Times are tough for fans of eliminated playoff teams. But what if the best of the beaten banded together for one shot at a glorious run?
Folks, the situation is grim in the American League.
One of either the Red Sox or Yankees is going to be in the AL Championship Series. They will face either Blue Jays South, but with a far more offensive team name, or the Astros, who have a closer who is now the most unpopular baseball figure in Toronto since J.P. Ricciardi insisted that B.J. Ryan‘s torn elbow ligament was really just a bad back. It’s tough to find something to root for.
Even Oakland, which became the underdog in the picture, had problems of its own with its acquisition of domestic abuser Jeurys Familia. Then Bob Melvin decided to go full bullpen on New York and rolled out Liam Hendriks as a starter in a playoff game.
That went as well as could be expected. Hendriks surrendered a two-run homer to Aaron Judge in the first inning and Oakland was never in shouting distance of winning, save for one blown shot with the bases loaded in the fourth.
It’s enough to make a baseball mind wonder how Tampa Bay would have done with a shot at the Yankees. The Rays were hot in the second half, but ran out of time to catch the A’s. Maybe Seattle, if it had good health and didn’t resort to boxing matches in between games, could have put a better effort forth.
Probably not. Too many flaws in both those squads to make a real push at the top-four teams in the AL.
But what if the also-rans combined forces?
Imagine if a Voltron made out of the teams that didn’t make the AL playoffs suddenly emerged to challenge the Yankees. Wouldn’t that be fun? Snell emerges from the mists with Terminator eyes as Trout, Abreu and Haniger start twirling bats? Why isn’t this happening?
— Ryan Andrews 📎 (@NeoAC18) October 4, 2018
Followers on Twitter may have seen my missive calling for a Voltron of talent collected from the 10 non-playoff teams to come together and challenge the final five in the AL. Call it Team North America for the baseball fan. Call it the Outcast Squad set to challenge the status quo. Call it the only way Mike Trout is tasting the playoffs until he leaves Los Angeles.
Essentially this rag-tag collection of spoilers would be cobbled together by a triumvirate of managers (In this case Tampa’s Kevin Cash, Seattle’s Scott Servais and next up who wasn’t let go so…Ron Gardenhire of Detroit? Yikes.) and taken on the road to the second wild-card winner (Oakland) then the first wild-card winner (New York). Winner of the second game goes to the ALDS. There’s a monetary benefit for MLB in that its stars gets some October exposure, and benefit for that second WC team, in that they get an extra home date.
Plus it’s just a fun mental exercise to think about.
So lets go through the roster that would don the black and gray of the Cooperstown Raiders:
1. 2B Whit Merrifield, Kansas City
We start with a mea culpa. When I constructed my initial roster off the top of my head on Twitter, Mr. Merrifield, MLB’s stolen base leader with 45 and the owner of a 20-game hit streak to end the season was left off the rough draft. An eagle-eyed Royals fan, at the appropriately handled @NxtYearEagles reminded me of Merrifield and he leads off the order. An absolute pest at the plate and on the basepaths, he’s key to working the small-ball strategies that would be vital to victory.
2. RF Mitch Haniger, Seattle
The first-time All-Star was a fixture atop the order for the Mariners, with an .859 OPS overall and a .327 batting average when hitting in the first two slots. Hitting 26 home runs will play too. Overall, he led Seattle with 6.1 WAR according to Baseball Reference, so he’s pretty good.
3. CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles
I don’t think this needs to be explained.
4. 1B Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
One of the most underrated power bats in the game, Abreu was sidelined with a thigh infection at the end of the season, but should be recovered enough for the first playoff game. He’s averaged 31 home runs and 102 RBIs per healthy campaign, and even with a dip this year, has a .295 career average. Plus, like Trout, he has minimal playoff experience. Time to put Mal Tiempo (Bad Weather) in a position to rain on some parades.
5. 3B Nick Castellanos, Detroit
After spending most of his career at the hot corner, Castellanos was shifted to the outfield this season, so he may need to get the third-base glove out of storage, but the potential defensive downsides are negated by his bat. A near .300 hitter with an .854 OPS will serve as a bat that can generate contact and rack up extra-base hits in the middle of the order.
6. LF Eddie Rosario, Minnesota
The Puerto Rican outfielder is another one of baseball’s well-kept secrets. A key cog in the Twins’ playoff run last season, Rosario is another bat that hits for average (.280 career), has some pop (51 homers over the last two seasons) and can hit in the clutch as his two-run homer in last year’s wild-card game showed.
7. DH Joey Gallo, Texas
The exemplar of baseball’s three true outcomes, no one has as much potential to change a game with one swing than Gallo, the only 40-home run hitter not in the playoffs. The Rangers didn’t have much to cheer about this year, but Gallo was appointment viewing.
8. C Salvador Perez, Kansas City
Not much to choose from for catchers in the roster, and Danny Jansen needs a full season under his belt to really push for consideration here. So the steady hand of Perez comes aboard the Raiders to bring experience and some more late power into this lineup.
9. SS Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles
Simmons continues to play Gold-Glove defense while contributing a high average and double-digit home runs. If Castellanos is playing third, having the best defensive shortstop in baseball backing him up will be vital.
Zunino is the best of the rest of the catchers in the American League. Smoak offers switch-hitting pop and stellar defense, he could easily swap with Abreu if needed. Wendle was a breakout star as the second coming of Ben Zobrist in Tampa with a .300 average. Pham was a .343 hitter with the Rays since coming over from St. Louis in an inexplicable trade from the Cards standpoint. Smith is the designated pinch-runner who offers a bit more of a bat than Terrance Gore.
Snell should win the AL Cy Young award with his 21-win season and 1.97 ERA. Hard not to turn to anyone else not already in the playoffs to start a winner-take-all battle. Paxton, the man with the no-hitter against the Blue Jays in May, faltered late with his health but looked dominant enough to end the season against the Rangers to reassert himself as the new Big Game James. Or Big Game Maple. Lopez was sneaky good over the final five weeks, rattling off six-straight quality starts to end the season, including a seven-inning, one-run game in Yankee Stadium. Lopez could get the start in the second game and Paxton would start Game 1 against the Red Sox. Berrios made his first All-Star team this season and The Machine is over-qualified to be a fourth starter. So he would have a chance against the Charlie Mortons and Mike Clevingers in the postseason.
Yarbrough was the poster child for Tampa Bay’s opener strategy, racking up 16 wins despite starting just six games all season. Keller, a 22-year-old Rule V pick from Arizona, shifted to Kansas City’s rotation in late May and posted a 7-2 record with a 3.04 ERA over 77 innings in the second half. They will serve as the long arms in the pen.
Leclerc was a revelation for Texas following the trade of Keone Kela, and “LeBoss” finished with 85 Ks and a 1.56 ERA in 57 2/3 innings. Toronto fans are familiar with Alvarado’s work, as the lefty with the 98 mph fastball and hard breaking stuff fared poorly against the Blue Jays, but allowed just three runs in 18 1/3 innings against the Yankees and Red Sox this year. Rogers is the LOOGY, with a .180 average against left-handers this season and a .088 average overall in the final month.
Giles might have to settle for an eighth-inning role, but the counsel of managers can opt to swap him with Diaz depending on what part of the order is up. However, Diaz, who tallied the third-most saves in a single season with 124 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings this season is going to be the big dog in the pen.
Taxi Squad (Potential Callups in case of injury/ineffectiveness):
C Robinson Chirinos, Texas, IF Jean Segura, Seattle, 3B Adrian Beltre, Texas, OF Adam Jones, Baltimore, SP Ryan Borucki, Toronto, SP Jaime Barria, Los Angeles, LHP Jose Alvarez, Los Angeles, RHP Ryne Stanek, Tampa Bay
Yes, no Oriole made the 25-player squad. This isn’t the All-Star game. This is a team trying to win.
Anyway, I like this team’s odds to knock out Oakland in California and then give the Yankees a real run in New York. Let me know what you think in the comments, and if enough people want, an NL version could come out. Call that team the Ghosts of Montreal.
Featured Image Provided By DaveMe Images
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Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since they could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs as well on the Tailpipe Sports blog. The 20-something has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. Andrews brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program.