The hardest team to love

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OK, this is not exactly a baseball post … but I got into a bit of Twitter spat about the hardest team to love in sports.To me: There is one and only one correct answer to this. And it’s really pretty easy.

I grew up in Cleveland, so I can say without question that that hardest PLACE in America to be a sports fan is Cleveland. That’s the collective power of the Indians, Browns and Cavaliers, who all have added to the city’s sports misery the last 50 years.

But if we are talking about one team … there’s no doubt in my mind that the hardest team to love is the Kansas City Royals. I don’t think any other team is even close. Yes, sure, it’s hard to love the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, the Cubs have their endless curse and Washington has a football owner who will break your spirit and teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and Phoenix Coyotes and Toronto Raptors and Miami Marlins (or whatever they are called now) are so forgettable that, well, you forget how hard it is to be a fan.

But the Royals … well, let’s put it this way: If you are 35 or younger, you do not have a memory of the Kansas City Royals making the playoffs. I’m not talking about championships here or reaching the World Series. I’m talking simply MAKING THE PLAYOFFS. What’s worse, the Royals have not even CONTENDED for a playoff spot in 25 years. This is something no other fan — not Cubs fans, not Pirates fans, not Clippers fans, not any other fan — can relate to.

To illustrate this, I put together a list of every team in baseball, football, basketball and hockey and how often them made the playoffs. Obviously, it’s easier to make the playoffs in the NBA and NHL than in the NFL and certainly in baseball. The point, however, holds. You will note the only team at the bottom:

Los Angeles Lakers: 26 (7 titles, 4 runner-up)
Detroit Red Wings: 26 (4 Stanley Cups, 2 runner-up)
San Antonio Spurs: 26 (4 titles, 1 runner-up)

Boston Bruins: 23 (1 Stanley Cup, 3 runner-up)
Utah Jazz: 23 (2 runner-up)
St. Louis Blues: 23

Chicago Bulls: 22 (6 titles)
Portland Trail Blazers: 22 (2 runner-up)

New Jersey Devils: 21 (3 Stanley Cups, 2 runner-up)
Montreal Canadiens: 21 (2 Stanley Cups, 1 runner-up)
Philadelphia Flyers: 21 (3 runner-up)
Indiana Pacers: 21 (1 runner-up)
Washington Capitals: 21 (1 runner-up)

Pittsburgh Penguins: 20 (3 Stanley Cups, 1 runner-up)
Houston Rockets: 20 (2 titles, 1 runner-up)

Detroit Pistons: 19 (3 titles, 2 runner-up)
Miami Heat: 19 (3 titles, 1 runner-up)
Boston Celtics: 19 (2 titles, 2 runner-up)
Chicago Blackhawks: 19 (2 Stanley Cups, 1 runner-up)
Phoenix Suns: 19 (1 runner-up)

New York Rangers: 18 (1 Stanley Cup)
New York Knicks: 18 (2 runner-up)
Atlanta Hawks: 18

New York Yankees: 17 (5 World Series, 2 pennants)
San Francisco 49ers: 17 (3 Super Bowls, 1 runner-up)
Atlanta Braves: 17 (1 World Series, 4 pennants)
Dallas Mavericks: 17 (1 title, 1 runner-up)
Vancouver Canucks: 17 (2 runner-up)
Buffalo Sabres: 17 (1 runner-up)
Denver Nuggets: 17
San Jose Sharks: 17

New England Patriots: 16 (3 Super Bowls, 4 runner-up)
Green Bay Packers: 16 (2 Super Bowl, 1 runner-up)
Indianapolis Colts: 16 (1 Super Bowl, 1 runner-up)
Los Angeles Kings: 16 (1 Stanley Cup, 1 runner-up)
Philadelphia Eagles: 16 (1 runner-up)

Denver Broncos: 15 (2 Super Bowls, 4 runner-up)
Pittsburgh Steelers: 15 (2 Super Bowls, 2 runner-up)
Calgary Flames: 15 (1 Stanley Cup, 2 runner-up)
Philadelphia 76ers: 15 (1 runner-up)
Minnesota Vikings: 15
Toronto Maple Leafs: 15

Boston Red Sox: 14 (3 World Series, 1 pennant)
Edmonton Oilers: 14 (3 Stanley Cups, 1 runner-up)
Orlando Magic: 14 (2 runner-up)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 14 (1 runner-up)
Ottawa Senators: 14 (1 runner-up)
Milwaukee Bucks: 14

Colorado Avalanche: 13 (2 Stanley Cups)
Dallas Stars: 13 (1 Stanley Cup, 1 runner-up)

New York Giants: 12 (4 Super Bowls, 1 runner-up)
St. Louis Cardinals: 12 (2 World Series, 3 pennants)
Kansas City Chiefs: 12

Oakland A’s: 11 (1 World Series, 2 pennants)
Seattle Seahawks: 11 (1 Super Bowl, 1 runner-up)
New York Islanders: 11

Anaheim Ducks: 10 (1 Stanley Cup, 1 runner-up)
New Orleans Saints 10 (1 Super Bowl)
Buffalo Bills: 10 (4 runner-up)
Chicago Bears: 10 (1 runner-up)
Miami Dolphins: 10
Sacramento Kings: 10

Baltimore Ravens: 9 (2 Super Bowls)
Washington Hogs: 9 (2 Super Bowls)
Atlanta Falcons: 9 (1 runner-up)
San Diego Chargers: 9 (1 runner-up)
New York Jets: 9
Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats: 9
Washington Wizards/Bullets: 9

San Francisco Giants: 8 (2 World Series, 2 pennants)
Minnesota Twins: 8 (2 World Series)
Cleveland Indians: 8 (2 pennants)
Los Angeles Dodgers: 8 (1 World Series)
Golden State Warriors: 8
Minnesota Timberwolves: 8
Phoenix Coyotes: 8

Los Angeles Angels: 7 (1 World Series)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7 (1 Super Bowl)
Tampa Bay Lightning: 7 (1 Stanley Cup)
Cincinnati Bengals: 8 (1 runner-up)
Houston Astros: 7 (1 pennant)
Detroit Lions: 7
Los Angeles Clippers: 7
Memphis Grizzlies: 7
Nashville Predators: 7
Winnipeg Jets: 7 (none so far as NEW Jets)

Philadelphia Phillies: 6 (1 World Series, 1 pennant)
Texas Rangers: 6 (2 pennants)
Tennessee Titans: 6 (1 runner-up)
Oakland Raiders: 6 (1 runner-up)
Cleveland Browns: 6
Jacksonville Jaguars: 6
Toronto Raptors: 6

New York Mets: 5 (1 World Series, 1 pennant)
Carolina Hurricanes: 5 (1 Stanley Cup, 1 runner-up)
Cincinnati Reds: 5 (1 World Series, 1 pennant)
St. Louis Rams: 5 (1 Super Bowl, 1 runner-up)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 5 (1 World Series)
Detroit Tigers: 5 (2 pennants)
Carolina Panthers: 5 (1 runner-up)
Oklahoma City Thunder: 5 (1 runner-up)
Chicago Cubs: 5
Minnesota Wild: 5 (North Stars 5 more including 1 runner-up)
New Orleans Pelicans/Hornets: 5

Toronto Blue Jays: 4 (2 World Series)
Chicago White Sox: 4 (1 World Series)
Florida Panthers: 4 (1 runner-up)
San Diego Padres: 4 (1 pennant)
Tampa Bay Rays: 4
Seattle Mariners: 4
Pittsburgh Pirates: 4

Colorado Rockies: 3 (1 pennant)
Arizona Cardinals: 3 (1 runner-up)
Baltimore Orioles: 3

Miami Marlins: 2 (2 World Series)
Houston Texans: 2 (Houston Oilers another 7)
Brooklyn Nets: 2 (New Jersey Nets another 11 including 2 runner-up)
Columbus Blue Jackets: 2
Milwaukee Brewers: 2

Washington Nationals: 1

Kansas City Royals: 0

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.