Major League Baseball’s Postseason rolls on this week. Eight teams remain, making it feel closer to a typical postseason than whatever happened last week was. In the American League, the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays will face the New York Yankees…at Dodger Stadium, while the AL-West champion Oakland A’s will face the Houston (Can-Bangers) Astros in San Diego.
A quick glance at MLB’s team payrolls shows the Yankees (1st — $109m) and Astros (4th — $83m) at the top and the A’s (25th — $37m) and Rays (28th — $28m) at the bottom. Big market and nice new stadiums against small-budget/market with crappy stadiums. Fortunately for neutral baseball fans, neither Oakland or Tamps will serve as home parks for these upcoming Best-of-5 series.
Reasons to Root for the A’s over the Astros
1. The A’s get to play in a real, major league baseball stadium without acres of foul territory and steel monstrosities beyond the outfield walls.
2. The A’s didn’t bang on trash cans to make hitting off-speed pitches much easier over the last few years. Houston’s team OPS slipped to 16th this year with no added advantage.
3. Lance McCullers Jr. is the son of a former major league pitcher, and his path to the majors was paved with gold, as he was named the high school player of the Year in 2012 and picked 41st overall in the 1st round by Houston. The path was too easy.
4. Sean Manaea is the son of a man from American Samoa who was sent to Vietnam to fight then settled down in Indiana. Manaea also became a first round pick, in 2013. He only threw 83 mph as a high school senior. Less tutoring.
5. Yuli Gurriel made racist gestures toward Yu Darvish in the 2018 World Series.
6. Chris Bassitt is a 31 year-old unlikely Game 1 Starter, who makes 830k and might be the best pitcher in this series. Underdog.
7. As Josh Peter, of USA Today put it, “The Astros waived goodbye to their integrity when they signed Roberto Osuna.” Houston signed him while he was being tried for domestic violence in Toronto.
Reasons to Root for the Rays Over the Yankees
1. The Rays entire roster made less money in 2020 than Gerritt Cole, Giancarlo Stanton and Masahiro Tanaka. (David and Goliath!)
2. Tampa’s scouting and player development have consistently been among the best in the majors over the last decade. (Bargain hunting!)
3. Rejuvenation Projects: Tyler Glasnow is a gigantic man, standing 6'8". Sometimes too much height leads to wildness (early Randy Johnson). Acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh, Tampa has reigned in the long-limbed Glasnow and he’s become one of baseball’s least-hittable pitchers. Compared to what’s happened to Chris Archer’s career after that trade, the move for Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows was one of the more savvy front office moves in recent years.
4. The Rays embraced the concept of an “opener,” maybe even invented it. By ignoring convention and starting the game with a reliever, the Rays turned a 5th starter’s spot into a “bullpen game.” As we’ve seen in recent years, bullpens have become ever more critical to postseason success. Necessity is the mother of invention, an idiom the Rays epitomize. They’ve never had enough funds to compete conventionally.
5. I know it’s the way baseball is played in 2020, but it’s tough to root for guys that strike out most of the time. Gary Sanchez had 23 hits this year: 9 singles, 4 doubles, and 10 homers. He struck out 36% of the time, slashing .147/.253 /.365. No Gary Sanchez. No thank you.
6. Mike Brousseau, Tampa’s 5'10" utility infielder was not drafted at all after graduating from small Oakland University in Michigan in 2016. The 26 year-old’s path to the majors was as unlikely as it was meandering. He signed for $1,000. and started his professional baseball career in the Gulf Coast League, a 22 year-old surrounded by teenagers. Hard not to root for a guy that’s just lucky to be there.