Finding Rooting Interests for Bad MLB Teams

A writer does his best to tell you why to watch bad baseball teams.

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that there is no shortage of eye-popping statistics. You can dig up numbers from any point in the game’s history and find something to amaze you. What strikes me? Probably the fact that here at the end of August — shockingly — zero Major League teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. And it’s not for a lack of bad MLB teams.

Obviously, the math wouldn’t permit such a situation at this point in the year. We’re getting close, though. As that point in the year where teams (officially) drop out of contention draws ever near, engagement likely begins to suffer. You, of course, have your die-hards. They might hate every second of it, but they’ve invested this much time and energy. Might as well finish it off. And you have the other end of the spectrum, as well. I also do not know how Luke Farrell ended up on the Cubs’ roster.

In an article from last week, I invoked Ralph Waldo Emerson. Allow me to hit you with some Tennyson this week: “Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams, and I’ll show you a happy man.” I’m stripping that quote of context in order to make the point that the low stakes of August and September are an opportunity for certain fanbases. The turmoil and intensity of a playoff race are what everybody prefers. At least those who have become aware of such a sensation in the last decade or so.

But there’s a certain level of solace that comes with falling into fandom for any one of the number of bad MLB teams. You get to enjoy baseball. Sometimes that enjoyment comes out of watching a superior squad against your own (purely for the grace of it, not the outcome). Maybe it’s the impending arrival of a top prospect for a cup of coffee. Perhaps it’s a journeyman making a late run at a spot for next year. We call that a Frank Schwindel. Or is it a Joey Meneses?

Regardless, as a bunch of fans get themselves all emotional about playoff races, here are some things that our bad MLB teams can look forward to for the next six-or-so weeks.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The good news in the desert is that they’ve come a long way from that 110-loss club of 2021. The bad news is that they’re still buried in the National League West. The better news is that they have a host of interesting prospects, with a Corbin Carroll promotion seemingly imminent. He’ll join Alek Thomas in the Arizona outfield before long, and Druw Jones is on his way eventually (when healthy). But in the interest of making prospect talk the sole focus point here, let’s talk about the pitching.

Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly have been brilliant. The former ranks 22nd among qualifying starts in fWAR (2.6), while Kelly comes in above him in 12th (3.3). Gallen hasn’t lost a decision since June. For his part, neither has Kelly, who has also gone at least seven innings in six of his last 10 starts. Any time either is on the bump for the Snakes, the smattering of fans at Chase Field will be delighted.

Cincinnati Reds

This one is a touch more difficult since the Reds had perhaps the largest selloff last winter this side of Oakland. That continued at the deadline when they moved both Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle. Hunter Greene is injured. The same goes for Tyler Stephenson after his latest bout with a freak injury. Joey Votto’s done for the year. That leaves check notes Nick Lodolo? Jonathan India?

Both are interesting players for their own reasons. But the real reason for Reds fans to tune in down the stretch comes in the form of Jose Barrero. Upon moving Brandon Drury to San Diego, Cincy slid Kyle Farmer over to third and handed the reigns to Barrero, hoping he’d latch on to the six for the foreseeable future. The early returns haven’t been great. He’s struck out almost half the time and is reaching base at a .200 clip through under 70 plate appearances. It’s a tough scene for Barrero, but he’s going to get every opportunity given the state of the Reds.

Chicago Cubs

Christopher Morel is fun. Nelson Velázquez could be a solid regular. Nico Hoerner has broken out. There are some pieces here. But the intrigue for the Cubs, given their wealth of position prospects still at the lower levels, is on the mound.

Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson have established themselves as future parts of the rotation. Brandon Hughes has been dynamite out of the bullpen. Adbert Alzolay and Manuel Rodríguez could rejoin the staff before the end of the year. Javier Assad turned in a really intriguing debut this week. One thing the Cubs don’t get enough credit for is their volume of arms. They’ve got a handful of interesting arms, particularly in a relief capacity, that could make their debut down the stretch. Those are likely the ones to watch.

Of course, in the event of a Matt Mervis call-up, then your eyeballs should immediately divert their attention.

Colorado Rockies

The ultimate rudderless organize, it’s hard to make anything of, well, anything the Rockies do. Harder still is figuring out reasons to watch them.

My vote? Wynton Bernard. The 31-year-old got his first taste of the big leagues just a few weeks ago and has fared pretty well. He’s hitting .314 and has three swipes to his credit thus far. It’s a good story and one worth following in the season’s closing weeks. Especially if you’re a Rox fan that is losing your optimism over seeing Kris Bryant in his first year in Colorado.

Miami Marlins

Count me among those that were (perhaps foolishly) motivated to vote the Marlins as a darkhorse contender in the NL this year. And they’re still completely worth watching! Sandy Alcantara and Pablo López are dynamite atop the rotation. Jesús Luzardo, too, depending on the day. Even without Jazz Chisholm Jr. in the fold due to injury, they’ve got a role to play down the stretch: the spoiler.

It almost seems cliché at this point, but the Fish could absolutely be a massive factor in September/October. They play Atlanta, the Phillies, and the Mets six more times each. They play a four-game set against Milwaukee. Those arms lining up against top-tier NL contenders are going to be intriguing and could lead to Miami having a lot to say about who gains entry into the dance come October.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Like I said above, it’s easy to just yell “Prospects!” for a reason to watch certain teams down the stretch. For Pittsburgh, though, it’s absolutely true. Ke’Bryan Hayes is back and healthy. Oneil Cruz is mashing balls 120 MPH (and throwing them at roughly the same speed). While not on the same level, Tucupita Marcano and Rodolfo Castro are youngsters who should play pretty heavily for the next several weeks. Roansy Contreras is one of the more notable pitching prospects around.

Who cares that they’re 30 games under .500? They’ve got a couple of budding stars and an established one in Bryan Reynolds. They’ve got intrigue as currently constructed.

Washington Nationals

With their schedule lately, I’ve seen a lot of Nats baseball among the teams that I stream regularly. Does that mean I’m confident in telling you why to watch them? Not necessarily. Joey Meneses is a lot of fun in that noted Frank Schwindel way. CJ Abrams got the call recently. Even if the bat hasn’t come through yet, the glove and the speed are a blast to watch. MacKenzie Gore could return at some point. Maybe. Elbow inflammation is a fickle thing.

If you wanted to get really morbid with it, Patrick Corbin is one of the worst pitchers the league has to offer, given his outings of late. There’s a certain level of masochism that comes along with that, but so does spending your day on Twitter.

Detroit Tigers

This is getting harder the longer this alphabetical (by league) list goes. I really enjoy Tarik Skubal. But he’s gone for the year. If you’d like to go the prospect route, Riley Greene is a future star with a regular role in the Detroit lineup. Javy Báez is still good for doing something you’ve never seen on a baseball field on any given night (for better or worse). Eduardo Rodriguez came back this week, too.

Working in Detroit’s favor, from a viewer standpoint, is that they play Seattle, Houston, Baltimore, and the White Sox down the stretch. That’s a lot of quality and fun in the opposition. Seeing what guys like Greene or Rodriguez turn in against those types of teams should pique at least some interest.

Kansas City Royals

Bobby Witt, Jr. He’s really the bulk of it. But my fellow Florida Gator Brady Singer has come on strong of late. In the second half, he’s posted 10.57 K/9, features a 0.97 WHIP, and a 2.54 FIP. His second-half ERA? 1.88. So every fifth day, make it the only day you’re not flipping to a Royals game only for the Bobby Witt, Jr. plate appearances. Singer is a horse.

Los Angeles Angels

It’s a sad state of affairs when the news that Arte Moreno is exploring a sale of the franchise is the most buzz that Halo fans have had going since April. They’ve still got Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout in the fold. A baseball unicorn and a generational talent are obvious reasons to keep tuning in. Even if, you know, the tweet is accurate five or six nights in a given week.

Dreaming of the possibilities of a Moreno-less ownership is enough to get Angels fans dreaming more, though. At least enough to get them to stop thinking about ‘Tungsten Arm’ O’Doyle for a bit.

Oakland Athletics

I’m so sorry, man, I just don’t have anything. Live vicariously through the Angels for now and hope that this vicious cycle ends someday. Shea Langeliers, though? Big Shea Langeliers guy.

Do you know who you won’t find on this list of bad MLB teams? The Baltimore Orioles. That’s right, our adorable little best-of-the-worst squad is all grown up. wipes tear

Illustration by Cody Rogers (@CodyRogers10)

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

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