Game 163 is in the books. The wild-card games are set. Now it's time to predict two one-and-done baseball games based on a standard that's as good as any: quality of mascot.
From 2004-2008, I was the mascot for the Tampa Bay Rays. I also served as the mascot for the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2009-2012, until a viral video of a silly string attack ended my reign of terror. Now I own a mascot consultancy. As such, I feel uniquely qualified to predict the playoffs on this basis.
Reds vs. Pirates
The Pirates boast one of the hard hitters in the mascot world: The Pirate Parrot. The Parrot is one of the godfeathers of MLB mascots who emerged in the post-San Diego Chicken hysteria that also birthed the Phanatic, Orioles Bird, and FredBird in the late 70's. Lesser mascots of the same era -- such as Twinkie the Loon, Basebug, Dandy, and Ribbie & Rubharb -- disappeared to the land of misfit muppets, but the Parrot stayed strong. Possibly fueled by the cocaine he dealt in the 80's, or by his hatred of being considered the 2nd best fat green mascot in Pennsylvania, this bird became the word. Always funny, the Parrot even killed off the Pirates attempt at a secondary character, Jolly Roger. Real mascots don't need sidekicks.
Cincinnati is cheered on by not one, but four mascots. Mr. Red was the first of the bunch, debuting as a sleeve patch in 1955 (and pre-dating Mr. Met). Mr. Redlegs, the mustachioed brother of Mr. Red, also first appeared in the 50's as a patch, but did not come to life until 2007. Rosie Red, the female companion, was introduced in 2008. Gapper, the fuzzy muppet/poor man's Phanatic, debuted in 2002 to coincide with inaugural year of Great American Ballpark. Gapper is by far the least popular of the Reds' mascots.
The Pirate Parrot is awesome. The Reds' mascot "team"? Weak. My pick for the NL Wild Card: Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rays vs. Indians
Let's start with the Indians. Since Chief WaHoo in a costume form would be more offensive than this Redskins mascot, the Indians birthed Slider, the fuchsia polka-dotted ball of fuzz. During Game 4 of the '95 ALCS, he fell off a wall, seriously injuring his knee. He had a cameo in Major League 2.
Raymond, the Rays mascot, looks like Slider's blue son, and has had a rough year. First, he was vilified for poking fun at the Crocodile Hunter's death. Then he got choked by a Red Sox fan. He has to share the limelight with a costumed version of DJ Kitty, who inexplicably has more Twitter followers than Raymond. I'm biased, but Raymond still stands strong as one of the best mascots in MLB. After all, he can wobble with it.
So in the battle between the Seadog and the Fuchsia blob, despite the fact I'd love to see a Francona/Red Sox reunion, my pick: Tampa Bay Rays.
Look for ALDS predictions on Thursday!