I’m rarely so pleased to be wrong.
Not only did the playoff battle not come down to the last day–the Phillies wrapped up the last slot on Monday–but despite having clinched a spot last week, attendance in Seattle remains high.
I’m writing this on Tuesday afternoon (while I watch Aaron Judge try for his 62nd home run of the season) so there are still some positional battles remaining: will Seattle or Tampa Bay be the sixth seed in the AL; will Atlanta or New York win the NL East, relegating the loser to the top Wild Card slot; and will Philadelphia squeak ahead of San Diego into the NL fifth seed?
(Update just prior to posting: the positional shuffling is done, Judge hit Number 62–in the second game of the double-header, after I’d switched to watching the Mariners–so all that’s left for today is pure baseball, untouched by any concern greater than “Don’t get hurt, guys!”)
Final positioning aside, since the teams are set, it’s time to have our usual pre-post-season discussions.
Let’s start with my results for the season. Historically, I’ve hit somewhere between .500 and .700 in picking playoff teams. Pretty darn good as a batting average, downright sucky as a fielding percentage. And, of course, this year the playoffs have expanded from eight teams to twelve, giving me plenty of room to do a lot worse.
In the NL, I picked the Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and Rockies.
Mets and Dodgers, yes. Padres, too. But the Giants missed the playoffs by seven games, the Cubs by fourteen, and the Rockies by a depressing twenty. In their places, we got the Braves, Cardinals, and Phillies. Fifty percent on the senior circuit.
In the AL, well… I had the Yankees, Guardians, Athletics, White Sox, Astros, and Rangers.
Reality has the Yankees, Guardians, and Astros. And also the Blue Jays, Mariners, and Rays.
Fifty percent there, too. Prognostication is a tough game; nice to know I can play it consistently, if not necessarily well.
Moving on. If your team made the playoffs, you already know who you’re rooting for. If your guys came up short, or if you don’t have a regular team*, here’s how to choose a rooting interest this year.
* Only following baseball during the playoffs is much like only going to church at Christmas. We’re happy to see your butt in a pew, but we’d be even happier to see you there the rest of the year. But I digress.
Briefly, you can NOT root for a team that claims to be everyone’s team. If you have a team that didn’t make the playoffs, you shouldn’t root for a team in the other league or one in your team’s division. And, because everyone loves an underdog, teams with a record of futility get bonus points. (You can read the full rules in the 2019 Playoff post.)
So, that said, the only people who should be rooting for the Dodgers, Braves, and Yankees are the ones who root for them during the regular season. Last year I had the Astros on the list as well, due to the cheating scandals; I’m inclined to keep them there this year*, futile though I know it is. On the other side, bonus points for sustained futility before this year go to Seattle (21 years without a post-season appearance) and Philadelphia (11 years sitting out October); additional bonus points to the Mariners for never having been in the World Series (46 years and counting), and a slightly smaller quantity of bonus points to the Padres and Blue Jays (respectively, 24 and 29 years since their last World Series).
* Kid, have you rehabilitated yourself?
So, if you’re officially unaffiliated, Seattle is your obvious choice; if you have a vague NL affiliation, pull for Philadelphia.
If you normally root for an AL East or Central team, again, you should be pulling for the Mariners; if you normally follow Texas, Oakland, or LA, Toronto is your best choice. Similarly, if you’re usually an NL East or Central fan, latch on to the Padres; San Francisco, Arizona, and Colorado fans, hold those Phillies close to your hearts (though nobody can blame you if you would rather pull for the Cardinals.)
And, now that we all know who we’re rooting for, I’m going to spoil all your fun by telling you who’s actually going to the World Series and who’s going to win.
As usual, the Dodgers have the best run differential in MLB, a staggering +332, as I write this. (Parenthetically, based on their respective run differentials, I expect the Braves to beat out the Mets for the NL East title. sigh)
Their opponent in the Series will naturally be the Yankees (+242) with the Astros as a possible dark horse (only +208, but with the second-best winning percentage at .650). Either way, it will again be a Series between two Rule One teams.
But can that stellar run differential carry the Dodgers through the World Series? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no. Just look at their recent history. Yes, they won it all in 2020–the COVID-shortened season. But in their most recent eight full-season playoff appearances, they’ve only made it to the World Series twice (2017 and 2018), losing both times. In the other six, they’ve been eliminated in their first round three times (2014, 2015, 2019) and their second round twice (2013, 2016). That’s not what I’d call a record of sustained excellence.
It’s gonna be the Yankees. Unless it’s the Astros. double sigh