The Hurried Man’s Guide to the Baseball Playoffs
Over the next couple weeks, 10 teams will fight to the death (or at least the final out) for the right to face off in the 2013 World Series.
So on the off chance you haven’t been able to catch all (or any) of the 1,620 games played by this year’s playoff crop, here’s a quick guide to what you need to know about each contender.
Boston Red Sox Chance they win it all: 18.3% Last World Series championship: 2007 Key player: Dustin Pedroia, the tiny beardo playing 2B and the team’s spiritual leader. Key stat: One. That’s how many earned runs closer Koji Uehara has given up since the All-Star break. Yeah, he’s pretty good. Root for them if...: You are from the Northeast; you hate the Yankees; you like beards.
Detroit Tigers Chance they win it all: 22.4% Last World Series championship: 1984 Key player: Miguel Cabrera, aka the best hitter on the planet right now. Key stat: Six. That’s how many starting pitchers the Tigers used this season—easily the fewest (and therefore best) in baseball. Root for them if...: You enjoy the thought of grizzled, mustachioed, chain-smoking manager Jim Leyland popping some championship bubbly.
Oakland Athletics Chance they win it all: 11.4% Last World Series championship: 1989 Key player: We’d like to say Coco Crisp, because of the name (and because he’s good). But it’s gotta be Josh Donaldson, who came out of nowhere to post an MVP-caliber year at 3B. Key stat: 52-29. That was the A’s record at home—the best in baseball. Root for them if...: Moneyball is your favorite baseball movie; you don’t just like beards—you love them.
Tampa Bay Rays Chance they win it all: 7.5% Last World Series championship: n/a (lost in 2008) Key player: Pitcher Alex Cobb. If he can’t shut down the Indians in their one-game playoff Wednesday night, the Rays might be packing up for the year. Key stat: $57 mil. That’s the third-lowest payroll in baseball—and easily the lowest of any playoff team. Root for them if...: You like underdogs; you dig Joe Maddon’s hipster glasses; you know that Evan Longoria is no relation to Eva Longoria.
Cleveland Indians Chance they win it all: 2.3% Last World Series championship: 1948 Key player: Catcher (and secret weapon) Yan Gomes. On a team lacking superstars, this guy provides a ton of value at an easily overlooked spot: part-time catcher. Key stat: Two. That’s the number of championships manager Terry Francona has won—both with potential first-round opponent the Boston Red Sox. Root for them if...: You know what The Drive, The Fumble and The Decision mean to Cleveland sports fans.
Atlanta Braves Chance they win it all: 6.1% Last World Series championship: 1995 Key player: Andrelton Simmons, who might just be the best defensive shortstop since Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. (No backflips, though.) Key stat: .184. That was BJ Upton’s batting average for the season. Yes, that’s terrible. He’ll be benched, despite earning a $13 mil salary—in the first of a five-year contract. Root for them if...: ... ... ... It’s just really hard for this writer to think of a single reason to root for the Braves. Sorry.
St. Louis Cardinals Chance they win it all: 10.8% Last World Series championship: 2011 Key player: Closer Trevor Rosenthal. The Cards’ bullpen has been a mess; if they’re going all the way, they’ll need this guy to do his best Mariano Rivera impression. Key stat: By some metrics, 2B Matt Carpenter’s performance was worth about 30 times his $500K salary. That kind of value is a big part of why the Cards are in this thing. Root for them if...: You’re from the Midwest; you like rooting for the overdog.
Los Angeles Dodgers Chance they win it all: 13.1% Last World Series championship: 1988 Key player: Clayton Kershaw/Zack Greinke. These guys are the best 1-2 starting pitchers in the playoffs (sorry, Detroit). If they pitch up to expectations, the Dodgers will be almost impossible to beat. Key stat: The Dodgers’ $216 million payroll was second-highest in baseball; they’ll probably claim the number one spot in 2014. Root for them if...: You love pitching; you love Chavez Ravine; you’re cool with teams buying championships.
Pittsburgh Pirates Chance they win it all: 4.2% Last World Series championship: 1979 Key player: Andrew McCutchen, centerfielder, likely NL MVP and owner of the best head of Pittsburgh hair this side of Troy Polamalu. Key stat: 21 years. That’s how long it had been since the Pirates had a non-losing season—the longest drought in the history of North American professional sports. Root for them if...: You have a soul; you have a heart; you have a pulse.
Cincinnati Reds Chance they win it all: 3.9% Last World Series championship: 1990 Key player: Billy Hamilton, the rookie outfielder who might just be the fastest player in MLB history. Key stat: 100. That’s how many miles an hour closer Aroldis Chapman, aka the Cuban Missile, can throw. When he pitches, it’s must-watch baseball. Root for them if...: You feel the need for speed (running or throwing); you’re from the Midwest and can’t root for St. Louis.
Championship odds courtesy of the indispensible Fangraphs/Coolstandings.com.