So the Cubs season will end on Sunday. Does that mean you need to stop watching baseball? Of course not. Even though our beloved North Siders are heading home for the winter, baseball goes on in the playoffs. Ten teams will take the field in a tournament to become the 2013 World Series Champions.
While it's always fun to watch baseball, it's always more fun if you've got a rooting interest in one of the teams. So what's a Cubs fan to do? Here's a look at the five teams fighting to represent the National League in the World Series and why you should and should not be pulling for them.
I'll take a look at the American League teams after the final five teams are set. We're still waiting on those two wild card teams in the AL.
Why you should cheer for the Atlanta Braves: The Braves have been in first place all but one day of the season and it's always nice to reward excellence. While they were often mentioned as a possible wild card team this past off-season, everyone picked the Nationals to win the NL East. But the Braves destroyed the Nationals, going 13-6 against them and left them in the dust of the NL East race. So not only are they very good, they still have a bit of an aura of an underdog about them.
The Braves have a lot of exciting young players, none more so than shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who is the most amazing defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith. Freddie Freeman is a deserving MVP candidate. If you like pitching, no one has a better bullpen than the Braves and their starting rotation ranks among the best too.
Braves fans are generally considered one of the more friendly fanbases to Cubs fans. There used to be a bit of a kinship between the two teams as the two "Superstation" teams when WGN and TBS broadcast Cubs and Braves games throughout the nation.
Why you shouldn't cheer for the Atlanta Braves: Leaving aside the question of whether the "Tomahawk Chop" is racist or not, I think everyone can agree that it's obnoxious and stupid. It's the wave with chanting.
The Braves also have appointed themselves, along with the Diamondbacks, as the enforcers of baseball's "unwritten rules" and have gotten into major scuffles whenever a player on an opposing team doesn't follow them. Maybe you like that they call out childish and immature behavior and it's a reason to cheer for them. Or maybe you think the way the Braves react to such behavior is childish and immature. I could have put this point in either category.
The Braves fan base is a mile wide and an inch deep. Taking nothing away from the real hardcore Braves fans, the general Braves fan finds the team to be a pleasant diversion between Spring SEC Football and Fall SEC Football. Yes, they'd already clinched the division, but they had 19,000 fans at Wednesday night's game. And that's paid attendance, the actual number was far less. For all the talk of declining attendance at Wrigley, a 95-loss Cubs team can draw more than a pennant-winning Braves team. If real Braves fans can't be bothered to support the team, why should we?
There's also a sneaking suspicion that they're not as good as they appear to be. They got fat beating up on the weak NL East.
Why you should cheer for the Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have put together a top-flight team despite being a minor market. They've got perhaps the best hitter in the National League in Joey Votto and another really good one in Shin-Soo Choo. Their starting rotation is solid and is there a more electrifying reliever than Aroldis Chapman?
Billy Hamilton. Enough said.
Cincinnati is in the Midwest, so there is some regional solidarity there. They haven't won a World Series title since 1990, so at least it would be something different.
Maybe you have some positive memories of Reds manager Dusty Baker. It wasn't all bad the years he managed the Cubs.
They're not the Cardinals. They hate the Cardinals as much as Cubs fans do.
Why you shouldn't cheer for the Cincinnati Reds: For one, most Reds fans probably don't want you to cheer for them as they're one of the more hostile fanbases to Cubs fans. This is purely a matter of opinion, but I'd say even Cardinals fans are friendlier to Cubs fans than the Reds fanbase.
Even though there were some positive moments when he was in Chicago, you probably don't have fond memories of Dusty Baker.
Most of their fans still revere Pete Rose. Joe Morgan too. (Although there was nothing wrong with Morgan as a player.)
Why you should cheer for the Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers were in last place on July 1 this season, and then they went 19-6 in July and 23-6 in August to win the division going away. Such a turnaround in fortune is rare in baseball, and it would be nice to see the reversal go all the way. It would be especially nice to see Don Mattingly rewarded; Mattingly has always been a class individual throughout his playing and managing career, and especially since he was almost fired in June.
The Dodgers have an impressive collection of talent that's fun to watch. Big names, big stars and big talent.
Yasiel Puig plays for the Dodgers.
If you really hate the Cardinals, they're the team most likely to knock them off.
I know there have been incidents of Cubs fans being harassed at Dodger Stadium, but those are a few thugs who harass everyone not in Dodgers gear and sometimes even if they are. For the most part, the Dodgers fanbase is pretty neutral towards the Cubs.
The Dodgers took Carlos Marmol off our hands.
Dodger Stadium is gorgeous and the second-oldest park in the National League, third oldest in baseball. The Dodgers haven't won a World Series title since 1988, although they did win five titles in their first 30 years in Los Angeles.
Frank McCourt is gone and has been replaced with an ownership group that includes Magic Johnson.
Why you shouldn't cheer for the Los Angeles Dodgers: All that impressive talent was bought with a giant television contract. The Dodgers aren't exactly playing on a level playing field. Many have called the Dodgers the new Yankees, so if you hate the way the Yankees bullied their way around the league for many years, you should hate the Dodgers too.
Yasiel Puig plays for the Dodgers.
Frank McCourt still owns the parking lot.
Ex-Cubs on the Dodgers: Carlos Marmol, Jerry Hairston.
Why you should cheer for the Pittsburgh Pirates: As bad a century as we've have had, even Cubs fans don't know what it's like to experience twenty straight losing seasons. In fact, no other fan base does, unless the Washington Generals actually have fans. The Pirates are a small-market success story that have won by finding players other teams didn't want (A.J. Burnett, Jason Grilli, Garrett Jones), added in a few cheaper free agents (Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano) and some solid players from their own farm system.
Also, they have one amazing superstar in Andrew McCutchen who also seems to be a generally good guy that you want to see succeed. On top of that, he wants to be a Pirate for life, so that kind of attitude should be rewarded.
They resurrected Liriano's career and they have a budding superstar ace pitcher in Gerrit Cole. This team is young and hungry.
PNC Park is gorgeous. That used to be the only good thing you could say about the Pirates, but no longer.
Of all the teams in the NL Central, the Pirates fanbase is the least hostile to the Cubs fanbase. Whether that's because people in Pittsburgh are just friendlier or that their fans have just been so demoralized for so long, it still makes it easier to cheer for the Pirates.
Why you shouldn't cheer for the Pittsburgh Pirates: You may not have long to cheer for them. For all this talk of their amazing season, breaking their losing streak and making the playoffs, there's a strong sense this team isn't nearly as good as their record would indicate. As I write this, the Pirates are out-performing their Pythagorean record by six games. This is a good team. They aren't a great team. Even if they get past the Reds in the one-game Wild Card face-off, they're going to be hard-pressed to advance any further than that.
They used to wear these uniforms.
Why you should cheer for the St. Louis Cardinals: Thought I was going to skip this one, didn't you? There are actually a lot of things to like about the Cardinals. For one, they're an impressive team that was put together almost exclusively by a deep and productive farm system. The only major free agent on the team is Carlos Beltran, although Matt Holliday was re-signed as a free agent after the Cards acquired him from Oakland in a trade.
To put this bluntly, the Cardinals play a very appealing style of baseball. Excellent starting and relief pitching, high on-base percentages and top-flight defense. They don't have a ton of power, but they have enough.
Yadier Molina is a great player to watch play. So is Matt Carpenter, who emerged out of nowhere to be one of the best players in the NL this season. Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller are joys to watch pitch.
I've said this before, but the "Cubs Way" that Theo Epstein talked about looks a whole lot like the "Cardinals Way." You want to see that type of excellence rewarded and reinforced. When the Cubs get good in a year or two, we want the Cardinals to still be this good so it will be that much sweeter when we beat them.
Tony La Russa is no longer their manager.
Why you shouldn't cheer for the St. Louis Cardinals: Admittedly, all of these nice things I've said about the Cardinals are a lot easier to say if you don't have a Cards fan in your office shouting "CUBZ IZ LOOZARS" at you all day long. While I don't know that the Cardinals fanbase is as obnoxious as the Brewers or Reds fanbases, there are a whole lot more of them and they're much, much harder to ignore.
The Cardinals have won more World Series titles than any team other than the Yankees. Why do they need another?
They are the Cubs' biggest rival. The Chicago versus St. Louis rivalry (in more things than just baseball) dates back to the mid-19th century, at least. It just feels dirty hoping they win anything. And you really don't want to hear about another Cardinals title from that guy in your office, do you?
Ex-Cubs on the Cardinals: Unless I'm missing someone, none. This just reinforces how home-grown this team is. I guess Yadier Molina's big brother Jose had a cup of coffee with the Cubs.