With the quick-fire and chaotic Wild Card round in full force, it is easy to get carried away with playoff excitement and the promise of a memorable October.
Taking a step back, you may notice that this version of the MLB playoffs looks very different than usual. Many storied franchises failed to make the postseason, while other big-money teams were also left out, giving us a field of smartly-run squads, long-suffering fan bases, and still a few powerhouses that threaten to retain the status quo.
While there are still a few blue-chip franchises who have enjoyed recent success, namely the Dodgers, Braves, and Astros, the collective frustration of the other nine playoff entrants is remarkable.
There is a solid tier of teams whose last title came in the 00’s (Phillies, Marlins, Diamondbacks), others who count their droughts in decades (Blue Jays, Twins, Orioles), and a few others who are still seeking their first World Series championship (Brewers, Rangers, Rays).
All in all, the sheer number of underdogs provides plenty of reasons to cheer from a neutral standpoint. However, let´s try to be more specific and give you a reason to root, root, root for each team (even the Astros!) this postseason.
Even if your team is out of it, we can all admit that there is nothing like October, and it’s always fun to have a rooting interest.
Baltimore Orioles – #1 Seed
Reason to root for them: youthful exuberance. Despite a surprise wild card push in 2022, most projection systems saw the Orioles as an afterthought in the AL East. With the league’s best farm system but not a lot of additional investment, the industry saw Baltimore’s rebuild as maybe an extra year away.
Welp…the future is now. The Orioles have gone from 110 losses to the #1 seed in the AL in two years, with manager Brandon Hyde leading the charge for the full turnaround, as the lineup is full of 20-somethings displaying an exciting brand of baseball.
Houston Astros – #2 Seed
Reason to root for them: seeing a repeat champion. Following the infamous sign-stealing scandal, making a case for the Astros has become almost an impossible task. Even with 6 straight ALCS appearances and a beloved manager in Dusty Baker, this is a team whose accomplishments will remain overshadowed by doubt for a long, long time.
So instead of saying trying to root for the likes of Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez, it becomes easier to root for history and seeing the Astros become the league’s first repeat champion since the 1999-2000 Yankees. Outside of the greater Houston area, it will be hard to be a big believer in that.
Minnesota Twins – #3 Seed
Reason to root for them: Royce Lewis‘ career path. After finally snapping the ludicrous 18-game playoff losing streak (the longest in American sports), the Twins can be free of pressure and try to make a run. For that, they can thank their famous-but-unexpected star, Royce Lewis.
After being drafted by franchise as the first overall pick in 2017, injuries had thwarted much of his development, as many considered him as a capital B bust. Instead, Lewis persevered and finally made his MLB debut in 2022, only to finally make his mark in 2023.
He hit 15 homers in only 239 plate appearances, including a stretch in which he belted a ridiculous 4 grand slams in 19 days. His flare for the dramatic showed up again to start the playoffs, with two homers to lead the way in Minnesota’s game 1 victory. He is still only 24 years old, and could be on his way to become the homegrown superstar the Twins envisioned.
Tampa Bay Rays – #4 Seed
Reason to root for them: Randy in the biggest stage. The Rays thrive on depth and having the right players to sustain their frugal system, especially with a pitching staff that constantly finds hidden gems.
In that well-oiled machine, one player rises above all else. Randy Arozarena became a cult hero with his heroic performances during the 2020 postseason (10 homers in 20 games), and has since showed that he loves the spotlight. After leading Mexico to within a couple of outs from the WBC finals, he was again a monster in the Home Run Derby and should be ready to lead the Rays in these playoffs.
Cool stat: he now has twice as many postseason multi-hit games (10) than hitless efforts (5).
Texas Rangers – #5 Seed
Reason to root for them: they are quietly cursed. After being founded in 1961 as the second version of the Washington Senators and then moving to Texas in 1972, the Rangers have found success elusive.
They are still one of the few franchises without a World Series title, and while their misery is not as highly publicized as the long-standing curses of the Red Sox, Cubs, or even the Guardians, there is plenty of evidence that this franchise is cursed.
Despite employing true MLB legends like Alex Rodriguez, Nolan Ryan, and Pudge Rodriguez, winning has never come easy. They won a grand total of one playoff game during their first 49 years of existence, and then managed to lose consecutive World Series, including what is probably the most devastating defeat of the 21st century.
Even this season, they lost the division on the final day of the season following a weird collapse, and now face long odds to advance. With three-time champion Bruce Bochy as manager and a potent offense, there are several reasons to root for this team, but they have to first battle their own demons.
Toronto Blue Jays – #6 Seed
Reason to root for them: Kevin Gausman’s playoff redemption. From his 2013 debut to 2019, Kevin Gausman was a middling-to-bad pitcher with limited upside. Following a 2020 move to San Francisco and a new approach to trust his splitter, he became an improbable late bloomer who signed an 8-figure free agent deal en route to his third straight top-10 Cy Young finish.
Even as Gausman’s renaissance is well documented, there is still one missing piece: a solid playoff performance. After taking the game 1 loss against the Twins, he remains winless in October, and now needs the Blue Jays to turn things around so he can get another shot.
With Vladdy regressing and Toronto’s offense being inconsistent in 2023, Gausman’s excellence has become the new standard for the franchise, and you should root for it to be reflected in the biggest stage.
Atlanta Braves – #1 Seed
Reason to root for them: power, unlimited power. The combination of Matt Olson, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Marcell Ozuna hit more homeruns (135) than the whole Cleveland Guardians organization (124) in 2023. The team hit a combined 307 dingers, which were 58 more than second-place Los Angeles.
They became the first team ever to finish a whole season slugging over .500, while also being a top-10 squad in terms of stolen bases. There is no way around it, Atlanta is loaded and plays a strong brand of baseball, which tends to be a good precursor for playoff success. If you love the long ball and tons of runs, this is your team.
Los Angeles Dodgers – #2 Seed
Reason to root for them: the Mookie show. Supposedly, 2023 was to be a transition year for the Dodgers, as they were ready to trust their young players and probably be less dominant than other versions of recent vintage. That plan becomes easier when you have Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman anchoring the lineup.
For Mookie in particular, 2023 was a banner year, with 39 homers and 107 RBI, moonlighting at shortstop and second base when the team needed him. His playoff career has been a bit lacking compared to his regular season excellence (4 homers in 55 games), so again he gets a chance to lead the Dodgers towards a deep playoff run.
As he prepares for his fourth career top-2 MVP finish, Betts remains one of the league’s premier players and LA’s most compelling reason to watch.
Milwaukee Brewers – #3 Seed
Reason to root for them: pitching wins championships. The loss of Brandon Woodruff is a tough blow for Milwaukee’s playoff aspirations, but this is still a team with enough pitching to compete in any game. With a staff that contains Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, and the best closer in the game in Devin Williams, the Brewers will try to win in an old-fashioned, low-scoring way, which tends to be a very watchable formula in the playoffs.
In addition to their pitching stars, the in-game decisions of manager Craig Counsell have also become legendary on their own, being considered the game’s top skipper. If the Brewers climb out of an early 0-1 hole and advance, they automatically become one of the easiest teams to root for as they seek the franchise’s first-ever championship.
Philadelphia Phillies – #4 Seed
Reason to root for them: sheer fun. The first day of the 2023 postseason had several memorable scenes, but probably none better than the raucous Philadelphia crowd who celebrated their opening win as if it were game 7 of the World Series.
With that kind of support, it is important to remember that the Phillies have cornered the market of fun players, who succeed in terms of flare, speed, power, and style … and in the case of Bryce Harper, checking all the boxes. Last year’s pennant winner was improbable, but this version has met expectations by hitting homers, stealing bases, and being part of several crazy games in 2023.
If your brand of baseball prefers improbable comebacks and long innings, the Phillies are here to meet your demands.
Miami Marlins – #5 Seed
Reason to root for them: chaos. Outside of the Rockies, the Marlins are probably the weirdest franchise in MLB.
They have two championships despite never winning their own division. They have an over-the-top stadium that has struggled to create a solid fanbase. They continue to sign low-upside veterans, but develop above-average pitchers at a solid rate. They finished with the run differential of a 74-win team, but an impressive 33-13 showing in one-run games carried them to the playoffs.
So if you want to root for a team that embraces weirdness, the Marlins have another chance to shock the world. If not, at least hang around and pay attention to Luis Arraez’s at-bats.
Arizona Diamondbacks – #6 Seed
Reason to root for them: a blend of speed and experience. Arizona has based its rebuild upon youth, speed, and athleticism. Trying to get a fly ball past its outfielders has become a fruitless hope for many hitters, while opposing catchers can only flail as the likes of Corbin Carroll and Jake McCarthy steal base after base.
However, it is unlikely that this plan would have worked without the leadership and contributions of a few wily veterans. The low-key signings of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Evan Longoria added a layer of balance for a young roster, while the mid-season addition of Tommy Pham represented a needed impact bat for the stretch run.
All in all, the Dbacks have become a very watchable team, and should be easy to root for as the NL’s lowest seed.