A few days ago I foolishly put out a piece on why you could make the case to root for every team in the National League playoff hunt this October. It didn’t even dawn on me to write the American League piece first since the Yankees and Twins would play prior to the Diamondbacks and Rockies. So to all those people looking for a reason to root for the Twins this fall, I’m sorry. If you’d like a brief synopsis, it’s simple. The Twins are the Phillies progressed three years. Don’t expect the Phillies to make the immense jump that the Twins did this year, becoming the first team in MLB history to make the playoffs a year after losing 100 games, but the narrative is on a parallel plane. The Twins are loaded with young talent that they bred in the minor leagues mixed in with a few veteran names like Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier leading the young guns. If you want a formula that works, much like the Cubs have done, the Twins would have been the team to watch.
But, we’ll never get a chance to root for the Twins, as they won nearly 20 more games than the Phillies this year and got exactly 8.5 more innings of baseball out of it. The Wild Card Game can be a wild ride sometimes.
Let’s take a look at the four remaining American League teams, and why you should root for them.
Wild Card Winner: New York Yankees
Why you should root for the Yankees: New Feel, Young Core
I know a ton of people that openly refuse to root for the Yankees. But hear me out on this one. The Yankees aren’t the bad guy anymore. The Yankees aren’t the evil empire. The aren’t led by Darth Vadar and Emperor Palpatine. This is a relatively young core of players that are blossoming together as the season goes on. They’re much more likeable for the time being. One day in the not so distant future, this team will be loaded with multi-millionaire stars, and we’ll once again view them as the darkside. But for now, it’s a bunch of young guys who are fun to watch.
Of course, this team is powered by the behemoth of a human being Aaron Jude. In fact, I’m not quite sold on the fact that he’s actually of flesh and blood just yet. Does he bleed? Does he emote? I’ll check back on that later. But one thing I do know is that Judge has revolutionary power. It’s on an early, but even, playing field with Giancarlo Stanton. That’ saying something big. Judge is the kind of guy you make in MLB The Show, play on rookie mode, and by the time he’s 25-years-old, is a 99 in everything and hits 70 homeruns a year. Judge powered his way onto your TV set in the early stage of the season, mashing a homerun seemingly every night. What makes Judge unique, though, has been his ability to battle through diversity this season. Following the All Star break, Judge hit an August slump that saw his average drop from .299 to .279 due to a .185 month. He returned to form in September by making adjustments at the plate, and hit .311 in the final month of the regular season.
Past Judge, though, the Yankees have a good young core that could be dangerous for a long time to come. Gary Sanchez has been extremely potent at the plate despite his less than stellar performance behind it. He finished the season batting .278 with 33 homeruns and 90 RBI’s. Ronald Torreyes also appears to be a very capable second baseman for the Yankees. He hit .292 throughout the season and his glovework improved significantly as the year progressed. And then there’s Aaron Hicks, who looks like he’s beginning to turn the corner on his career and salvage the career that his 14th overall pick in 2008 was expected of him. The trade from Minnesota to New York made for a nice change of scenery for Hicks, who posted a career high in nearly every offensive statistical category this season.
To round out the talented Yankees roster are a couple of true veterans, namely Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Todd Frazier and Matt Holliday off the bench. This is a very loaded offense that could prove dangerous in the ALDS against the Indians. It’s almost a shame that the Yankees have to face the Indians in the first round because I could easily foresee them defeating both the Red Sox and Astros. As it stands, I think the young Yankees lineup will have a rough go of things against that vaunted Indians rotation. It’s still a fun offense to watch, and will be for years to come.
AL West Winner: Houston Astros
Why you should root for the Astros: The best player in baseball, Justification
Wouldn’t it be awesome to get to watch the best player in baseball hit the field for another three weeks? “But Tyler, the Angels didn’t make the playoffs this year.” You’re correct, they didn’t. They also don’t have the best player in the league. That player belong to the Houston Astros, and is named Jose Altuve. The man just hits. Every. Single. Day. He hits, and fields, and runs the bases and does every little thing a coach could ask for out of the best player in the game. Altuve wrapped up his sixth full season in the big leagues with by winning the batting title for the third time in four years. The lowest average Altuve has ever produced is .283 in 2013. In his five other full seasons, he hit .290, .341, .313, .338 and .346, for a career average thus far of .316. He’s led the league in hits four consecutive seasons. The man simply gets on base. And he’s a terror on the base paths when he does just that. He’s stolen 30 or more bases in five straight seasons, including leading the league in 2014 with 56 and again in 2015 with 38. In a game that is abandoning the stolen base for more power-based play, Altuve continues to buck the trend.He’s a five time All Star, a three time Silver Slugger and he won a Gold Glove back in 2015. I’d bet that he adds a fourth Silver Slugger when the awards are announced later this year. The man rarely strikes out. He’s been punched out just 462 times in 982 games. Over the course of those 982 games, he’s recorded just shy of 4000 plate appearances. You can do the math, that’s a fantastic percentage. Finally, Altuve has found some pop in recent years. Over the last two seasons, the second baseman has hit 48 homeruns, 24 in each season, and driven in 177 runs over that span.
But it’s not just the best player factor that could have you rooting for the Astros this year. It’s all that Houston has gone through recently. Remember when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, and everyone outside of Atlanta was rooting for the New Orleans Saints in that Monday Night Football Game? It’s a similar factor. While homes may be destroyed and families hurting, a World Series ring could help ease the aching hearts in Houston and the surrounding areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. A morale boost at a time like this does more than we could possibly imagine, and if for nothing else, the Astros could help in so many ways. If you’re feeling compassionate this October, the Astros could be your team.
AL Central Winner: Cleveland Indians
Why you should root for the Indians: Pitching and History
Last season, we watched the Chicago Cubs finally break a 108 year curse a be crowned World Series champions. That victory came at the hands of these Cleveland Indians, who now hold the active streak for longest World Series title drought at 68 years. The last time the Indians hoisted the World Series trophy was in 1948. While we as Philadelphia fans may not have much ground to stake when it comes to championships over the last few decades, it’s been a rough time to be a Cleveland fan when it comes to sporting news outside of Lebron James. The Browns have been the worst team in the league since they rejoined in the 90’s. The Indians have suffered for 68 years. And with no hockey team to speak of, the fans often turn to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have never reached a Conference Final, let alone a Stanley Cup. So this breakdown of historical barriers could be a fun one to watch as the Indians try to get back to the World Series in 2017.
How they’re going to do it is very simple: pitching. The Indians will ride the strength of their entire pitching staff just as they did in 2016. Don’t get me wrong, the offense is potent, and sports possibly the best middle infield duo in the league with Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, but the strength of this team lies in its pitching staff. In a surprise move, manager Terry Francona decided to give the ball to Trevor Bauer in Game 1 today instead of Corey Kluber. The Klubot will pitch Game 2 instead. But the Indians are in good hands with a 17 game winner on the mound in Trevor Bauer. And if you can win Game 1, there’s a very strong chance the Yankees will find themselves facing elimination heading back to New York for Game 3. The Indians pitching staff is in a very unique situation where all the starters must do is give the team a solid five or six innings and then Francona can turn to his other worldly bullpen. Six bullpen arms finished the season with an ERA under 3.00, including the newest addition Tyler Olson, who’s yet to surrender a run through 30 appearances this year. Then, of course, you have the vaunted back end of the bullpen, featuring “pitch in any situation, at any time” Andrew Miller, the stud of the playoffs last year. He’ll be asked to pitch nearly every night from here on out, something Miller seems extremely comfortable with. He’ll pitch to get a starter out of an early jam, he’ll throw the seventh, or he’ll close a game out. Francona knows just when and how to use his best pitcher. Even when it’s not Miller, opposing offenses will have to go through Bryan Shaw in the eighth and Cody Allen in the ninth. An offense better hold a lead going into the seventh inning, or the Indians almost assuredly are coming out victorious.
If you want to see history made and a curse broken, as well as the best pitching staff in the league go deep into October, the Indians are for you.
AL East Winners: Boston Red Sox
Why you should root for the Red Sox: Chris Sale, A Rivalry ALCS
The Red Sox were my preseason pick to win the World Series this year. I figured with the addition of Chris Sale to the starting rotation, and core of young position players that were budding into stars, it would be a tough team to beat. And the Red Sox did their job in securing the AL East, but I’m not without my concerns. It will be difficult to navigate this loaded American League.
But you should root for the Red Sox if you want to watch Chris Sale break the record for most strikeouts in a playoff. The record for most strikeouts in a single postseason is 56, set by Curt Schilling in the 2001 playoffs, when the Diamondbacks and Yankees went to seven games. It would likely take five Chris Sale starts, and an average of more than 11 strikeouts per outing, to break that record. But if there’s one arm that could do it, I’d put my money on Chris Sale. Sale struckout 308 batters this year over the course of 214 innings pitched. That’s an average of 1.44 strikeouts per inning, and just shy of 13 per nine innings pitched. You may also get to witness history is Sale gets going in any one particular game. The record for most K’s in a single postseason game is 15, set by Mike Mussina in 1997 and matched by Roger Clemens in 2000. Sale has the potential to break that record.
Sale has some of the nastiest stuff I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a rare combination of biting slider and blistering fastball that gets Sale ahead of so many hitters before punching them out. Some say that Sale’s slider is the best in the game since Steve Carlton. That’s a lofty comparison. Sale uses that slider so often and is yet still so effective with it. He threw the slider 33 percent of the time in 2017, but produces a 15 percent swing through rate on said slider. The difference in velocity sets Sale up nicely. Sale averaged 95 miles per hour on his fastball, but dropped his average speed on the slider down to 80 miles per hour. That 15 mile per hour difference throws hitters off completely and allows Sale to use it as a get ahead pitch or a put away pitch.
Now if Chris Sale isn’t enough to get you on the Red Sox bandwagon, maybe a potential Red Sox-Yankees ALCS will. It’s been five years since either team appeared in the ALCS and and 13 since the two met in the Championship Series. The brutal feuds between the two teams in the late 90’s and early 2000’s have past and a new generation of Red Sox-Yankees rivals could being to take hold if the two teams were to match up in the ALCS. It’d be an interesting matchup to say the least, one with a ton of fireworks and back and forth actions. The two teams played 19 times throughout the regular season, with the Yankees taking 11 games to the Red Sox eight. But But the Rafael Devers game still likely sits squarely on Aroldis Chapman’s mind. It would be fun to watch the two duel in the ALCS.
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports