It’s October. The leaves are changing, sweater weather is here, and it’s time for the most exciting part of the baseball season: the playoffs. Maybe you’re a fair-weather baseball fan, or not a baseball fan at all, but with all the storylines and match-ups set, this month will be provide some classic games (and maybe even some history as well). No matter where you fall on the spectrum of baseball fandom, there’s plenty of reason to tune in this October.
When it comes to the sport, chances are you fall into one of four categories:
1. I’ll pass. Baseball’s boring; football is America’s real past-time.
2. I’ll watch when the calendar hits October.
3. I’m all in! I have a team allegiance and I follow the sport regularly.
4. I just love the game and I’ll watch no matter who’s playing.
For me, I fall under category #4. My affinity for baseball stems from my childhood all the way through high school being consumed by playing baseball and appreciating the game. Some of my fondest memories were playing baseball, my dad as my coach, under the lights and part of a team of friends.
If you’re anyone outside category #1, you have an ever-lasting memory from baseball: from winning championships in little league and playing in high school (like myself) to going to your first game in a ball park. Those that pass on baseball, probably did so because their sports memories happened on a different playing field. And while I don’t blame category one for passing on baseball or finding it boring, they’re also missing out on the beauty in the details. Just like any sport you’re invested in, you fall in a deeper love as you begin to appreciate the sport’s nuances. The beauty of baseball is that the professional game is full of subtle instances that make a huge difference, yet most in category #1 haven’t given the sport a chance long enough to appreciate them. A perfect example: in the AL Wild Card game this past week, tied 2-2 in the top of the 9th inning, Blue Jays closer, Roberto Osuna, faced the league’s home run leader, Mark Trumbo. After multiple foul balls kept Trumbo fighting for a hit while he was batting, Osuna held the leg kick on his pitch for a split second longer. To the non-baseball fan’s naked eye, it was nothing. But the fact of the matter is, Osuna changed up the timing of his pitch delivery so it changed up the timing of Trumbo’s swing. The result? A strikeout on an off-speed pitch, and a couple of innings later, a win for his team.
Now, I realize that if you’re in category #1, you have already missed out on years of baseball watching, and the task of getting to the point of appreciating nuances in a sport is daunting. But my suggestion is to try watching the sport. And right now, in October, during the playoffs, is the perfect time to do it. Find a fan of one of the teams still in it or a fan of the sport itself, and watch with him or her. In between half innings, ask questions. Watching on TV not seem appealing? I’m not suggesting you pay a lot of money to go to a playoff game, but maybe go see a baseball game next spring or summer, in person. Take in the atmosphere. Try to appreciate the concept that even without the nuances, these athletes are hitting a ball traveling faster than you drive your car with a bat. And then, if they miss that fast pitch, the next one they see could start at the height of their head and drop to their feet in the dirt. If they do make contact, athletes in the field, using just a glove on one hand have to stop that ball, traveling even faster after contact with the bat than the speed it came in. Appreciate that hitters are considered successful if they hit said ball three out of every ten times to where the nine defenders on the field are not.
If you’re game to start watching, here’s what you need to know this October:
American League (AL) Division Series
No. 1 Seed: Texas Rangers
The Rangers have won their division for two straight years, and made the playoffs five out of the last seven years. But, they’ve never won a World Series. Even though they hold the number one seed, the Rangers are one of those teams that flies under the radar. They’re like the Cincinnati Bengals. Earlier in the year, one of their star players, power-hitter Prince Fielder, was forced into early retirement. Nevertheless, their pitching staff is led by Cole Hamels, who has a ton of postseason experience (he’s a former World Series Most Valuable Player). The Rangers also have quite the history with their next opponent, the Toronto Blue Jays.
No. 4 Seed: Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays just defeated division rival, Baltimore Orioles in Tuesday’s AL Wild Card game on a walk-off home run in extra innings. They’re Canada’s team. So if you are Canadian, or know Canadians, you’ll probably find yourself rooting for them. To acknowledge the bad blood between the Jays and Rangers, it happened because one of the Blue Jays best hitters, Jose Bautista, hit a big home run last year in the same round of the playoffs, and had one of the most bad-ass bat flips in history, even though it might’ve been quite the taunt to his opponent. Then, this year, the two teams had a benches-clearing brawl, because baseball players do NOT have a short memory.
No. 2 Seed: Cleveland Indians
Since the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA title earlier this year, Cleveland’s championship drought is over. So, no pressure on the Indians, right? Wrong. This team has had some bad recent luck with injuries, losing some of their starting pitchers. For those new to the game, starting pitching, and pitching in crucial in the playoffs. The Indians had what was widely-thought of as the best pitching of this season’s playoff teams. The Indians, like every other Cleveland team have had their history of tough losses. If you still think Cleveland’s an underdog after the Cavs won, this is the team for you in the American League.
No. 3 Seed: Boston Red Sox
Basically all anyone heard about with the Red Sox this season was that it was David ‘Big Papi’ Ortiz’s last season. Ortiz has played like Kobe Bryant did in his final game, but for the whole season. Remember how I mentioned that three out of every ten times up to bat (.300) is a job well done? Well Ortiz, in his final season, did better. He finished with a .315 batting average, and tied for first in Runs Batted In (127 RBI). The Red Sox finished first in the AL East, a division that featured three out of its five teams make the playoffs (Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles). The AL East is also the division that has the Yankees. And no, they didn’t make the playoffs, so pick another team to root for. If you like winners, Boston is by far the playoff team in the American League with the most recent success. They’ve won the World Series in 2004, 2007, and 2013. But before that, were cursed (The Curse of the Bambino) and hadn’t won a title since 1918. If you want to see someone else win, and know they have the Patriots anyway, root against this squad.
National League (NL) Division Series
No. 1 Seed: Chicago Cubs
Chances are, you know about the Chicago Cubs’ title curse. They haven’t won a World Series since 1908. They have a guy running the team, Theo Epstein, who helped get Boston out of its curse, so Northside Chicagoans are crossing their fingers. The Cubs are chalk-full of superstar young players, and finished the season with Major League Baseball’s best record (103 wins and 58 losses). They’re really good, so much so, that the question is: Chicago Cubs or the field? They’re basically like having the talent of the Golden State Warriors last year (and this year), but the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cubs are a rare combo of league’s best, but underdog because of their franchise’s history. You’ll probably find a lot of people without team allegiances rooting for the Cubs.
No. 5 Seed: San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants are by far the team with the most recent success. They’ve won World Series in every even-numbered year since 2010 (2010, ’12, ’14). Their fans hope the even year trend continues, kind of like the San Antonio Spurs had their odd-year thing, until their 2014 title. If you’re one of those people, like me, who thinks “_____ team has won enough, let someone else win,” you’re rooting against the Giants. San Francisco also has a pitching ace of their own in Madison Bumgarner (no, not Henry Rowengartner – though Bumgarner’s arm certainly has special powers). “MadBum” has pitched some classic performances in the playoffs before, even on little rest, so he’d definitely make the Rookie of the Year proud. The Giants also beat the New York Mets in the NL Wild Card game on Wednesday, surviving an ace pitcher with a nickname of his own: Thor (Noah Syndergaard). In fact, in that Wild Card victory, MadBum became the first pitcher in baseball history to pitch multiple complete-game shutouts in sudden death posteason games in his career. Overall, since 2010, the Giants have won 11 straight playoff series, and if they can top the Cubs, they’ll make baseball history by becoming the first team to ever win 12 straight.
No. 2 Seed: Washington Nationals
If you’re catching up, the Washington Nationals used to be the Montreal Expos, Canada’s other team at the time. Now they’re in the nation’s capital. If you’ve heard anything about the Nationals, it probably has to do with Bryce Harper. He’s last season’s NL MVP, and a face of Major League Baseball. Oddly enough, the reigning MVP has struggled this season, and seemingly battled through a few different injuries. Luckily for fans in Washington, this team can pitch. The Nats will be leaning on their ace starting pitcher, Max Scherzer, in the postseason, as their other superstar pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
No. 3 Seed: Los Angeles Dodgers
If you’ve heard news about the LA Dodgers lately, it was likely about the retirement of Dodgers’ legendary play-by-play sportscaster, Vin Scully. But beyond that legend calling his final game, this is that team that caught the injury bug, but still managed to make the playoffs. They won their fourth straight division title, even though they had 28 different players visit the disabled list. Chief among them was their star pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, who outside of his back injury this year, has been stellar during the regular season (and pretty much his entire career). The storyline here, however, is that Kershaw has notoriously struggled in the posteason. If you’re the type who likes to see fortunes reversed, an injury-filled regular season combined with a superstar that struggles in the playoffs seems like your candidate.
So, if you watch with someone from category #2 or #4, or if you don’t have a friend or family member that has a team allegiance and bandwagon you could hitch onto, hopefully by now you know who to root for this October.