So apparently Robert Stanbury Olney III, known to baseball fans everywhere as our ESPN buddy Buster, is catching some grief for these postseason predictions:
Playoff predictions: AL Orioles, Indians, Mariners; DET, NYY. NL Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers; Cardinals, Marlins. PIT to win WS over SEA.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) March 20, 2015
I suppose that comes with the territory. Making such predictions practically invites vitriol from the fans of the teams you’re not projecting to achieve great things. It also leaves you open to mockery from long-memoried fans when the bolder or trendier picks — such as taking the Mariners to win the American League, which ain’t happening — go haywire.
Red Sox fans have apparently been fairly vocal about their exclusion from Olney’s playoff predictions, as if a baseball writer’s picks before the season even begins have any relevance or impact at all beyond being a conversation starter. He’s also apparently received quite a bit of grief for choosing the Pirates to win the World Series.
Minor annoyance with the former is somewhat understandable — the Red Sox, despite their silly ruse of trying to convince us that starting pitching depth can make up for the absence of a top starter, should hit their way to serious contention.
But picking the Pirates to win the World Series? Who would have a problem with that, other than maybe a straggling, envious Phillies fan?
Yes, I’d like to see the Red Sox win the World Series this year. You knew that. I’m a graduate of the Bob Ryan “Winning Is Good For Business” School. And a parade is always fun.
But that got me thinking: If the Red Sox don’t win the World Series this year, which other team would I like to see reign in October?
While thinking it through, I didn’t just pick one. I ranked ’em all, worst to first, from that certain team in the Bronx we’d least like to see win the Series to No. 1 and … well, I suppose I’ve already tipped it off that I’d love to see the Pirates win it all.
Can we agree on the appeal of a Boston-Pittsburgh World Series, at least?
Here’s the countdown, from the Yankees (boo, hiss) to the Pirates and everyone in between.
29. Yankees. You had someone else in mind? Olney’s nuts if he thinks they’re making the playoffs over the Sox.
28. Mets. Love Matt Harvey, still hate ’em out of principle for ’86.
27. Diamondbacks. You get the sense they’d fill the entire roster with Willie Bloomquist and 24 clones if they could get away with it.
26. Marlins. When is Giancarlo Stanton’s opt-out again? I’ll never root for Jeffrey Loria as long as there is a Jeffrey Loria — unless he offers me $325 million.
25. Twins They’ll rise up this list once Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are established. But for now? I’m hitting the snooze button.
24. Rays. More boring than the Twins. And what’s with all the Steven Souza hype? He’s a year-and-a-half older than Wil Myers.
23. Rockies Troy Tulowitzki is one more hopeless season away from changing his name to D. Troy Jeteritzki and claiming he’s played for the Yankees all along.
22. Phillies. Take Henry Owens and Deven Marrero and be done with it already, Ruben.
21. Blue Jays. Perennial underachievers who are a trendy pick yet again. I’d bet on them replacing John Gibbons with Cito Gaston again before I’d bet on them to win the division.
20. Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke are three contemporary favorites at this address. And Adrian Gonzalez is better than he’ll ever get credit for around here. Can’t wait to get a larger sample-size of Andrew Friedman’s approach to building a big-market franchise …
19. Rangers. … But dammit, if only the Red Sox had found the foresight and cash to have kept Adrian Beltre.
18. Braves Chipper Jones’s tweets during a Braves’ World Series run would be … um, interesting.
17. Tigers. The roots of David Ortiz’s stardom can be traced to June 2003, when he hit .324/.420/.541 during his first extended playing time with the Red Sox. That’s the same month Miguel Cabrera debuted in the majors. I’m not sure what that means other than that Cabrera seems like he should be turning a hell of a lot older than 32 next month. For what it’s worth, I have nothing against the Tigers other than their chronic familiarity.
16. Angels. Mike Trout — pretty much the only reason I’d want to see the Angels in the World Series, but a damn good reason — was born the same day that Reds mascot Schottzie was put to sleep. I do not know what this means either, but I suppose it is an oddball reminder that Marge Schott treated her dog better than she did her superstar center fielder.
15. Orioles. Even though winning a World Series would bring out the insufferable history-revising THEO WON WITH HIS PLAYERS!!! simpletons in full force, I’m all for the Dan Duquette redemption.
14. Mariners. Felix Hernandez could seize October Bumgarner-style, if only the lesser Mariners would give him the chance. Ten seasons into his career, he’s still waiting to throw his first postseason pitch.
13. White Sox. It would be somewhat appropriate to win another World Series on the 10-year anniversary of the wildly unsung ’05 champs.
12. Brewers. Win it for Ben Oglivie. Harvey’s Wallbangers forever.
11. Cardinals. Yeah, the golly-we-love-our-team-more-in-the-heartland stuff gets old. But we can put up with it given that they’ve been a helpful postseason patsy as the Red Sox altered their history.
10. Reds. I suppose we could endure the Big Red Machine nostalgia on the 40th anniversary of the 1975 World Series. Besides, it would be a riot to see Joey Votto go 0 for 0 with 31 walks over the course of seven games.
9. Padres. A.J. Preller’s wheeling and dealing was one of the fun subplots of the baseball winter. And aren’t we all ready for Will Middlebrooks, World Series MVP?
8. Astros. But only if they agree to move back to the National League immediately afterward.
7. Nationals. But only if they agree to move back to Montreal immediately afterward.
6. Giants. Four in six years? Now that would be a dynasty. It would also spur worthwhile conversation about the Hall of Fame candidacy of Concord, New Hampshire’s own Brian Sabean.
5. A’s. Because Moneyball helped me appreciate the game in a whole different way, and Billy Beane is overdue some postseason vindication and luck.
4. Royals. For George Brett, the best hitter of my childhood, not to mention one who seemed to hit three triples per series against the plodding ’70s Red Sox.
3. Indians. For Tito, the best manager the Red Sox ever had, son.
2. Cubs. Kindred spirits for decades with the Red Sox, their quest to overcome the lovable loser label is now a solo pursuit. Might be No. 1 if not for the off-the-charts insufferability quotient of Joe Maddon, Cubs Savior.
1. Pirates. Beautiful ballpark, great tradition, cool unis, and Cutch, the face of baseball as it ought to be. How do you root against that?