2012 MLB Playoff Bandwagon Rankings

2012 MLB Playoff Bandwagon Rankings

Yes, the MLB playoffs start today, and no, the Phillies aren't involved. It was a close call to being a close call there for a minute, but ultimately, the Phillies fell out, and few could reasonably argue that they were one of the ten best MLB teams this year, anyway. So while we continued to keep an eye on the Phillies as they looked to the future (sort of) with the likes of Domonic Brown, Tyler Cloyd and Darin Ruf, some of us started scouting the teams that had an actual chance of playing beyond Game 162—four of whom start play today, in a pair of play-in games, with the other six that made it kicking off over the weekend.

Assuming you're not busy pretending that the reason the Phillies missed the playoffs is because of some MLB-wide agreement to just kind of take a pass on the post-season this year, you might want to pick a team to follow and root for for the remainder of October. But which? Well, we've ranked the candidates, from least to most followable:

10. St. Louis Cardinals

A friend of mine told me last night that he was rooting for the Cardinals last night for the specific, asshole-ish reason that it would make the most people unhappy to see them win. Think that's about right—outside of St. Louis, who the hell wants to see the boring-ass reigning-champion Cards win? Certainly not Phillies fans, who have yet to stop smarting from that humiliating Game 5 shutout loss in the Division Series last year. It would've been so very poetic to catch the Cards for the second wildcard spot after we allowed them to backdoor their way in last year, but failing that, the best we can do is root for anyone and everyone playing against them this post-season.

9. New York Yankees

Rooting for the Yankees is never OK.

8. Atlanta Braves

Rooting for the Braves is only slightly less never OK, only because there's an argument to be made that Chipper Jones is an OK guy and this is his last time around and all. Still, mostly fuck the Braves.

7. San Francisco Giants

The other most recent Philly-slayers, with a roster still fairly similar to that which kicked the WFCs out of the playoffs in 2010. They've switched Pat Burrell for Hunter Pence, and while we wish Hunt the best, it's still hard to root for the likes of Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and that damn Giants bullpen with memories of that series still fresh. No Cody Ross or Juan Uribe at least, and Brian Wilson is still out with injury, otherwise they might be even lower.

6. Cincinnati Reds

No real beef with the Reds here—I'm not gonna get on 'em too much for having the temerity to get swept by the Phils in the 2010 NLDS—but they're just kind of a boring team, outside of their Nasty Boys II-esque bullpen. Joey Votto is a great player, but the most notable thing about him is how many walks he takes, and the veteran likes of Brandon Phillips and Bronson Arroyo are kinda whatever in the bandwagoning sense. Plus, the presence of Scott Rolen probably isn't going to endear this team to Phillies fans anytime soon.

5. Oakland Athletics

Not exactly a ton of big names on this roster—anyone who could actually tell Brandon Moss from Jonny Gomes from Derek Norris in a police lineup either probably lives in the Bay Area, watches baseball for a living or maybe wants to reconsider the amount of time they spend watching Extra Innings. Still, it's hard not to get swept up in the excitement of having good baseball in Oakland after six years of just absolute irrelevancy—in a year that started off as a rebuilding write-off, no less. Cool uniforms, fun memories of both the Bash Brothers and the Moneyball-era teams, great end-of-season run...you could do a lot worse than hopping on with the A's.

4. Washington Nationals

Yeah, yeah, division rivals, and they certainly didn't treat us too kind in 2012, but c'mon—rooting against the Nats is a little like rooting against the little brother you've spent a decade giving noogies and wet willies too when they finally stick up for themselves for the first time. It's cute at first, maybe even a little heartwarming—you just hope they don't end up totally flipping the script on you. So for now, we'll give the Nats a little bandwagon love in their first big moment as an actual MLB franchise, with an extra shoutout to our old guy Jayson Werth, for whom we still mostly want good things.

3. Texas Rangers

They're only a step or two away from being Yankees south, and any underdog follow-along potential the Rangers might have had a couple years ago has long since dissipated with their incredible run of prosperity since. That said, the Rangers are still a sympathetic team by virtue of their two consecutive Series losses—already halfway to becoming baseball's Buffalo Bills—with the last one being a particularly heart-rending choke job. Plus, some exciting players on both offense and defense, endless cutaways to a crotchety Nolan Ryan in the audience, warm thoughts in Arlington...who'd root against them getting a third-straight chance at the brass ring?

2. Detroit Tigers

Not a sexy pick, perhaps, but they've got arguably both the game's best hitter and pitcher, an insane closer, the league's most likeable old-timey manager (not counting the one in our own dugout anyway) some very classy uniforms, a terminally depressed city and nearly three decades since their last win. Assuming that FOX and TBS don't beat the Bob Seger and Kid Rock jams to death during their games, nothing wrong with a deep run for the Tigers.

1. Baltimore Orioles

Possible former hometown bias here, as the Orioles were the first team I ever rooted for, but if you're not going to root for the Orioles this year, you might not get another chance for a long, long time. It was among the flukiest of flukes that the O's even got here—they had a negative run differential for nearly the entire season, and won an absolutely unconscionable number of one-run and extra-inning games—and beyond regular All-Stars Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, their core of players (Chris David, Mark Reynolds, Jason Hammel...uhh, Chris Tillman? Nate McLouth?) doesn't exactly scream Future Dynasty.

For a team that's been bad just about ever since Jeffrey Maier comped Derek Jeter a home run in the '96 playoffs, this might be their one shot. They'll have a tough out in the play-in game tonight against Texas, and no one would begrudge them if the Rangers—a fairly obviously superior team, despite the identical records—ended up dispatching them. But unless you're old enough to still be holding a grudge against Baltimore for their '83 World Series victory, may as well give rooting for them a shot, no?

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Malik Monk, Lonzo Ball lead the way in wins

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Malik Monk, Lonzo Ball lead the way in wins

The Sixers acquired some more draft picks this weekend, including a "first round pick." Meanwhile, the Lakers still have the third-best lottery odds, meaning the Sixers have a decent shot of having their pick convey to them this season.

With that in mind, let's take a peek at who rose and fell this weekend.

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Saturday was pretty much peak Malik Monk. Monk can shoot and shoot he did, to the tune of 33 points in No. 11 Kentucky's 76-66 home win over No. 13 Florida. Monk didn't quite get 47 points like he did vs. North Carolina in non-conference play, but the freshman shooting guard scored a point per minute played. He shot 9 for 18 from the field, an impressive 5 of 7 from three, and got to the free-throw line with ease. He made 10 of 11 from the stripe. 

It was Monk at his most Monk, so he also had five assists to go with six turnovers. You let an offensive artist go to work like Monk and you're going to get a few turnovers to boot, and that's also to be expected when he takes some of the work left by De'Aaron Fox, who missed Saturday's game. Monk is almost surely a top-10 pick and should be near the top of the Sixers' board. He fits them like a glove if they can effectively build around Ben Simmons with shooters.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
Kentucky wasn't the only team picking up a big conference win, as No. 5 UCLA went on the road and got revenge against No. 4 Arizona to the tune of a 77-72 win. Color exactly no one shocked, but Lonzo Ball had a big role in the win. He shot just 1 of 5 from three (5 of 10 from the field), but he was everywhere offensively. He dished out eight assists, picked up five rebounds and had just two turnovers. Defensively, he also provided two steals.

Ball wasn't just in the news for his performance on the court, which was certainly exemplary. His dad said that he would only play for the Lakers next year, causing an uproar before he somewhat walked back the comments. It would certainly be entertaining to see the Calif. native be the future point guard of the Lakers under the tutelage of new president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, but Ball doesn't have the clout to force his way to LA. Heck, the Lakers may not even have their pick come June.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
While Monk and Ball led their squads to wins on Saturday, Jayson Tatum was unable to do the same. He was stifled along with his No. 10 Duke Blue Devils in a 55-50 loss at Miami. The Hurricanes are the type of team that can give Tatum fits because they're long and can provide the mobile athletes needed to stay with Tatum. Since NBA teams are literally full of those kinds of athletes, it's a concern for the freshman as he presumably takes the leap next year.

Against Miami, Tatum played all 40 minutes and was a paltry 4 of 16 from the field, missing all seven of his attempts from three. He did have seven assists to go with eight points, but it was not a good look for the freshman. Duke can't afford a performance like that from the top-10 prospect if they're going to make a tournament run. They'll need to see more of what he did against Syracuse on Wednesday (also a loss), when he had 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

Josh Jackson, forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Ho hum, Kansas won again. The No. 3 Jayhawks seem poised to become No. 1 overall after losses by Gonzaga and Villanova this week and freshman Josh Jackson is a strong reason why Kansas will be a No. 1 seed come March. Jackson struggled from two (3 for 11) on Saturday in a 77-67 win over Texas but he was 2 for 3 from three and made 6 of 8 from the free throw line. That's important: He's struggled at times from those two areas and is now up to 37.8 percent from three. Jackson still struggles from the stripe at 57.1 percent. 

He had another all-around game against Texas, too. He had five rebounds and five assists and was his pesky self defensively. This came after a 15-point, 11-rebound effort to go with four assists against TCU on Wednesday. Jackson is versatile on both ends and seems like he could fit on any team picking near the top of the lottery.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida State (6-11/205)
The No. 19 Seminoles finally broke out of a slump and Jonathan Isaac made himself heard in a 76-74 win at Clemson. That may not seem impressive since Clemson is unranked, but road wins in conference, especially in the ACC, are hard to come by and worth celebrating when achieved. Isaac was highly efficient as he scored 14 points on just eight shots. He made two treys in three attempts but had just three rebounds, likely a result of Florida St.'s size and length sharing the load on the boards.

The lengthy 19-year-old forward had just one block. However, it was the biggest block he could have made. He denied the Tigers a go-ahead shot in the final 10 seconds and helped preserve the road victory. Isaac has an enticing talent for defending the rim and it's part of why he's a major prospect. FSU does play some zone, so he'll need to adjust to full-time man-to-man defense at the next level. 

Quick Hits 
Let's look at some second-round picks this week, with the Sixers' additions to their treasure chest of picks.

While Arizona lost to UCLA, sophomore guard Alonzo Trier was on fire for much of the game, making 11 of 14 shots en route to a game-high 28 points. Trier has clear offensive talent but has some questions after a PED suspension to begin the year.

Oregon had some heroics on the road this week and junior forward Dillon Brooks played his part. He drained a three as time expired to beat California on Wednesday and had 36 points in a sweep of Cal and Stanford. 

Let's stick in the area with Villanova senior Josh Hart for this last one. The senior guard has potential as a role player at the next level and an efficient 16 points on 11 shots played a part in 'Nova's 79-63 win over Creighton.

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Those on the outside are now starting to see what those on the inside of Villanova basketball program have seen for the last year and a half.

Eric Paschall can play.

Paschall on Saturday had the biggest game of his career – at least his Villanova career – with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats’ Big East-clinching win over Creighton at the Pavilion.

With Darryll Reynolds sidelined since early February with a rib injury, the Fordham transfer has been starting and playing at a high level. But he was at his best on Saturday when his team needed him the most.

Paschall was essentially a guard at Fordham, but with Reynolds out and Omari Spellman forced to sit out the year, Paschall has been playing a lot of the 5 for Villanova, and against Creighton, he effectively neutralized 6-foot-11 Blue Jays center Justin Patton, who managed just four points – 9 ½ below his average.

“He’s getting better, that’s the biggest thing,” teammate Josh Hart said of Paschall. “He’s down there battling with Patton, a 7-footer, he’s down there battling with 6-10, 6-11 guys just about every night, and he’s battling and battling and we just tell him, keep working like that. That’s more important to us than him going out there scoring 20.

“We know he’s talented enough to score 20, you saw that (Saturday), but the way he’s battling and the way he’s not being frustrated and just keeps getting better, for us that’s the best part.”

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game two years ago for the Rams, earning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors.

He was one of only three NCAA Division I freshmen who averaged at least 15.9 points and 5 ½ rebounds per game. The others were D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are both now double-digit scorers in the NBA.

But to play at Villanova, you have to play defense, and that’s where Paschall has shown the most improvement.

“Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows,” coach Jay Wright said. “We know. When he’s in the game, we are executing at a high level. We’re just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program, you’ve got to be able to (play defense) first and he’s been doing that all year.

“(He’s) getting better and better, and today you just saw a glimpse of what you’ll probably see next year, but you’ve got to get the basics down first, which he’s done an incredible job of this year. It’s like I tell you with Dante (DiVincenzo), these guys play against him in practice, they’re not surprised when they see him do that, but I know everybody else is, because they don’t get to see it all the time.”

It’s not easy to transfer into a new program and get used to new players, a new coach, a new system, a new philosophy.

“It was a process,” Paschall said. “The biggest thing was getting used to what they wanted, and that’s defense and rebounding. That took some getting used to, but once I understood what they were looking for from me and what they wanted me to do, that just made it easy.

“The guys welcomed me with open arms. It’s a brotherhood here and we’re all brothers and they made me feel like I was a part of it from Day 1. It can be hard sometimes as a transfer coming in, but they made it easy. It’s just a matter of focusing on my job.”

Overall, Paschall is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field in an average of 21 minutes a night. But during these last five starts, he’s 21 for 32 from the field (66 percent) and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

“Eric, he came in knowing what coach wanted, knowing what coach’s philosophy is and how coach wants things, and he’s come and in done what’s expected,” Jalen Brunson said.

“He’s done a great job for us and we’re extremely confident in him. It’s hard coming in front a different school, coming in and learning a new system, learning the philosophy, but he’s done a good job.”

Paschall can play the 2 through the 5, so he gives Wright a lot of versatility.

His 19 points Saturday were his most as a Wildcat and his most in any game since he scored 21 for Fordham vs. George Mason on Feb. 18, 2015.

When asked about his role, he just pointed at Hart and Kris Jenkins.

“Just listen to these guys, making sure I have my head clear every game,” he said. “They do a great job of telling me what to do during the games and having my attitude right during the games so I can just go out there play hard, play together, play smart, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

As thin as Villanova is – Wright has played just six guys in his regular rotation since Reynolds got hurt – Paschall has been a life-saver.

It’s hard not to imagine how talented Villanova will be next year with Spellman, Paschall, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Brunson and DiVincenzo.

But first there's a game Saturday against Georgetown, the Big East Tournament in New York and then the NCAA Tournament.

“We see him getting better every day with his decision making,” Hart said of Paschall. “Last year he definitely kicked our butt a lot when he was on the scout team.

“One thing we always had a question about was how was he going to fit in with just playing hard the way we play defense, and he’s doing the best job, and he keeps getting better, and seeing him develop and seeing him grow has been amazing. Looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do in the future.”