The MLB Playoffs are upon us, complete with controversial wild-card play-in games, numerous close-ups of managers staring blankly at nothing in particular, and Tim McCarver finding new ways to construct improbable but technically functional sentences. It’s an exciting time of high tension and delightful randomness, both an exaggeration of baseball slow-burn pleasures and an alternative to its duller moments.
While the powers that be often find difficulty marketing the sport to new fans, this is the time of year when people gravitate to the game, if only out of a sense of duty. However, those fans, as well as diehards of the 20 teams that failed to make the postseason, must now find a new team to support.
Bandwagonning, though objectionable in theory, is often a necessary part of enjoying sports. But it should not be practiced with no direction — the responsible bandwagonner must pick the team for which he or she has the greatest natural affinity. This process must not become an attempt to bask in glory, but to find a spiritual match in record time.
We must all have help on this journey. And so, with that in mind, here is The Classical’s guide to picking your ideal team for the 2012 MLB Playoffs:
Record: 93-69, No. 5 seed in American League
At a Glance: Playing in the wealthiest division in baseball, the Orioles surprised everyone by leading the AL East for much of the season. They were able to do that largely through luck — their plus-7 run differential is the worst of the ten postseason teams by 49 runs. That makes them fun to watch, though, particularly with a set of young stars in the lineup and the general feeling that they could fall apart at any moment.
Choose If You Like: The best hats in the league; a center fielder, Adam Jones, who ran into right field to cut off Mike Trout on a routine pop-up in the All-Star Game; the idea of Bud Selig praising a loathesome owner on national TV; average-to-bad starting pitching; men named “Buck.”
Ideal Bandwagonner: Someone who loves The Wire but most identifies with Herc.
St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 88-74, No. 5 seed in National League
At a Glance: Despite losing all-seeing-eye/manager Tony La Russa and cyborg star Albert Pujols over the winter, the Cardinals fought their way back into the postseason with their usual mix of a strong lineup, tough pitching, and stubborn managing. New skipper Mike Matheny, a TLR acolyte without the master’s cult of personality, kept up the bunts and pitching changes. Nevertheless, his team of professionals succeeded by leading the league in one of those new-fangled stats (on-base percentage) and getting a career year from the solid but uninspiring Kyle Lohse. As ever, the Cardinals are a formidable opponent, just without the philosophical holy war underpinnings of past seasons.
Choose If You Like: Gumption; Carlos Beltran; fellow fans who recite the infield fly rule with minor inaccuracies and no prompting; Yadier Molina, the best defensive catcher in the league; bunting; a completely random Chris Carpenter five-hitter; endless replays of David Freese’s 2011 heroics; making Todd Akin jokes.
Ideal Bandwagonner: A Newt Gingrich voter slowly warming to Paul Ryan as the GOP’s next intellectual mastermind.
Record: 93-69, No. 4 seed in American League
At a Glance: The World Series loser the past two years, the Rangers came into 2012 as AL favorites, quickly got out to a huge lead in the AL West, and then proceeded to blow said lead to a surging A’s club over the past two months. Blessed with a loaded lineup including Classical favorites Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre, Texas could turn things around and make a third-consecutive trip to the World Series. Or, needing to play a one-game “series” after it seeming certain they’d win the division, they’ll continue their slide and inspire several stupid columns about Hamilton’s lack of heart.
Choose If You Like: Watching Nolan Ryan throw out the first pitch every other day; inspirational stories of overcoming addiction; more serious considerations of living with addiction; Yu Darvish, an electric pitcher whose second-half improvement lies beyond the stats; Ron Washington, the coolest manager in the sport; half-Jewish second basemen; breathless paeans to Michael Young; the concept that momentum does not exist.
Ideal Bandwagonner: The main character in a publishing company slush-pile submission about the downfall of the American dream.
Record: 94-68, No. 4 seed in National League
At a Glance: After a historic collapse last September, the Braves returned to action this season with none of the Red Sox’s neuroses, instead simply going about their jobs with typical intensity. They had a cause, as well: the last season for Braves legend, bad motherfucker, and all-around terrible guy Chipper Jones. Getting a wonderful bounce-back season from one-time sure thing Jason Heyward and decent-enough starting pitching, the Braves managed to stay competitive. But they dominate in the late innings, where a best-in-baseball bulllpen led by the historically great Craig Kimbrel embarrasses the competition.
Choose If You Like: Tributes to players whom no one outside of the home city likes; rooting with the only fans who will remain confident with a lead in the late innings; elite prospects proving that they have the fortitude to move past injuries and disappointing performance; Johnny Venters’s sinker; Tim Hudson’s soul patch; Andrelton Simmons, awe-inspiring but incredibly raw rookie shortstop.
Ideal Bandwagonner: A successful middle manager who had 27 separate nicknames in college.
Record: 88-74, No. 3 seed in American League
At a Glance: The Tigers managed to get into the postseason largely by the luck of playing in baseball’s worst division, which given recent history means they’ll probably win the whole thing. With Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, slugging teddy bear Prince Fielder, and dominant starter Justin Verlander, they’re the kind of club that can surprise in a short series. Unfortunately for them, they also can’t field and are saddled with an arch-conservative manager, Jim Leyland, who seems roughly 40 years older than his listed age of 67.
Choose If You Like: Your grandpa; the ability to identify an antiquated statistical milestone and still admit that it’s totally awesome; ballplayers, not athletes; fantasizing about being an ace pitcher and dating Kate Upton; Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, pitchers who sound like Whit Stillman characters; the inexhaustibly expressive Jose Valverde; comparing sports franchises to the economic fortunes of their cities; postseason structures that do not reward regular-season success.
Ideal Bandwagonner: An Obama volunteer who can’t stop talking about the resurgent auto industry.
San Francisco Giants
Record: 94-68, No. 3 seed in National League
At a Glance: In August, right after the Dodgers bought every terrible contract in sight, various media members thought it only a matter of time before the Giants gave up the NL West lead. In response, they simply dominated the division over the last two months, beating the Dodgers in several key contests and watching their wealthy rivals flail at the plate and succumb to many ill-timed injuries. Led by presumptive NL MVP Buster Posey, jolly third baseman Pablo Sandoval, and a pitching staff with a great reputation and serious inconsistency issues, the Giants could recapture their 2010 magic and win their second title in three years. Or, missing All-Star MVP and PED user Melky Cabrera, the sawdust and glue (read: Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan) that held the offense together during their surge will fall apart under pressure.
Choose If You Like: A team that brands everything possible becoming a financial underdog; an ace with a doppelganger daughter; Brian Wilson interviews despite his having pitched two innings this season; a La Russa-like amount of pitching changes; the hilarity of the name Angel Pagan; discovering that Marco Scutaro is not Italian-American; Pablo Sandoval’s plate coverage; Buster Posey’s lack of personality, a first baseman who looks like a baby giraffe; thousands of really loud fans who never saw a game at Candlestick Park; the reclamation of Barry Zito; being my friend.
Ideal Bandwagonner: Pretty much any employee at Google, Facebook, or Twitter.
Record: 94-68, No. 2 seed in American League
At a Glance: Picked by many to lose 100 games and perpetually saddled with bullshit "territorial" barriers to moving to San Jose, the A’s shocked the baseball world by overtaking the Rangers and Angels in the final months of the season and winning the AL West. Whether or not they’re the most surprising playoff team ever is up for debate—the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays faced better competition—but they are certainly the most nondescript bunch in recent memory. Outside of the unparalleled awesomeness of Yoenis Cespedes and the grungy appeal of Josh Reddick, the A’s are a faceless group, full of random white guys reminiscent of the computer-generated prospects in baseball video games. Nevertheless, this team is really, really good: they don’t hit for average or even get on base much, but they hit more homers than any team over the second half of the season. Their pitching is stellar, as well, and buoyed by the fact that the O.co Coliseum (that is the real name, I swear) has enough foul ground to turn what’s would be a foul 15 rows deep elsewhere into an out. Oh, and they also give zero fucks and have played that way since May.
Choose If You Like: Totally amazing baseball stories with pretty much no precedent; the iconic green-and-gold color scheme; telling people that Moneyball is misleading; believing that you could walk into their clubhouse, tell people you’re Cliff Pennington, have them believe you; and join in on a series-clinching party; a general manager who takes chances; rooting for people you have never seen in your life; seeing the success of an owner who puts very little time and/or money into his franchise; cavernous baseball stadiums where fans literally are not allowed to sit in the upper deck; buying knockoff t-shirts on the BART walkway after the game; everything about Yoenis Cespedes.
Ideal Bandwagonner: A reformed punk looking to recapture some of his old extremism, but in a safe way.
Record: 97-68, No. 2 seed in National League
At a Glance: The Reds are the sort of very good but unintimidating squad that often goes far in the postseason. Their lineup is full of names you’ve likely heard from All-Star Games over the last three years (former MVP Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips) and a bunch of dependable bats without the same level of publicity (Zach Cozart, Ryan Ludwick, Todd Frazier, and Drew Stubbs). Their rotation is less known but a strength: Johnny Cueto was among the NL leaders in ERA, and former San Diego Padre Mat(t) Latos has stellar stuff and a tendency to annoy opponents. On top of that, the bullpen boasts once-erratic fireballer Aroldis Chapman, the best non-Kimbrel closer in the NL and an incandescent talent. They might be the favorite to win the NL, even, if not for the laid-back, bunt-happy stylings of manager Dusty Baker. Of course, his heart problems over the past few weeks will likely inspire the Reds more than they might have been otherwise, which could be good for a meaningful run.
Choose If You Like: The phrases “Dustiny” and “In Dusty We Trusty”; a lockdown closer who makes you think he might walk in five runs; lots and lots of home runs; conspicuously absent consonants; Ken Rosenthal reports about Brandon Phillips’s love of Twitter; Canadian first basemen.
Ideal Bandwagonner: A restaurant patron who grabs 15 toothpicks on his way out.
New York Yankees
Record: 95-67, No. 1 seed in American League
At a Glance: As the rival Red Sox stumbled, the Yankees soared to their usual heights, battling with the Orioles for the division crown but ultimately winning out with their outrageous lineup, surpisingly ragtag rotation, and quality but Mariano-less bullpen. Rooting for the Yankees is a questionable proposition for any sentient being, but this particular team is not a juggernaut: many of their players are old, Hiroki Kuroda arguably had just as good a season as did C.C. Sabathia, and AL hits leader Derek Jeter is no longer dating Minka Kelly. If anything, there’s even some level of joy in watching likable players such as Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano lead the offense. (Until Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez show up, at least.)
Choose If You Like: Andy Pettitte, a vampire starting pitcher who will never retire; obese aces; villains in ‘80s ski comedies; the NBC comedy Animal Practice, starring Nick Swisher’s wife JoAnna Garcia; money; complaining about postseason results most fans dream about; the sheer peculiarity of watching a Yankees closer who isn’t Mariano Rivera; your friends, these guys.
Ideal Bandwagonner: LeBron James.
Record: 98-64, No. 1 seed in National League
At a Glance: Although several analysts picked them as playoff contenders this season, few expected the Nationals to finish with the best record in baseball. Their offensive stats are good, not great, with top performers Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, and Ian Desmond losing out on publicity to brash outfielder Bryce Harper, a five-tool player who happened to have one of the best rookie seasons ever for a teenager. But their strength is the pitching staff, led by offseason trade target Gio Gonzalez and stalwart Jordan Zimmermann. The problem for Washington and their legion of former Orioles fans is that most observers think they’re not playing at full-strength after shutting down Stephen Strasburg several weeks ago once he hit his arbitrary innings limit. The franchise has their reasons, but they’re also saving a star for the future so he might perform in the same situation the team finds itself in right now.
Choose If You Like: The assumption that there will always be another chance; Obama and Romney making terrible jokes about the team’s success; clown questions; bros; the fact that Bryce Harper is good enough to render everything else secondary; two excellent starters who might escape of Strasburg’s media shadow; the idea that it’s perfectly reasonable for fans of a disappointing team to jump ship when another opportunity presents itself; grainy Walter Johnson highlights; hanging out with twentysomething Congressional interns and staffers.
Ideal Bandwagonner: Orioles fans, once their team is eliminated.