There is something to be said for fandom. It kind of creeps into your mind and heart, virus like in its ability to effect mood, behavior, and even health. That can be both positive and negative, but as someone who experienced playoff fandom this afternoon, all I can say is that there are going to be some butterflies, chewed nails, plus a whole lot of cursing and celebrating during these baseball playoffs.
Last year I did a prediction post. It was blast to write and happened to generate some luckily accurate results to boot. This year, with teams I care about in the playoffs, I knew I wouldn’t have any sort of objectivity when evaluating the postseason participants, so I opted against it. However, despite the playoffs having already started, I will give some opinions about what I like about a few of theses teams: more musings and generics, rather than in-depth analysis.
Nationals: This team is about as complete a unit as you can put together in baseball. They don’t appear to have any real weakness, and the big question that many did have about them was their closer, Rafael Soriano, who Matt Williams removed from the role in favor of Drew Storen. As big of a postseason as this is for the Nationals, it’s as big, if not bigger for Storen who had the meltdown in game 5 of the division series against the Cardinals in 2012. If I had to pick a team to win the World Series, this would be the squad.
Dodgers: This team is as Hollywood as its location. They have the big names, big money, and big time performers that it takes to win a World Series, though there are some questions about the bullpen. With a lineup that has a good combination of power (Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig) and speed (Dee Gordon, Puig again), plus a 1-2 pitching punch like Clayton Kershaw, and Zach Grienke, most other years this team would have more than enough talent to make it out of the NL.
Cardinals and Giants: These two teams have far more postseason experience that either of their two opponents, with the Cardinals having represented the National League in the World Series in 2011 and 13 (Winning in ’11) and the Giants having won it all in 2010 and 2012. Both these teams have veteran talent, and certainly know that it takes to win on the big stage, but they simply have to bridge too large of a talent gap. The Giants used their ace in the wild card matchup, and the rest of their rotation isn’t all that scary. That is ignoring a lineup that will be hard pressed to generate runs (yes, I know they erupted last night). The Cards have the names of Wainwright, and Molina, and Holliday, but just don’t have the lineup top to bottom. With all that said, the Nats and Dodgers certainly won’t be underestimating either of these two.
Angels: This team begins and ends with Mike Trout. It is vastly oversimplifying things, but he has the talent to take them all the way. If any of their vets, namely some dudes named Albert and Josh, can get going, they could bash their way through the playoffs. With their best starter (Garrett Richards) done, they might need to, because their rotation is nothing to lose sleep over. The addition of Huston Street to their backend was huge. They are the clubhouse favorites in the AL due to their play throughout the season, but I think they have a lot of susceptibility.
Royals: Meet the Kansas City Track Stars, who go by the Royals sometimes too. Last year it was the Pirates ending their postseason drought, and the year before it was the Orioles. This team already got a huge monkey off its back just by making the dance, and they are gonna run with it, literally, until someone stops them. Just ask the the A’s, who got Forrest Gump-ed out of Kansas City on Tuesday due to seven stolen bases. The Royals will need more of the same if they want to get out of an AL bracket that features three other slugging teams. This team rarely hits home runs, but if they can get on base consistently, watch out. Their defense and bullpen might both be the best in the tourney as well.
Tigers: It seems like every year they are the best team on paper, and yet every year they don’t perform until they squeak into the postseason. This year followed that model to a T. Detroit was bad all season, considering their talent. Yes, a lot of that can be blamed on their woeful bullpen (who looked even worse tonight), but the reality is the starting pitching, big names and all, failed to produce quality results. This team will always have the potential to blow everyone out of the water, but until they put it together its hard to see them making a deep run. They won their division on the last day, a feat that could have proved some momentum, but they then got shelled by the Orioles today in the opener, and have to deal with more questions. They are easily the toughest to team to read, because their talent screams “wow,” while their performances often produce a big “meh”
Orioles: If the Tigers are the under achievers, the Orioles are their antithesis. They have overcome key injuries (Matt Wieters, Manny Machado) and a suspension (Chris Davis), and seemingly gotten better as the season’s progressed. They are led by a redemption story (Nelson Cruz), a guy who forgot that walks exist in baseball (Adam Jones), and players no one else seemed to want (Steve Pearce, Miguel Gonzalez). Not many had them getting this far, and some still aren’t giving them their due. Baltimore’s best weapon might be Buck Showalter’s brain, and its ability to puppeteer an outstanding bullpen. This team feels like a team of destiny of this year with all that they’ve overcome, but hey, I’m insanely biased.
Speaking of biases, I also wrote a piece about the parity between the Nationals and Orioles record wise last season. This season that trend continued in a big way. It seemed liked every day these two teams were separated by a parkway and not more than one or two games. That culminated with them both clinching their respective divisions within roughly an hour of each other, and ending up with identical records on he last day of baseball (heck, they both even won their final games 1-0). It’s amazing how far baseball in the DC-Baltimore area has come. The Nationals were expected to be here this season with their talent, but the Orioles kept pace all season long. Four years ago these two teams were baseball’s bottom feeders . This year there is a legitimate chance of them meeting in the World Series. Crazy.
The playoffs started with a wild Wild Card game that saw two teams give it everything they had. Hopefully that was just the beginning, because as a fan, all you can ask for at the end of the day is your team leaving it all on the diamond. Should be a fun October.