Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

Who should you root for in the playoffs? Who should you root against?

77 Comments

Two thirds of all baseball teams are done for the year. That means that two thirds of all baseball fans, more or less anyway, no longer have a primary rooting interest in the playoffs. In this instance you have two options: (1) tune out of baseball for October and concentrate on football, politics or, I dunno, reading books or spending time with your loved ones; or (2) jumping on some other team’s bandwagon and rooting for them for a month.

Pick option (2). It’s way better. Football is dumb, books are overrated and your family will be there in November. Probably. Anyway, allow me to help you pick which team to root for this October:

RED SOX

Pro: If you ever hated the Red Sox, it probably developed several years back. While David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are still around, the cast has changed pretty significantly since their 2000s rise, and the cast just comes off as a ton more likable than you might’ve considered older editions of this team to be. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are a joy to watch. They have a knuckleballer. Even if you can’t stand David Ortiz, his final postseason is historic. It isn’t 2007 anymore and Jonathan Papelbon isn’t here. You can let go of all that old baggage if you want.

Con: If you’re the sort to root for underdogs, this is not your team. The cast may have changed some, but the franchise did win it all in 2013 and two other times in the living memory of even high school kids. Despite that, and despite the success of the Patriots, Bruins and Celtics, Boston fans still have this bad habit of acting as if rooting for their teams is some kind of cursed torture, so maybe it’s someone else’s turn.

BLUE JAYS

Pro: It’ll be good to get in the habit of rooting for a Canadian team in case Trump wins the election and you feel obliged to move there.

Con: The Jays have a growing reputation of being snippy. More shockingly, some of their fans have even gotten a little unwritten-rules-y, which is amazing given the whole Jose Bautista bat flip thing last year. Also: it’s really hard to be a bandwagon fan of a team that plays on fake turf in a dome. If you’re gonna cheat on your first love, don’t do it in the baseball equivalent of a shabby hotel on the outskirts of town.

ORIOLES

Pro: The longer the O’s stay alive the more likely it is that someone in the press is going to say something dumb about Adam Jones and his comments in the wake of the Colin Kaepernick stuff a couple of weeks ago. Also: a good chance some sports writer makes up for his lack of knowledge about Baltimore by using hackneyed references to “The Wire.” That’s pure entertainment.

Con: Eh, no real huge one. If you don’t like all-or-nothing hitters, you won’t like the Orioles that much. And of course, given how teams with all-or-nothing hitters have done in the playoffs in recent years, you may not have your secondary rooting interest for long if you choose the O’s.

INDIANS

Pro: Everyone talks about the Cubs 108-year drought, but the Indians are the true underdog story here. While their drought isn’t as long as the Cubs’ drought is, it has been 68 years. If you’re under 68, there is no functional difference between the two. It’s all prehistory. Second of all, the Cubs are on the brink of ending their drought due to a well-funded and superstar executive-led rebuild. The Indians, meanwhile, have been looking for loose change in cushions for years and have served as the farm team for every other team’s front office talent. That’s real underdog stuff. Finally, the Cavs won this year. Two championships in a city that hadn’t had any for 50 years prior would be pretty spiffy.

Cons: Wahoo. Sorry, can’t ever get fully behind a team that has a racist caricature as its mascot. They don’t deserve the money from your merch and the world does not need that red-faced monstrosity on national telecasts and front pages of newspapers any more than is humanly necessary.

RANGERS

Pro: I feel like the tide has turned on Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran as Hall of Fame candidates. For years they were criminally underrated — still are in some ways — and I suspected that they’d get short shrift as candidates when their days came. In the past year or so, however, the consensus has shifted a good deal and most are finally appreciating how good they have been for so long. Particularly Beltre. As such, even if the Rangers don’t win it, I think they’re safe for induction one day. But a World Series title would put a cherry on top.

Cons: There aren’t a ton on the baseball side — the Rangers are a pretty likable team — but if you have to find one, you could go with the weirdness of the Rangers playing for a world title in a packed stadium, gussied up all nice for TV, while the Rangers owners are busy campaigning for a new stadium to replace it, funded with the tax dollars of the very people packing the “old” one. If they win it all, I suspect it will create enough goodwill for the Rangers brand that the election which will determine whether the club gets all that money from taxpayers will go in their favor and, man, billionaires don’t deserve those kinds of handouts.

NATIONALS

Pro: Your mileage may vary on Dusty Baker’s managerial prowess, but it’s hard not to like the guy and it’d be cool to see him get a ring as a manager. He might say something inexplicably cool too, and that’s a bonus. Bryce Harper has largely been a non-factor this year, but if he can fight through his physical ailments and lead the Nats to glory, it’d go a long way toward helping the Make Baseball Fun Again cause.

Con: Harper is telling Expos fans from back in the day to get behind the Nationals. This has always been a tough topic. Expos fans that I know want their own team back in Montreal and, even if they had some allegiance to former Expos players when the Nats first started, they’re all gone now. Likewise, the Nats have always been inconsistent and at times dismissive of their Expos heritage, so this appeal is not likely to go anyplace. It’s just a lot of bad karma, and that’s before you realize that a deep playoff run for the Nats is going to create a public transit disaster. Not that that’s your problem.

METS

Pro: Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard are fun to watch. New York in October is pretty. I dunno, given how much coverage they get, your opinions about the Mets are likely already baked, so joining that bandwagon is not a hard calculus for you one way or another. As an idea — the underdog team in New York — the Mets are pretty likable. In practice it varies.

Con: The longer the Mets go, the more likely it is we’ll get Jose Reyes redemption stories. We came dangerously close to that today, actually, but Klapisch held just short. Someone will do it, though, and it’ll be terrible. You can root for a team with a jerk like Reyes on it without compromising your principles. Separating art from artist is possible and, on a baseball team, there are a lot of alternative artists. But it can be a large enough drag to deter bandwagoning with ’em.

CUBS

Pro: They’re the big story, right? Best team in the game on the verge of erasing 108 years of futility? For much as that will be pounded into our heads over the next few weeks and for as tired as we’ll get of that narrative, it’s still a legit point. You don’t have to buy-in 100% or think all of that is the best thing ever to appreciate that it is special. Beyond that, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are superstars who deserve to shine on the national stage. Dexter Fowler is a great guy. They’re a fun team to watch.

Con: The stuff I said about Jose Reyes applies for Aroldis Chapman. Beyond that, being a contrarian can be fun and, if the Cubs make it to the World Series, the bandwagon Cubs fans are gonna be crawling out of the woodwork and that can get insufferable at some point. Heck, even Hillary Clinton may remember that, at varying times anyway, she claimed to be one. I’m happy the Yankees aren’t in the playoffs because who needs ’em, but part of me does wish that they had made it and faced off against the Cubs in the World Series, creating a crisis for Team Clinton with respect to which team she’d claim to like the most. It’d be the most Clinton thing ever.

DODGERS 

Pro: The Dodgers will probably be my adopted rooting interest this postseason, for reasons I’ve explained in the past. I don’t really hew to the idea that adults can have “second favorite teams” but if we can, I suppose mine is the Dodgers. If for no other reason than that I have watched more of their games than almost any other team’s the past three or four years. And you all know I have a Puig crush, so here we are. For the rest of you: Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet and Corey Seager is one of the game’s most exciting young players. Finally, though Vin Scully won’t be calling any playoff games, there would be something nice and appropriate for the Dodgers to win it all in his last season as a broadcaster.

Con: If your reason for not liking the Yankees back in the day was payroll stuff, you probably hate the Dodgers for the same reason. There are worse reasons to dislike a team, especially if you’re prone to root for the underdog, which they will never, ever be in any real circumstances.

GIANTS

Pro: Dynasties, even erratic ones, like their every-other-year pattern are kind of neat. If the Giants win another one, you’ll be able to say that you saw one. That’s something.

Con: This Even Year B.S. is getting to be a bit much. Even the Giants have adopted it as their postseason slogan. Sorry, I’ll never sign on to voodoo or cosmic coincidence as the ethos of or the explanation for the success of a sports team. The universe is a cold and indifferent place and cares not a wit for humanity. To think for a moment that it would humor us by acknowledging our artificial measurements of time (this is only an “even year” to a subset of people on one particular planet orbiting one of billions and billions of stars), let alone manipulate events to make it so that one of our sports teams has success during one of those phony years is the height of arrogance. I rather like a lot of Giants players, think Bruce Bochy is a great manager, love the city of San Francisco and find Giants fans to be some of the more pleasant fans I have ever encountered, but I’d sooner root for a meteor strike this month than root for the Giants to win it all. Not because I hold anything against them, but because that would make the universe make more sense to me.

But really, root for whoever you’d like.

Dave Stewart on his firing: “I’ve got better things to do”

Getty Images
26 Comments

When Dave Stewart left his job with the Toronto Blue Jays way back in 2001, he was angry and outspoken about it, claiming he was passed over for spurious reasons. When Dave Stewart was fired by the Diamondbacks yesterday, he was cooler than the other side of the pillow. Or at least made quite an effort to come off that way. Maybe too much of an effort, actually:

“Quite frankly, I’ve got better things to do. I just got to figure out what to do next, but really, I’ll be just fine.”

He went on to call his firing “almost a relief.”

Question: how long did he believe he had “better things to do” than be the GM of the Diamondbacks? And how messed up was that place internally that being fired from the job he had worked his entire post-playing career to get served as “a relief?”

I feel like we’re just starting to get a handle on how much dysfunction was afoot in the Dbacks’ front office these past two years. Assuming the stories come out, as they almost always do, it should be a pretty interesting and possibly entertaining winter in Arizona.

 

HardballTalk’s Playoff Predictions

Getty Images
30 Comments

Back in March, we made predictions for the season. They weren’t terrible as far as predictions go. We picked the Red Sox to win the east and the Blue Jays as a Wild Card team. We picked the Mets, Cubs, Dodgers and Giants to make the playoffs, whiffing on the Nats and instead putting the Pirates in. Bill had the Cubs beating the Astros in the World Series. I had the Giants beating the Red Sox. Bill’s World Series outcome and my whole matchup could still happen.

Given that we, as always, led those predictions with the caveat that all predictions are just guesses which should not be taken seriously, we can’t really crow about ours. But they weren’t terrible as far as these things go, so why not take a stab at the playoffs too?

The playoffs are weaponized randomness. The one-and-done Wild Card games are like Russian roulette, only with worse odds. As such, those prediction caveats apply even more in the postseason than they do for the regular season. Picking playoff winners is a fool’s errand. Luckily, we are not afraid to look foolish.

We’ll be breaking down each series as they get going, but as a general observation, the Red Sox strike all of us as the strongest team in the AL and the Cubs strike all of us as the strongest team in the NL. As you’ll see below, both Bill and Ashley think the Cubs beat the Sox in the World Series. I think the odds favor that matchup at least, and possibly that outcome, but I’m choosing to be difficult. So that I may be able to say I stuck with my preseason predictions the whole time,, I’m going to have the Giants beating the Red Sox in the Series. This requires that the Giants beat the Cubs, which I do not think will actually happens, but who cares?

All of that said, Madison Bumgarner winning a one-and-done and Even Year B.S. working again would be a clear sign that the cosmos like to mess with us. On some level, I like the idea of the cosmos messing with us, so I’m comfortable with it.

Predictions:

CRAIG:

Wild Card
Orioles over Blue Jays
Giants over Mets

ALDS: Rangers over Orioles in 5
ALDS: Red Sox over Indians in 5
NLDS: Giants over Cubs in 5 (UPSET SPECIAL!!)
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals in 5
ALCS: Red Sox over Rangers in 6
NLCS: Giants over Dodgers in 7 (THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!)
World Series: Giants over Red Sox in 7

 

BILL:

Wild Card
Blue Jays over Orioles
Giants over Mets

ALDS: Rangers over Blue Jays in 5
ALDS: Red Sox over Indians in 4
NLDS: Cubs over Giants in 4
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals in 4
ALCS: Red Sox over Rangers in 6
NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers in 6
World Series: Cubs over Red Sox in 6

 

ASHLEY:

Wild Card
Blue Jays over Orioles
Mets over Giants

ALDS: Blue Jays over Rangers in 5
ALDS: Red Sox over Indians in 5
NLDS: Cubs over Mets in 5
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals in 5
ALCS: Red Sox over Blue Jays in 4
NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers in 6
World Series: Cubs over Red Sox in 5

Now that that nonsense is over, let’s watch the games and see what really happens.