Every team would love to win this year's World Series championship, but there are three teams that must win: the Dodgers, Tigers and A's. I mean, they really, really, really must win it all. Anything less than a 2014 World Series trophy for any of those three teams will be unacceptable to everybody inside their universe.
The Dodgers, Tigers and A's rosters are loaded to the point of absurdity compared to their peers, which means they have a massive bullseye over each of their team logos. So, unless they are swallowed by a sinkhole during the next few months, it's World Series championship or bust for all three teams.
Only one team can win a World Series championship each year, so I'm guessing somebody better start praying for a sinkhole before Halloween.
I can't remember the last time three Major League franchises were in such an overwhelming must-win situation at this stage of a regular season. There were all of those decades showcasing the Yankees as That Team by themselves; their dynasty continued without much of a pause from Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra to Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter to George Steinbrenner.
There have been other must-win teams besides those in pinstripes. The Big Red Machine comes to mind. Those Cincinnati teams during the 1970s resembled the Yankees in their ability to turn lofty expectations into actual world championships. In contrast, the Brooklyn Dodgers of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider managed just one world championship.
Then again, those star-studded Cubs teams of the late 1960s and early '70s managed none. In fact, they never even reached the postseason, despite a must-win roster featuring Baseball Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ron Santo. They also were managed by Hall of Famer Leo Durocher.
Still, despite a Big Red Machine here and that impressive Cubs bunch there, baseball rarely -- if ever -- has featured as many must-win teams in a given season as we have now. So enjoy what's happening this year involving the Tigers, A's and Dodgers while you can.
The Tigers were already a must-win bunch entering this season, but then came Thursday's Trade Deadline, and they moved to the top of the pack with their trade for David Price, the AL's Cy Young Award winner two years ago. Now the Tigers have a starting pitching rotation of Price, last year's AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and last year's AL ERA champion, Anibal Sanchez.
If that's not enough, the Tigers' everyday lineup is led by Miguel Cabrera, winner of the last two AL Most Valuable Player Awards. In fact, with help from Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter, the Tigers' offense is in the top 10 in the Major Leagues in batting average, home runs, runs scored, hits, doubles, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and extra-base hits. They also strikeout less than any team not named the Royals or the A's.
Speaking of the A's, well, they haven't a weakness. They entered Friday's action with a run differential nearly twice that of the next closest team in the Major Leagues -- plus-162 to the Angels' plus-90. The A's also shocked the senses by adding postseason ace Jon Lester from the Red Sox before the Trade Deadline. In 13 playoff appearances, Lester is 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA, including a 3-0 record and a 0.43 ERA in three World Series starts.
The A's have been thinking October for a while. Earlier this summer, they got super starter Jeff Samardzija and veteran right-hander Jason Hammel from the Cubs. With Lester, they form a dominant rotation with Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, both 12-3 with ERAs under 3.00. Not surprisingly, the A's can hit as well as they can pitch. Led by sluggers Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, they've scored more runs than anybody in baseball this season.
The Dodgers spend more money than any team. That's enough right there to make their bullseye even larger, but there are other reasons for this Dodger Blue renaissance. Just like the A's and Tigers, the Dodgers have outrageous starting pitching, and it begins with Clayton Kershaw, the Sandy Koufax of our time. In addition, the Dodgers have former AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke in the rotation, along with Josh Beckett, owner of a no-hitter and a World Series MVP award.
Elsewhere, Dee Gordon is the Dodgers' splendid leadoff hitter, and he owns a .294 batting average while leading baseball in stolen bases with 48 and triples with 10. The Dodgers also have the electrifying Yasiel Puig and the healthy Matt Kemp, who is flashing signs of becoming dominant at the plate again. Plus, the rest of the Dodgers' lineup looks solid enough to win it all.
Then again, the Dodgers haven't a choice.
Neither do the A's or Tigers.