Here at Bleacher Brawls, we consider ourselves The Home of the Greatest Rivalry in Professional Sports™ – between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. We’re unashamed fans of those teams, homers through and through.
But as the new MLB season begins, it’s not lost on me that many new baseball fans are jumping into our beloved sport as I type this. As a new hockey fan myself, I understand both the joys and frustrations of following a new sport.
And for many, the start of the new season is a time to pick a team to follow. Maybe you got into baseball through the World Baseball Classic and need a team. Maybe you’ve decided to try something new, watch some baseball, and need to know where to start. Maybe you’re a longtime Oakland A’s fan and need to finally give up on your team.
Some folks have baseball teams passed down through generations. Some are lucky enough to live 15 minutes away from one of the 30 MLB parks. Since not everyone has those luxuries, I’m here to help you pick a team based on what you want from the franchise-fan relationship.
A few caveats:
No Yankees or Red Sox. You can get plenty of that on the Bleacher Brawls Podcast, where we’ve talked plenty about the pros and cons of both teams.
No Astros. They are cheaters.
A young team on the way up: Baltimore Orioles
I’m going to try and simmer my love for the Orioles this year (I will be unsuccessful), but this is a very lovable team. Aside from a few veterans they’ve brought in to hold things down, this is a young team that’s going to be together for a long time. They are anchored by future Hall of Famer Adley Rustchman, the young catcher that leads the team on both offense and defense. There’s also the equally handsome Gunnar Henderson (campaigning for Rookie of the Year) at shortstop, the 6’5″ Felix Bautista (whose pitches are equally intimidating) in the back of the bullpen – and that’s just a few guys. There are a handful of other intriguing players on the roster as well, and a bevy of impressive talent they have in the minor leagues. This is a young team that will make some bone-headed mistakes, but they will get better as they win more and more ballgames.
To put it plainly: they’re good now and will only get better. Since MLB rookies are under team control for essentially six seasons, they’re gonna get better every year as the young talent matures and the prospects develop. And with the league moving towards signing younger and younger stud prospects to long-term deals, you might be looking at a decade of these guys playing together.
The Birdland Flock will call you a bandwagoner since you didn’t have to endure the years of incompetent baseball, purposeful tanking, and overall terrible vibes for many seasons before 2022. But if you enjoy the ride now and promise to stick around for the next rebuild in eight years, you’ll be fine.
A classic baseball team: St. Louis Cardinals
When you watch a game of baseball, what do you like to see? You like to see hits and stolen bases and pitching duels and web gems and young rookies and old veterans. That’s what they’re supposed to look like and what they’re supposed to do.
When you’re sitting in the stands eating your hot dog and drinking your beer, root root rooting for the home team, that’s what you want. You don’t care about xwOBA or UZR or xFIP.
The Cardinals, as currently constructed, are going to play classic baseball. I’m not saying that someone’s gonna pitch 400 innings this year or that they’re gonna take out the walls of Busch Stadium, but they’re going to play the game. With a spark from rookie Jordan Walker and veteran leadership from old-timer Adam Wainwright, you’re gonna see all of those things: reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt will pepper the field with hits, Nolan Arenado will play some hot defense at the hot corner, and starters like Miles Mikolas and Jordan Montgomery will go deep into games. Plus they’ve got guys named Lars Nootbaar and Packy Naughton – what’s more classic baseball than that?
A new-age baseball team: Tampa Bay Rays
On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Rays have long been on the cutting edge of modern-day baseball. That used to mean just putting out a different lineup every day, but now it means using 11 pitchers in a game and batting fat guys lead-off and cutting talented guys loose: all in the name of numbers.
If you’re getting into baseball because you like those calculations, statistics, averages, and analytics – this is your team. They always have one or two guys, like Wander Franco or Tyler Glasnow; who play with a little personality to sell some t-shirts in the gift shop; but otherwise, it’s a team of no-names who hit .141 but somehow have an on-base percentage of .473. I’m pretty sure they could win 90 games with players from the Western Virginia Junior College team because they’ve figured out how to crunch the numbers in such a way that makes all other teams look silly.
They know pitching development, defensive positioning, and lineup construction in their own special way, all backed by nerds and numbers. It’s a version of baseball that’s unrecognizable to old-timers, but those old-timers would get their asses kicked by this team that always manages to win.
A team of likable superstars: Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies, however, are a team constructed entirely of players whose jersey you want to buy. Newly signed star shortstop Trea “Purple Heart” Turner might just be the second best player in the league right now (Shohei Ohtani is the greatest baseball player of all time), and he’s joining a team that made it to the World Series last year.
Kyle Schwarber is supremely likable, despite being a pretty bad baseball player in most respects. Alec Bohm is well-liked by the fan base even though he hates the City of Philadelphia. Matt Strahm and his moss are well-loved by The Girl Who Loved Kiké Hernandez. People still seem to like Brandon Marsh even though he looks like he sleeps in the woods. And Nick Castellanos is the source of Baseball Twitter’s best meme.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola and baseball’s best catcher, J.T. Realmuto, and the Phillie Phanatic.
A risky pick that could go either way: Chicago Cubs
In Derrik’s recent column Predicting the 2023 MLB Division Winners, he wrote the following on the revamped Chicago Cubs:
The Cubs may not have the most star-studded roster, but when you look closely you can see a team start to come together. I believe that the pitching will be the strength of the Cubs, especially in the rotation…the lineup is much improved, bringing in Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini, and more to supplement the talent they have…this Cubs team isn’t perfect, but…could surprise some in 2023.
Picking them to win the division is a bit too far for my taste, but I think Derrik’s getting at the same thing I’m getting at when it comes to the possibilities for the Cubbies this year. You could justify predicting them being a dark horse and you could justify predicting a faceplant. You could say that they’re old, washed up, and scraggly. You could also say that it’s a squad that needed a face-lift, did some nips and tucks, and is now a team of guys with something to prove. Every other team on this list, barring tragedy, is guaranteed to be good this year. Wanna take a risk? Want to jump on a (literal) wild card team? Go Cubs Go.