Not gonna lie: it’s going to be a bit of a mess trying to graft your narratives on to this year’s LCS matchups and potential World Series matchups, folks. All of the easy stories about the plucky Pirates, the quasi-homeless A’s and Joe Maddon-as-baseball’s-Phil Jackson are out the window. Everyone’s happy the Braves are gone.
So what do we have? We have four classic, old school MLB teams from the original 16 (if that’s a thing). We have four teams sporting grand histories. We have teams with several superior, MVP-caliber players who make a lot of money. We have one huge payroll team, another team that has had more literary and sportswritery lore spun about it than the next ten teams combined and two teams who have had all kinds of success in recent years. There are no underdogs here, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. We have a couple of gimmicky character types — Yasiel Puig, Matt Adams — but no ready-made sportswriter storylines that will easily spring from scribes’ keyboards over the next three weeks.
So where do we go for our precious, precious narratives?
Based on the sense I’ve gotten from readers and on Twitter, the Dodgers are probably what most closely passes for “plucky upstarts,” partially for their joie de vivre (Joie de Puig?) and partially because they came from nowhere this year. But that makes little sense. The Red Sox have a lot of joie de vivre too with the beards and all of that. And they came from nowhere too given how horrible last year was for them. And they sport a lower payroll as they’re doing it. What’s the argument for “The Dodgers are a better storyline than the Red Sox?” Most of those 2004-07 players are long gone. Can the presence of David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury change everything so greatly? I don’t feel like it should.
Of course you have that big Dodgers-Red Sox trade from last year which, if those two teams meet in the World Series, will likely dominate the discourse. I feel like it will dominate it in a dumb way, though. Most people will couch it in terms of who really won the trade and will try to use the results of such a World Series as some sort of proof of their position. But it seems to me that the most notable thing you can take away from that trade is that it made sense for both teams and helped both teams in important ways. I guess that’s not very satisfying for a sports world that likes thinks in black and white, however.
So: the Cardinals. With the Braves out of it they seem to be the most hated team in the playoffs. And I can understand the Cardinals fatigue out there. They’ve been on this stage so often in recent years that we’re all tired of them. But I also can’t remember a team that has a pretty low payroll, comes from a pretty small market and has an overwhelmingly home-grown roster and fabulous farm system not getting a ton of love from the baseball commentariat. Especially the SABR-y ones, who usually love that stuff. But not this year. Not with St. Louis. Maybe because the Cardinals are the only home-grown, low payroll team that can still manage to come off smugger than all hell.
The Tigers: They have the likely Cy Young guy, the likely MVP guy two-years running and several other high-priced, award-winning stars. They were just in the World Series last year, for crying out loud. A key component of their team just came off a 50-game PED suspension. I don’t feel people hate them or are sick of them, really, but it’s not like they have any compelling narrative about them that will get people who aren’t already Tigers fans to rally around them. Plus, that whole “the Tigers are helping rally a beleaguered city!” thing has been done. And was pretty stupid and condescending in the first place.
None of any of that makes for easy (or at least smart) narratives. Which makes for a pretty sobering realization: we’re gonna have to focus on the [gulp] actual baseball in the LCS and World Series.
I hope our nation’s sportswriters and television commentators are up to the task.