh, and everyone from Philadelphia is a horrible, soulless subhuman. So there’s that.
Chances of Me Rooting For Them Are Roughly Equal to Eugenio Velez Getting a Hit Division
New York Yankees
Unlike most of you, I’m guessing, I don’t despise the Yankees. Yes, they have the most money, and they can be obnoxious at times, but they’re run by smart people and I don’t see the point in rooting against them just for the sake of it. On the other hand, I have absolutely no idea how you can claim to be an impartial fan and actually root for the Yankees. It’s not like they need more people on the bandwagon or are desperately in need of a recent championship, though considering their rotation is C.C. Sabathia and not a whole lot else, it’d be interesting to see them pull it off. Still, a whole lot of things would have to go terribly wrong for me to start pulling for the Yankees in the playoffs.
If you’re not a Yankee fan and you’re rooting for them this October, you’re dead inside.
To be honest, I don’t hate the Diamondbacks either – most of them. Their worst-to-first run this year has been a great story for the game, and I’m glad to see Kirk Gibson & Kevin Towers having success as manager and GM, two guys I’ve always admired. Even their roster is mostly inoffensive, and toiling away in the desert means that megastar Justin Upton is woefully underappreciated on a national scale. If they win the NL pennant, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world (unless you’re a television executive, which, who cares.)
Yet there are a few problems with rooting for the Snakes from a Dodger fan point of view. First of all, they are a division rival, so that’s hard to cheer for, and they already have a World Series championship despite being in just their 14th season. They’re also the team that collected Willie Bloomquist, Geoff Blum, and Sean Burroughs at various points this year, leading to untold levels of “grit” and “scrap” like the world has never seen before. That’s not a notion of victory that I want to reinforce.
St. Louis Cardinals
Good Teams From Places I’m Glad I Don’t Live Division
Rooting for Texas holds some appeal, if only because they were in financial straits nearly as dire as the Dodgers and have been one of the best teams in baseball despite it. Jon Daniels is the kind of GM I wish the Dodgers had, and he’s one of the few who can say that he snookered Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos by stealing Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco on the back-end of the Vernon Wells trade last winter.
That said, they were in the World Series just a year ago, and I like variety. Besides, if Michael Young is hilariously already receiving MVP support for what was a good-but-not-great season, just imagine what it’ll be like if he’s flashing a ring.
Other than the teams who are facing the Tigers, if you’re rooting against Detroit, you hate America, freedom, and puppies. How could you not want to give some amount of joy to that barren region? Yes, the Tigers were in the World Series just five years ago, but they haven’t actually won one since Gibson and Jack Morris were rolling over the Burger King Padres nearly 30 years ago, and Justin Verlander is an absolute joy to watch.
On the other hand, Brad Penny would get a ring too. I’m not sure I can abide by that.
Jumping on the Bandwagon Division
Tampa Bay Rays
The funny thing about the Rays is, they’ve already been one of the best stories in baseball for years. Coming from the depths of the “Devil Rays” era, they’ve already been to a World Series (2008) and won a division title (2010) – hell, they’ve already had a book written about them. They could have done just about nothing else and still had their recent clubs be memorable, but no, they had to top that this season by ditching Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and their entire bullpen, falling nine games out of the Wild Card in early September, fighting back to tie on the last day before being down 7-0 in the 8th inning against the Yankees… only to tie the game on a homer by Dan Johnson and his .108 average and win it on an Evan Longoria walkoff, his second of the game, almost simultaneously to the Orioles coming back to topple the mighty Red Sox.
You’re going to root against that team? Really? Hey, their fans may not support them, so you might as well, though slight demerits for the team that turned fringe players (Danys Baez & Lance Carter) into a few years of just-above-replacement performance from Edwin Jackson (2.2 rWAR with Tampa) into Matthew Joyce (matching 132 OPS+ scores the last two years) at the expense of the Dodgers.
But while I’d be quite happy seeing them come out of the AL, I can’t quite root for them to take the whole thing just yet, because there’s still the…
I am trying, and failing, to think of a single reason to root against Milwaukee this postseason. Despite being in a small market, they have outstanding fans who consistently support the team. They have arguably the best owner in baseball, one who is willing to reinvest in the club, and one who I’ve already hoped would come rescue the Dodgers. They might have a small window, because of their very risky (and very entertaining) strategy to go “all-in” this year on the Zack Greinke & Shaun Marcum trades, in addition to Prince Fielder‘s impending free agency. (To clarify, because I’ve seen this before, that doesn’t mean they’re losing 98 games in 2012, just that there’s little left coming from the farm and Prince is likely to be elsewhere.) Their closer, John Axford, has a wicked mustache and comes out to obscure Swedish hardcore, rather than the generic butt-rock so many closers use today, and one of his set-up men is our old favorite Takashi Saito. They have Nyjer Morgan, who – while loved and hated by many – has created a gentlemanly Twitter alter-ego, Tony Plush, which is so ridiculous that it’s amazing.
Like Arizona, they’re led by a former Dodger, Ron Roenicke, and none of the three-headed ace crew of Greinke / Marcum / Yovani Gallardo threw more innings than old friend Randy Wolf. Hell, they also have Matt Kemp‘s main competition for the MVP in Ryan Braun, and it’s hard to even root against him because Braun has had such an absolutely MVP-quality season himself.
So… I guess I’m rooting for the 30th largest market (i.e., the smallest) to face the 26th largest market in the World Series. Oh, television people are going to love me.