And then there were four
Fenway Park, tucked into land between streets in Boston; Dodger Stadium, surrounded by a parking lot large enough to hold more than ten Dodger Stadiums
October 16, 2021
I'm a little late on this. As I type, the Red Sox are leading the Astros 8-0 in the early innings of ALCS Game 2, seemingly on their way to tying that series at a game apiece; ideally, this would have been posted on Thursday when there were no games going. Well, as we say on Earth, c'est la vie.
Anyway, the field has shrunk since the postseason got underway and we're now at the stage that used to be the very start of things back in the before-time of 1993 back to 1969 (or 1985; depends on how strict you are on your definitions), the League Championship Series. And there have been a lot of years wherein one or both of the LCS bouts were classics, outdoing the World Series for drama and intensity. On paper, this year's matchups don't seem like prime candidates for a classic LCS, but this is baseball. You never know.
Some of the greatest League Championship Series were unlikely classics. 1980 saw the Philadelphia Phillies take down Houston in their first postseason with games that all went to extra innings except the first. 1986 also featured Houston as they lost nailbiters to the Mets with the final games of that series going 12 and 16 innings. The Red Sox came back from the brink of doom in the other 1986 LCS when Dave Henderson homered off Donnie Moore in extras in Anaheim to send it back to Boston where they blew out the Angels. The 1991 Braves and Pirates played three 1-0 games in their 7-game set. 2003 saw Aaron Boone beat the Red Sox in the 11th inning of Game 7 with a crushing home run. 2003 also saw Steve Bartman become infamous at Wrigley Field. The Red Sox pulled off a miracle comeback from being down three games to none in 2004. In all, 29 League Championship Series have run the limit, coming down to a do-or-die deciding game.
As mentioned above, the American League is featuring the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros, a Wild Card entrant vs. a division champ that's now been in the LCS every year for five years running, back to their (first known) cheating year of 2017. Both squads have heavy offensive arsenals, suggesting a series with a ton of runs scored, and the first game-plus has followed that script. Over in the National League, the Wild-Card Los Angeles Dodgers squeaked by in their Division Series against San Francisco (helped by a truly horrid umpiring call for the last out) and will face the NL East champion Atlanta Braves, who would appear to be massively outclassed despite premier hitters in Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley (a third, Ronald Acuña Jr., is injured).
Finding a rooting interest among these clubs is a challenge for some of us. The Dodgers won last time and have been in the World Series three of the last four years. Maybe they can share the wealth some. But that would mean giving it to Atlanta—the Braves are in their first NLCS (aside form last year's weird postseason) since 1999, though they've had plenty of playoff appearances since then; they've been bounced out in the Wild Card game or the Division Series 11 times since 2000. So you might be inclined to pull for the Braves. But...they're the Braves. Postseason regulars since their remarkable turnaround year of 1991 and insufferable wielders of the "tomahawk chop" and faux-Native-American stadium sound effects and general gross insensitivity.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox have become annoying since they got their World Series monkey off their back in 2004. Or rather, their fanbase has; Red Sox Nation is arguably more obnoxious these days than Yankeedom is. However, their opponent is the Astros. Villains across the game, and a particular nemesis of Your Seattle Mariners to boot.
So we're stuck with teams that have been in the postseason limelight way more than their fair share, there is no newbie underdog or loveable upstart or other easy coattail to grab onto. What are other rooting rationales?
Well, we could go the ex-Mariner route. Each team has at least one former Mariner except the Red Sox:
- Houston: RHP Kendall Graveman (last with M's: 2021)
- Atlanta: OF Guillermo Heredia (2018), RHP Drew Smyly (2017, did not play, injured)
- Los Angeles: OF/IF Chris Taylor (2016)
Houston and LA also have relatives of ex-M's in Michael Brantley (son of Mickey Brantley, Mariner from 1986-1989) and Corey Seager (brother of Kyle Seager, Mariner 2011-2021), respectively, for whatever that's worth. Oh, and the Red Sox are managed by Joey Cora's (M's 1995-1998) little brother.
Or, we could fall back on geography. Houston is a humid, cockroach-infested, sprawling swamp where the economic engine is fossil fuels in the socially backward state of Texas. Boston is an historic New England city known for its universities, colonial charm, and good chowder. Both have their historical faults, but I'd rather find myself in Boston than Houston. I've never been to Atlanta and have no affinity for it; maybe I should, as it's home to its own long and complicated history of Confederate rebels but also Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Chick-Fil-A, but also peaches and Coca-Cola. CNN, cultural museums, Pinewood Studios. Or, Los Angeles—freeways, sprawl, smog, two-hour commutes, often surrounded by fire. But also beaches, Hollywood, the Getty. Call that choice a wash, I guess.
Ballparks? Fenway is a classic, while citrus-drink-corporation park is newish, indoors (most of the time) and has a train in it for some reason. Advantage Boston. Atlanta's new financial-brokerage-outfit park looks pretty sweet on TV; never been there. It's in the 'burbs, though, and replaced a perfectly good and not at all lacking facility just so the Braves could have more land to develop outside the downtown core. Meanwhile, Dodger Stadium is, you know, fine as a place to play, despite being surrounded by the only parking lot I know of that has not only its own stoplights but a gas station as well. I mean, it's disgustingly enormous. Very LA. Still, I think advantage Atlanta on that one.
Maybe just individual players. Chris Taylor is, somehow, really fun. Enrique Hernández is making a bid for the new Mr. October title. If José Altuve wasn't an Astro he'd be a favorite non-Mariner player. Freddie Freeman is unreal with the stick.
Well, whatever your metric or basis, pick a squad and enjoy the LCS. They tend to be better than we think they'll be no matter who's playing.
Which team are you rooting for in the postseason?