Who to root for? Ranking the contenders

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
11:10
PM ET


Your team is out of it, but you still love baseball. You intend keep checking box scores and watching the big games these final two weeks. You'll watch the playoffs, but you need a team to root for.

So, who to pick from the remaining teams in contention? I mean, you could just go with the team that's gone the longest without a World Series title -- that would either be the Indians (1948) or the Rangers (never). You could go with the biggest underdog -- probably the Pirates, who hadn't had a winning season since 1992. You could go with the smallest payroll -- that would be the Rays. Or maybe you just want Bud Selig to hand Alex Rodriguez that World Series MVP trophy.

[+] EnlargeJose Tabata
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesJose Tabata and the Pirates have already kissed their consecutive losing season blues goodbye.
But there are various factors you should consider in order to make the correct choice. I've weighted five different categories: misery (how much suffering have those franchise's fans gone through?), 2013 storyline (what made them interesting?), star factor (stars make October baseball more intriguing), payroll (high, medium or low payroll?) and fan support (do their own fans care?). The first three categories are judged on a five-point scale (five being highest) and payroll and fan support are judged on a three-point scale. Total maximum points is thus 21. Ties are broken by the team that's gone longest without winning a World Series.

14. New York Yankees: 12 points
Misery: 1
2013 storyline: 4
Star factor: 3
Payroll: 1
Fan support: 3

No, Yankees fans, suffering through Jayson Nix, Austin Romine and Brent Lillibridge doesn't count as misery. There's no denying this has been a compelling season in the Bronx, with all the injuries and a team of, in many cases, replacement-level players hanging in the race. Throw in the A-Rod saga and Mariano Rivera's final campaign, and the Yankees certainly would make October fascinating if they sneak in. Still, they're the Yankees, even with Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira injured and CC Sabathia pitching more like Andy Hawkins.

13. Atlanta Braves: 12 points
Misery: 3
2013 storyline: 2
Star factor: 3
Payroll: 2
Fan support: 2

It's been 18 years now since the Braves won their only World Series during their glorious run of 14 consecutive playoff appearances. It's also been 12 years since the Braves won a playoff series, the 2001 Division Series. While they lack that one big star, perhaps the most interesting aspect is their youth -- Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel are all 25 or younger. It's a young team that's going to be around a long time. But it's also a team that's doing exactly what everyone expected, minus the expected competition from the Nationals.

12. Tampa Bay Rays: 12 points
Misery: 3
2013 storyline: 2
Star factor: 3
Payroll: 3
Fan support: 1

Heres the deal: Maybe we're getting a little Rays fatigue. OK, we get it; small payroll, genius manager, genius front office, crummy stadium. But this is the sixth year since that shocking 2008 World Series appearance -- isn't it time the team actually does something in the postseason? Plus, this isn't really that compelling a team, and if they do make it, we have to watch postseason games played indoors. Then again, I'd rather have a World Series game indoors than in that 20-something wind chill last year in Detroit.

11. St. Louis Cardinals: 13 points
Misery: 1
2013 storyline: 3
Star factor: 4
Payroll: 2
Fan support: 3

The Cardinals will be back in the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons and 10th in 14 going back to 2000. It's not quite a dynasty on the level of the 1990s Braves or 1995-to-present Yankees (although Cardinals fans will be quick to point out they've won one more championship in this run than the Braves did). With all their recent success, they score well in star factor, although two of their best players are the underappreciated Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig (although Craig is out right now with a foot sprain). The Cardinals have had an interesting season, with the gutsy move of Carpenter to second base, a rotation now relying on two rookies and Edward Mujica taking over as closer. But they've won two titles recently, so it's hard to muster up much enthusiasm for them.

10. Cincinnati Reds: 13 points
Misery: 4
2013 storyline: 2
Star factor: 3
Payroll: 2
Fan support: 2

No team has had a season closer to what you would have expected from them on paper than the Reds. The rotation has been very good, even with Johnny Cueto missing a lot of time; Joey Votto has been an MVP candidate; Shin-Soo Choo gave the team the leadoff hitter it missed last year; Jay Bruce has hit home runs; and Dusty Baker struggled to find a No. 2 hitter. The team has been one of the healthiest in the majors, a few injuries in the bullpen notwithstanding. It's a fun team to watch with Votto, Choo, Bruce and Brandon Phillips; Mat Latos and Homer Bailey turning into a dynamic one-two punch in the rotation; Bronson Arroyo keepng hitters off-balance with his broad arsenal of stuff; Aroldis Chapman firing 100-mph fastballs in the ninth; and the anxiety (if you're a Reds fan) of wondering how Dusty will screw it up.

9. Boston Red Sox: 14 points
Misery: 2
2013 storyline: 5
Star factor: 3
Payroll: 1
Fan support: 3

Red Sox fans will argue that the past two seasons caused undue amounts of misery, but this is still a franchise with a lot of recent success. What's interesting about this team is its lack of star power once you get past Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. In fact, Shane Victorino, the much-criticized free-agent signing, leads the team in WAR at 5.6 and closer Koji Uehara -- who took over the role only after injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey -- has had one of the best relief seasons in history, with a 1.06 ERA and an amazing .126 batting average allowed. And remember: Most people didn’t even pick the Red Sox to make the playoffs. It's not exactly an underdog team, but it is a team that has exceeded expectations.

8. Kansas City Royals: 14 points
Misery: 5
2013 storyline: 3
Star factor: 2
Payroll: 2
Fan support: 2

Here’s a weird thing: With the Astros moving over to the American League, the AL has seven of the worst teams in attendance, with only the Marlins cracking the bottom eight from the NL. And while you can point to market size or team quality, consider that the Rockies, playing in a midsize market with a lousy team, are averaging over 34,000 fans per game -- more than 12,000 per game more than the A’s, Royals, Indians or Marlins. Of course we'd like to see the Royals make the playoffs, since they haven't done so since 1985, but is it really a team built to do any damage in October? Well, possibly. They don't score a lot of runs, but the rotation and bullpen are good enough to get on a roll.

7. Texas Rangers: 15 points
Misery: 5
2013 storyline: 3
Star factor: 3
Payroll: 1
Fan support: 3

It's easy to root for the Rangers. After all, they've never won a World Series and were one strike away in 2011 before losing in excruciatingly painful fashion. They lost in the wild-card game last year and have had to battle through injuries to the pitching staff and the suspension of Nelson Cruz and loss of Josh Hamilton. On the other hand, a lot of the misery has been self-inflicted. Ron Washington mismanaged that 2011 World Series, they choked down the stretch last year and Cruz wasn't suspended for helping old ladies cross the street. On the other hand, Yu Darvish would be fun to watch in October, even if the Metroplex is more interested by then in the Cowboys' backup fullback.

6. Cleveland Indians: 15 points
Misery: 5
2013 storyline: 5
Star factor: 2
Payroll: 2
Fan support: 1

Here come the Indians! They are now just a half-game out of the wild card (thank you, slumping Rays and Rangers). So, yes, there's been misery. Lots of it. I would say the Indians arguably deserve to top this list, except their own fans haven't even bothered to show up this year; only the Rays have averaged fewer per game. If the Indians do get into the wild-card game, Ubaldo Jimenez could be a tough foe to face considering his pitching of late (assuming he would be in line to start the game).

SportsNation

Which of these teams are you most rooting for?

  •  
    13%
  •  
    25%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    33%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,193)

5. Oakland A's: 16 points
Misery: 4
2013 storyline: 4
Star factor: 3
Payroll: 3
Fan support: 2

As Matt Meyers wrote here on Friday, the amazing thing about the A's is they're doing this the exact same way as last year: without big stars, without a slew of high draft picks, without -- of course -- a large payroll or great fan support (they are not large in numbers, but they're passionate). Josh Donaldson leads the team in WAR at 7.3, but he's hardly a household name outside of the Bay Area. Bartolo Colon leads the pitching staff in WAR, which is really one of the most incredible stats of the season: A team that is going to win its division is led by a 40-year-old with the highest percentage of body fat in the majors. How can you not love this team?

4. Detroit Tigers: 16 points
Misery: 4
2013 storyline: 3
Star factor: 5
Payroll: 1
Fan support: 3

Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer have garnished all the headlines this year, and deservedly so, although once again it hasn't been the easiest trek to a division title despite all that star power. The Tigers have an interesting misery rating, with World Series losses in 2006 and 2012, those awful teams of the early 2000s, and all the high expectations in recent seasons. Is this finally the year?

3. Baltimore Orioles: 16 points
Misery: 5
2013 storyline: 4
Star factor: 3
Payroll: 2
Fan support: 2

It's been 30 years since the Orioles have made it to the World Series. From Jeffrey Maier to 14 consecutive losing seasons to last year's heartbreaking playoff loss to the Yankees, O's fans have certainly suffered. Unfortunately, they just can't get on that five- or six-game winning streak they need, and we're probably looking at a playoffs without Chris Davis and Manny Machado.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers: 17 points
Misery: 3
2013 storyline: 5
Star factor: 5
Payroll: 1
Fan support: 3

With Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, Zack Greinke, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and maybe Matt Kemp -- not mention Magic Johnson in the owner's box -- there’s no denying the star power on this team. Their regular season has certainly been one of the more interesting in recent years, with a 30-42 record through June 21 nearly leading to manager Don Mattingly getting fired, followed by a 42-8 stretch that was the best in the majors since the 1942 Cardinals. After dropping to sixth in the NL in attendance in the final year of the McCourt regime, Dodger fans have returned in full force, leading the majors and up nearly 5,000 per game from last year. I will say this though: While they haven't won (or been to) a World Series since 1988, the misery suffered under Frank McCourt has been vastly overstated -- the Dodgers made the playoffs four times in eight years under him. A lot of franchises should enjoy such misery.

1. Pittsburgh Pirates: 18 points
Misery: 5
2013 storyline: 5
Star factor: 3
Payroll: 3
Fan support: 2

No surprise. The Pirates are more than just an underdog; they're a team with many great backstories, as well as a team that is just flat-out fun to watch and easy to root for. Obviously, the Pirates rate high in the misery and 2013 storyline categories. They are lower in the star factor once you get past MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, but that doesn't make then uninteresting. A rotation led by A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano isn't lacking for backstories, rookie Gerrit Cole will refreshingly continue to pitch even though he could top 200 innings if the Pirates go deep into the postseason and the bullpen duo of Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli were basically obtained off the scrap heap. Kudos to GM Neal Huntington for acquiring Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau down the stretch to improve the team's depth.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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