This could have been a postseason preview. Here are the lineups. Here are the pitchers. Here are the bullpens. You know every series will be decided by Josh Willingham singling or Travis Ishikawa homering, metaphorically speaking. Yet going over every postseason roster carefully makes us feel better for some reason. It makes us feel in control.
Instead, allow me to make you feel worse. Allow me to remind you that control is an illusion, and 90 percent of the postseason teams will experience cruel, miserable fates. Their fans will suffer along with them, wondering how sports can make them feel so lousy, wondering why they bother in the first place. Almost all of the below will come true, and this should frighten you.
Welcome to Baseball Thunderdome. This is why it will suck if your team doesn't win the World Series. Which it probably won't.
Why it will suck for Cardinals fans if they lose
First, because they'll have to grit their teeth and congratulate the other guys for a good series, job well done, boy, that was sure some great baseball. That's the unfortunate fault about being the best fans in baseball -- sometimes you want to rage and bite someone's nose off. But that wouldn't be good for their brand.
More than that, though, there's an end to every perfect organization, every impeccably run franchise. It was just a couple years ago that the Braves were always around in October, no matter what they did or didn't do. They went to the postseason with Russ Ortiz as their Game 1 starter, and they went back two seasons after the laughably lopsided Mark Teixeira trade. They won 14 straight division titles and had Freemasons force a work stoppage in the season they weren't going to win. They were always going to contend. Always, always, always.
And then they didn't.
The Yankees gamed the system in the '30s, '40s, and '50s, using smaller teams as an extra farm system, with the reserve clause allowing them to build dynasties we can't comprehend these days. They were just as good in the '60s, winning everything in sight. They were going to be great, always, always, always.
And then they weren't.
Wouldn't this be an awful way for the flame to flicker out for the Cardinals, then? A season of dominance, in which the inevitable decline was foreshadowed by the awful spate of injuries, a reminder that baseball is a sociopath with a finger always under the garbage disposal switch.
Don't get me wrong, the Cardinals are a tremendous organization that does so many things right. I'm absolutely convinced they'll will be in at least three or four out of the next 10 NLCS.
But what if they aren't?
Why it will suck for Dodgers fans if they lose
Can you even comprehend the impossible expectations of the Dodgers? They have to win the World Series to consider the season a success, and yet the odds are always going to be against them winning the World Series. Take those Yankees up there, the ones who used money and acumen and the reserve clause to build dynasty after dynasty. They lost a bunch of World Series. Lost at least one in just about every decade. And that's when the World Series was it. They didn't have to go through three or four rounds of postseason nonsense.
The Dodgers do. Nay, the Dodgers must! It's not like the smart folks in the front office don't realize that the postseason is a cruel mess, and they can certainly fend for themselves when explaining that. But what about the people who shelled out over a billion dollars for the team? They don't come from this world, for the most part. They come from a world where someone pays a billion dollars to make widgets or soylent green, and by gum, they get widgets or soylent green.
Three rounds of playoffs, though. Each against teams talented in their own way. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, one of the greatest pitching duos in modern history, so they might have the best odds in the postseason. But even the most favorable odds out there wouldn't give them more than a 30-percent chance.
In the 70 percent, there are questions. And doubts. And fears. And a long, long wait until next year, when the same doubts and fears manifest again. And probably David Price and Johnny Cueto and Kenta Maeda. But also doubts and fears. And Jordan Zimmermann and Chris Davis (for the bench.) But don't sell those doubts and fears short.
Why it will suck for Pirates fans if they lose
Some of these write themselves. They're a tautology. It would suck for Pirates fans if they lose because it would suck for Pirates fans if they lost. You don't need bullet points and a pie chart. We're in the third year of the Pirates being excellent, and they've gotten better every year, yet this will be the third straight postseason they've started with an elimination game. They've advanced past the Wild Card Game once, but the last time they won a postseason series that took more than one victory, Willie Stargell hit a home run and Kent Tekulve got the save.
The worst part? They're facing a team with an even bigger legacy of shame and disappointment. Old-timey Cubs fans rock back and forth and spin yarns how they would kill for just one Mazeroski moment, simply kill for one of those, possibly even a blood relative. One of the whiny young ones that won't stop diddling with his phone. Literally sacrifice them for a 50-year-old championship to remember. They'd have more for you.
"And, oh, is that Steve Blass pitching a brilliant complete game in Game 7 of the '71 World Series? Oh, look at these spoiled Pirates fans, just spoiled rotten. And that's before we even get to 1979. Well, let me tell you about the Cubs ..."
/car doors lock
"They say it all started with a goat."
Not that Pirates fans should actually care about that. But there will be some misguided national sympathy with the Cubs, from folks oblivious to the horrors of being a Pirates fan over the last two decades. The rest of the postseason is filled with teams that haven't won in decades, if ever, and the Yankees and Cardinals, who always win. So either Pirates fans will watch one of the other sad teams finally emerge from the abyss, or they'll have to watch one of the dumb legacy franchises improve their dumb legacy.
They're both awful choices. The only solution is for the Pirates to win it all, then. But have you noticed this page is absolutely loaded with 10 excellent teams?
Why it will suck for Mets fans if they lose
Another tautology! It'll suck because being a Mets fan hasn't been a lot of fun recently, and there isn't a lot of solace to be found in the "Well, they played hard this year!" The Mets are supposed to be large-market bullies, signing outfielders to eight-figure contracts only because they've already locked up the pitchers to nine-figure contracts. Instead, they're the A's with a larger per diem. Which is fine when the pitchers are young and cheap and healthy.
There's one word in there that should scare the bejeepers out of Mets fans, though. It isn't the word "young," even though age claims us all and feasts on our youth, a real-life horror movie, with gremlins chewing on every cell and consuming us all. It isn't "cheap," even though every good pitcher becomes expensive, and the Mets don't do expensive right now.
It's that other word. Not gonna even type it out because doing it three times makes it come out of the screen like Beetlejuice. But you'll forgive Mets fans if there's a sense of urgency. You'll forgive them if they know exactly why Matt Harvey needs to be very, very careful, while at the same time screaming about how NOW ISN'T THE TIME, MATT. This was a surprise season, a glorious, magnificent, surprise season, and while it was maybe a little ahead of schedule, this is the Mets' best chance since Carlos Beltran was caught looking. And there are no guarantees that there will be a chance this good in the near future.
Also, the Dodgers are gross and they would feel bad about losing to them, specifically.
Why it will suck for Blue Jays fans if they lose
Blue Jays fans would be all, "Oy, we just got 'ere, innit we? The fook 'appened?" Can't blame them, really. This is the first time they've been here in decades. They've spent those decades in the AL East, being good enough to avoid the best prospects at the top of the draft, being bad enough to miss out on the division every ... single ... freaking ... time. They've had to watch the Yankees win again and again, interrupted only by the Red Sox winning again and again. Even the Rays won a pennant somewhere in the middle, there.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays were yanno and dunno and whatever. They had Cy Young seasons that didn't go anywhere. When they traded their Cy Young away, they got prospects who never did a lot for them, while the ace flourished in his new city. When they traded for a Cy Young, they got prospects who were suddenly hilariously important to their new team, while the ace stumbled in his new country. They couldn't win. Figuratively, literally, whatever.
Now they're here. And they didn't just squeak in because they found a loophole, because the rules were changed in a midnight session to let them squeak in. They dominated in the second half. They outscored their opponents by a billion runs. They're the odds-on favorites, the smart picks. They gave up a chunk of the farm to get here, and it worked. At least, the part about getting here did. That was just Phase II, though.
If Phase III isn't a success, there are no guarantees about next year. I mean, the same as every other team, but this Blue Jays team worked so hard just to get into the postseason. The Pirates were here the last two years. The Royals just won the pennant. The Rangers have won two or three or something. Yet the list of championship droughts tilts against the Blue Jays:
- Blue Jays
Pfft. They're basically the Cardinals or Yankees. Try again next year, you spoiled jerks. Those other teams have waited their turn. Why can't you?
And yet it's such an accomplishment for them to be here in the first place and they're literally the best team please don't screw this up please don't screw this up please dont
Why it will suck for Royals fans if they lose
A lot of these teams are in the middle of substantial droughts. The Blue Jays haven't blah blah blah, the Pirates haven't blah blah blah, and the Cubs certainly haven't blah blah blah.
But the last time the Royals won the World Series, a sitting Congresswoman was a toddler, sticking things up her nose and thinking about anything other than George Brett. They have their drought, too. Even if they won the pennant last year. Even if they got close enough to a championship to smell it. Oh, god, it smells like Derek Jeter, like allspice and success, and they need to get back. KATE, WE NEED TO GO BACK.
The postseason is Sisyphean, always and forever. Roll the boulder up the hill, watch it roll back, curse a lot, then amble down to the bottom to get that boulder. Other teams spend a lot of time at the bottom, inventing homemade boulder-roller-uppers, and they end up with chemical burns and general malaise along the way. But the Royals were just there. The boulder was teetering-tottering over the lip of the top and then no, no, no, Salvador that pitch is too high, and then brrrbbbbbbrrtt down to the bottom. Okay.
The good news is that the Royals were the best team in the AL this year. They have home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Everyone laughed at them for their ridiculous ballot-stuffing before the All-Star Game. "Well, wouldn't it be funny if all those stupid Royals failed and it cost them home-field advantage?" And, no, the AL Royals All-Stars won. They're in. This is the best team they've had since George Brett, and this is the clearest path they've had in decades.
And they're still unlikely to win it all. All of these teams are. That's the point. Doesn't this suck? This all sucks. You sure chose a horrible hobby.
Why it will suck for Yankees fans if they lose
The greatest trick the late-'90s, early-'00s Yankees ever pulled was convincing the world that luck didn't exist. That baseball could be bought and sold, that the big-market bullies could push their way into a dynasty. That money was the only important thing in building a baseball team.
What a farce. Do you know why the Yankees won so much? Because the Reds liked Chad Mottola more in the 1992 draft. Because the Expos were smitten with B.J. Wallace. Because there were 593 times that a team said a name other than "Andy Pettitte" and 645 times a team said a name other than "Jorge Posada" in the 1990 Draft. And, yeah, because of the money. The real reason the Yankees succeed, though, was a perfect confluence of right place/right time/right resources. Which is what all dynasties are, give or take.
That's a long-winded way to say there aren't any guarantees that the Yankees will find their next Jeter, dig up their next Pettitte. Those players developed because of two parts talent, one part instruction, and they fell to them because of three parts luck. That doesn't have to happen again. It's unlikely to happen again.
The Yankees strategy is clearly to have it happen again. That's why they held onto Aaron Judge and Jorge Mateo, hoping for the homegrown core to buttress the organizational and financial strengths. But the team is old, so old, and they're here because a 40-year-old mummy came back from his time out and started whapping dingers everywhere. That's just about the only way their money is working for them, with baseball's gnarliest contract providing consistent on-field value.
The Yankees could have traded those magic prospect beans for one more pitcher, the desperately needed pitcher, the one to slot behind the ailing vet and the upshot rookie. They stood pat. Now CC Sabathia is gone from the postseason after checking into rehab, and the postseason rotation is something like Tanaka/Severino/Pineda/Eovaldi?/other. That's the postseason, alright, with the lineup aging loudly behind them.
If it fails? Try again, try again, with everyone a year older, and the unknown prospects a year closer to contributing. Maybe they'll be Williams/Posada/Pettitte/Jeter and hang around for a couple decades. That'd sure be a thing. The odds -- the overwhelming odds -- though, suggest that's unlikely. And this could be their best shot for a long while.
(Like the Yankees won't be back next year with Jeff Suppan winning 17 games and Aaron Judge hitting 40 homers.)
(Pretend they aren't going to win. This is your last chance.)
Why it will suck for Rangers fans if they lose
The Rangers laugh at the reference to Sisyphus in the Royals section. They spit on it. They were a strike away, and then the boulder rolled over them, their friends, their coworkers, and every single ligament they had. The boulder was remote-controlled by one of the baseball god's 11-year-old sons, and he rolled it over them again and again, just because that's how 11-year-old baseball gods do things. Stay far away from them.
The Rangers made a deal for Cole Hamels with the idea that they were going to be back, full strength, next year. They'd have Yu Darvish, Jurickson Profar, and whatever free agent reinforcements they could procure. And instead of spending the offseason trying to convince one of the fancier free agents to come to a hitter's park and pitch for a reloading team, they exchanged some of their prospect depth to get an ace for a reasonable price.
Then they won the division. That's great! But now everything is accelerated, and they're in the postseason at nothing close to full strength, down an ace, down a middle infielder, down the holes they could have patched in free agency. They probably have the weakest 25-man roster in the postseason, which would put them in that weird limbo of being proud of the team just for getting this far and being completely disappointed that the boulder rolled over them again.
They don't want to give the team a Certificate of Achievement just for making the postseason, but they will because the Rangers absolutely deserve it. It's just the weirdest feeling to watch a team like that when you're in the middle of a championship drought.
And like the other drought-stricken teams on this list, they'll either win, watch another historically unlucky team win, or watch the Yankees or Cardinals win. The only palatable option is to win. Can you imagine if they lost, and the winners of the 2015 World Series were the ...
Why it will suck for Astros fans if they lose
This is the only team in the postseason that has never won a World Series game. Got there. Looked around. Breathed in the air. Had jets flyover and Fox celebrities in the stands. Didn't win a single game. We're down to the Nationals, Mariners, Rockies, and Astros as teams that have never won a World Series game. Those other teams are relatively new. The Astros were around before the Beatles, before the moon landing, and they've never won a single World Series game. I'm not sure what's worse -- getting there again and suffering the same fate, or an early exit.
We're also down to Texas as one of the only states that has never had a World Series parade, either. It's a race to be the first between the Astros and Rangers, with only all of the bragging rights at stake. We're itching for a rivalry, remember. One of the teams getting there before the other one would dump kerosene on that particular fire. It would suck for the Astros to lose just because losing is the worst, but then there would be the chance of watching their intrastate rivals go where no one in the state has gone before.
There's also the chance the Astros won't even make the "real" postseason after leading their division for most of the year, and that they'll lose to the Yankees, the old, disheveled franchise that keeps leaving World Series trophies at the bus stop because they simply can't keep track of them.
The Astros are a quietly cursed team, mostly because they're from the earliest wave of expansion teams, so there are still some folks who consider them new. They're not. They're an old team, and their championship drought is just 14 years younger than the Indians' drought. Yet when it comes to sympathy rankings, they still come in the middle. The Pirates were the 2013 Astros, but for 20 years or so. The Royals were doing the same thing, and they got close enough to taste it last year. The Blue Jays haven't even made the postseason in over two decades. The Rangers are an even older franchise that hasn't won anything. The Cubs are the Cubs. Everyone has sympathy for everyone else, but does anyone care about the Astros?
I care. They have good, hardy baseball fans in Houston. And it would suck for them to watch another season end in disappointment. The odds are good it will happen, you know.
Why it will suck for Cubs fans if they lose
Look, I'm not a monster.
* * *
Why did I go through every team and detail just how painful it will be when they lose? Three reasons. The first is because there are 20 teams who aren't in the postseason, and we're all super jealous of you. Look at you, a ball of nervousness and anticipation, about to watch meaningful baseball that you'll remember for the rest of your life. All that doom and gloom up there is for real, but it skips over the fun parts. The feeling of a walk-off win before the series loss, that feeling that this is the year. Even though the comedown is a drag, the highs are still quite real. And I'm dripping with envy.
The second, here's my chance to be 90 percent right with my predictions. Do you know what it's like being a baseball writer? It's nothing but being wrong and stupid, stupid and wrong. Here's my chance to be right. Most of that up there will happen. Finally! I'm smart!
For one of these teams, though, it won't happen. And that's the most important reason to get dark with the predictions. You need to see what's at stake, what your team will avoid. Why it's special.
Welcome to Baseball Thunderdome. This is why it will suck if your team doesn't win the World Series. Which it probably won't.