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    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    So Your Team Is Out of the Playoffs; Who Do You Root for? (And other thoughts)

    As you may have figured out by now, I am a Cardinals and Orioles fan. So, I began planning this post about a month ago when it looked like both my teams would be done by now. I didn’t start it, but the idea was there.

    Things have changed a bit since then. Wednesday night was unquestionably one of the greatest nights in baseball’s history, and it was definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life; sitting around with other baseball fans and my laptop, with four MLB Gameday tabs open and one ESPN3 tab that switched between whatever game was most interesting at the moment (although mostly the Cardinals-Astros game). Although technically, I guess it did keep me from doing actual work that needed to be done, but I feel that’s totally justified.

    I could try and gush about how incredible Wednesday was; I’m still on a baseball high, the Cardinals made the playoffs* against incredible odds, and anywhere between two and four games that night might go down as classics. (Yes, I’m counting the Cardinals’ game, too; it capped an incredible run. And, just like in 2004, it will get overshadowed by what the Red Sox did.)

    So this is going to be more of a collection of ideas.

    First, on the Cardinals; this has been an incredible seasons; in the preseason, going from favorites to middle-of-the-division predictions with the loss of Adam Wainwright. I saw some analysts totally count the Cardinals out with that, which I thought was ridiculous. But at the same time, I knew their path got much more difficult. They still do have an uphill battle, facing the Phillies and all. But, the playoffs are a crapshoot as it is, and it’s not like the best teams are the ones that win.

    On that thought, I’ve seen some Cardinals fans comparing this team to the 2006 one that took it all. I think that’s wishful thinking. That team stumbled into the playoffs, this one stormed in. The 2011 edition is clearly the better of these two teams, although it’s still not on the same level as, say, the 2004 team. Each team is different. Even if this team were identical to the 2006 one, though, that still wouldn’t make me feel better; I wasn’t sure that one would even make the playoffs, let alone win anything. I prefer this slightly better team, even if they do have to go up against the Phillies.

    Another another topic, I feel like I need to give my other team some love. Zach Britton had a good rookie season, and J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters were quietly great. Fangraphs even thinks that he might finally be THE Matt Wieters, which is wonderful news for the O’s. There may be bright spots for this team in the future. This means that I can approach the 2012 Orioles season with my usual excessive optimism; hopefully, one of these years, it won’t be totally unwarranted.

    On a side note, I think Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are getting unfairly blamed. The reports are saying Francona’s departure was mutual, so I guess it’s his call. But I don’t think blaming him (as I’ve seen some writers do) is entirely fair. The players got hurt (bad luck/training staff’s fault, if anything) or didn’t perform.

    Theo Epstein assembled the team, so I suppose he’s slightly more to blame. But even then, I don’t think he could have predicted Carl Crawford or John Lackey underperforming. They were both consistently good before the signings, and didn’t look like prime candidates to suddenly collapse. He definitely couldn’t have predicted all of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew, and Daisuke Matsuzaka (among others) getting hurt. This team went into the season with five decent-to-strong starters and an injury back-up or two in their rotation; most teams don’t even have that kind of depth.

    Moreover, for all that the Red Sox have “struggled” the past four years, this is still a team that has averaged over 92 wins a season in that time span. Most teams would be thrilled with a run like that. There can be silver linings though; if the Red Sox do decide to fire Epstein, I know a team that may need a GM next year. And with Francona, I know a team with a manager that considers retirement every offseason. As a fan of both teams, I would not mind either scenario, should they occur.

    Lastly, the original idea for the post: So My Team’s Been Eliminated; Who Should I Root for?

    This is something I was thinking about back in late August (you know, when the Cardinals had a .52% chance of making the playoffs). If the Cardinals didn’t make the playoffs, who would become my team for October? I’ve had several chances over the past few seasons to come up with a system, so I figured I would share it. At the very least, now I can offer it to my friends who are Red Sox and Braves fans.

    1) Is your team still in it?
    You know, I almost forgot this one when I first thought of this article. I remembered it last night. After the Cardinals made it! (Did I mention I’m still really excited about this?)

    I’m sorry Braves and Red Sox fans; I’ll try not to bring this up too much more. Except possibly at the end, to gloat, but we’ll see if the giddiness has worn off yet.

    2) Did a team you have sympathies with make it?
    Just because you have a favorite team doesn’t mean you can’t like other teams. Did your team get rid of one of your favorite players? (That’s why I pulled for the Reds last year on their long and successful postseason run.) Maybe your team’s friendly rival from the other league made it? (I’m thinking of the less contentious rivalries, of course, like the Orioles-Nationals “frenemies” situation I’ve written about.) Maybe you respect a team for an earlier successful season. Or maybe you just like a team’s uniform. I don’t know-anything that would give you a reason to convince you to adopt a team for October.

    3) Just go for the team that hasn’t made it in the longest
    I feel like this one is self-explanatory (although it might technically count as a subset of rule 2, not that it’s a huge deal). After the Reds successful run-in with the Phillies last postseason, I decided that the Rangers and Giants needed support the most (you know, fourth and fifth time are the charm. After all, the two teams had gone a collective 115 seasons without a title, while their opponents had gone a collective 3. And I love to see new connections between teams. While there is something to be said about the classic match-ups, I think it’s almost as interesting to see two franchises that have never been linked to each other start a rivalry (even if it’s more like a mutual bond rather than a true rivalry).

    And so, the playoffs are underway; enjoy!

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