Feature photo courtesy of Jeff Dahl.
It’s mid-August, which means playoff races are starting to come into focus. It’s evident that some teams have no shot at the postseason and are playing out the string on a long year. Meanwhile, some upstarts can begin thinking they have a legitimate shot at October baseball now that their success has improbably continued through 110 games.
With no other major sports on the summer calendar, you may want to turn to the MLB to occupy your time. Perhaps you’ve missed the entire season and are now ready to immerse yourself in time for the stretch run. Maybe you’re experiencing fatigue from your favorite team constantly losing and want to find the best baseball to watch to cleanse your palate. Or, your top squad could be heading for a postseason berth, and you want to scout out possible opponents.
Fear not, you’re covered. This article should clarify which teams you should watch–and how often–for the rest of the season in order to provide yourself the best baseball-viewing experience. It will also direct you on which clubs you should steer clear of. It takes into account offense, pitching, fielding and the impact each game will have on the playoff race, among other things.
One key thing to remember about baseball and all sports: Teams don’t necessarily have to sport winning records to be fun to watch. Here are a few examples:
Losing teams with entertaining elements:
No, the Mariners aren’t good. At 54-61, they’re actually very disappointing, considering they were a popular pick to win the AL West in the preseason and instead sit in fourth place in that division. But they still have Felix Hernandez, who, despite his higher ERA at the moment, remains one of the top pitchers to sit back and watch go to work. Plus, Nelson Cruz leads the majors with 35 home runs.
Hisashi Iwakuma has been a very good starter for the last three plus seasons, and he finally got people to notice by no-hitting the Orioles Wednesday. Taijuan Walker isn’t clicking like many thought he would, but he has shown potential, like in his 11-strikeout complete game against the Twins three starts ago. He could be worth checking out every once in a while.
Bottom line: Watch when King Felix is on the mound in Seattle, because the “King’s Court” fan section makes for an electric atmosphere. Check in if he or Iwakuma match up against another good pitcher, if you like pitching duels.
The Tribe is in the same boat as Seattle: a preseason darling and a flop. They also have pitchers worth tuning in for. Corey Kluber’s 18-strikeout masterpiece against the Cardinals in May was the most awe-inspiring game I’ve watched all year, and though his numbers don’t match up to his 2014 Cy Young campaign, he’s still an excellent pitcher.
Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar fly under the radar a little, but they both have great stuff. Carrasco came one out away from no-hitting the Rays July 1, and over his last three starts, he’s pitched 26 innings, allowing just three runs, seven hits and two walks while fanning 22. Salazar is similarly hot, pitching 21.1 innings and allowing two earned runs and eight hits with 19 strikeouts in his last three starts, albeit with eight walks.
Bottom line: If you’re a fan of pitching, this is still a rewarding team to watch. Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar are all fun, and even Trevor Bauer has put together a respectable season.
Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers
For those who prefer teams that light up the scoreboard, I present the D-backs and Rangers. Texas has the majors’ seventh-best run-scoring offense and startlingly, Arizona owns the third best unit.
Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland have raked for the Rangers, as has Rougned Odor since he was called back up. They just got Cole Hamels, which means once every five days they have a pitcher than can match the caliber of their offense. Prospect Joey Gallo should be back with the major league club in September, where hopefully he can grace us with more of his astounding power displays.
As for Arizona, Paul Goldschmidt is contending for a Triple Crown and producing MVP-type numbers, to the tune of a .341/.454/.581 slash line with 22 homers, 83 RBI and 19 stolen bases to boot. Goldschmidt steals all the headlines, even from what is very quietly the game’s second-best outfield, in terms of Fangraphs WAR. Of the group of David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Ender Inciarte, none is older than 27 and none is hitting less than .299.
Bottom line: Those who like offense can watch these two as much as they want without it getting old. For those looking for complete baseball, the Rangers with Hamels on the mound might be the only option.
Those teams serve a purpose, but you know what’s a lot better than bad teams with good pieces?
Good teams with elite elements
New York Mets
Just a few weeks ago, the Mets belonged in the previous group, as their pathetic offense made the team frustrating and sad to witness. But by bringing in Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, suddenly the Mets have a respectable lineup that could get better if and when David Wright returns. Couple that with a rotation led by Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, with Jeurys Familia closing, and you have a delightful team. Bartolo Colon’s batting and Alex Torres’ hat are good for never-ending laughs as well.
Bottom line: One of of the league’s best options to see three of every five days, and as the season goes on, their feel-good narrative and the important games they’ll be playing will draw tons of attention, and deservedly so. Additional incentive: SNY broadcasts are top notch.
Los Angeles Dodgers
They lead the National League in home runs, and Adrian Gonzalez is consistently great. Yasiel Puig may be struggling at the plate, but his cannon of an arm still dazzles when he breaks it out. Howie Kendrick is a very good hitter, and while he’s injured at the moment, his replacement Jose Peraza will entertain with his speed until he returns.
The main draws: Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, two of the NL’s four Cy Young frontrunners. Greinke’s changeup is on par with Felix Hernandez’s, and Kershaw’s curveball is one of the best and most aesthetically appealing pitches in the league, up there with Jose Fernandez’s slider and Kluber’s breaking ball (Kershaw’s slider is great as well).
Bottom line: Twice every five days this team is must-see TV. They’re fighting for a division title and the middle of the rotation just improved by acquiring Mat Latos and Alex Wood, so you may want to up your intake of Dodgers baseball come late September. Home games are even better because the legendary Vin Scully is on the call.
Toronto Blue Jays
By now you’re well aware their offense is downright unstoppable. Their 619 runs scored easily trumps the second-place Yankees’ 550. By adding Troy Tulowitzki, the top of the lineup reads Tulowitzki, AL MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and then Edwin Encarnacion. That’s some serious firepower. Tulowitzki is also a great fielder and his Jeter-esque jump throws are sure to instill some nostalgia.
On days where ace David Price starts, there may not be a better team in baseball, at least for watching. The league’s best offense with one of the sport’s premier arms? Yes, please.
Bottom line: They’ve got a little something for everyone. Hitting, David Price’s pitching and the defense of Tulowitzki and Kevin Pillar make Toronto sure crowd pleasers. The Blue Jays could become a daily ritual if you were so inclined, but stick to Price’s turn in the rotation if that’s too much baseball.
What if you’re looking for a consistent, all-around solid team to follow for the rest of the season? Here are the best of the best, the most pleasing teams to watch in baseball:
Great, well-rounded teams fit for daily viewing:
Former MVP Andrew McCutchen, who is once again a candidate this season, has a mechanically sound and smooth swing that makes him one of the most consistent hitters in the MLB, as evidenced by his five straight All-Star appearances. If a time traveler told me that one current hitter would someday improbably trump Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, my money would be on McCutchen.
Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco fill out the rest of an elite outfield, Aramis Ramirez finally gives the Pirates a respectable option at cleanup and Jung Ho Kang endears with his ability to play second, third and shortstop, all while hitting close to .300. Gerrit Cole has outstanding stuff, Francisco Liriano is having an excellent season and Mark Melancon is lights out at closer. The pitching staff as a whole has the third best ERA in the majors.
Bottom line: Pittsburgh’s in both a division and wild card race and is playing in the league’s best division. Plenty of marquee matchups with the Cardinals and Cubs await. This team is fun to watch now and will only be more entertaining in September. It’s best to tune in with Cole or Liriano on the mound, but feel free to check out the Pirates any time.
St. Louis Cardinals
They lead the rest of the sport in the standings by five games. Year in and year out they’re so frequently good it’s almost annoying. Their offense isn’t stacked with marquee names, but it gets the job done. Their rotation is out of this world. Among the current group of Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia, the highest ERA is Lynn’s 2.95. Wacha and Martinez are both only 23 and are a combined 26-8. Trevor Rosenthal, after a shaky 2014 season, has shut everyone down for 36 saves to the tune of a 1.49 ERA.
Bottom line: You won’t be watching a lot of losses, that’s for sure. Like the Pirates, they have plenty of meaningful NL Central matchups remaining. The Cardinals are a better option if you prefer pitching, but they have enough offense to captivate all audiences.
Kansas City Royals
Their defense is dazzling, and will get better when Alex Gordon returns, which will allow Ben Zobrist to replace Omar Infante at second, a huge offensive boost. They’ve got a great balance of speed and power. The bullpen 1-2-3 of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland is unmatched. The pitching rotation didn’t scream “World Series champions,” but now ace Johnny Cueto is on board. If Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy find their 2014 form, forget it.
Bottom line: I declare the Royals the most fun team to watch in baseball. Absolutely watch Cueto’s starts, and as many others as you can. They play a unique brand of baseball and their home crowd’s energy enhances the experience.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to get a satisfying baseball fix. I didn’t even mention the upstart Cubs or Astros, or the teams with each league’s MVP frontrunner, the Angels and Nationals.
But even with all the great baseball out there, be warned, there are teams you should avoid at all costs.
Teams that create overwhelmingly negative experiences:
San Diego Padres
Bottom line: An absolutely depressing team. Everyone’s a failure, except for starting pitcher Tyson Ross. Rather than watch the Padres, why not watch a plant slowly wilt?
Bottom line: Without Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Fernandez, you should not spend any time on the Marlins. Even when Stanton returns, just watch his home run highlights the next day.
Chicago White Sox
I’ve watched way too many White Sox games this year because I love pitching and I’m interested in Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon and Jose Quintana. For a team this poor, the starting pitchers have amassed the most wins above replacement in the majors, per Fangraphs.
Even with great starters, the White Sox are brutal. The bullpen undoes all the starters’ work by letting what feels like everyone score. The defense commits blunders all day and is just atrocious. The offense has scored the fewest runs in the AL and more than only the Marlins. On top of all that, if you’re watching the team’s broadcast of their games, you also have to put up with Ken Harrelson complaining for three hours.
Bottom line: When even an emphatic homer of an announcer sounds like he never wants to watch baseball again, you know you’re watching a morbid team. As amazing as Sale is, it’s too painful to watch his supporting cast. Highlights only, with the sound off.