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?

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres will join Colin Kaepernick, won't stand for national anthem

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres will join Colin Kaepernick, won't stand for national anthem

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines last week when he refused to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game, and an Eagles linebacker fighting for a roster spot says he'll do the same in their final preseason contest.

Kaepernick decided not to stand because of the divisive and violent racial issues that have been building in America. Tavarres has taken a similar stance, telling ESPN.com's Tim McManus on Monday that he nearly followed Kaepernick's lead by sitting out the anthem in Indianapolis.

"Oh, I thought about it. Believe me, I definitely thought about it," Tavarres told ESPN. "And usually I'm front and center on the line with the rest of the guys, and that's since pre-K all the way up. Saturday's game, I stepped back, I was in the background, and it didn't feel right to me at all, and so I will be taking a stand — or sitting down — for the fourth game.

"We've got an issue in this country in this day and age, and I feel like somebody needs to step up and we all need to step up. We've got that right. There's just a lot going on that people don't want to talk about, and I feel like us as athletes, we're looked at as role models. And I feel like with Colin Kaepernick, he's doing a great job for standing up in what he believes in, and most people may not like that, but that's his opinion, he's entitled to it, and I respect him for doing it."

According to the report, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had players express their feelings about the topic during a meeting Monday and Tavarres was one of the players who spoke, along with team leader Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Leodis McKelvin.

Jenkins discussed the topic with USA Today over the weekend.

"At some point, I think guys in multiple sports across the country, guys are starting to realize if we do want a change, it is something we need to get involved in at some point," Jenkins said.

“I have already done some things. I have spoken to the police commissioner of Philadelphia. We are trying to come up with some plans to do some stuff on the ground and get some work done. A lot of what is going on in the country is outrageous. I try to be careful. I ask myself what is the outcome that I want to see and how do I go about that?

"At the end of the day when it comes down to relationships of African Americans in this country right now, my entire family is black. I can sit on my stage and act like these things don’t apply to me but my two brothers, my dad, my mom, all of them are dealing with the same thing."

Tavarres, meanwhile, is not a lock to make the Eagles' final 53-man roster, but their lack of depth at backup linebacker has created an opportunity for him. Dave Zangaro had Tavarres on the practice squad in his roster projection Monday. 

"In this situation, I've really got nothing to lose," Tavarres told McManus. "I'm a rookie free agent, haven't signed any major contract, so there's not a lot of money on the line, I don't have any big endorsement deals on the line. Really what's at stake is my pride and what kind of man would I be and what kind of African-American would I be if I didn't stand my ground on this issue we have today?

"[It] needs to be done. Will there be backlash? Probably. I don't think anyone has bought my jersey yet, so I don't know if it's going to be burned, but it's a major issue and I'm definitely going to stand my ground for this one."

Sean Couturier excited to play for Team North America at World Cup after rehabbing all summer

Sean Couturier excited to play for Team North America at World Cup after rehabbing all summer

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The last time Sean Couturier played a meaningful game, he got drilled into the side boards by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
 
Couturier suffered an A/C sprain in his left shoulder during the second period of Game 1 against the Capitals and missed the remainder of the playoffs.
 
“Most of the summer was a lot of rehab, trying to strengthen that shoulder,” said the Flyers center, who is practicing at Skate Zone. “Now I feel good. I’m not gonna lie, it took me longer than I thought.”
 
The 23-year-old reported early. He’ll travel to Montreal on Sept. 4 for Team North America’s training camp and the upcoming World Cup of Hockey Tournament next month.
 
“I’m trying to skate as much as I can to get back in the rhythm,” Couturier said. “I think it’s going to be tough to get in the rhythm right away. We’re not used to playing that high level hockey in September, but every guy on every team is going to be like that.
 
“Once we get out there, the level is going to be pretty high right off the bat. I think it can help me personally be ready for the season and step right into game action.”

Eight Flyers will participate in the eight-team competition. The others: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Mark Streit, Radko Gudas, Jakub Voracek and Michal Neuvirth.
 
Team North America is comprised of age 23-and-under players.
 
“I don’t really listen too much to the hype and stuff in the summer, but we can definitely surprise some people,” Couturier predicted. “I don’t think there’s much attention for our team. Really no one knows what we’re gonna look like.
 
“We’re gonna try and surprise the world, basically and try to win the tournament. We’re not going there as tourists. We feel we have a good group and a lot of skill and speed and we’ll surprise some teams for sure.”
 
Couturier is a perfect North American because he has dual citizenship – U.S. and Canada. Though born in Phoenix, he spent nearly his entire childhood in Canada.
 
“For me, I’m dual citizenship, so that’s the way I see it,” Couturier said of playing favorites. “It’s a little different, but at the same time the mindset is more about trying to win the tournament. Once you’re out there and on a team you’re just trying to win and I think that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
 
This tournament offers Couturier a chance to test his shoulder competitively before pre-season NHL games start.
 
Obviously, the Flyers will open camp here without some of their best players.
 
“Everyone’s had a long summer, so I think everyone’s kind of looking forward to getting back into action,” Couturier said. “We’re lucky. We’re fortunate to get back into action earlier than we usually do. I’m just happy to be part of it and live the experience.
 
“I know a little what to expect international-wise – I went to the Worlds two years ago. This is going to be high level. No easy games.”
 
Loose pucks
Ten players, including Gostisbehere and free agent Russian forward Roman Lyubimov, who was signed in July, are also working out at Skate Zone, which is under major reconstruction. … Because of construction, the Phantoms dressing room no longer exists. The Flyers have a logistics problem of where the majority of their players are going to dress during camp. ... Construction won’t be completed until sometime this fall. … As part of the club’s 50th anniversary celebration, the Flyers have decorated walls throughout their dressing room area with steel plates from old newspaper pages, and other media, commemorating their two Stanley Cups plus other historic moments from the past. … Brayden Schenn, who will miss the first three games of the regular season on a suspension, will play in preseason.

Flyers' farm system ranked 6th in NHL by ESPN

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Flyers' farm system ranked 6th in NHL by ESPN

There's a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the future of Philly sports, although between the Phillies, Eagles and Sixers, the Flyers tend to go a little overlooked this time of year.

Maybe that shouldn't be the case. Not only are the Flyers coming off of a playoff season, unlike the other local teams, but their future might be as bright as any of the other three. Just look at their farm system, which is ranked sixth in the NHL by Corey Pronman for ESPN.com (Insider), up from number 10 last year.

It's hard to criticize the Flyers' system. Talented all-around centers? Check. Dynamic big defensemen? Check. Ridiculous goaltender depth? Check. Depth through their amateur and professional ranks? Check. Players with star upside? Check. They don't have an Auston Matthews-caliber player in the pipeline, but that player doesn't stay in your system longer than three months anyhow. Ron Hextall emphasizes patience in developing players, so I do expect this system to remain at a high level for another two seasons as the build continues.

The Flyers may not have an Auston Matthews-type, who happened to be first-overall pick in this year's NHL draft. Among the prospects they do have however are forward Travis Konecny, defensemen Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin and Travis Sanehim and goaltender Anthony Stolarz, several of whom are already knocking on the door. This comes on the heels of what was considered another strong draft for the franchise in June as well.

And let's not forget, one of the Flyers' top prospects joined the club last season. Shayne Ghostisbehere isn't accounted for in these rankings for obvious reasons, but the fact of the matter is the dynamic blue-liner is only 23 and should be wearing orange and black for a long time.

Of course, Flyers fans already know the future is bright. Then again, seeing how their farm system is viewed relative to other teams around the league goes to show just what an outstanding job general manager Ron Hextall has done rebuilding the prospect pipeline.