The American League had to play an extra game before we found out which five teams are in the playoffs, but the field is now set. I already did the summary for the National League, but let's face it: In one way or another, every team in the National League is a rival of the Cubs. So while some of you are going to stick with Senior Circuit solidarity, others are going to say the heck with the whole lot of them and cheer for an American League team. But in that case, what's a Cubs fan to do?
So here's a Cubs fan guide to the American League playoffs with suggested reasons why you might or might not want to cheer for each team. Feel free to use any of them or none of them. They're just suggestions.
Why you should cheer for the Boston Red Sox: Over the course of the past 40 years or so, in the minds of the a lot of fans at least, the Cubs and the Red Sox were twin brothers, one in each league. They both played in old historic ballparks, they both had a lot of glory in the distant past and neither one of them had won a World Series since World War I ended. Toss in that both teams had made-up curses that was supposed to explain their futility, and Cubs fans and Red Sox fans have had a lot of sympathy for each other for a long time.
The connections have gotten a lot stronger in the past couple seasons since Theo Epstein left Boston for the Cubs and has been trying to recreate the success he had in Beantown over in the Windy City.
The Red Sox also have the best record in MLB after finishing in last place last season in the AL East. They traded away most of their big money free agents and while you'd never confuse them with a small-market team on a budget, the highest salary on the team this season is $15.25 million, and that goes to John Lackey.
Other than fired former manager Bobby Valentine, the biggest reason the Red Sox finished last in 2012 was injuries and poor performances out of their starting pitching. This year, the rotation is back and strong. Then when it's time to close out the game, Koji Uehara has been darn near perfect this season. The Red Sox even got him cheap as a free agent this past off-season.
Naturally the Red Sox have a powerful offense, and they've outscored every team in the American League by over 40 runs this season. And other than David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, the team has done it with some relatively unsung players. Stephen Drew, Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino didn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of their opponents in April, but they do now.
Why you should not cheer for the Boston Red Sox: The Cubs and the Red Sox used to be similar franchises. But the Red Sox have won two World Series in the past ten years and make the playoffs almost every season. (Last year excepted, of course) The days of the Red Sox being a forlorn, cursed franchise are long over.
Yes, they're where the Cubs want to be, but they're not exactly humble about it. The whiff of heartbreak around this team isn't completely gone, but you can hardly smell it underneath all that aggressive, arrogant, expensive and entitled cologne. It may have been the Red Sox that called the Yankees "The Evil Empire," but in all honesty, the Red Sox have become "The Almost As Evil Empire."
Is there a more overexposed team than the Red Sox? From all their games on ESPN, Fox and the MLB Network, aren't you sick of watching the Red Sox yet?
Ex-Cubs on the Red Sox: Ryan Dempster
Why you should cheer for the Cleveland Indians: The Indians won 68 games last season. With new manager Terry Francona, a few trades and a couple of mid-level free agent signings, they won 92 this season. They're a great rags to riches story from one of the lower revenue teams in the game.
There's no one real strength to this team, but there's no real weaknesses either. They're solid from top to bottom with ten hitters who had ten or more home runs but none with more than Nick Swisher's 22.
The Indians starting rotation is full of comeback of the year candidates, as Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez bounced back from poor 2012 campaigns and Scott Kazmir bounced back from not having pitched in almost two years and being lousy for several years before that.
The Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948, which is the second-longest drought in the game. The team was led that season by player-manager Lou Boudreau, who was from Harvey and a longtime Cubs broadcaster, so there's a Cubs connection there.
For all the talk about tough economic times in Detroit, things aren't a whole heck of a lot better in Cleveland. The beleaguered city could use some cheering up.
Why you should not cheer for the Cleveland Indians: You can make a real strong case that they don't deserve to be here. While the teams in the AL East were fighting their way through that tough division, the Indians got fat beating up on the Twins and the White Sox, which thanks to the uneven schedule they go to play far, far more than the other teams fighting for the wild card got to. (Except Kansas City, which had the same advantage.) Against the White Sox and the Twins, the Indians went a combined 30-8. They were 17-2 against the White Sox alone. (OK. Maybe that's a reason to cheer for them.) Add in the 6-1 they went against Houston, and they were 30 games above .500 against the three worst teams in the league. The Indians were 56 -61 against the "good" teams.
Now yes, the Indians didn't make the schedule and you have to beat the bad teams too. But the other teams in the wild card chase didn't get as many games against the dregs of the American League as Cleveland did.
Whether the fans know this team isn't that good, whether they can't afford to buy tickets or they're just that apathetic, attendance at Indians games this year has been terrible, despite all the winning. Only Tampa Bay had worse attendance in the AL, and Cleveland doesn't have the excuse of a terrible ballpark. If Indians fans can't be bother to cheer for their team, why should you?
Why you should cheer for the Detroit Tigers: The Tigers have the absolutely best starting rotation in baseball, and they're even stronger when you just look a the four likely to pitch in the playoffs: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister.
They've got the best hitter on the planet in Miguel Cabrera. In fact, their whole lineup is filled with players you've probably already heard of. It's a veteran lineup and everyone in the lineup is a threat to knock the ball out of the park.
The Tigers haven't won a World Series since 1984, so seeing them win would be a lot easier than seeing the Red Sox or Cardinals win their third in ten years.
They're a midwestern team so there's some midwest solidarity going on there. The city of Detroit has seen better days and the people could use a little cheering up.
Why you should not cheer for the Detroit Tigers: This isn't a homegrown team that the Tigers have nurtured over time. These are hired guns, traded for or signed from other teams at high prices. Their payroll isn't as high as the Red Sox, but it's reasonably close.
Jhonny Peralta looks likely to be on the post-season roster, so you'd be cheering for at least one Biogenesis PED cheat.
The Tigers are owned by Mike Ilitch, who founded Little Caesars, which has the nerve to call what it serves pizza.
Why you should cheer for the Oakland Athletics: Their general manager is Brad Pitt! Jonah Hill works in the front office! Their first baseman is on Parks and Recreation! The players have to pay a dollar to get a soda from the machine! OK, not really on all of those, but this team is even more Moneyball than the 2002 team depicted in the book and movie, which relied a lot of three very good starting pitchers. Now that on-base percentage is correctly valued in the player market, GM Billy Beane has had to find new market inefficiencies to exploit. He's dipped in the Cuban market to get Yoenis Cespedes. They traded stars they could no longer afford to get Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and Josh Donaldson. (Yeah, that last one hurts.) They grabbed Jed Lowrie from the Astros fire sale. They hired a practitioner of the dark arts to reanimate Bartolo Colon from his grave.
If the A's win the World Series, they might make a sequel to Moneyball with a happier ending. Or at least shoot an extra scene for the special edition Blu-Ray.
The highest-paid player on the team is Chris Young, making $8.5 million.
This is a team filled with scrappy no-names who don't back down from anyone. They have Coco Crisp, and cheering for someone named Coco Crisp is always fun.
The Athletics also play in the O.co Coliseum, and you feel sorry for them. They haven't won a title since 1989.
Why you should not cheer for the Oakland Athletics: If the cult of Billy Beane and Moneyball annoys you, then you really don't want the Athletics to win. A victory would be interpreted as a vindication of everything Beane has been doing over the past 15 years and you're going to hear about what a "genius" he is for the next year and probably beyond.
Some people may like the fact that they're made up of no-names, but watching the playoffs you're likely to scratch your head at one point and say "Who the hell is this guy?"
An Oakland victory might just embolden the Giants to say "See, they don't need to move to San Jose to win."
The last time the Athletics won the World Series, the Series was interrupted by an earthquake that almost destroyed the Bay Area, and you don't want to tempt fate again. On top of that, that team had Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire on it.
Their team colors are green and gold, which is going to remind you of the Packers. (For about 10 percent of you, this is a reason to cheer for the A's.)
Why you should cheer for the Tampa Bay Rays: Talk about Moneyball all you want, but Tampa Bay's payroll was even lower than Oakland's. Their attendance was as well. This is a team that can't keep anyone around (except for Evan Longoria, more on him later) and yet they just keep winning. They're a young team filled with hungry guys who play in a city that doesn't seem to care. Despite playing in the brutal AL East with two teams that both outspend the Rays by three or four to one, they just keep winning. They haven't had a losing season since 2007 (and never a winning season before then) and they've made the playoffs four of the past six seasons.
They have one true superstar in Evan Longoria, who could have left Tampa Bay for a fortune from the Yankees or Red Sox and no one would have blamed him. Instead, he signed a long-term deal that will make him a Ray for life. Sure, he is still going to make a fortune playing for Tampa Bay, but he would have made an even larger fortune on the open market.
On top of Longoria, they have Wil Myers, who very well could be the next superstar in the game. There aren't many managers that are worth watching apart from their team, but Joe Maddon might be one of them. Intelligent, innovative, unorthodox and witty, Maddon might just be the best manager in the game.
Tampa Bay has never won a World Series, so them winning spreads the wealth around.
Why you should not cheer for the Tampa Bay Rays: Everyone knows that Tropicana Field is a lousy place to play baseball, but it's not any worse than the Twins' old Metrodome, and the Twins drew over three million fans in 1988. It gets tiring listening to Rays fans excuses for why they won't go to the ballpark. They have one of the best and most entertaining teams in the game today and they had the worst attendance in the game. Even terrible Miami down the road drew more fans than Tampa Bay. Rays fans like to talk about how their TV ratings are good, but if they really cared about the team, they'd attend a game once in a while.
This team has only been around since 1998 and were barely trying the first eight years. Do you really think it's fair for their apathetic fans to celebrate while Cubs fans have been waiting around since Teddy Roosevelt's administration?
Josh Lueke is on the Rays. If you don't know why that's a problem, google it.