So much my post-Reds rallying cry of “ich bin ein el Buccos…” (roughly and incorrectly made-up translation to German of “We are all Pirates).
Last night my adopted Pittsburgh Pirates’ season came to a disheartening close. Adam Wainwright. Complete game. 6-1. Good night now.
On this Thursday morning, the day the Divisional Series concludes and Major League Baseball moves to the league Championship Series, which will crown an AL and NL champ, I find myself grasping at straws.
Admittedly, I am a fan first and a blogger second. And it seems that every day now the teams that I could bring myself to root for in the World Series keep falling by the wayside.
First it was my beloved Cincinnati Reds. My team. The club I grew up loving as a kid. The one I still pledge my allegiance to every season, no ifs, ands or buts. They were bounced 6-2 by the Pirates in the one-game Wild Card round, performing like they did in the five-straight losses they incurred to close out the regular season by barely putting up a fight. It was a loss so bitter, it convinced management that drastic change was needed, so they summarily dumped six-year manager Dusty Baker three days later.
Next came the Tampa Bay Rays, an organization I admire for its efficiency and tenacity. Every year, the Rays have one of the league’s lowest payrolls, one of the league’s youngest roster, some of the league’s most unknown players and certainly the league’s worst fan support. Yet every year, for the last six years, Tampa Bay scraps, kicks and claws its way near the top of arguably the best division in baseball – the American League East. The Rays survived their Wild Card Game against the Indians, but couldn’t withstand the torrid Boston Red Sox in the Divisional Series, falling three games to one.
And then last night, the Pirates. Darlings of the MLB, having just erased a 20-year losing streak to make their first postseason since 1992. Their fan support was tremendous. The atmosphere in Pittsburgh’s PNC Park for their playoff games was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. But it wasn’t enough. Leading the series 2-1 against the St. Louis Cardinals, the crowd could not rally the club for a late-inning comeback against the Cards bullpen in game four. And then Wainwright happened in the decisive game five. Bye, bye Pirates.
As I look at the teams that are left, I feel mostly disdain.
Let’s look at the National League first.
I could never bring myself to root for the Cardinals, no matter the situation. As a Reds fan, they are my hated rival. But even as a neutral observer, I think I would hate that team. Mike Matheny has followed in former manager Tony La Russa’s footsteps perfectly in at least one regard – his penchant for complaining when things don’t go his team’s way. Unfortunately, things have gone St. Louis’s way all season long. Sidelined starter Chris Carpenter hasn’t even played this season, yet still gets enough airtime to make classless “we shoved it up their” you know what comments during the Divisonal Series. Brandon Phillips said it best a few years ago when he labeled the Cardinals as female dogs. I don’t just hate the St. Louis Cardinals. I loathe them with ever fiber in my being. The sight of them celebrating makes me nauseated. And they’ve already won two World Series in the past decade (2006 and2011), anyway. They don’t deserve this one. I’m a National League guy, but if the Cardinals were to play Satan himself in the World Series I’d don a tail, some horns and brink a pitch fork to the ballpark.
Over in the American League, the Boston Red Sox finished the year with the best record in baseball and after easily disposing of the Rays look to be an absolute juggernaut. Which drives me crazy. What kind of person who is not naturally a Bostonian wants to see another Boston-based franchise win a title? Talk about the most spoiled sports city in the country! That fan base has gotten to enjoy a championship in each of the four major sports in the last decade. The New England Patriots have won three Super Bowls and appeared in two others. The Boston Celtics took the NBA Title in 2008. The Boston Bruins hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup 2011. And the Red Sox have won the World Series twice, in 2004 and 2007. Enough already! It also doesn’t hurt that one of my best friends roots for Boston, and is one of the most obnoxious sports fans on the planet. That pinch of salt is all I need to push my chips all in against Boston. I shudder to think about a possible Cardinals-Red Sox World Series, which is very possible. If it comes to fruition, well, I guess hockey season just started…I could always watch that…
I’m not sure why I don’t like the Detroit Tigers. I just know I don’t. I have much respect for manager Jim Leyland. He’s tough, he’s rugged, he’s gritty and he’s damn good at his job. But his roster does absolutely nothing for me. Max Scherzer was a 20-game winner this season, but he got the third-highest run support in the Major League at six runs a game. So I refuse to bow down to his win total. Miguel Cabrera is an absolute beast at the plate, but he’s hurt and his power numbers are down, so his sexy factor is greatly diminished. Johnny Peralta just returned from a steroid suspension he agreed to. Justin Verlander, touted as the best pitcher in baseball just a season ago, is now just third best among his own rotation mates. I couldn’t get behind the Tigers when they made the World Series behind pine-tarred up starter Kenny Rogers. I can’t get behind them now.
The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t really offend me. They are a big money, huge market franchise. They’ve spent $200 million building this team with the expectation that it win, and they’ve put themselves in a position to do so. But it didn’t always look like that way. In May, the Dodgers were in last place in the division, 12 games back and manager Don Mattingly was on the brink of losing his job. Then they managed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in baseball history. It would be kind of cool if that feel-good story was punctuated by a championship. And the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Los Angeles is the lone team that stands between the St. Louis and the World Series. That’s all the rooting interest I need. Go Big Blue!
I really like this Athletics team, as well. Like the Rays, this is another franchise that is among the lowest of the low in payrolls. And like the Rays, they continue to overcome. Oakland has won its division two years running now, and there’s no sign that they will slow. Their foundation is built on a crop of young but super talented pitchers. General manager Billy Beane, by relying on advanced scouting and saebermetric statistical analysis, has put together an offensive lineup filled with names unrecognizable to the casual fan, but feisty enough to have really pushed the Red Sox for the best record in the AL this year. The Athletics aren’t half bad.
That leaves me one choice. Root for a Dodgers-Athletics World Series. Please, baseball god, if you’re up there…