This extra-long season is finally over, and 22 MLB teams are done for the year. But that doesn't mean the fun has to stop for everyone who roots for a losing team. Yes, that's right: It's time to pick a new team and hop on the bandwagon.
At first it might feel unnatural — take it from me, a Mariners fan rooting for the A's because I lost a bet. But soon you will discover the pleasures of rooting for a team you had no attachments to before just this second. Bonus: You can move on easily when they inevitably lose to the Houston Astros in the World Series.
Here's how things are going to shake out starting tonight:
Tuesday: The NL wild card game. The Colorado Rockies play the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field (8 p.m. ET), with the winner advancing and the loser done for the year.
Wednesday: The AL wild card game. The Oakland Athletics play the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium (8 p.m. ET), with the winner advancing and the loser done for the year.
Thursday: A best-of-five National League Division Series begins. The winner of the NL wild card game will play the Milwaukee Brewers.
Thursday: Another best-of-five National League Division Series begins. The Atlanta Braves will play the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Friday: A best-of-five American League Division Series begins. The winner of the AL wild card game will play the Boston Red Sox.
Friday: Another best-of-five American League Division Series begins. The Cleveland Indians will play the Houston Astros.
From there, the two NLDS winners will face off in the National League Championship Series, beginning Oct. 12, and the American League Championship Series starts Oct. 13. The World Series begins Oct. 23.
So who should you root for? To help you make an informed decision, here are some nice things about each playoff team (yes, even the Yankees). And good luck this postseason — whoever you're rooting for.
Root for the Astros if ... you think the best team should win
Let me explain the first rule of the postseason: The "best team" is not necessarily the one that deserves to win. The team that most deserves to win is instead determined by advanced calculus involving degree of team suffering, tolerability of the franchise and fans, and if the mascots will give you nightmares. Some people qualify "best" as something more subjective than simply record — and those fans ought to be rooting for Houston in 2018. The Astros might not have the best record in baseball — that distinction goes to the 108-win Red Sox — but they were the scariest team in the regular season, and they are the scariest team in the postseason, too. Cleveland, and every unlucky team that might follow, will be facing virtually the same Astros lineup that beat the Dodgers in last year's World Series, including ace Justin Verlander, a former Detroit Tiger who has made a career comeback down south. The rest of the rotation could practically be aces on any other team: Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel can power the Astros through any series. The team's bats are just as intimidating: 5'6" Jose Altuve might be small for a ballplayer, but you wouldn't know it from the way he hits, and Carlos Correa, Alex Bergman, and George Springer keep the Astros crossing home. There is little doubt that the 2018 Astros are a team that can, and possibly deserves to, win it all.
Root for the Indians if ... you like watching droughts end
Cleveland sports fans were released from decades of misery in 2016 when the Cavaliers became the city's first professional team to win a championship in 52 years. Unfortunately, similar relief was not in store for Indians fans, who that November watched their team lose to the Chicago Cubs in a heartbreaking World Series. The Indians couldn't even mourn in peace, with the Cubs' curse-breaking story dominating headlines — was anyone outside Cleveland even sad to see them lose? Now that the dust has settled, though, it is the Indians who bear the burden of having the longest World Series drought of any MLB team, at 70 years. Helping them toward that finish line will be ace Corey Kluber as well as Trevor Bauer, who you can bet won't be messing around with any drones this postseason. And you'll want to sit up straight when Francisco Lindor comes up to the plate: He led MLB in runs this season, with 129. If you live outside of Chicago and want to experience a sliver of the jubilance that came with the Cubs' victory, it only seems fair to root for the Indians.
Boston Red Sox
Root for the Red Sox if ... you hate the Yankees
There is only one reason I can come up with to root for the Red Sox, and that is if they are playing against the Yankees. To be fair, that's reason enough. If you want to see the Yankees not win a 28th World Series, someone is going to have to stop them, and that job immediately falls to the A's (lol) or, next in line, the Sox. A Yankees-Red Sox series would make for a great American League Division Series, because everyone will hate each other. But also because it will be great baseball: Some of the top talent in the sport is on the Red Sox, including MVP shoo-in Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, and pitchers Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and David Price, the owner of a very good dog. If you like intense rivalries, the lesser of two evils, and "Sweet Caroline," the Red Sox are your team this year.
Root for the Athletics if ... you enjoy stress-related stomach-aches
Do you love going into every playoff series as the underdog? Then boy, do I have a team for you. I don't know what small animals the Oakland Athletics had to sacrifice this year to turn a 34-36 record in June into a playoff spot, but the little team that could better keep at it — they have the toughest path to the World Series of any team in contention. Having Khris Davis on the team helps — he led MLB in home runs this year with 48, more than Mike Trout (39), Giancarlo Stanton (38), or Aaron Judge (27). And what the A's lack in starting pitching is made up in their bullpen, which manager Bob Melvin has no reservations about dipping into, or even starting with. Unfortunately, the A's will have to beat the Yankees in the Bronx in a one-game playoff on Wednesday, then somehow make it past either the Red Sox or the winner of the Astros-Indians series. Buy your Oakland-supporting fans a drink this week (or, drinks, plural), or, better yet, become an Oakland fan and have someone buy you a drink instead. Your nerves are going to need it.
New York Yankees
Root for the Yankees if ... you want to eventually root against them
No one is ambivalent about the Yankees: You either love them or you want to see them lose 27-0 to the A's. Assuming everyone arbitrarily picking playoff teams at this point is in the latter group, let me point out that the Yankees were a large part of what made the American League wild card race so thrilling this year. It would almost be a shame to see them knocked out in a one-and-done against Oakland, if only because it would be a sad waste of the Aaron Judge/Giancarlo Stanton-led Lineup of Doom. And wouldn't it be a shame if 23-year-old third baseman Miguel Andujar didn't get to play in the division series, after breaking the all-time rookie record for doubles in a season previously held by Hall of Famer Joe Dimaggio? And pity the bandwagon fan who didn't get to watch the full utilization of their nearly unhittable bullpen, which newly minted Yanks manager Aaron Boone has said he isn't afraid to turn to in order to win playoff games. So look at it this way: The farther the Yankees make it, the more games you get to root against the Yankees. And that is good baseball.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Root for the Dodgers if ... you have a soft spot for antiheroes
The Dodgers have won the World Series five times — but not in 30 years. You've got to feel for their long-suffering fans in L.A., who can't even watch their team play on TV or, alternatively, witnessed them getting clobbered by Houston in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. "If the Dodgers Can't Win the World Series Now, Maybe They Never Will," Bleacher Report cryptically mused after that disappointment. Still, it can admittedly be difficult to muster affection for the Mr. Moneybags of baseball, a theoretical superpower armed with real-life cheat codes like pitching god Clayton Kershaw, four-time All Star Manny Machado, and home-run producing machine Max Muncy. All the pieces are there; isn't it time they at last get their due?
Root for the Brewers if ... you love calls to the bullpen
The Brewers are one of the biggest underdogs of the 2018 postseason, having only secured their spot by basically reinventing the game of baseball. Sure, they still have traditional bats, like Christian Yelich, who got within a hair's breadth of grabbing the first National League Triple Crown in more than 80 years (and did get the first batting title in Brewers' history). But you know the Brewers mean business when they trot Josh Hader out of the bullpen, as they did in Monday's tiebreaker against the Cubs, where he threw his hardest pitch all season. Because although "openers" have been all the rage among MLB's scrappy, small-market teams this season, no one except maybe the A's (and the sadly-excluded-from-the-postseason Tampa Bay Rays) have been as aggressive about the bullpenning strategy as Milwaukee. Of all the playoff teams, the Brewers' starters have faced batters a third time through the order the fewest number of times in the regular season, and in 26 of their last games, Milwaukee had their starter go six innings just twice, and won 19 of those games, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The Brewers have proven they're willing to think outside the box and win any way they can, and it makes for some inspired and refreshing baseball, at least if you don't mind missing a classic pitchers' duel. If you want to ride the wave on how baseball is changing — perhaps for the better — go all in on Milwaukee.
Root for the Cubs if ... you're ready for a new sheriff in town
The Cubs have only won one World Series in the past 108 years (in 2016), but if they win again in 2018 you might start to hear rumblings of them looking a little like the Boston Red Sox — another team that broke a curse, before going on to dominate the league for years. In that regard, anyone sick of seeing the same handful of teams (the Yankees, the Giants) recycling the Commissioner's Trophy among themselves might root for the Cubs to be the new superteam on the block. This year in particular, the team is full of great storylines: Javier Báez has finally transformed into the player everyone hoped he would be, posting a league-high 111 RBIs, and pitcher Cole Hamels revived himself after being traded to the Cubs. The team certainly hasn't worn out its welcome yet, at least not if you're a fan of curses. If you want to root for a postseason team you can revisit year after year, the Cubbies are as good a bet as any.
Root for the Rockies if ... you want to see a lot of postseason dingers
The Rockies are the team I most consistently forget exists — even their hometown paper published a photo of the Philadelphia Phillies' Citizens Bank Park and labeled it Coors Field earlier this year. That's part of what made their September sneak-up on the Dodgers so unexpected and delightful. Now we're looking at the possibility of a series or two or three at Coors, where the thin air makes dingers a given, especially if MLB juices the postseason balls again. You know what else signals home run weather? (No, not snow, even if that's a real possibility). When Nolan Arenado or Trevor Story steps up to the plate — they already notched back-to-back home runs on Monday against the Dodgers. If you want to see the ball leave the park, and you don't care who's hitting it, the Rockies are a sure bet.
Root for the Braves if ... you think the kids are alright
The consensus is that the Braves have found themselves in the playoffs a year or two earlier than expected, and you can credit the talented young blood on the team for that. Specifically, likely Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr, whose name is already used in conversations alongside "Mike Trout" and "Mickey Mantle" and "Ted Williams." Oh, and did I mention that he's only 20? Then there is 21-year-old Ozzie Albies, who hasn't played too shabby either, racking up 24 homers, 72 RBIs, and an All-Star nod over the 2018 season. On top of it all, the Braves have three 20-year-old pitchers and a 24-year-old rookie on third base, making first baseman Freddie Freeman, at 29, look like a dinosaur on this team. Root for the Braves if you enjoy a team that is young, hungry, and excited to be in the playoffs.