One Reason to Root for Each Playoff Team

Calculating each squad's rootability as they embark in October.

As any true fan can attest, October is a bittersweet baseball month. It’s the sport’s most exciting stretch of the year, with tension and drama packed into nearly every pitch. October is, invariably, a source of timeless memories — both good and bad — for the lucky few whose teams have punched a postseason ticket. To the rest, it’s a reminder of what could have been.

For sixty-eight years, the ranks of the excluded held all but two teams. The MLB Playoffs have been gradually expanding ever since. This year, for the first time, just 18 clubs missed the cut; but if yours was among them, worry not. You’ve got more options than ever to choose from!*

Sure enough, the temporary re-assigning of loyalties for October is a tradition as old as Rich Hill’s curveball. So, your team didn’t make it. Much like the aforementioned curveball, the world somehow keeps spinning. You might as well enjoy it.

Twelve teams remain. Here’s one good reason to root for each of them.

* 2020 was not real.

 

American League

 

Seattle Mariners

Last Appearance: 2001; last title: NEVER

Lets get the obvious out of the way: from an objective standpoint, the Mariners are easily the most rootable squad in the playoffs. In years past, they would have spent this past week sweating bullets with a slim lead over the Rays for the final Wild Card. But thanks to the expanded format, they were able to clinch their spot a week early — and with it, the longest postseason drought major American pro sports was put to rest. The M’s are a delightful group from top to bottom, headlined by rookie sensation Julio Rodríguez and anchored by a lethal bullpen corps that could carry them far in October.

Still, for digital column-space purposes, we’ve got to pick one reason to root for the Mariners. I’m rocking with their legendary play-by-play man, Dave Sims. Here’s hoping ESPN does the right thing and gets this man on the mic this weekend:

 

Cleveland Guardians

Last Appearance: 2020; last title: 1948

The longest active World Series championship drought still lives in Cleveland, and that ought to mean something, no matter what their jerseys say. The Guardians’ success in their first season post-rebrand has been nothing short of remarkable. However you feel about the name change, this a fun group: Steven Kwan is a blur, José Ramírez is the epitome of excellence, and their pitching is electric (see: Triston McKenzie, the amazing two-dimensional hammersmith).

But if you’re still not ready to buy in, try this fact on for size: no A.L. or N.L. team has ever won the World Series the year after changing their official nickname (the Devil Rays came closest). If the Guardians go all the way this year, they’d actually be the first to so within a decade of swapping monikers in over a century. The last team to do this? Believe it or not, it was the newly-named Cleveland Indians (née Naps) in 1920. How’d that be for symmetry?

 

Tampa Bay Rays

Last Appearance: 2021; last title: NEVER

Speaking of those pesky devil fish… since reaching the World Series in 2008, the Rays have made the Playoffs in seven out of 14 seasons, but they’ve never won it all. This year’s unit isn’t as great as the 100-game-winners from last year, or the pennant-winning 2020 squad; but they’ve got a nasty 1-2 punch in Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow, assuming the latter is good to go after missing almost the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery. They can beat Cleveland, and they’ve shown time and time again that they can beat the Yankees. From there, who knows? The Phillies are here too, after all. Some 2008 revenge could be in order.

Anyway, you should root for the Rays because of the wonderful Ji-Man Choi, who happens to be afraid of ghosts. The way I see it, champions are less likely to feel haunted. You do the math.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Last Appearance: 2020; last title: 1993

The Blue Jays have one of the most dynamic rosters in baseball — which is to say, they have lots of big names, and frankly, we’re not sure why they aren’t better. The plus side of this is that it’s easy to sell yourself on this squad’s potential, no matter how little they’ve done to earn that belief. And in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Jokes aside, the Jays are still an easy group to root for. Bo Bichette, Vladdy Jr. & Co. are an absolute treat to watch when they get to mashing, and Toronto fans have been waiting a long time to see them break loose in October. It’s been 29 years, in fact, since we saw a Canadian team representing the American League in the Fall Classic. As a a nation, I strongly feel that they’re due.

 

Houston Astros

Last Appearance: 2021; last title: 2017

Let’s not waste anyone’s time here. The Astros have played in three of the last five World Series, they’re hands-down the best team in the A.L. once again, and we all remember how it was they got that trophy in 2017. Unless your last name rhymes with Furlander, there’s only one reason to root for the Houston Astros: Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker Jr. The 73-year-old skipper was put in an unenviable position when he took the reigns of the least-popular team in baseball two years ago, tasked with bringing some stability to a locker room shaken by scandal. He did just that, and in the process, somehow managed to make the ‘Stros even better than they were when they were cheating. Dagummit if you can’t respect that.

This season, Baker became the 12th man in baseball’s storied history to crack 2,000 managerial wins. Among those 12, he’s the only one who didn’t win a World Series in the process. He came oh so close to doing it last year, and this year’s team is even better. Dusty deserves this.

 

New York Yankees

Last Appearance: 2021; last title: 2009

It’s been a long 13 years since the Yankees hung banner no. 27, and boy, has it been glorious for everyone else. Make no mistake, the Bronx Bombers will forever be MLB’s evil empire; a paltry decade-plus championship drought doesn’t change that. Darth Sidious was down for the count for awhile, but sure enough, he came back. I’m not here to sell you on this team being anything other than the bad guys. Frankly, most Yankee fans I know would probably take that as a compliment.

What I am here to do, however, is give you one good reason to root for them. And that reason is mustaches. From Matt Carpenter to Nestor Cortes Jr., New York’s Steinbrennian facial hair policy has once again begat the most glorious whiskers in the game, bar none. The calculus is simple: the more games the Yankees win, the higher the chance this man becomes a postseason legend (again):

Adjust your choice of allegiance accordingly.

 

 

National League

 

San Diego Padres

Last Appearance: 2020; last title: NEVER

I dig the Padres. I think more teams should wear brown, actually. It’s a statement that says, “We’re not afraid of getting muddy, and we’re certainly not afraid of you.” That’s a pretty good metaphor for San Diego’s approach to roster construction, too. What do you get when you take some of the biggest and most expensive superstars in the sport, throw them in a puddle and sprinkle in a special concoction of injuries, bad decisions and Eric Hosmer? We’re not sure yet, but it’s sure to be a spectacle!

The Padres are basically the Blue Jays of the National League, and I mean that in the best way possible. They’re bound to break out eventually, and you might as well be on-board to enjoy it. Plus, it would be nice to show the more conservative teams that going all-in does produce results.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

Last Appearance: 2011; last title: 2008

Things were dicey there for a hot minute, but the Phillies snuck in just ahead of the Brewers to snap their 10-year postseason drought. Good for them! Again, this sort of behavior should be encouraged. There are haters out there who will tell you that the Phillies did not deserve this, or that they never would have broken the curse if not for the expanded Playoffs. To that, I say: yes, you have a point. But who cares? They’re here now! A certain Atlanta team backed their way into the postseason last year on the back of a collapsing heap of a division, and look how that ended up. Anything can happen in October.

You should root for the Phillies because, like last year’s Braves, they mash taters. Philadelphia posted the 6th-best SLG and Isolated Power rating in MLB this year, and they were one of just four National League teams to crack 200 home runs this year. Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper are as good of a 1-2 power punch as you’ll find in the sport, and they’re about to take aim at a Cardinals staff that’s allows a ton of contact. This should be fun to watch.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

Last Appearance: 2021; last title: 2011

Ah yes, the Cardinals. What’s it going to be like, watching this team win games without Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Albert Pujols? Thankfully we don’t have to think about that just yet. It’s time for one last ride with this group, and the sheer dominance of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado this season has certainly boosted their chances. This is a solid team from top to bottom, and when you throw in some of the usual devil magic, they become dangerous.

Still, the case for the Cardinals begins and ends with Pujols. He’s one of the greatest to ever play the game, and this is the last chance we’ll get to see him do what he does. What he does, in case you’ve forgotten, is this:

However long the Cardinals’ postseason run lasts, one thing is certain: it will end with some particularly tearful goodbyes.

 

New York Mets

Last Appearance: 2016; last title: 1986

The Mets are a conundrum. They have elite front-end pitching, which is fun. They have a lock-down closer with the best entrance in baseball, scientifically engineered to give you goosebumps every time. They’re also seeking to overcome 36-year championship drought, which is as rootable a story as you’ll find in these Playoffs. And yet… they continue to Met. Losing the N.L. East title in the way that they did, getting swept by Atlanta in the most critical series of the year, feels ominously familiar. How can we believe in this team, knowing full well what seems to happen every time we do?

To answer that question, I’ll tip my cap to the folks that bravely face that question every April. Mets fans, I truly don’t know how you do it. But if you can find a way to believe after everything that’s happened, then that should be good enough for all of us. You’ve more than earned our support.

 

Atlanta Braves

Last Appearance: 2021; last title: 2021

On the flip side of so much Mets misery over the years has been Atlanta, now winners of five straight N.L. East titles, and the defending World Series Champions. They’re no dynasty just yet, but they are the most recent club to pop championship champagne, so their case for earning your support is naturlly limited. They also somehow still employ Marcell Ozuna, my own personal least favorite player. As a lifelong fan of this team, I assure you, I don’t like it any more than you do.

Nevertheless, hear me out: you should root for Atlanta because this remains one of the most fun rosters in baseball, and championship opportunities don’t grow on trees. The 2022 club would never have gotten this far without a trio of incredible rookies, Spencer Strider, Michael Harris II and Vaughn Grissom (who came up from Double-A after Ozzie Albies‘ injury), none of whom were part of last year’s title run. The club also welcomes back Ronald Acuña Jr., who missed the entire Playoff run with a torn ACL. The energy brought by these young players is absolutely incendiary, and we’ve seen what happens when the rest of that lineup gets a spark. If you’re looking for an exciting young team with experiencing getting it done on the biggest stage, there’s always room on the Atlanta bandwagon.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Last Appearance: 2021; last title: 2020

Finally, the case for the Dodgers is simple. They’re the best team in baseball. More than that, they’re one of the best baseball teams ever, having completed just the seventh 110-win seasons in MLB history. They’re the first team in over a century to have four pitchers make 20+ starts with a sub-2.60 ERA. Their lineup also happens to have former MVPs batting first, third and seventh. If you’re the sort of person who likes watching the best of the best compete for championships, here ya go.

Or, if that’s not your thing, you can root for Tony Gonsolin and his cats. You’ll get no judgement from us either way.

 

Photos by Clem Onojeghuo & Suzy Hazelwood/Pexels, Gerry Angus, Keith Gillett, Leslie Plaza Johnson, & Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Drew Wheeler (@drewisokay on Twitter)

Wynn McDonald

Born a Kentuckian, much like Dan Uggla. Braves fan by choice, unlike Dan Uggla. I enjoy long walks on the Brandon Beachy. @twynstagram

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