Only an idiot looks at the Houston Astros and does not see the best team in baseball, and since we are neck-deep in idiocy these days, those who do not largely confine their predictive allegiances to either the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees. This makes for both a crowded and tiresome World Series field, because the best team and the two biggest cities’ biggest teams are mostly yawnable story lines that only lazy television producers and 80-year-old couch defenders seem to think Americans should appreciate.
So we speak today on behalf of the Not-Quite-Great Eight, the off-brand teams either in the playoffs or close enough to being in that have enough varieties of weirdness attached to them to make them way more fun. I mean, anyone can have two the best starting pitchers in baseball and a lineup without outs (Houston), and anyone can have the oppressive history and dismissive air that so many others find repellent (New York), and anyone can combine smugness and unfulfilled dreams (Los Angeles), but we’ll take the teams that are easy to overlook because we can’t be bothered to do so.
So, in ascending order of appeal, we give you The Other Ones.
The Rays gave us the opener (the weirdos) and remain the only team to truly make it work. Kevin Cash rolls through more pitchers in a game than any manager not working in Boston, and he has a good if utterly anonymous bullpen. In addition, who can’t fall in love with a murderers’ row like Wendle-Meadows-d’Arnaud-Choi-Garcia-Lowe-Duffy-Kiermaier-Adames? We’ll wait while you check all those names on Baseball Reference. Their much-maligned ballpark has a capacity of 25,025, the lowest of any major league team since the Giants inhabited Seals Stadium (preposterously nicknamed The Queen Of Concrete, probably by noted snark/gadfly Ambrose Bierce) in 1958, and was filled only three times. They are, in fact, a secret in their own town, which makes them that much more charming, not unlike...
The Elephants have one of the best teams in baseball two years’ running but are still paying for ownership’s decades-long insistence that their ballpark is a disgrace and, until recently, the city unfit for major league baseball. Eventually all but the hardiest souls chose to believe them and stopped coming, and now they are a joke around the Deadspin office (which I have never visited and am presumably banned from ever seeing) as a click-bait buzzkill. This is stupid for one clear reason—they have fun players with impish senses of humor and a general understanding of how to play the game very well. Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, and Matt Olson deserve some long-dead sportswriting poem-fetishist to do a few quatrains on them, and Ramon Laureano can catch any ball hit between 66th Avenue and Hegenberger Road. They hit lots of homers, and Mike Fiers like to use his face for topiary. Downside? Their bullpen has been shambolic, but whose hasn’t? They expect to have a new ballpark in 2361.
They have the last of the excellent old-school managers in Terry Francona, more starting pitching than they can burn through in this day and age (only Shane Bieber has more than 20 starts, and Francona believes in the virtues of complete games more than any other manager or general in the sport), and when healthy can rain misery upon anyone. They are notoriously streaky, however, and it is a wonder that they, the A’s, and Rays stayed as close as they have to each other for the last three months. They are the perfect team for your older coot to support because they are the antithesis of Tampa Bay, and for a guy who used to manage interminably long games in Boston, Francona whips the fellas through nine innings in an average of 3:04. Add 10 percent for playoff padding, and you still have faster average games that the Red Sox played.
This is everything you need to know: Since September 10, when Christian Yelich shattered his own kneecap, the Brewers are 14-2, obliterating the Cubs and threatening the St. Louis Cardinals. This must happen because Bob Uecker.
At the All-Star Break, they were 44-44, bland and utterly forgettable. Since then, they are 46-25, which cannot be dismissed. Paul Goldschmidt has been revived and Jack Flaherty is the Cy Young candidate you will be unaware of. The down-side of course is that this revivifies Deadspin Founder Emeritus Red Leitch and one of the game’s most irritating fan bases (sorry, kids, but I am contractually obligated to say this), and this cannot be countenanced.
Under normal circumstances, the Nationals would be credited with rallying from an atrocious start and making out better by keeping the $330 million they would have had to pay Bryce Harper, plus manager Dave Martinez’s heart issue gives us the possibility of him pulling a Hugh Freeze and running a game from his hospital bed in the owner’s suite. In addition, it gives the locals a further reason to abandon the mudslide that is the football team, and the Caps don’t start until the playoffs do and can wait their turn. On the other hand, Washington does impeachment better than baseball, and we don’t want people unnecessarily distracted.
The modern game in a nutshell. Every starting position player has hit at least 20 home runs, and they just became the first team in MLB history to hit 300 home runs. They average more than a run more per game than they allow, their starting pitching is solid but un-Houstonian, and reliever Taylor Rogers is a rare closer these days in that he doesn’t suck. Best name that probably won’t be on the playoff roster? Brusdar Graterol. Most impactful player who will be? Mitch Garver. He’s their catcher, and yes, I know you didn’t know that.
Not good that Ronald Acuña had to be sat down for the rest of the regular season because it means he probably won’t be 100 percent for the playoff opener against either St. Louis or Milwaukee, but Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson are hired punishers, and if Acuña returns at near proper health, this might be the best team in the National League. The Braves also picked up the world-famous Dallas Keuchel because not enough people have been playing attention to Mike Soroka, who gets a royalty every time a broadcaster uses the phrase “Nasty stuff.”
Any of these teams would provide oodles of fun for a game that can use all it can get, and for those of you who like to value-bet your way through a game, neither the Astros, Dodgers, or Yankees will give you much bang for your buck. I mean, now that gambling is the only approved way to enjoy sports anymore, these things matter. America can do Rays-Brewers with joy in its heart, because, and this is the best reason of them all, why the hell not?
Ray Ratto believes that this nation needs Marty Brennaman to be grabbed by the tongue and eyelids and forced to continue working, and if he doesn’t like it, he should also be nail-gunned to his chair in the booth.