The Orioles have only made the postseason three times in the last 22 years and five times in the past 36 years. A playoff without the O’s is nothing new. Sooner or later in every season in my life, and more often it’s been sooner than later, I have to figure out which team it would bother me the least if they end up winning the World Series.
In the strange 2020 expanded postseason field, which I can only hope does not become a permanent feature, there are more choices than ever before. Eight American League teams and eight National League teams will be playing for the title. Eventually one of them will hoist the trophy, or do a socially distanced approximation of a trophy hoisting. One set of fans will be happy and the other 15 will wonder what might have been.
Who should an Orioles fan root for in this year’s AL field? We all have to make up our own minds with our own idiosyncratic criteria. If you find yourself on the fence, here’s some food for thought:
#8 - Toronto Blue Jays
- Last playoff appearance: 2016 (lost ALCS to Indians)
- Last World Series appearance: 1993 (beat Phillies)
- Former Orioles: Jonathan Villar (22 games), Caleb Joseph (3 games)
The Grudge: The fell deeds of Cito Gaston shall live eternally in infamy in the annals of Baltimore sports and need not be reiterated here. More recently, one of their fans threw a beer at Hyun Soo Kim, and they had the villainous (in Birdland) duo of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. John Gibbons had a punchable face. They tried to steal the Orioles general manager, an incident that may have sped up the front office dysfunction.
Positives: The current incarnation of the Blue Jays, with the fun sons of big leaguer squad that includes Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, feels a bit different from that recent past. It’s tougher to hate these guys, except for Randal Grichuk, and I only hate him because Orioles pitchers allowed seven of the 12 homers he hit this season and he slugged .881 in ten games against the O’s.
Hate level: Medium-to-low
#7 - Chicago White Sox
- Last playoff appearance: 2008 (lost division series to Rays)
- Last World Series appearance: 2005 (beat Astros)
- Former Orioles: None, although former O’s farmhands Nick Delmonico (6 games) and Yermin Mercedes (1 game) played for the team
The Grudge: When I was five years old, I attended an Orioles-White Sox game in which then-White Sox slugger Ron Kittle approached me and said, “Hey kid, why don’t you shut the hell up and buy me a beer?” 2014 ALCS pest Jarrod Dyson is on this team. And although 15 years ago is quite a while since they’ve won a title, there are 20-year-old White Sox fans who might remember their team winning; 40-year-old Orioles fans can’t say the same.
Positives: Although the White Sox are the #7 seed, they have a better record than three other AL playoff teams. These guys would have still qualified under the ordinary wild card rules. It’s only the division runners-up getting 4-6 seeds that screws them. They have the interesting story of having a 2020 draft pick Garrett Crochet already on their team, some fun young players, and some fun veterans.
Hate level: Medium
#6 - Houston Astros
- Last playoff appearance: 2019 (lost World Series to Nationals)
- Last World Series title: 2017 (beat Dodgers)
- Former Orioles: None, unless you count returned Rule 5 pick Brandon Bailey (3 games)
The Grudge: Since O’s GM Mike Elias and analytics guru Sig Mejdal came from the Astros, their continued success felt like a good omen for the O’s - at least until the sign stealing, trash can banging scandal came along and tarnished a lot of that. Now we have to hope Elias came over with the good stuff and not the bad stuff. Also, this is a below-.500 team in the postseason only due to MLB giving preference to runners-up in 2020 for no apparent reason. I award them no points, and may God have mercy on their souls.
Positives: There are probably some, but a 29-31 team doesn’t deserve my effort of finding them.
Hate level: High
#5 - New York Yankees
- Last playoff appearance: 2019 (lost ALCS to Astros)
- Last World Series appearance: 2009 (beat Phillies)
- Former Orioles: Zack Britton (20 games)
The Grudge: One fateful fall night, a kid about my age reached over the fence, an incompetent umpire blew a call, and an enduring sports hate was born. In my completely irrational estimation, any success the Yankees have enjoyed in the past 24 years flows 100% from that moment; without it, they would have suffered like the Orioles did from 1998 to present. That this obviously not true is no barrier to my believing it to my dying day.
More recently, I am indignant at their success. They have all the money as well as all of the luck. D.J. LeMahieu fell into their laps. They turned Luke Voit and Gio Urshela into stars. They sold off assets in 2016, still finished above .500, got Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier in trades, and still re-signed one of the guys they traded, Aroldis Chapman.
Hate level: Maximum
#4 - Cleveland Indians
- Last playoff appearance: 2018 (lost division series to Astros)
- Last World Series appearance: 2016 (lost to Cubs)
- Last World Series title: 1948
- Former Orioles: None
The Grudge: The Indians beat the Orioles in the 1997 ALCS, though I feel little lingering dislike over that; mostly I’m bitter about Armando Benitez. In 2020, they’ve managed to make it into the postseason despite a team batting line of .228/.317/.372, with the fewest home runs of any AL team. It is probably past time for there to no longer be any sports teams named something like “Indians.” Cleveland has, at least, phased out Chief Wahoo, though its fans have not.
Positives: This is one team in this postseason field whose fans have waited even longer than me for a title. Any Indians fan under 70 probably doesn’t have any memory of it. I feel sympathy for that. One reason they could get by with a crummy offense is they had pitchers like possible AL Cy Young Shane Bieber, who struck out 122 batters in 77.1 innings over 12 starts, with a 1.63 ERA. They disciplined the two players who were caught breaking COVID curfew and traded one of them, which seems like good 2020 karma to me.
Hate level: Low
#3 - Minnesota Twins
- Last playoff appearance: 2019 (lost division series to Yankees)
- Last World Series appearance: 1991 (beat Braves)
- Former Orioles: Nelson Cruz (53 games), Rich Hill (8 games)
The Grudge: The only negative thing I can say against this team is that they are 0-10 against the Yankees in the postseason since 2009, so there have been four years where it was their fault I had to hear more about the winning Yankees. They do have Josh Donaldson on their team, who was the guy at whom Manny Machado once tossed a bat, but I think we all kind of always knew that was pretty much 100% Machado’s fault for blowing that thing up anyway.
Positives: Nelson Cruz is my favorite one year Oriole of my lifetime. That dude is the best. He just hit 16 homers in 53 games in his age 39 season, slugging .992. It is five years since Dan Duquette wouldn’t give him a fourth year on a free agent contract. The Twins won their division and seem to mostly deserve this spot, although two pitchers combining for 14 saves each have a 4.05 ERA, which isn’t great for them. If they made a deep run, that would be a fresh team in the conversation.
Hate level: Minimal
#2 - Oakland Athletics
- Last postseason appearance: 2019 (lost wild card game to Rays)
- Last World Series appearance: 1990 (lost to Reds)
- Last World Series title: 1989
- Former Orioles: T.J. McFarland (23 games), former farmhand Jonah Heim (13 games), plus Oriole-in-spirit Khris Davis (30 games)
The Grudge: Perhaps Baltimore long-timers would hold a grudge for 1973 and 1974 ALCS losses to the Athletics. I can’t summon up that feeling. There’s not really much bad to say about these guys, unless you’re tired of hearing about Billy Beane and Moneyball when he never won a World Series. This team’s offense is almost as bad as Cleveland’s, with a .225/.322/.396 team line. They have five pitchers who started at least nine games and four of them have an ERA of 4.12 or higher.
Positives: There’s not much of an affirmative case to be made for them, either. It’s the Athletics. Who cares? Congratulations on finally not having to share your stadium with a football team.
Hate level: Low
#1 - Tampa Bay Rays
- Last playoff appearance: 2019 (lost division series to Astros)
- Last World Series appearance: 2008 (lost to Phillies)
- Last World Series title: Never
- Former Orioles: Oliver Drake (11 games), Chaz Roe (9 games)
The Grudge: If the Rays win the World Series, they would be the third expansion team that did not exist when I was born to win the title that I have not seen my favorite baseball team ever win. Books have been written about their brilliant front office intellect even though they have never won the World Series. Kevin Kiermaier materializes out of nowhere to make amazing catches and it feels like he’s been doing this against the Orioles for 15 years and I hate it. Also, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup last night and no city except for Baltimore deserves multiple simultaneous professional championship teams.
Positives: If the Rays can win the World Series, anybody can win the World Series. They have ascended from a 68-win team in 2016 to 40-20 this season. Where there is a good plan, there is hope, and it doesn’t have to be the hope for a distant future. University of Maryland product Brandon Lowe was the best player on this team in the regular season.
Hate level: Medium-to-low
This will be a strange postseason. These first round series are merely best-of-three, with no off days in the middle of the series. By Friday morning, unless something strange happens, half these teams will be gone. Don’t get too invested in any of them! But hopefully the teams you hate more than the rest end up losing.
Who are you going to end up rooting for? Who will you be passionately rooting against? What are your reasons? Vote in the poll and let us know in the comments below.
Which American League team do you most want to triumph in the 2020 playoffs?
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