Growing up as a Milwaukee Brewers fan in the ’90s and early ’00s, but obsessing over baseball like I do, was not a great combination. Those Milwaukee teams were essentially done by August, or even earlier, and played out the season with ramshackle lineups and makeshift starting rotations cobbled together out of has-beens, never-weres, and never-will-bes. (About half the time, those sorry fellas were the exact same bunch that started the season, but who’s counting.) But since rooting for the Brewers after the trade deadline was an exercise in futility, I grew to be a seasoned veteran of the fall bandwagoning process.
This year, in a promising sign for the Great Brewers Rebuild, that process almost didn’t have to occur. The Brewers were in the playoff hunt right up until Game 161: Team 11, the last remaining squad left on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. This leaves Brewer fans like me, who are used to adopting a temporary rooting interest for the playoffs, in the old familiar “oh crap, I forgot to do my homework” situation.
Fortunately, I brought enough crib notes for the whole class. Let’s have a run over our options, and I hope we can make things a little bit clearer for you, and a little bit more enjoyable over the next few month. Because just thinking “someday the Brewers will be here” to yourself over and over is a really crappy way to spend a month.
Today: The American League
Regular Season Results: A 102-60 record and the AL Central championship. Cleveland is coming into the playoffs on an unbelievable 33-4 run dating back to August 24.
Brewers Connection: In September of 2008, as they were making their own push into the postseason, the Brewers sent a minor-league outfielder named Michael Brantley as the player-to-be-named-later in the C.C. Sabathia deal. Nine years and fifteen wins above replacement later, the Brewers really wish they had insisted on a different player being thrown in to complete that deal. Featured prospect Matt LaPorta was a bust, but it could be argued that Brantley more than makes up for that in the deal from Cleveland’s perspective.
Brantley is good when he’s healthy, but he’s not healthy often, and he’s been injured for most of August and September. He was activated from the disabled list on September 30th, but manager Terry Francona isn’t exactly confident that Brantley isn’t rushing back before he’s ready.
Here's Francona on Brantley being activated from the disabled list. pic.twitter.com/9qhlp89bxE
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 30, 2017
There’s a more recent, but weaker, connection that bears mentioning as well: the vetoed Jonathan Lucroy Trade Number One of the 2016 deadline.
Why You Should Root For Them: There was some initial animosity between the fan bases after the ill-fated Lucroy deal, but that seems to have dissipated in light of the way things have gone since then. The Brewers got a bigger package for Lucroy, and Cleveland avoided making one of the worst deadline purchases in baseball history. Plus, they’re the team that gave us Sabathia, and I think a lot of Milwaukee fans will be forever grateful for that.
Going beyond the Brewer-specific, this is a fun team. They’re on a 33-4 run! Corey Kluber is one of the two serious contenders for the AL Cy Young. Their rotation is deep enough to banish Mike Clevinger and Danny Salazar to the bullpen, and those two guys would be in the rotation of at least 25 teams. And their lineup, while not standing out in any one facet of the game, is an overall top-five unit in all of MLB by VORP.
Why You Shouldn’t Root For Them: Picking the team that’s been basically unbeatable for over a month doesn’t seem very sporting. PECOTA agrees, and gives Cleveland 24.4 percent odds of winning the World Series.
Throw in the fact that they lost the World Series in an extra-innings Game 7 last year and the bandwagon potential here is off the charts. If you’re picking them, you’d better be comfortable with steering into all of those fair-weather fan jokes.
Plus, Cleveland almost screwed up the Lucroy deal, then they couldn’t keep the Cubs’ drought going. If, as a Brewers fan, you feel skittish because these guys have let you down a lot lately, that’s perfectly valid.
Boston Red Sox
Regular Season Results: 93-69, good enough to squeak past the Yankees in the AL East by two games, despite a run differential per game of exactly a half run lower than their bitter rivals. Don’t you just love the modern twist that sabermetrics brings to feuds like this? Yankee fans now have a valid reason to trash-talk their rivals who just beat them by two games, but Red Sox Nation can still shut it down with the equivalent of the old “scoreboard” chant. Do any of them care that they don’t “deserve” the division championship? Absolutely not. Even the most rational and logical Sox fans care only that they have it, and the Yankees don’t.
Brewers Connection: They gave us Travis Shaw last offseason for a pitcher who hasn’t appeared in a game yet due to injury. Thanks, guys! You shouldn’t have! No, seriously, you really shouldn’t have. They made that trade because they wanted Pablo Sandoval to play third base, not Shaw. Sandoval gave them 108 plate appearances of uselessness before they released him. It’s all good now, as rookie Rafael Devers has slashed .284/.338/.482 since his call-up in July, but for a good part of the season the Sox really looked like they had shot themselves in the foot.
Tyler Thornburg, the former Brewer that Boston now has as a result of that deal, underwent surgery on his shoulder in June. He’s not going to pitch this post-season.
Why You Should Root For Them: Because Mookie Betts is one of the most excellent, complete players in all of baseball. He’s a first-round fantasy talent who contributes in all categories, and he’s a joy to watch in the outfield.
Additionally, if Corey Kluber does not win the AL Cy Young, that will be because Chris Sale stepped his game up to Kershawesque heights in 2017. He struck out just shy of 13 batters per nine innings, walked barely more than a tenth of that, and only Kluber and Max Scherzer had a better DRA this year.
But probably the best reason for a Wisconsinite to root for the Red Sox to win it all this year is that third baseman Rafael Devers turns 21 on October 24th. If they win the Series, he’ll be bathing in champagne while 21 in less than a month.
Why You Shouldn’t Root For Them: Because they’re the Target to the Yankees’ Wal-Mart and you’ve got choices beyond those two identical-but-for-their-colors giants. This summer’s slapfight over sign stealing is the perfect example of that dichotomy. Both teams accused the other of using Apple Watches in order to steal signs and, personal opinion, both teams were probably guilty as hell (if you think otherwise you know little of human nature and/or baseball history). Despite that, both sides were stunned that the other guys could pull such treachery, while acting as if they were the victims and hadn’t been counter-surveiling in the exact same way. There are other teams out there you can adopt who aren’t staffed and supported by such self-important hypocrites.
Regular Season Results: They were the sure-thing team to hold home field in the American League until Cleveland caught fire and edged them out by one game. Still, 101-61 was good enough to have the division basically locked up by the All-Star Break. Houston’s team OPS was best in the league by a 35 point margin, and only the Yankees’ pitchers accumulated more PWARP in 2017. Houston’s staff ERA of 4.12 should be lower according to both DRA and FIP advanced metrics.
Brewers Connection: Remember Mike Fiers? He was in the Astros’ rotation until about a month or so ago. He probably won’t see postseason action, though. He was bumped from the rotation in the first week of September, and his season ERA of 5.22, with a 5.32 DRA suggesting he wasn’t unlucky at all, might mean his time in Houston is over. Former Brewer Nori Aoki got 224 mostly mediocre at-bats for this team before they released him, but he did pitch an inning!
On the flipside of the equation Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, and Jonathan Villar are all former Astros. As is general manager David Stearns, who clearly knew to start his own rebuild with the scraps of the previous one he worked on.
And, of course, it must be mentioned that these two teams were once division rivals. They never had any overlapping periods of competitiveness in the NL Central, but it still counts for something. More recently, the Astros had their internal data hacked by the sanctimonious turd-sniffing Cardinals, and that’s gotta be good for a handful of sympathy points.
Why You Should Root For Them: The Brewers’ general manager learned his craft in this front office. What does it say about Milwaukee’s future if they cap off a championship? The Astros’ sabermetrically gifted baseball operations department has turned a slew of top prospects into a great team. Carlos Correa was a consensus top-two guy, as was his neighbor on the left side of the infield, Alex Bregman. George Springer was a top-20 prospect. Yuli Gurriel was a high-profile international signing. And then there’s Jose Altuve, the tiniest superstar in all of sports. Altuve slashed .346/.410/.547, and finished just one home run shy of joining the 25-25 club despite being shorter than my wife. Altuve was never a “real” prospect, but you could make a great case for him being the 2017 AL MVP.
Houston is also the big sentimental favorite this year in the aftermath of hurricane season. Local pride is great, and in times of crisis teams can inspire national pride as well. But the Astros represent Team Humanity going up against Team Nautral Disaster! How do you galvanize a divided people better than that?!
Why You Shouldn’t Root For Them: Because you think it’d just be that sweet for David Stearns to win a World Series before his old team. Or because your fantasy team wasted a high draft pick on Carlos Gomez in 2016. Or maybe you just don’t like short people, so Altuve’s at-bats piss you off.
New York Yankees
Regular-Season Results: As I already touched upon, the Yankees outperformed the Red Sox sabermetrically, but finished two games back in the division. Still, 91-71 was good enough to secure the first wild-card game berth, and the Yankees overcame a first-inning implosion by starter Luis Severino to beat the Twins in that game Tuesday night.
Brewers Connection: The Yankees acquired Class-AAA first baseman Garrett Cooper from the Brewers this July, though he’s unlikely to feature on the playoff roster. More significantly, onetime Milwaukee postseason hero C.C. Sabathia will feature in the Yankees’ postseason rotation. Sabathia looked done after 2014 and 2015, but he has reinvented himself as a viable back-end starter the past two years, significantly outpitching his advanced metrics both seasons.
Why You Should Root For Them: Because even though the Brewers couldn’t keep C.C. Sabathia, and were right to not pay him the $25 million a year he wanted in 2009, he’s still family. And the Yankees have paid him well after he destroyed his arm getting us to the postseason. So in a roundabout, vicarious way, the Yankees are family too. Ugh, that sentence hurt to type.
Going beyond that, if you can shut out that they’re the Evil Empire, this is a young, exciting team. Aaron Judge is an MVP candidate and might not actually be human, Gary Sanchez is a stud catcher who gets shafted of the proper recognition for his skills because of the presence of Judge, Brett Gardner’s been about five different players over the course of his career but they’ve all been fun to watch, and the Didi Gregorious Breakout has been one of the most criminally underrated subplots of the 2017 season. And that’s before you even get to the bullpen, which is the strength of this team, the reason they survived the wild-card game, and the reason they’re built to excel in the postseason.
Why You Shouldn’t Root For Them: Because unless you were actually born and raised in New York you should never, ever root for the Yankees.
Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara, USAToday Sports Images