An annual tradition for fans of losing teams is picking who to root for in the playoffs. It's something I did probably every year from 1998-2011, becoming a temporary fan of the team with whom I identified most and whose fans I most identified with. Having watched my own team in the playoffs in 2012, this exercise now feels a little hollow. I'll still do it, because I enjoy postseason baseball and it's more fun when you have a rooting interest, but I fear that I'll mostly be missing the Orioles as I watch.
There are ten playoff teams that range from likable to gross. Here are my rankings of those teams based on their rootability (that's a word! OK, not really).
1. Pittsburgh Pirates - Orioles fans of a certain age will probably argue this one with me. They'll cite the 1971 and 1979 World Series and talk about We Are Family and get a wild look in their eyes remembering how much they hate those jerks from Pittsburgh. But I just can't identify with that. To me the Pirates are the team that remind me most of the Orioles. Before this season their last winning season and playoff appearance was in 1992. They last appeared in a World Series was in 1979 and yes, it was against the Orioles. But it was 34 years ago! The Pirates are the team to root for this postseason, and as a cherry on top of their rootability, my good friend and former Camden Chat writer Andrew Gibson now works for the Pirates. All other things aside, that's reason enough for me.
2. Cleveland Indians - Look, I'm as salty as the next guy about the final month of the Indians schedule. I think that when you have teams from all three divisions competing for two playoff spots, the schedule should be balanced. But the Indians still had to go out and play the games, and they dominated. They went 21-6 in September and won their final ten games to grab the first wild card spot. The Indians had a good run in the second half of the 1990s (including defeating the Orioles in the 1997 ALCS), but the 2000s have been relatively barren for them. They haven't won the World Series since 1948 which means that not only was I not alive for it, neither were my parents. That moves them up the rooting list. Plus, think about how sweet it would be to see Terry Francona lead the Indians to victory over the Red Sox.
3. Oakland Athletics - I generally dislike the A's in the regular season because they always seem to beat the Orioles. But as an organization they are easy to root for. Not much money, a general manager who appears to be smarter than pretty much anyone, and status as the less attractive sibling of the the Giants put them high on the list. They also carry the "always the bridesmaid" title in the 2000s as the team who makes the playoffs but just can't get to the World Series, let alone win it.
4. Cincinnati Reds - The Reds have been competitive for the last several seasons, but prior to that they spent many years toiling in a division that was dominated by the Cardinals. They have a number of players that I find easy to root for, including Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. The downside to the Reds is their manager is Dusty Baker. That drops them down a bit in rootability.
5. Tampa Bay Rays - The Rays were a good story in 2008. I rooted for them then and in the years immediately after. But they've now been a good team for awhile, with at least 90 wins in five out of the last six years. They are still preferable in the A.L. East to the Yankees or Red Sox, but now that the Orioles are also in the mix in the division, it makes me like the Rays just a little bit less.
6. Los Angeles Dodgers - Normally I would put the Dodgers further down on this list. Someone referred to them yesterday as the Yankees of the west coast, and money-wise that may be true. But the Dodgers went from 9 1/2 games back of first place on June 22nd to 11 games in front of the second place team at the end of the season. They had a fifty-game stretch in which they went 42-8, which is absurd. Plus it's fun to watch the old school baseball guys get all spun up about Yasiel Puig.
7. Detroit Tigers - I really, really wanted the Tigers to win the World Series in 2006. I was so happy for the team and its fans back then after the Tigers had been horrible for a number of years, including that awful 2003 season when they won only 43 games. Since then, though, I've soured a bit on them. Maybe it's the fact that this will be their third straight postseason that they got to be beating up on the weak A.L. Central, or maybe I'm just tired of seeing the same teams in the playoffs every year.
8. St. Louis Cardinals - Speaking of teams that make the playoffs every year, I just can't root for the Cardinals. The Cardinals have been in the postseason ten times in the last 14 years, including two World Series wins. They are the bizarro Yankees. They go the playoffs nearly every year but instead of it being OK to hate them we have to hear about how their fans are just so nice and wonderful and have the folksy midwestern charm. I just can't stand it.
9. Atlanta Braves - I hate the Tomahawk Chop. Listening to it makes me want to puke. The end.
10. Boston Red Sox - These guys are obviously at the bottom of the list. From the packs of Red Sox fans who infest Camden Yards to the terrible, awful, no good beards that make their players look homeless at best and like crazy killers at worst, there is nothing to like about the Red Sox. Their downward cycle lasted exactly one year and one month, which just isn't enough.