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?

Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

BOX SCORE

For a moment Sunday afternoon, Citizens Bank Park sprung to life as the Phillies strung together five hits in a four-run second inning.

But four home runs off starter Zach Eflin sent the Phillies to another defeat and Eflin to Lehigh Valley.

Eflin was optioned to Triple A following the Phillies' 8-4 loss to the Reds, in which he allowed seven runs on nine hits in just five innings of work (see Instant Replay)

"His first two-three outings were really good," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was keeping the ball down, but his last three, including today, he's elevating his sinker and once you elevate that sinker, it doesn't have the effect that you'd like to have."

The Phillies have now lost nine consecutive series for the first time since 1997. The loss was their 22nd in 28 games and handed the Reds their first series win at CBP since August 2006.  

Eflin got off to a rocky start Sunday with three first-inning singles, allowing one run. He escaped further damage but then proceeded to give up a home run in each of his final four innings. The final home run — Adam Duvall's second on the day — came on an 0-2 pitch and extended Cincinnati's lead to 7-4. All of the Reds' hits off Eflin came on fastballs as their potent lineup feasted on his pitches high in the zone.

Two weeks ago, Eflin's ERA stood at 2.87 as he kept opponents in the ballpark with his hard sinker. However, starting with a May 17 outing in Texas, Eflin has allowed 22 runs in his last 15 innings. He's given up seven homers in his last two starts and at least nine hits in five consecutive outings as his ERA ballooned to 6.13. With Sunday's results, the Phillies were left little choice but to option the 23-year-old righty while he deals with a rough patch.

"There are some things I need to work on," Eflin said. "I need to do a better job of pitching backward, especially in fastball counts. There's a lot of things I need to work on, but at the end of the day, I'm not worried about it. I'm going to go down there, work on everything I need to work on and get back as soon as possible."

The Phillies will reinstate Howie Kendrick (oblique) off the 10-day disabled list Monday, Mackanin said, in a corresponding move after the veteran IF/OF completed a four-game rehab stint (see story)

Kendrick could help boost an offense that is scuffling. After a four-run second inning highlighted by Andrew Knapp's 434-foot three-run home run, the Phillies' bats fell silent. They strung together five more hits. However, three double plays and a few untimely strikeouts killed any further rallies.

The Phillies left a potential run stranded on third base in the fifth inning as Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr struck out against starter Scott Feldman, who waded into and out of trouble in five innings of work. Herrera went 0 for 4 with that strikeout, continuing to slump. His average has fallen to .217.

With Kendrick returning, Mackanin indicated he would give Herrera some days off soon to help him relax amid mounting pressure to hit.

"He's scuffling. A couple guys scuffling," Mackanin said. "I'll probably move him down in the lineup. I can't keep him in the two-hole. But he has to fight his way out. 

"We'll see when Kendrick gets here. We're going to have another outfielder. I'm going to mix and match and try to get everybody in there. Kendrick, I'm going to bring along slowly because I want to make sure he's healthy.

"In other words, I don't have a set outfield. I'm going to mix those guys up."

On the infield, Maikel Franco continued his slide Sunday, going 1 for 4 with a strikeout and a double play. The slugger is hitting .213 this month, just as he did in April, but his power is down with just two home runs. Kendrick, who only played left field in April, played third base while at Triple A, so he could potentially spell Franco as well.

"He hit a ball hard today but he's not giving us consistent at-bats," Mackanin said. "He's searching both physically and mentally. It's not easy for him. I can tell he's down on himself. He's not happy about what's going on."

The Phillies came into this week struggling and were unable to rebound against the Rockies and Reds, losing five of seven. They averaged just 2.42 runs during the homestand.

However, the bigger problem comes in the rotation. The team gave up 5.71 runs per game in their last seven despite a 23 2/3 inning scoreless streak from the bullpen. The rotation's struggles continue to plague the team as they carry the worst record in baseball into Miami for a three-game set starting Monday.

"I certainly expected more out of our starters," Mackanin said. "We've had some issues with [Aaron] Nola's arm and Clay Buchholz going down. Although [Jerad] Eickhoff is going to end up having a good year in my opinion. He's been a little bit hot and cold.

"And Eflin, I counted on him to have a big year this year. I think if he gets himself straightened out down in Triple A, I think he's going to come back strong. But certainly, I can't sit here and say I'm happy with [his performance]."

Instant Replay: Reds 8, Phillies 4

Instant Replay: Reds 8, Phillies 4

BOX SCORE

Zach Eflin allowed a career-high four home runs and the Phillies were outslugged by the Cincinnati Reds in an 8-4 defeat Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils have now lost nine consecutive series for the first time since 1997. The loss was their 22nd in 28 games. The Reds, who took two of three, picked up their first series win at CBP since August 2006.

Eflin was roughed up for the third consecutive start. The Reds tagged him for seven runs in just five innings. After three hits led to a run in the first inning, he gave up home runs in each of his last four frames. Following the game, Eflin was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Jeanmar Gomez allowed a solo home run in relief. 

Andrew Knapp gave the Phillies an early lead with a three-run homer during a four-run second inning. However, three double plays stifled the Phillies' offense, which was held scoreless after the second inning. 

Scott Feldman improved to 4-4 with the win for the Reds. The Phils dropped to 17-31 while the Reds improved to 24-25. 

Starting pitching report
Eflin stumbled through five innings, allowing nine hits. He had held opponents to just four homers in first six starts but has now has let up seven in his last two appearances. Over his past three starts, Eflin's been tagged for 22 runs in 15 innings. He's given up at least nine hits in all five May starts. 

A poor sign for Eflin: Only two of his outs came on the ground. The Reds were all over his fastball and scored in each of his five innings. His ERA has gone from 2.81 to 6.13 since May 17.

Feldman labored through a 32-pitch second inning in which he gave up four runs. He settled down afterward with a pair of double plays to get through five innings. The veteran righty struck out the last two batters he faced with a man on third and one out.

Bullpen report
Luis Garcia threw two shutout innings, striking out one. Jeanmar Gomez gave up rookie Patrick Kivlehan's second home run of the day in the ninth inning, snapping the Phillies' bullpen's scoreless streak at 23 2/3 innings. Gomez allowed three hits and the one run in two innings.

Blake Wood, Wandy Peralta, Drew Storen and Raisel Iglesias each threw shutout innings in relief of Feldman.

At the plate
Manager Pete Mackanin wanted the Phillies to string together 4-5 hits and they did so in the second inning. Tommy Joseph and Michael Saunders led off with back-to-back singles before Knapp drove them in with his 434-foot blast. Knapp laid off two high fastballs after falling behind 0-2 and drilled a curveball into the Phillies' bullpen.

Freddy Galvis followed with a double. Even Eflin aided the cause with his first career RBI on a run-scoring single. 

The top two in the order — Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera — went 0 for 8. Everyone else in the lineup had at least one hit. Saunders and Aaron Altherr each had two hits while Ty Kelly had a pinch-hit double.

Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Kivlehan combined for five home runs with Duvall and Kivlehan notching multi-hit games. Jose Peraza and Zack Cozart extended their hitting streaks to 13 and 11 games, respectively, in the first inning.

Up next
The Phillies head on the road and begin a three-game set with the Miami Marlins, whom they beat twice in April at Citizens Bank Park.

Monday, 7:10 p.m. — Jeremy Hellickson (5-2, 4.28) vs. Edinson Volquez (0-7, 4.82)

Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.— Vince Velasquez (2-4, 5.55) vs. Justin Nicolino (0-1, 5.40)

Wednesday, 1:10 p.m. — Aaron Nola (2-2, 4.34) vs. Dan Straily (3.83)