The American and National League Division Series begin Friday and Saturday. Assuming you aren’t a Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees or Astros fan, and don’t have a rooting interest, here’s a primer on why each LCS team deserves your love:
WHY YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE CUBS
Dynasties are now rare things. It’s been over 50 years since the Yankees won 10 of 18 possible championships from 1947 to 1964, with five in a row from 1949 through 1953. That wasn’t good for baseball, because it suggests something dysfunctional in the distribution of talent (not to mention a corrupt bargain with the Kansas City A’s). However, a repeat champion or two would demonstrate a kind of continuity, an achievement beyond merely winning a single championship, which can be dismissed as a fluke. Baseball hasn’t had a repeat World Series winner since the Yankees of 1998-2000, and the 1992-1993 Toronto Blue Jays before them. It’s the heaviest lift in the game, and it adds an extra dimension to this postseason.
For all we know, the Cubs are going back to Hell forever. A year ago, the Cubs ended the 108-year championship shutout. If they don’t repeat, it’s possible they’ll start another 108-year drought. Check this space in 2125 for an update.
This team is about to change dramatically. One reason that teams no longer repeat is that baseball set up systems that prevent them from hoarding talent. The reserve clause is dead and veteran players can’t be kept forever, while the talent-acquisition process is retarded by the draft, which punishes teams for winning by reserving the best prospects for the weakest teams. The Cubs have eight players eligible for free agency, including Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis. They also have to figure out what to do with Kyle Schwarber and if Jason Heyward’s great glove makes up for his dead bat… and if they can even do anything about it given his contract.
Will Albert Almora play every day in center next year? How is Ian Happ best deployed? Has Ben Zobrist gotten old? Next year’s Cubs will be a different team, so celebrate this assemblage while you can.
WHY YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE DODGERS
They’ve been shut out for a long time. The Dodgers last won the World Series 29 years ago. Ronald Reagan was president. The Soviet Union still existed. People were listening to Rick Astley over and over again. We, and they, deserve to put that time behind us. This is their 11th time back to the postseason since then. Mercy.
We need to know what Yasiel Puig celebrating a championship looks like. Could be beautiful, or could be so ugly it leaves psychic scars.
The Dodgers have some of the best players in the game and are only going up from here. Cody Bellinger had an all-time-great rookie season. Corey Seager is only 23. Justin Turner was dismissed by two teams before becoming a star in Los Angeles. Kenley Jansen is a precision machine. Clayton Kershaw, when healthy, is one of the best pitchers in history. In some senses the team around these players is a mess. The outfield is incoherent, second base is a hole to be patched, the second-line relief is problematic, and the starting pitchers can’t stay healthy. The Dodgers have the resources to patch and should remain in the thick of things for years to come. Might as well start validating them with rings now.
We don’t need to hear Joe Maddon defend a second trip to the White House. He’s a transformative manager, but a tone-deaf politician.
WHY YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE ASTROS
They’ve been around over 50 years and haven’t won anything. The Astros have moved from the NL West to the NL Central to the AL West without changing locations, but they haven’t won a championship. This is their 11th trip to the postseason going back to 1980. In recent years they’ve been swept out of one World Series (2005) and dropped five League Division Series. They’ve had great players, from Jeff Bagwell to Jose Cruz, Craig Biggio to Cesar Cedeno, Jim Wynn and Mike Scott, but they could never put it all together. A period of trading prominent African American players such as Joe Morgan had a lot to do with the shortfall, but that was a long time ago.
They have the best offense in baseball. They led the majors in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage and averaged nearly six runs a game. Relative to the league, they never strike out. They have only one real soft spot, designated hitter, but they’ve sustained 40-year-old Carlos Beltran there because they value his leadership. Even the utility guy hit .303/.377/.530.
Who doesn’t love Jose Altuve? At 27, the little guy has three batting titles and 141 more hits than Pete Rose had at the same age. He hit .533 against the Red Sox, and although postseason performances wander all over the place, he’s a good bet to rampage the rest of the way through October. There are very few high-average contact hitters in baseball anymore. Altuve is an exemplar of that dying breed and we need to see him go all the way.
The Tigers let down Justin Verlander. This future Hall of Famer gave the Tigers the best years of his life, but the club just couldn’t convert them into a championship during his tenure before giving out completely this year. Pitching the Astros to a championship would fill an empty spot on his plaque, thus cementing his case for Hall of Fame voters who will struggle with the demise of the 300-game winner. Verlander might not win 250 games in his career, but he’ll merit consideration nonetheless.
WHY YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE YANKEES
This Yankee team is not made up of veteran mercenaries. Gary Sanchez, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and Luis Severino, among others, came up through the system. The Yankees still have some big contracts on the books, like the imperfect Masahiro Tanaka, the inspiringly reinvented C.C. Sabathia, and the regrettable Aroldis Chapman, but this is the most organically-constructed Yankee team in decades. It’s not a total repudiation of the George Steinbrenner Method, but it’s as close as the Yankees are likely to get.
They also have some great scrapheap finds. No one would have predicted Didi Gregorius would one day be hitting cleanup when the Yankees acquired him in return for Shane Greene—just Shane Greene. Aaron Hicks was a busted first-round pick with the Twins who was acquired for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy. He turned himself into an on-base and defense machine in New York. These are exactly the kinds of unentitled players it’s a pleasure to see succeed.
If you like home runs, this is the team for you. The Yankees hit 241 of them in the regular season, 140 in their zero-gravity ballpark. If your postseason wish is even more balls traveling 400 feet, you want the Yankees to go deep.
Joe Girardi isn’t showy. In fact, he’s anti-showy. He’s brittle, laughs like Scooby Doo, and would probably be a much happier person in a lower-stress position. However, he’s also a pretty good manager, non-recourse to instant replay notwithstanding. Not every manager with two World Series wins goes into the Hall of Fame. Not all of them were even good. Still, Yankee fans are taking their manager for granted, and it’s time for some reaffirmation for the Binder Man.
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