Well, the season is finally over. At least for the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s the first time since 2018 that the Cardinals won’t be participating in the postseason and that result has been all but assured for a while now. That’s why I said “the season is finally over” because this last month or two has really dragged without the Cardinals playing good baseball.
I’ll admit that it’s been difficult to follow the Cardinals with my usual vigor for the past month or two. And, with all that said, it’s still been great to have a Cardinals baseball game every night. The Cardinals may have been disappointing but I’ll take Cardinals baseball over no Cardinals baseball every day of the week.
The period of no Cardinals baseball is what we’re heading into right now, but, at least for a little while, we still have baseball. The playoffs start today and that gives us some fun, competitive, high intensity baseball to watch for another month and that’s a prospect that excites me.
So with the Cardinals out of the playoffs, you may be looking for a team to root for. I figured, why not create a helpful little guide to help you solve that puzzle.
I’ll get started with the NL teams and then move to the AL teams, but first, here’s the playoff bracket as a whole:
This is the team I’ll be rooting for because my dad is a Braves fan, which means I’ve had Braves sympathies for a long time. The Cardinals connection here is...well...Marcell Ozuna so that may not be enough to push the envelope for you. I can understand that.
But the Braves simply play fun baseball and have a fun roster. Spencer Strider is electric and Max Fried provides a great 1-2 punch in the rotation. Beyond that Ronald Acuna Jr. is having a 40/70 season and might just win the MVP. It’s been a historic season and it would be cool to see him lead his team to a World Series too.
Even beyond that, though, Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris, and ex-future Cardinal Sean Murphy are all having great seasons. If you don’t care about the underdog and you just want to watch an elite team with the best record in the league play some exciting games, this is the team for you.
Join me in my adopted fandom this month!
Just don’t. I have nothing else to say.
Los Angeles Dodgers
I’ll start by saying that I have a lot of respect for the Dodgers organization as a whole. They spend a lot of money, and that certainly helps, but they are simply a smart, forward thinking organization that tends to be really good at player development.
Simply looking from the outside in, this is a team that I could find myself pulling for despite having no real connection to it.
Going beyond that, there are quite a few Cardinals connections here. In case you missed this little transaction in August, Kolten Wong now plays for the Dodgers. He signed a minor league deal after being released by the Mariners after earning -1.1 fWAR and a 35 wRC+ in 216 plate appearances. But after latching on with the Dodgers, Wong has found his stroke, putting up 0.2 fWAR with a 145 wRC+ in just 32 plate appearances.
There’s obviously small sample size considerations here but Wong credits some of his rejuvenation to his work in the Dodgers hitting labs in Arizona.
See my earlier point about player development.
It would be awesome to see some magical moments for Wong in the postseason. This is also the team that Jason Heyward plays for. He’s another player whom fans probably have mixed feelings about but he’s been a good hitter (120 wRC+) worth a solid 2.2 fWAR this year.
May I also present you with Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, and Lance Lynn? The first two have had strong seasons but Lynn has struggled and was recently placed on the bereavement list too. I would question whether or not he’ll get a playoff roster spot.
This is also the team that signed Alex Reyes, and even though he’s not pitching, there’s still a heavy Cardinals presence on this roster.
So, do you want to root for a well-run organization with lots of Cardinals players from the past? If so, this is your team.
Now we move into the Wild Card teams, and there are 3 this year with the Phillies finishing as the best of the bunch.
Edmundo Sosa plays here and is still the ball magnet he was in St. Louis, getting beaned 9 times in under 300 PAs. It’s a painful way to get production but, hey, production is production. He’s been a solid bench infielder in his time with the Phillies and he was one of the players I most enjoyed watching when he was with the Cardinals so I will be pulling for him specifically this October.
But, on the other hand, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber also play for the Phillies? Is that enough to cancel out the presence of Sosa? Only you can decide.
This team also has two maybe ex-future Cardinals in Trea Turner and Bryce Harper and maybe a future Cardinal in Aaron Nola. Watching the Phillies gives you a great chance to see someone who may be a top target for the Cardinals this winter.
Also, look out for Orion Kerkering. He’s thrown only 3 MLB innings after getting called up in late September but he’s looked dominant with a nasty sweeper and a lot of velocity. He could be someone who really makes a name for himself this postseason.
This is another team I’ll be rooting for pretty heavily. They have the underdog card but they also have Skip Schumaker at the helm and Sandy Alcantara on the mound. It’s simply a fun team to root for as a Cardinals fan.
This is a pitching-first team. Plain and simple. They had 4 pitchers, including 1 reliever, finish with 2.8 fWAR or more and they have exciting 20-year-old Eury Perez in the rotation too. The pitching staff will be fun to watch.
In the field, it’s a different story. Only Luis Arraez and Jon Berti finished above 2 fWAR as the team finished 25th in fWAR from position players. That may not be enough juice to make a run, but anything can happen if a team gets hot in October.
This will be the organization’s 4th-ever playoff appearance and first playoff appearance since 2020. The last playoff appearance before then was 2003 so this isn’t a franchise with a long history of success but, interestingly, the Marlins won 2 World Series (1997 and 2003) in their first 3 playoff appearances so maybe they can keep the playoff magic going.
I just talked about Sandy Alcantara and now we have the other major piece of the Marcell Ozuna deal - Zac Gallen, the ace of the Diamondbacks. The 27-year-old just finished up a 5.2 fWAR season while throwing the second most innings of any pitcher in the league (210). Add him to the quasi-big 3 of the Diamondbacks lineup - Corbin Carroll (5.9 fWAR), Ketel Marte (4.2 fWAR), and Christian Walker (3.8) fWAR, and you have some fun talent leading this team.
This will be the team’s first playoff appearance since 2017 and it’s 7th playoff appearance since playing it’s first year as an expansion team in 1998.
This is a team that is finally breaking through a tough division for the first time in 6 years and is led by the rookie of the year favorite and a former Cardinal. That’s a pretty enticing reason to root for them.
This is my AL team. 100%. The Orioles are just so much fun.
Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Grayson Rodriguez are a trio of former top prospects all making a big impact on this team with Henderson being the favorite for AL rookie of the year and Rutschman leading all AL catchers in fWAR.
This is a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016 and though it underwent a long rebuild, it came out on the other side with bonafide stars, a fun roster, and a great chance at making noise in the postseason.
In 2021, this team won 52 games. That figure rose to 83 in 2022 before reaching 101 this year. The Orioles have made steady progress on their way to the pinnacle of the American League and now we all get rewarded with a fun team to watch this October.
The Orioles now employ Jack Flaherty, giving us a somewhat rare Cardinals AL connection, but he has been moved the bullpen, a bullpen which recently lost star reliever and he-of-the-46.4% strikeout rate Felix Bautista to Tommy John surgery.
So, this team may be light on Cardinals connection, with only one, but it’s a fun team overall in a league with few Cardinal connections overall. I’m really looking forward to watching this team play in a playoff environment.
What can I even say here. Either you’re over the whole cheating scandal or you’re not and that likely colors your viewpoint. I won’t focus on that, or on this team too much.
I’m not seeing any Cardinals connections so that doesn’t change much. I’m sure you all a fully formed opinion on this team already so I’ll move on.
The Twins hold the dubious honor of being the worst division winner in the playoffs this year, winning the AL Central with a record of “just” 87-75. No other team in the division finished above .500. And, to top it all off, the Twins finished with a worse record than the Mariners, a team that missed the playoffs altogether.
This is also a team that didn’t have a single position player finish the year with a 3+ fWAR season. Rookie Edouard Julien led the position players in fWAR at 2.8 with Ryan Jeffers slightly behind, though better on a rate basis, at 2.7 while big free agent signing Carlos Correa flopped in the first year of his 6-year, $200 million contract to the tune of just 1.1 fWAR in 580 plate appearances.
Things look much better from a pitching perspective, at least at the top, with Sonny Gray (5.3 fWAR) and Pablo Lopez (4.5 fWAR) leading the pitching staff.
There are no Cardinals connections here either (to my knowledge) but perhaps Sonny Gray will emerge as a major free agent target of the Cardinals this winter. This is a great chance to see what he can do on the big stage.
There’s really not a lot to root for here from a Cardinals perspective but this is still an interesting roster with a pitching staff that should keep it in games.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays finished the year with 99 wins and yet find themselves with the 4 seed in the American League. That’s tough.
But make no mistake about it; this is a really good team. The Rays had 8 position players finish the regular season with greater than 2.5 fWAR but the team leader in fWAR was actually pitcher Zach Eflin at 4.8. This is a strong all-around team making it’s 5th consecutive playoff appearance.
Randy Arozarena is the Cardinals connection here and this is one of the smartest teams in baseball, if not the smartest team in baseball, so there’s plenty to be intrigued by.
This team is pretty fun too. After a big free agent spending spree that brought in players like Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Jacob DeGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jon Gray, the Rangers are now making their first playoff appearance since 2016. But they didn’t stop in free agency. They also traded for Max Scherzer, Jordan Montgomery, Aroldis Chapman, and others. To put it simply, they have been one of the most aggressive teams in baseball and it has paid off with a playoff appearance.
There are more than a few Cardinals connections here too. Jordan Montgomery, for one. but also Chris Stratton and Adolis Garcia. Brad Miller is contracted to Texas as well but he’s currently on the 60-day IL. That’s not all, either. Mike Maddux is the pitching coach for the Rangers after leaving the Cardinals following the 2022 season.
So if you’re looking for an AL team with a lot of ex-Cardinals to root for, this is the one. At least for me, I’ll be pulling for the Rangers about equally as much as I’m pulling for the Orioles.
Toronto Blue Jays
Last but not least, we have the Blue Jays, with the 6 seed in the AL. The team finished 89-73, just squeaking into the playoffs and giving the AL East 3 representatives.
Genesis Cabrera and Jordan Hicks are the Cardinals connections here but Paul DeJong was also traded here at the deadline, even though he is no longer with the organization. Tyler Heineman (remember him?) is also on the roster.
Maybe these Cardinals connections are enough of a reason for you to adopt the Blue Jays as your AL team. That’s not the case for me but as a huge Hicks believer, I know I’ll be tuning into some Blue Jays games to watch the flamethrower.
That’s it for the guide. Hopefully this helped you identify a team, or multiple teams, to root for in the playoffs. My non-Cardinals fandom usually comes down to a blend of rooting for ex-Cardinals and simply rooting for teams or players that I like to watch and that will be the case for me this October.
Hit the comments below to discuss which team(s) you’ll be pulling for!
Thanks for reading, VEB. Happy playoff opening day!