Which AL Wild Card Contender Should You Root For?

Your team is out of the playoffs. Whose bandwagon should you jump on?

You’re an A’s fan. You watched all your favorite players from the past five seasons get traded away this spring and all your hopes for postseason glory were torpedoed before the first pitch of 2022. Or maybe you’re a Red Sox fan who entered the season with high hopes after last year’s ALCS appearance, only to have your aspirations shattered by underwhelming on-field performances and Chris Sale’s freak bike injury.

If you root for one of those teams or the Rangers, Angels, Royals, or Tigers, you may have tuned out of MLB games for the year back in July. That’s a mistake. There is amazing baseball being played that you’re missing out on. Disgusting pitches. Epic bat flips. Hollywood storylines. And all of that gets even better in the postseason. It’s time for you to put your current allegiance on hold (you’re forgiven, it’s been a rough year) and find a bandwagon to jump on.

Let’s rule out the division leaders. No one likes the fans who pick the team that’s most likely to win and decide those are “my guys” now. That’s like standing motionless under the basket for an entire pick-up game and acting like you’re Lebron James when you happen to score the winning bucket. It’s lame.

Instead, let’s look to the Wild Card contenders. There’s plenty to get excited about for all of these teams. They all have a legitimate chance to blow up the postseason seedings and they all feature players you will love watching. So use this primer to pick a team to fall in love with in the final stretch of the regular season and get amped for an incredible postseason run by your new faves.

Now, in unbiased alphabetical order by city name, here are the contenders:

The Baltimore Orioles

Why you should jump on this bandwagon: The Orioles were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the MLB this season. This is a franchise that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2017 and won a total of 52 games in 2021. They made no upgrades in the offseason, and even offloaded several key contributors at the trade deadline. That’s why you should absolutely jump on the O’s train.

This is a team comprised entirely of young prospects overperforming and shaking up the most competitive division in the MLB. If Hollywood produces a movie about the 2022 MLB season, it will feature the Orioles. One player after another keeps showing up from the minor leagues and finding incredible ways to win ball games. Manager Brandon Hyde is a shoe-in for manager of the year. If you love unlikely underdog stories, a fun clubhouse culture, and a thrilled fan base, start watching games at Camden Yards.

The player you should know: Adley Rutschman – Catcher – Rutschman was one of the top prospects in all of baseball and is performing as advertised in his first major league season. He’ll be the face of the O’s for years to come.

 

The Chicago White Sox

Why you should jump on this bandwagon: Do you like redemption arcs? How about teams with the talent to win a World Series? Or players in the thick of a Cy Young race? If you nodded to any of those questions, hitch yourself up to the White Sox.

After fielding non-competitive teams from 2013-2019, the Sox finally assembled an uber-talented core of players and transformed into a powerhouse in 2020. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get over the hump in the postseason, losing in the Wild Card game in 2020 and the Division Series in 2021. 2022 was supposed to be their year, but they’ve struggled to fulfill their immense potential so far.

They have dangerous hitters up and down the lineup, a lights-out starting rotation (when things are clicking), and arguably the best closer in the game in Liam Hendriks. The catch is their intra-squad (and sometimes inter-squad) dynamics are the source of an immense amount of drama. Manager Tony La Russa has become a pariah on the South Side for a multitude of head-scratching decisions throughout the season, and turmoil within the locker room frequently boils into public view.

That may be a plus for you, though. All baseball fans love juicy intra-squad beefs from time-to-time, and they’re even more delicious when the participants overcome them, join forces, and totally dominate on the field. The ceiling for the White Sox is the World Series. The floor is an acrimonious self-destruction and managerial firing. Feels like a win-win for bandwagon fans.

The player you should know: Dylan Cease – Starting pitcher – Cease is the anchor of an otherwise inconsistent starting rotation. He will earn a good chunk of the Cy Young votes. Also, he has a great moustache.

 

The Minnesota Twins

Why you should jump on this bandwagon: Here’s a brief list of things that were popular the last time the Twins won a World Series: Bryan Adams, McDonald’s happy meal toys, the Super Nintendo, and Terminator 2. That was 1991, and they haven’t made it past the ALCS since.

The odds of winning the World Series are long for any team not named the Dodgers this year, but the Twins’ hopes have been inordinately affected by injuries. They’ve had 31 players spend a cumulative 1,682 days on the IL per Spotrac. Yet they’re still in the thick of the AL Wild Card chase and not far behind the Guardians for the top spot of the AL Central.

The Twins made a big splash this offseason by signing shortstop Carlos Correa from the Astros and swinging a deal with the Yankees for Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela. It’s good for baseball when the small- and mid-market teams wade into the free agent market and reel in big names for a chance to contend. The Twins have a chance to overcome a long title drought, overcome a plague of injuries that would sink most seasons, and prove that small markets still pack a punch. They deserve your support as they strive to achieve that trifecta.

Player you should know: Luis Arraez – Utility position player – Arraez has been written up for the quality of his swing and how underrated he is. His star power is growing as he earned his first All-Star nod this year and is a likely candidate for the season’s batting title.

 

The Seattle Mariners

Why you should jump on this bandwagon: Although most of the teams on this list are suffering long title droughts, the Mariners have them all beat. Seattle has never won a World Series, and hasn’t even been to the postseason since 2001. It’s the longest postseason drought of any MLB team. That alone is reason enough to lend the M’s your support, but this team deserves your fandom for much better reasons than pity.

For one thing, they have a penchant for winning close ball games. They led the league in wins by one-run as of August 23rd, and added to their total with an extra-innings walk-off of the Guardians on August 26th. They were on the cusp of the playoffs last season, faded down the stretch, and then went out and made a bunch of moves in the offseason to bolster their roster. They added Luis Castillo in another big move at the trade deadline. And on top of all of that, they signed their young megastar Julio Rodríguez to a massive contract extension in his first season in the majors.

This is an organization that badly wants to end its title woes, they’re doing all the right things to accomplish that goal, and they’re putting an amazing product on the field as a result. Don’t miss your chance call yourself an M’s fan in the year they finally break through.

Player you should know: Julio Rodríguez – Outfielder – The aforementioned Rodriguez will not only be the face of the M’s franchise going forward, but is likely to be the poster boy for all of baseball. He’s already posted a 20-20 season (20 steals and 20 home runs) in his first year in the bigs and is earning a multitude of comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr.

 

The Tampa Bay Rays

Why you should jump on this bandwagon: If you felt compelled by all the reasons to root for the White Sox, Twins, and Mariners, the Rays might be your best bandwagon team. The case for them shares bits from all of their fellow contenders.

Like the Twins, the Rays have contended with a giant slew of injuries. Like the White Sox, this is a team that both features a wealth of talent, including a Cy Young contender, and has come so close to a title in the past three seasons but come up short. Like the Mariners, the Rays have never won a World Series. The X-factor the Rays add is that they’ve also produced some of the most unexpected and thrilling individual postseason performances in recent memory.

Remember the 2020 playoffs, when Tampa Bay battled its way to a World Series appearance on the strength unworldly performances by a guy named Randy with fewer than 100 plate appearances? Or when benchwarmer Brett Phillips, who hadn’t taken an at-bat in seventeen days, smacked a walk-off single against Kenley Jansen, one of the best closers in the game?

You can bet the next Arozarena or Phillips is on this roster, and this squad is getting hot to close out the season. You won’t regret buying a Rays hat when October rolls around.

Player you should know: Shane McClanahan – Starting pitcher – McClanahan is the ace of an underrated Rays rotation and is quietly putting together a Cy Young-worthy season.

 

The Toronto Blue Jays

Why you should jump on this bandwagon: If you live anywhere in Canada and just happen to be a fan of another team, this is an obvious choice. Barring that (unlikely) eventuality, here’s something more compelling: the Blue Jays have immense talent on both sides of the ball and trail only the Mariners in games won by one run.

This organization is launching itself headfirst into its window of competitiveness with big free agent acquisitions in the offseason and throughout the year. They feature one of the most exciting young stars in the game in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., defensive wizard Matt Chapman, and home-grown ace Alek Manoah. Despite the quality of the team, the season hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

Toronto fired manager Charlie Montoyo back in July when the team stood four games above .500 at 46-42, but that is representative of the expectations ownership has for its franchise more than anything. They’ve overcome that setback and are keeping pace in the Wild Card chase, so this may well be the season they switch from “young and unseasoned” to “playoff juggernaut”. The cornerstones of a dynasty are there, and you have a chance to get in on the ground floor as a fan before it becomes cliche. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Player you should know: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – First baseman – Vlad tied Shohei Ohtani for 2021’s home run record and set the bar so high for himself that his 140 OPS+ in 2022 is actually a step backward.

 

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)

Colin Fong

Colin lived near Cooperstown and collected signatures from Hall of Famers for his Dad's collection every summer as a kid. He thought it was super boring at the time, but thinks it's incredibly cool now. He's an A's fan and loves writing about the beautiful, absurd, infuriating, and inspiring world of baseball.

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