Which of the eight remaining teams in the MLB playoffs should you root for?
Here are the best reasons to root for each team left in the 2017 postseason
Your favorite baseball team is now making golf plans. Football doesn't fill the void in your heart. Neither does a month's supply of candy corn.
Friends, we have your answer: the MLB Playoffs Rooting Guide. With 10 teams set to battle in the postseason, we've highlighted the best reasons to root for each of 'em.
Rooting Motivation: Fernando Rodney
I've always rooted for s--- disturbers. As much as I enjoyed watching Jordan and Magic and 'Nique, I also had a soft spot for Danny Ainge, the supreme agitator who drove everyone nuts. Jose Bautista was a phenomenal player in his prime, peaking with a 54-homer season that looked out of whack in the post-PED era ... but I liked him even more for making opponents (and opposing fans) hate him. It was only natural, then, that I would take a shine to Fernando Rodney.
Granted, there are friendlier reasons to root for Rodney. His fastball-changeup combination has been one of the most straightforward approaches by any pitcher in years, yet Rodney still baffles hitters with it. His posing with a plantain during the World Baseball Classic became the stuff of meme legends. Rodney ambling into the mini-forest behind the center-field wall at Coors Field a few years ago remains one of the best baseball photos of all time. You can even appreciate the volatility he brings to the game, able to strike out the side with that fastball-change combo one night, then get pummeled for five runs the next ... a tantalizing set of potential outcomes in a winner-take-all playoff game. But mostly I love Rodney because he punctuates every save by shooting an arrow to the heavens. It takes a ton of swagger to celebrate that aggressively, knowing you'll piss off the other team, as well as fans of every club that's not yours.
Rodney shoots dem arrows anyway. Because he's the best.
Boston Red Sox
Rooting Motivation: Chris Sale
Remember how the Twins cranked up their offense in the second half? The Red Sox mysteriously came in 28th, worst of any AL team. The Killer B's of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts were particularly punchless, a troubling sign as the Sox gear up to face superior pitching in the playoffs.
If the offense continues to struggle in October, Chris Sale would need to flourish to bail the team out. Sale became the first AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez to strike out 300-plus batters in a season. At his best, he's a mesmerizing figure to watch, a 180-pound tangle of arms and legs, with a slinging lefty delivery whose slider absolutely annihilates everything in its path (opponents hit .177 against that pitch this year, and have never batted above .200 against it). Sale was erratic in his final six starts of the season, alternating three scoreless outings with 12 runs allowed over 15 innings in three other starts. Still, if he's pitching like his usual dominant self, Sale could easily dominate two games in a five-game series, and help the Sox knock off a superior opponent.
Rooting motivation: Javier Baez
MLB.com writer Joe Posnanski and "The Good Place" creator/big baseball fan Michael Schur recently came up with a cool idea: stage a contest, in bracket form, to determine the most fun player in baseball. A cavalcade of wildly entertaining players made the initial field, including Adrian Beltre, Byron Buxton, Giancarlo Stanton, and Bartolo Colon. In the end, though, the final vote came down to two players we'll be rooting for this month. One was Francisco Lindor, the other was Javier Baez. In convincing fashion, the winner of that final matchup ... was Baez.
It's not hard to see why. Like Lindor, Baez enjoyed a breakout season in 2017, playing in 145 games, mashing 23 home runs, and playing stellar defense. But it's Baez's combination of style, grace, and joy that make him so damn irresistible. Do you like sensational acts of gloved thievery? Ultra-smooth, walkoff slides? Off-the-charts exuberance? Even playfully messing with his vanquished #funnestplayer finals foe? That's Baez, all the time.
Many of you might wish for a new champion after the Cubs finally ended their 108-year drought last year. But really, the more Javy Baez we can get in our lives, the better.
Rooting Motivation: Francisco Lindor
If you can look past smiling Chief Wahoo, you'd be hard pressed to find a better team to root for than Cleveland. You've got the Cy Young-worthy pitcher who also has the best stone-face we've ever seen, a parrot-wielding slugger, an electrifying all-around player whose helmet does magical things when he runs the bases, even artists-in-residence who turn baseballs into likenesses of players on the roster, with a keen eye for little details. Cleveland owning the longest championship drought of any team in baseball (they last won it all in 1948) only makes them more embraceable.
Still, Francisco Lindor stands out as the single biggest reason to adopt this team in October. Lindor is one of the best all-around players in the game, coming up as a superelite gloveman at short, and maturing into a devastating hitter who smashed 33 homers this year. The best Lindor moment this year came during a September game, while Cleveland was busy crushing opponents on a nightly basis. After breaking two bats, he grabbed teammate Abraham Almonte's lumber and strode to the plate. The bat was both longer and heavier than Lindor was used to, and he had no idea if the gambit would work. But rather than panic, Lindor did what he always does on the field: smile. This shot of the all-world shortstop smiling as a pitch is being delivered is one of our favorite baseball images of all time. Bonus: He homered on this pitch.
Rooting Motivation: Jose Altuve
It feels like we might already be taking one of the greatest marvels in sports for granted. Jose Altuve spent the first three seasons of his big league career as a spray-hitting waterbug who stole a ton of bases, but was more of a little pest to opponents than anything else. Then, the offensive explosion started. In his seventh season, Altuve won the AL batting title, hit .346/.410/.547, swiping 32 more bases but also cranking 67 extra-base hits. He's considered by many to be the favorite to win the AL MVP award this season. And he's listed at 5-foot-6, 165 pounds.
Being this good and this small, in today's era of hulking sluggers and skyscraping Aaron Judges seems almost impossible. But Altuve is so talented, he can smack eye-high pitches wherever he wants, or even jump while swinging the bat. The Astros were the best offensive team in baseball this year, and they got a gigantic boost when they acquired Justin Verlander's old, dominant self late in the year. But if Houston goes from three straight 100-loss seasons and laughing-stock status a few years ago to hoisting hardware at month's end, Altuve will be the guy we'll want to celebrate most.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Rooting motivation: Clayton Kershaw
Rooting for weirdness in the playoffs has its place, of course. But we also want to see the best players rise to the occasion when the stakes are highest. No scenario would better reflect that outcome than the best pitcher on the planet standing on a podium four weeks from now.
Clayton Kershaw's postseason history has been checkered, to say the least. A thin Dodgers bullpen forced the brilliant lefty to come back out for the seventh inning of pivotal games two years in a row. Each time, Kershaw was running on fumes. And each time, he and his team paid the price. Kershaw did find partial redemption last year, closing out the Nationals in dramatic fashion as the Dodgers' makeshift closer in the deciding game of the NLDS. Still, the pitcher who's riding one of the most incredible regular-season streaks in baseball history has also made six trips to the playoffs without making the World Series (let alone winning one) even once. This year's 104-win club might be the best one that Kershaw's ever played on, complete with a beefed-up relief corps that can allow manager Dave Roberts to avoid overtaxing his ace.
Maybe this time, Kershaw's October journey will end with the first Dodgers title in nearly three decades. If it does, we could finally put to rest the comparisons to that other Dodgers southpaw, since Kershaw would have accomplished the one thing that the great Sandy Koufax still has over him.
New York Yankees
Rooting Motivation: Dingers!
The Baby Bombers honored their moniker by leading the majors in home runs this season, as AL dinger king Aaron Judge led the way with 52 long balls. Judge and his bashing brothers led off the playoffs with a bunch more bombs off Ervin Santana (eighth-highest homer rate among American League starting pitchers) at Yankee Stadium (most homer-friendly park in the AL) in Tuesday's wild-card tilt.
Sure, we're talking about the big, bad Yankees, the team with perennially sky-high payrolls, 19 spots a week on national television, and dark forces at the highest levels of management. But Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and company represent a new generation of really young, really fun players who make the Yanks exciting to watch. If they sign Paul O'Neill out of retirement, fine, loathe to your heart's content. Otherwise, adopting pinstripes this postseason is a perfectly cromulent course of action to take.
Rooting motivation: Dusty Baker
Any manager worth his salt will tell you that the players deserve all the credit for any success a team has, and that the job of a skipper is just to point the ship in the right direction. Still, Baker became persona non grata in analytical circles years ago for overusing his starting pitchers, getting a big chunk of the blame for Barry Bonds-led teams falling short, as well as the breakdowns of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior in Chicago.
Whatever mistakes Baker might've made in the past, he's better for them now. The Nationals skipper now leans on his staff to help track pitch counts, and understands the pivotal role that bullpens play in today's game. But much more than that, Baker has always been described by his players as a positive influence in the clubhouse. That's an extremely tough trait to quantify. But it's also the most important job a manager has -- to keep his team relaxed and motivated over the slog of a 162-game season, to steer the ship. This is Baker's 22nd season as a major league manager. He's 68 years old and might not be around in this role much longer. The first World Series title in both Nationals franchise history and Baker's own career as a manager would be sweet redemption for all.
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