Obviously every baseball season I look forward to seeing the Red Sox in the playoffs contending for the championship. And this grateful Red Sox fan has deeply appreciated the three World Series titles since 2004. But as a Red Sox fan for just over fifty years, I have had a lot of experience viewing the baseball postseason without my Red Sox involved. And my favorite type of postseason not involving Boston is one with an underdog to root for. The only problem in 2015 is to figure out which underdog to choose. Eight of the ten postseason teams could fit the bill, and one could make an argument for the Yankees. I wouldn't, but the team from the Bronx has won the World Series only once in this century in fifteen tries. And the Yanks did not make it out of the wild card game in '15. The St. Louis Cardinals, the only team to win 100 games this season is no underdog. They have won two World Series crowns in this century, in 2006 and 2011. The Cards have also lost two other Series to Boston ( '04 and '13). The Cards, Red Sox, and Giants lead the pack of successful teams in the 2000's. But the Cards lost the NLDS this time around.
Let's take a look at the other eight teams that graced the 2015 post season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Until 2013 the Pirates had the longest current streak of non-playoff years. In 2013 the young Buccos made the NL Wild card game, as they have gone on to do for three straight years. But after advancing and losing the NLDS in'13 the Pirates were one and done the next two, getting ramrodded by Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arietta, shut out both years 8-0 and 4-0. If Pittsburgh could ever hang around long enough, they could be an underdog to root for.
After the Yankees, Pirates, and Cards left the stage, seven teams were alive at that point. The Blue Jays were the team that went into this season with the longest playoff drought (since 1993). The Jays had inherited that honor from the 2014 AL champ Kansas City( who of course had taken the mantel from Pittsburgh). To show how topsy turvy and underdog laden the playoff stage had become, although the Jays had the longest number of seasons in a row with no playoffs, of those seven contenders the Jays had won the World Series more recently than any of the other seven!
Let's quickly review the next three teams who exited.
Houston Astros: the Astros rose from the ashes of perhaps the most horrid stretch of seasons ever put together by a MLB team. Paced by young superstar shortstop Carlos Correa, and pitcher Dallas Keuchel, the Astros slugged their way into the playoffs. Although the led the AL West for most of the season, they staggered to the finish line and got a wild card. The Astros have only been in the World Series once ever. In 2005 they were swept by the White Sox.
Texas Rangers: This injury decimated team was written off but a huge second half garnered the NL West crown, and they jumped out to 2-0 on the Jays, but lost the next three in the ALCS. The Rangers were in consecutive World Series in 2010-11 but lost them both, so like their Texas brothers, the Astros, have never won a World series.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Okay, probably a reach to call a major media market team that outspends the Yankees (and everyone else) on payroll these days an underdog. But this franchise has not won the World Series since 1988. Twenty Seven years.
That leaves MLB's final four for 2015. Let's look at the four in reverse order of their "underdoggedness".
New York Mets: Again calling any major market team, and there is no more major market than New York, an underdog is questionable. But they will have nearly no one outside New York rooting for them in the NLCS, they are the anti-Yankees in their home city, they are the descendants of the 1960's Amazin' Mets, and they have not won the World Series since 1986. 1986, screw it, enough about them.
Toronto Blue Jays: The reason to not grade the Jays as underdogs include they have an entire country rooting for them, they have the most powerful offense left in the post season, and they have won the Series more recently than the rest, albeit 1993. The long playoff drought that is being snapped and playing the defending AL champs in the ALCS may add somewhat to their claim.
Kansas City Royals: Ironically in this field of teams with title droughts, the Royals are the defending American League crown holders. But everything else screams underdog. Small market team, which has nearly never spent $$ on the franchise since their inception in 1969. Last year, they were complete unknowns who went from the wild card game squeaker to the seventh game of the World Series, losing to the Giants. If the Royals return and win the World series, it would be only their second title ever and the the other was in 1985.
Despite the fact the above six teams' last World Championships were never, never, 1985,1986, 1988, and 1993, they are all pikers in the underdog category compared to the team I will root for going forward in this post season.
Chicago Cubs: Here is a quick litany of the Cubs World Series experience form 1903 to 1945:
1907 and 1908 World Champs
The following seasons the Cubs played in the World Series, but lost:
1918 (lost to Boston, neither won again for a while)
1932 (the Babe Ruth called his shot series)
1945 (last World Series of the World War II era, when most of regular players were at war)
Now the Cubs World Series Trips since 1945:
You got it. None. The Cubs have not been to the World Series in 70 years. Last World Series victory was in 1908. One Hundred and Seven years.
This is not news to any baseball fans, but it certainly cements the Cubs as an underdog to pull for. I am not a fan of Cubs manager Joe Maddon in any shape or form. But a Cubs win puts Theo Epstein in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and I am in favor of any good will that comes Theo's way for his efforts in Boston. Jon Lester is my short list of all time favorite Red Sox and would enjoy Jon's getting another ring.
But here is the real reason I am pulling for the Cubs. As a long time Red Sox fan, I well know the agony of a streak of non-championship seasons, lasting well longer than your own lifetime Although Boston from the 1940's through the 1980's made a World Series appearance once a decade except for the fifties ( 1946,1967,1975,1986). As Red Sox Nation went through the year after year heartbreak (and some years had more heartbreak than others), there was always the feeling any time the Sox got close the baseball world was pulling for us. Except of course for the fans of the teams the Sox were playing and the Yankee fans(understood).
For many decades the Cubs(1908), the White Sox (1917) and the Red Sox (1918) wandered through the landscape as three lost kindred souls. For a long while I never subscribed to the Curse of the Bambino, but thought there may some kind of left over 1919 Black Sox scandal curse on any team in Chicago or with Sox in their name. But in back to back campaigns, both Sox teams left the Cubs alone, 2004( Boston sweeps the Cards) and 2005 (Chisox sweep Astros).
Another decade has passed for the Cubs and they are still waiting. This is a team of young stars, perhaps reaching the post season a couple of years ahead of expectations. It is manufactured by Boston's own Theo Epstein. It may or may not be their year (Back to the Future or not), but this is a team Red Sox Nation should lend its support to.
There is no team other than the Red Sox I pour my heart and soul into, and there is still that pesky Joe Maddon factor to try to ignore (they won't show him much on the telecasts, right?) But I will join most of the country.
Go Cubs...........I guess.