Who to at least mildly cheer for in a crowded table?
The New York Yankees are not going to make the playoffs. At time of writing they have a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs per FanGraphs, and the release of Josh Donaldson and waiving Harrison Bader scream white flag to the baseball world. There will be plenty of time for post mortems about the franchise, but let’s take a minute and evaluate the rest of the playoff picture. For me, I’m going to watch baseball even if the Yankees aren’t in the picture, and I need to know who to root for if New York isn’t part of the playoff table.
So, in descending order, who should you cheer for once the season is officially over for the pinstripes?
I think unquestionably the team for Yankee fans is the Mariners. Outside of 1995 there’s no real bad blood on the New York side anyway, Julio Rodríguez has followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign with a season that will likely see him as an MVP finalist, and as a team, they’ve sort of built this reputation as comeback kids.
The AL West race is probably the most interesting thing happening in baseball right now, and this ranking should give some signal as to how I hope it all turns out. The Mariners finally snapped their long postseason drought last season, but a division win and deep playoff run would be even more fun than everything they put together last year. The fact that they’re the only MLB club to never make it all the way to the World Series is only another point in their favor. Go M’s.
Some people will never root for a division rival, and I get that even if I don’t agree. Right now, the Orioles are exactly what you want a baseball team to be, with a dynamic young core led by Adley Rutschman, who may not quite be the best catcher in baseball but is I think the most aesthetically pleasing to watch play.
Like the Rangers, a good story does need a fatal flaw, and for the Orioles, that rotation should worry some folks. They boast the best bullpen in the game, although losing Félix Bautista takes a huge weapon away from manager Brandon Hyde. The key to the Orioles’ playoff push is how the lineup can withstand the fact they won’t get a ton of support from their pitching staff, but with Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and five other regulars or semi-regulars with a wRC+ of 115 or greater.
One of the great surprises of the 2023 season, despite their little slide in the second half of August, the Rangers boast a deep lineup and talented groups of starters, including trade deadline acquisitions Jordan Montgomery and Max Scherzer. Marcus Semien is, I think, the most underrated player in the game, and after so much Astros hegemony atop the AL West, it’s so refreshing to see someone else put together a real fight in the division.
The downside to the Rangers’ chances is how much their bullpen kinda stinks, in the bottom third of baseball in both ERA and FIP. This isn’t a reason not to support them, but it might end up being the driving force behind a short playoff run (and Yankees fans have certainly seen enough of Aroldis Chapman’s October stylings). Until that happens, though, do yourself a favor and watch this lineup work.
The Twins are in the middle of this because I don’t care about the AL Central, and neither should you.
This one hurts the heart. The Jays boast a lot to like — they’ve built a really talented pitching rotation, with Kevin Gausman being one of the best arms in the AL, and turning around José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi in ways that should inspire coaching staffs across the game. Trying to hit a fly ball against their outfield is like throwing a tennis ball into a packed off-leash dog park, and they’re a sentimental favorite because they were the team whose games I went to the most growing up.
And yet …
If the hare from The Tortoise and the Hare had a Tethered, it would be the Toronto Blue Jays, a dark, twisted mirror of the folk story’s antagonist. The hare gets out to a big lead, coasts, naps, loses. The Jays do the opposite: they don’t seem to care about the start of the race, wake up 75 games in, and try to speedrun their way to the postseason. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and unfortunately I think they need to be punished for maintaining this style year after year.
I might actually dislike the Rays more than I do the Astros, but Tampa Bay just doesn’t boast the playoff history. Kevin Cash might be good at his job but he’s certainly the most annoying manager in the game, and I don’t think the Rays receive the criticism they deserve for how they burn out pitchers.
They got off to an incredible start this season, and in a 2022 Yankees way have come back down to earth, now on the outside looking in for the AL East title. While they’re 2.5 games back of the Orioles, they’ll almost certainly end up playing in October, and I’m not going to enjoy it.
You don’t need me to tell you why a Yankee fan should be actively opposed to the success of the boys in orange. They’ve eliminated the Yankees from the postseason three times in six seasons, steal signs, and even in seasons where they’re showing warts — getting only 149 games out of Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez — will still get four-win seasons out of players like Alex Bregman and Chas McCormick.
They’re in a three-way tie for first in the AL West. Boo these men.
All cited standings were valid as of the beginning of play on Wednesday, August 30th.