It’s time for the National League Wild Card game! Tonight at 8 p.m. the 106-win Dodgers and the 90-win Cardinals will face off to see who gets to move on to the NLDS with the Giants. The other NLDS series will be Brewers vs Braves.
Much like the teams in the American League side of the postseason, there aren’t a lot of fresh faces this year. That’s disappointing, but I do find the NL teams more interesting than their AL counterparts. Probably because I hate AL teams so much on account of how they always beat the Orioles.
So who should you root for this year? Do you already have a team in mind? Below I spell out some pros and cons of each team, ranked in order of my personal rooting preference.
San Francisco Giants (107-55)
Former Orioles: Kevin Gausman, plus former prospect and current “what might have been” player, Mike Yastrzemski
Pro: Black and orange black and orange! This team is very good, and the most fun thing about this team being good is that no one expected it. I googled “MLB preseason predictions wins” and from the first four search results:
- Sports Illustrated predicted the Giants to finish in third place in their division at 79-83
- PECOTA via MLB.com predicted 75 wins and fourth place, behind the Diamondbacks!
- CBS Sports set their over/under for wins at 73.5, 22nd in MLB
- ESPN gave them 1.2% playoff odds and predicted 70 wins. THEY WON 107.
It’s not really fair to describe a 107-win team as an underdog. They are not. But only because they already shed that role over the season when they so vastly outperformed everyone’s expectations. Why not root for them to go all the way? The Giants last saw playoff action five seasons ago, the longest drought of any of this year’s playoff teams. That’s just another point in their favor.
Con: It hasn’t been all that long since the Giants won three World Series in a five-year span. Three is the total number of championships that the Orioles have won in franchise history, and many of us are too young to remember any of them. It seems that they’ve had their share of winning to last a lifetime.
Milwaukee Brewers (95-64)
Last playoff appearance: 2020 (lost WC to LAD)
Last World Series win: N/A
Former Orioles: Jace Peterson, plus former prospect Josh Hader
Pro: Big picture, there are a lot of things to like about the Milwaukee Brewers. They won 95 games, so they aren’t sneaking in like Atlanta. They have found success recently, getting to the postseason each of the last four years, but have exited early each time. After losing the 1982 World Series to the Cardinals, they went on a 25-year playoff drought, and they have never won the World Series. This fanbase knows what it’s like to lose a lot of baseball games. That to me is always a sign of a team worth rooting for.
On a personal level, I went to Milwaukee to see the Orioles in 2014 and every person there was the nicest person I’ve met. And their stadium is cool, too.
Con: I don’t actually know a lot about the 2021 Brewers. A Midwest National League team just doesn’t get the exposure here that it needs to be part of my consciousness. Is that their fault? Absolutely not. But it does make it a little harder to care about them. Also, Bud Selig used to own them and would probably be happy if they won, which doesn’t excite me. (Although at least Selig likes baseball, unlike his replacement.)
Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56)
Last World Series win: 2020 (defeated TBR)
Former Orioles: Justin Turner, Evan Phillips (for real?)
Pro: Like the Giants, this team is very good. Unlike the Giants, everyone expected it. The Dodgers have the unstoppable combination of being one of the smartest teams in baseball and one of the richest. Last year they finally made it all the way, winning the World Series for the first time since 1988 (a proper WS drought). I am generally not a fan of teams winning back-to-back, but I wouldn’t hate it for the Dodgers. It’s clear they were great in 2020, but it was also a 60-game season that could give the haters ammunition to claim their WS title a less legitimate version (it isn’t, of course). But destroying the field in 2021 would allow that silly argument fade into oblivion.
Con: They did just win the whole thing last year. They’ve had their fun. A bigger issue to me is that this is a team that signed Trevor Bauer. Yes, the worst of that story didn’t come out until after he was already on the team. But it was no secret that Bauer had issues and that many team’s fans were rooting for their team to lose the Bauer sweepstakes so they wouldn’t be faced with the decision on if they could root for him or not. But the Dodgers decided his talent was worth ignoring the warning signs and signed him to a three-year, $102 million contract. The Dodgers are far from the only team who would have done this, but they are the ones who did so I can’t totally get over it.
Atlanta Braves (88-73)
Last playoff appearance: 2020 (lost NLCS to LAD)
Last World Series win: 1995 (defeated CLE)
Former Orioles: Zero.
Pro: I hate to be the one to tell you this, but 1995 was 26 years ago. That’s a really long time for a team to go without a World Series win. Not as long as the Orioles, but plenty long. The last time this team won the World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t exist. Neither did the Devil Rays! If rooting for teams with long championship droughts is your thing, the Braves might be your team (though the Brewers of course have waited even longer).
Con: Really, the best time for Atlanta to win the whole thing would have been last year, for two reasons. One, then I could have watched Nick Markakis in the World Series! And two, the games were played in bubble locations and the limited fans, we might escape having to hear and see the Tomahawk Chop. Even in years when I theoretically wouldn’t mind seeing Atlanta win, hearing that chant makes my stomach turn.
Also, the Braves played in a division full of crappy teams and still have the fewest wins of any playoff team.
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)
Last playoff appearance: 2020 (lost WC to SDP)
Last World Series win: 2011
Former Orioles: TJ McFarland, Andrew Miller, Wade LeBlanc (injured)
Pro: The Cardinals are actually kind of an incredible story in 2021. They were in third place in their division on September 10th and 3.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot. Their record was a pedestrian 71-69. Starting on September 11th, they won their next 17 games. 17! The passed the Reds. They passed the Padres. They ended up taking the second WC spot with a seven-game cushion. Is that a team of destiny?
Con: Ugh, no. This team is basically the Yankees of the NL, just with some Midwest charm. Since the year 2000, they’ve been in the playoffs 15 times and have won the World Series twice. I think we’ve all seen enough of the St. Louis Cardinals. Not to mention that the idea of the 106-win Dodgers losing in a one-game playoff to these jabronis just is not right.
What do you think of my rankings? Agree? Disagree?
Which National League team are you rooting for this year?
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
St. Louis Cardinals