Guest Piece: The Bandwagoner’s Guide to the 2015 MLB Postseason

October is a month that hasn’t meant anything in Toronto outside of Drake’s coined ‘October’s Very Own’ since 1993. This was a baseball city 20 years ago, and it sees like it could be (at least for the moment) getting back to that because the Jays are actually relevant again for the first time since ’93 (the year we went Back to Back). Baseball is more popular South of the border, so I’ll pass it off to my Ace, Pierce, as he guides non-baseball fans into the joy of October. Enjoy.

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So it’s October, the greatest month of the calendar year. You can debate it. That’s fine. But for those who argue that July or December, maybe even March(??) is superior to the tenth month of the year, I’d like you to know that you’re wrong and I hate you.

October can mean many different things depending on the type of person you are. If you’re a fan of ghouls and goblins, you’ve probably had your Halloween movie schedule planned out since Flag Day. Ugg boot aficionado? You couldn’t wait for the changing of seasons so you could go to H&M and buy 30 pairs of leggings. Or maybe you love anything and everything pumpkin – pumpkin spiced lattes, pumpkin spiced beer, Italian women who tanned so long they look like Jack-O Lantern’s…

But if you’re like me, October can only mean one thing (in addition to October 28th, which in 1991 became the most historic day in the history of ever)….

October means postseason baseball.

Postseason baseball has never been kind to me. As some of you who follow me may know, I am a long suffering fan of the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t seen a World Series in 70 years, let alone have won one since 1908. Yes, that’s 19-08, as in “ought-eight”, predating the sinking of the Titanic and the birth of Dick Vitale. Every Cubs fan has their October horror story. I’ll bore you with mine…

October 14th, 2003. An 11-year-old Pierce sat in a hotel room at the darkest time an 11-year-old should experience. See, less than a month prior, my family’s home of 13 years had caught fire. We lost practically everything, and my mom and I (and our pup, Chyna) were forced to start anew. But there was one thing that was salvageable, and I made sure to run back into the charred, gutted home to retrieve it: they were tickets to the following Saturday’s Cubs game.

Of course, this tale would be trash if they were just regular baseball tickets. The Cubs were in the thick of a playoff race with the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals (scum) for the NL Central division crown. The day before was rained out, and a doubleheader would be played that Saturday, with the Cubs magic number to win the division at 3. With a DH sweep and a loss by the Ass-tros, the Cubs would win the division for the first time.

As the story goes, Mark Prior pitched dominantly in game one, and Sammy Sosa cranked a bomb in game two, and with a Houston L, the Cubs celebrated a NL Central title. And I was there.

Before I got into girls and found my first Dipset tape, the Cubs were the first thing I ever fell in love with. Take a stroll into venerable Wrigley Field, even now with its renovations and new video boards, and you’ll be hard pressed not to develop a strong emotion towards this club. The long history of being good yet not good enough didn’t matter. They were lovable, even if they were losers.

Back to October 14th…the Cubs were one win away from their first trip to the World Series since 1945, and held a close lead going into the 7th inning. It’s been tradition since the death of the legend Harry Caray that a celebrity (usually C-lister or one with ties to the team or the city) sing the 7th Inning Stretch, and that day, none other than Chicago’s Very Own Bernie Mac (RIP) was tabbed to sing the stretch. A noted fan of the crosstown White Sox, Mac stepped into the booth, with his Cubs jacket bundled up, and preceded to call the Cubs “champs”.

Everyone in attendance cheered, feeling like this finally will be the moment the Cubs break the curse of Billy Sianis’ goat and go to the Fall Classic. In my mind, I could only think one thing…

“Oh no….oh god no…..dear God he did not just fucking say that….”

Legend has it, the Cubs were five outs away from the World Series, when a fly ball went into the stands as left fielder Moises Alou went to catch it, and a scrawny four-eyed doofus named Steve Bartman interfered with the ball. Now there’s no telling that Alou would have made the catch (and depending on how much of a meathead you are, Bartman’s been forgiven), but that play set out a chain of events that can only be described as a “Cubby Occurrence”. The Cubs would lose that game, then lose the following night to squander a precious opportunity unforeseen in Chicago baseball since 1917.

Since then, another cursed team in the Boston Red Sox have won three championships, and even Bernie Mac’s own White Sox have been to the mountaintop, but the Cubs haven’t won a postseason game since.

As you can see, life as a baseball fan can be cruel, but not if you’re a bandwagon!

A good portion of the people reading this will be from Toronto, so welcome to October baseball! You haven’t been here in 22 years, so what a perfect time to act like you can tell a slider from a changeup! But never fear. I’ve drafted a guide (inspired by CBS Sports’ guide to picking an English Premier League Club) to help even the most fair weather of baseball fans seem like a lifer, and if you pay careful attention, you might find a deeper appreciation for one of the ten teams on this list. So all aboard the wagon! Here is the Bandwagoner’s Guide to the 2015 MLB Postseason.

St. Louis Cardinals

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Nickname: Redbirds, Cards
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Last World Series title: 2011 (11 total)
Rivals: Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals
Strengths: Depth, Cardinals Devil Magic
Weaknesses: Injuries, Rotation
Best Player: Jason Heyward
NBA comparison: San Antonio Spurs – It’s hard to find a better run club in baseball than the Cardinals (hacking scandals aside). Cardinal fans are insufferable, but they’re always able to find diamonds in the rough and get to the playoffs every year.
Celebrity fans: Jon Hamm, Nelly, John Goodman, Billy Bob Thornton

A strong start to the 2015 season put the Redbirds in the driver’s seat, and newly acquired outfielder Jason Heyward led the Cards to a 100 win season and a third-straight NL Central title. They’ve been hit by the injury bug all year, missing ace Adam Wainwright for most of the year (he’ll reportedly move to the bullpen in the postseason) and now hard-throwing righty Carlos Martinez will miss the entire postseason, but it’s been next man up for St. Louis all year. Let’s see if guys named Grichuk, Piscotty and Pham can push the Cardinals back into the World Series for the fifth time since 2004.

(Writers note: look at that shit up there. That Darren Wilson jersey. That’s what you want out of your fan base? If you’re a fuck boy, maybe. I get that. But be better than the Best Frauds in Baseball.)

Los Angeles Dodgers

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Nickname: The Blue Crew, the Bums
Location: Los Angeles, California
Last World Series title: 1988 (6 total)
Rivals: San Francisco Giants, LA Angels of Anaheim
Strengths: Rotation
Weaknesses: Bullpen, hitting, managerial decisions
Best Player: Clayton Kershaw
NBA comparison: Oklahoma City Thunder – They have arguably the best player in the game in Clayton Kershaw, and a guy who by no means is the Robin to Kershaw’s Batman in fellow ace Zack Greinke, but despite a third NL West title in three years, this feels like a team that can’t get over the hump. If they don’t, their manager Don Mattingly might soon be searching for a new job.
Celebrity fans: Magic Johnson (part-owner), Ice Cube, Alyssa Milano, Tom Cruise, Bryan Cranston

Fans of Los Doyers had to watch the rival Giants win three championships in five years, which isn’t easy to stomach when you have two of the best pitchers in baseball in your rotation. The Dodgers have been mired in bullpen problems since last year, and have struggled to hit after jettisoning Rihanna’s ex-bae Matt Kemp to San Diego and speedster Dee Gordon to Miami. But pitching rules in October, and you’d be hard press to find a better one-two punch than Kershaw/Greinke. Extra bandwagon points because Vin Scully is the best grandad I’ve ever had.

We love you Vin. Never change.

New York Mets

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Nickname: The Amazin’s
Location: Queens, NY
Last World Series title: 1986 (2 total)
Rivals: New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies
Strengths: Rotation, Hitting
Weaknesses: Innings restrictions on starting pitchers
Best Player: Yoenis Cespedes
NBA Comparison: New Orleans Pelicans – Relative newcomers to the dance, the Mets have a nice nucleus to build around, with a surplus of pitchers led by Matt Harvey (a season removed from Tommy John Surgery), and “Thor” Noah Syndergaard. But they wouldn’t be here without Yoenis Cespedes, who single-handedly changed the fortunes of this franchise upon his deadline deal to New York. This may not be their year, but they’re on the rise.
Celebrity Fans: Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Kevin James, Nas

The Mets ran away with the NL East after the Cespedes trade, blowing away the perceived NL favorite Washington Nationals. While Cespedes is the best player on a young team, it’ll be the leadership of third baseman David Wright and their pitching staff that’ll give Mets fans hope the team will make their first appearance in the Fall Classic since 2000, and in the process erasing the stink of the 2006 NLCS (Google it. It’s the Mets fans’ version of my 2003 heartbreak).

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte, left, center fielder Andrew McCutchen, and right fielder Gregory Polanco celebrate a 7-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds in a baseball game Thursday, May 7, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Nickname: The Bucs, the Buccos
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Last World Series title: 1979 (5 total)
Rivals: Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs (to a lesser extent than the Phils)
Strengths: Bullpen, Andrew “McClutchen”
Weaknesses: Bad record vs. divisional opponents
Best Player: Andrew McCutchen
NBA Comparison: Atlanta Hawks – The Bucs went through a long period of mediocrity in the 90s and 2000s, going 20 straight seasons with a losing record (a North American professional sports record). Now the Pirates are in their third consecutive wild card playoff game, and are close to breaking through the glass ceiling.
Celebrity Fans: Wiz Khalifa, Michael Keaton

The Pirates are one of the best teams in baseball, but are once again forced to play their way into the divisional round by way of being a wild card team (a playoff team that didn’t win their division). The Bucs have one of the best righties in baseball in Gerrit Cole, and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, but the Pirates were outplayed by the Cardinals and Cubs, both teams they’ll have to get past if they’re even dreaming of playing deep into October. Will the Pirates raise it at PNC Park like they did in 2013, or will it be another early postseason for the Buccos?

Chicago Cubs

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Nickname: The Cubbies, the Lovable Losers, the Northsiders
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Last World Series Title: 1908 (2 total)
Rivals: St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox
Strengths: Depth, top of the rotation
Weaknesses: Youth, being the Cubs
Best Player: Jake Arrieta
NBA Comparison: Golden State Warriors – I’m not being a homer with this comp, I swear. The Cubs have a lot of youthful exuberance on their squad, with three rookies playing nearly everyday in Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. New manager Joe Maddon isn’t a rookie; he’s been around the block and made a World Series appearance. But his fun-loving managerial style is infectious, and his reliance on analytics and advanced stats has his team dreaming of a party in Wrigleyville.
Celebrity Fans: Bill Murray, Jeremy Piven, Michelle Obama, CM Punk, Vince Vaughn, (fuck) Jim Belushi

Here we go again. Cubs fans have tried to brush it off, but you can’t deny it anymore: this team is good. Good enough to be thinking World Series title. That’s a scary thought considering all that’s happened to this team in the last 107 years, but if any Cubs team can erase the curse, it’s this one. Joe Maddon’s put his faith in first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who responded with an MVP-caliber year. But the man of the hour is Jake Arrieta, who went 16-1 down the stretch, with a 0.76 ERA in the second half (PSST! THAT’S GOOD!). Arrieta will no doubt be on the mound in the Wild Card game, the Cubs’ first postseason game since 2008. Trendy pick for bandwagon fans due to their underdog status & surplus of good, young players.

Toronto Blue Jays

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Nickname: Jays
Location: Toronto, Ontario Canada
Last World Series title: 1993 (2 total)
Rivals: None? (The Expos are long gone from Montreal, and its rivalry with the Detroit Tigers diminished once the Tigers moved to the AL Central)
Strengths: Power hitting
Weaknesses: Rotation after David Price
Best Player: Josh Donaldson
NBA Comparison: Cleveland Cavaliers – The Jays haven’t made the postseason since Joe Carter walked off in the World Series in ’93. GM Alex Anthopolous retooled, trading for possible AL MVP Josh Donaldson before the season, and netting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and lefty ace David Price at the deadline. They have the weapons, but is this the year the Jays bring a title back north of the border?
Celebrity Fans: Drake (by default), Avril Lavigne (c’mon, I really didn’t have much to work with)

Everything is coming up 6 for Toronto. Drake is the hottest rapper in the game, the Raptors are a perennial playoff team, the Maple Leafs…..uhhh……ummm…..well they’ve got Mike Babcock and that means something. Sorta. But the Blue Jays have the best chance of bringing a world title back to Toronto. There’s a lot of power in that lineup, and with David Price and the returning Marcus Stroman, their rotation looks strong enough to get them to the Fall Classic. But will the age of guys like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and the injury prone Tulo catch up to them?

Kansas City Royals

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Nickname: Not sure they’ve been relevant long enough to have one
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
Last World Series title: 1985 (only title)
Rivals: St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics
Strengths: Small ball
Weaknesses: Pitching
Best Player: Lorenzo Cain
NBA Comparison: Washington Wizards – Sure their manager, Ned Yost, might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but his arsenal is plentiful. They do the little things great, which is what got them to the dance for the first time in 29 years last October. KC is looking to continue their baseball renaissance and win the AL pennant for the second straight October.
Celebrity Fans: Paul Ruud, Eric Stonestreet, Rob Riggle

The Royals have slumped over the last few months. Their big deadline coup, Johnny Cueto, has been subpar going 3-7 with a 4.95 ERA since arriving from Cincinnati. But if he can find that 2014 magic, when he was an NL Cy Young candidate, the Royals can make up for it on offense. Their small ball approach got them far last year, but they have some big boppers in Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Lorenzo Cain. Kansas City is a very dangerous club in the American League.

Texas Rangers

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Nickname: None
Location: Arlington, Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro)
Last World Series title: none
Rivals: Houston Astros, LA Angels of Anaheim
Strengths: Experience, they’re one of the hottest teams in baseball
Weaknesses: Injuries, they’re the fucking Texas Rangers
Best Player: Prince Fielder
NBA Comparison: Los Angeles Clippers – the Rangers are only making their seventh trip to the postseason this year. SEVEN! Fortunate for the Rangers, they have some guys who have been there and done that, mainly Cole Hamels, who won a ring in 2008 with the Phillies. Still, the stench of being the Texas Rangers may be too overpowering to overcome.
Celebrity Fans: George W. Bush, Owen Wilson, Dirk Nowitzki (again, default)

The Rangers turned on the jets after the acquisition of Hamels, who has gone 6-1 in 11 starts with Texas. The offseason trade for Prince Fielder is paying dividends, as he’s one of the league leaders in batting average (.307) and RBIs (96). They’ve been hit by injuries as well. No Yu Darvish could bite them in the ass, but with the power hitting Adrian Beltre back at third, and the return of rotation arms Derek Holland and Martin Perez, the Rangers are a sleeper team to make their third World Series appearance in six years.

New York Yankees

during their game at Yankee Stadium on October 1, 2015 in New York City.

Nickname: The Bronx Bombers, the Yanks, the Evil Empire
Location: Bronx, NY
Last World Series title: 2009 (27 total)
Rivals: Boston Red Sox, New York Mets
Strengths: Experience, home run power
Weaknesses: Rotation, inconsistency, injuries
Best Player: Alex Rodriguez (Masahiro Tanaka if healthy)
NBA Comparison: Boston Celtics/Los Angeles Lakers hybrid – the most storied franchise in sports is back in October, looking for their 28th championship. They have the universal respect of everyone in baseball (much like the Celtics) and the universal hatred of anyone who’s ever met a Yankee fan (like the Lakers). It’s also easy to hate the team with A-Rod on it, but no matter how many scandals he finds themselves him, he’s still a threat to mash a ball into the bleachers every time he steps up to the plate.
Celebrity Fans: Billy Crystal, Jay Z, Spike Lee, LeBron James, Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington (we could go on, really)

The Yankees are back in the postseason for the first time since 2012, a decade by Yankee standards. Derek Jeter is no longer the face of the franchise, but the resurgence of A-Rod has the Bombers ready to make a push for number 28. But the injury bug has been an issue in the Bronx, with Mark Teixeira missing the postseason and Masahiro Tanaka nursing a bad hammy. If the rotation can hold serve and the offense stabilizes, the Yankees could be back in the Fall Classic.

Houston Astros

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Nickname: The ‘Stros
Location: Houston, Texas
Last World Series title: none
Rivals: Texas Rangers
Strengths: Bullpen, Hitting
Weaknesses: Inexperience
Best Player: Carlos Correa
NBA Comparison: Milwaukee Bucks – Speeding up the rebuild, the Astros are a surprise playoff team after multiple last-place finishes. After stocking the minor league system for years, the Astros are ready to unleash their farmhands onto the majors in hopes of a trip back to the World Series.
Celebrity Fans: George H. W. Bush

The last four seasons went as such for the Astros – 106 losses, 107 losses, 111 L’s, 92 defeats. My math isn’t great, but that’s more than 400 losses in a four-year span. For years, they put the Ass in Astros, but the emergence of Dallas Keuchel in the rotation, and kids like former Number One overall pick Carlos Correa making an impact, Houston rode a 18-7 April into the summer months and wind up making their first postseason trip in a decade. The Bronx Zoo won’t be kind, but the ‘Stros might have the perfect mix of power hitting and a shutdown bullpen that could will Houston past the Yanks in the AL Wild Card game.

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