Which classic baseball movie best explains each 2015 postseason contender?
The postseason race is already like a movie -- it's filled with action, suspense, pathos, drama and, yes, even romance. Fans fall in love with teams, players and epic storylines that will resonate through the ages. (Don't lie -- you know exactly where you were on baseball's last day in 2011.)
Naturally, that also means that the narrative thrust behind each October contender matches up pretty perfectly with a baseball movie. The only question is which baseball movie …
All stats as of Sept. 10.
Houston Astros - "Moneyball"
If you think about it, the Astros' success this year can be directly traced back to Billy Beane's magical work with the Athletics. And perhaps, Jonah Hill's masterful ability to curl his fist into a ball. Using sabermetric principles and mastering inefficiencies in the market, Jeff Luhnow has set up Houston for a potential dynastic run.
Dallas Keuchel is in the midst of a Cy Young-worthy season, Carlos Correa has already established himself as one of the premiere shortstops in the game and there's young talent at nearly every slot in the Astros lineup, so this team isn't exactly the collection of overlooked role players that the 2002 A's appeared to be. But coming off a 70-92 record in 2014, Houston actually entered this year far more of an underdog than that Beane squad.
Kansas City Royals - "Major League II"
Derek Holland may have cut his hair to look like Wild Thing, but the Royals are the ones in the midst of a sequel to their unexpected success of 2014. Of course, "Major League II" saw the team start the year in a rut -- Wild Thing struggling without his fastball and Willy Mays Hayes trying to hit home runs -- but the Royals have simply never stopped winning.
And they continue to do it in their own, uniquely Royals way. Five starters have an OPS+ of 115 or higher, but no hitters have reached 20 home runs. And while their rotation has been effective, the team's real strength lies in the fact that their bullpen makes every game about six innings long -- or roughly the length of a comedic movie.
Which, considering that Wild Thing becomes a flamethrowing closer in the second film, makes this an even more apt comparison.
Minnesota Twins - "Bad News Bears"
With a new, somewhat crotchety manager in tow (though Walter Mathau's Morris Buttermaker gave his team free rein on the beer cooler and Paul Molitor did not buy the media a drink at his first press conference), and a group of players not expected to make much of an impact in the league, the Twins' similarities to the Bad News Bears are almost too deep to seem coincidental.
After all, is the mild-mannered and soft-spoken Toby Whitewood not a perfect match for the Twins' Joe Mauer? Is the young hurler Kyle Gibson not this team's Amanda Whurlitzer? And the way that Miguel Sano mashes baseballs with nary a care in the world for the horsehide's wellbeing, is he not Kelly Leak? We have to just assume he drives a Harley Davidson, too.
And let's not forget to mention that the Twins' mascot is also a bear.
If the Twins make it to the postseason, they'll have to hope that the similarities end there, though. After their last two October trips were ended by the Yankees, it would just be too cruel to see that happen for a third time.
New York Yankees - "Mr. 3000"
While Mr. 3000 is about an older player returning to the Majors to pick up his 3,000th hit, ultimately failing in his goal and only leading his team to a third-place finish, Alex Rodriguez is penning a much brighter version of the film. After picking up his 3,000th hit earlier this season, Rodriguez has reached the 30 HR plateau for the first time since 2010, while ranking second on the team in OPS behind only the injured Mark Teixeira.
With the Yankees currently sitting comfortably in the first American League Wild Card spot, this ending could be a lot more satisfying than "Mr. 3000"'s. And will receive much better reviews, too.
Texas Rangers - "Angels in the Outfield"
I know how this one sounds. After all, the Rangers' strong second half has come directly at the expense of the Angels. But assuming that this Rangers team, 23-14 since Aug. 1, is being helped by celestial beings, perhaps it's in some cosmic sense of fairness -- if angels helped the Angels one season, then they probably have to help another AL West team in another year. (This is as good an explanation as any for the 1995 Mariners).
Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre (or Adrian Brody, who appeared in the film) have gotten hot and are back to hitting close to their career norms, Rougned Odor is showing surprising power with eight home runs since the All-Star break and all the bobbled balls seem to be ending up in player's gloves.
When you look at how their postseason probability has jumped from 5 percent at the end of July to 58 percent by the beginning of September, is there any other explanation?
Toronto Blue Jays - "Mr. Baseball"
This one is pretty simple: Veteran ballplayer travels to a new country, gets his groove back, leads his team to greatness.
And with the Blue Jays' march to the postseason largely built on the new-to-Canada trio of AL MVP candidate Josh Donaldson (.307/.374/.592), shades-of-2008-CC-Sabathia David Price (2.15 ERA since heading north) and the defensive upgrade in Troy Tulowitzki, the Blue Jays are set on the same path as Tom Selleck's pennant winning Chuninichi Dragons.
Now if only the team was willing to grow some mustaches. Or, at the very least, make a few energy drink commercials.
Chicago Cubs - "Rookie of the Year"
While everyone knew the Cubs were loading up their organization with high-impact young talent, few people expected they would be this good this fast. While none of the players are high school students like Henry Rowengartner, their performance has been just as dominant.
Kris Bryant has hit 23 home runs while driving in 86, posting an .847 OPS along the way and Kyle Schwarber has hit 13 home runs in only 50 games. Meanwhile, Addison Russell has also hit 13 home runs as a middle infielder, and Jorge Soler has shown his own power potential with seven long balls.
Fortunately, with a rotation led by veterans Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, the team will probably not have to rely on an underhanded toss with the season on the line. Then again, that could be just the solution toJon Lester's pickoff issues.
Los Angeles Dodgers - "Battlefield Baseball"
"Battlefield Baseball" is unlike any sports movie you will ever come across. Ostensibly about a high school baseball player who must soon use his martial arts expertise, there are enough bizarre moment -- like baseball zombies or a gorilla returning as a cyborg -- that you're never entirely sure that you haven't drifted off to sleep an dare in the midst of a vivid dream.
And sure, you're unlucky to come across any zombies or cyborgs at a Dodgers game, but you'll see the closest thing to that in this reality when at Chavez Ravine.
After all, the Dodgers may be the strangest and most exciting team in baseball. Whether you're watching Clayton Kershaw pitch another dominant outing or Zack Greinke give one of his patented pitcher's bat flips, the Dodgers are always one step away from something sublime and outrageous. Like Justin Turner and his fiery red beard or Yasiel Puig doing, well, Yasiel Puig things, and then there are the physics-breaking 98-mph cutters that Kenley Jansen throws past batters.
Just like Battlefield Baseball somehow has a narrative thread that ties it all together, so too do the Dodgers. Though that may be thanks to their narrator, the master storyteller, Vin Scully.
New York Mets - "The Scout"
When I first watched "The Scout," it seemed like one of the most unrealistic sports movies ever. And that comes from someone who believes that it makes perfect sense for a child to manage the Twins in "Little Big League." Here was Albert Brooks stumbling upon this long-haired pitching savant with a killer fastball who could simply overpower every batter he came across.
And then the Mets showed up and it's like they have two Steve Nebraskas in the Thor-like Noah Syndergaard and the shortstop-turned-ace Jacob deGrom. And that's only if we hold ourselves to the definition of long-haired hurler. If we want to extend it even further, there's Matt Harvey and, because the rotation is so stocked, Steven Matz-- who may head to the bullpen in October.
Here we are not even mentioning the Albert Brooks-looking Bartolo Colon.
Although, in fairness, none of the Mets pitchers have thrown an 81-pitch perfect game. Yet.
Pittsburgh Pirates - "Field of Dreams"
Now, now, hear me out. After reading Travis Sawchik's "Big Data Baseball," you could say that the "Build it and they will come," is referring to building your own advanced analytics system and that the ghosts emerging out of the cornfield were really placed there as part of a unique shift -- one that both played to a hitters' typical performance at the plate and crossed over the land of the living and the dead.
Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?
St. Louis Cardinals - "Rhubarb"
For these who haven't been blessed by seeing "Rhubarb," the movie about a cat that inherits a baseball team and becomes their good luck charm -- the team going on a horrible losing streak when it's stolen -- you may not have thought that it clearly influenced the Cardinals season.
But can you think of a better way to explain St. Louis having the best record in the Majors despite losing Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday for most of the season than that the team is secretly owned by a good luck charm cat? Because I can't.
Or that the team has five starters with an ERA of 3.12 or lower? Or that Matt Carpenter has made up for Holliday's absence by nearly doubling his home run output with 21 longballs this year?
Clearly, it's that a must-be-magical cat is actually pulling the strings.
And if you don't believe that the cat's lucky, just know that Orangey, the cat playing Rhubarb, is the only cat in history to win two PATSYs, the animal version of the Academy Awards.