Winter is… ending. The frozen lands to the north of the future Trump wall are thawing out and The Backyard’s luscious green grasses are being lovingly transformed into finely manicured carpets that befit the battles about to be waged upon them. After all, the grounds crews have not been deported. Yet. Praise the Seven!
Excitement comingles with nerves and foreboding; trash talk and plaudits are shot across the Interwebs like arrows from longbows – and we still have a week to go before we roll out our bannermen and fight for the glory of our less than clever sigils in week one action!
Seeing as Game of Thrones is also coming back into our lives in just a few weeks, it seemed appropriate to create power rankings that reflected the fierce and fantastical world of Westeros while also taking stock of what each us has at his disposal and how well we have managed to prepare our armies for what is to come. In addition to being ranked in descending order, each team will be assigned a character from the World of Ice and Fire.
When you play the Game of The Backyard, you win or you get a fate worse than death: The Figs.
- Pine Lake People’s Champs: Daenerys Targaryen
Dragons are fire made flesh. And fire is power. And Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion have nothing on the flamethrowers in Ryan’s rotation. Kershaw, Sale, Hernandez, Strasburg, Rodon, Wainwright? Oh, hell, let’s just throw in a July return for Zack Wheeler too, just in case any part of the known world was left unscorched. It’s fire and blood and death and destruction for the rest of us, because I have news for you: nobody’s winning the starting pitching categories against him. Nobody. This means that he only has to win a few categories on offense to coast to a nice little victory each week and an eventual easy qualification and probable bye-week spot in the post season. And here’s the scary thing: his offense is good too. Carlos Correa, the most exciting young superstar in the game, is surrounded by exciting youthful talent trending upward: Springer, Rendon, Yelich, Moustakas, Castellanos, and Belt; all young and sexy Dany in a fire covered with dragons stuff – and those dragons are only going to get bigger. Even his vets are perfect: Russell Martin is scary underrated, and as someone who owned him last year, I know he’ll put up great numbers from the catcher slot. Like people have been saying for what seems like a decade, “Justin Upton is still young!” Yes, the guy that no one is talking about anymore is still only 28, well within the margin of error for his “prime”, and is going to have a very solid fantasy season in a cozy Tigers lineup. We haven’t even gotten to Ryan Braun, who is still going to put up great numbers. We haven’t even started to worry about CarGo’s health! Frankly, my friends, it doesn’t matter. CarGo could get shot in both hamstrings with a crossbow at this point – R-Mac has enough to fly across the Narrow Sea and take back what is rightfully his. If he doesn’t do it I’ll be beyond shocked.
- Ocean Gate Trout Fishing Club: Loras Tyrell
Come on, it was too easy, right? Loras is young, talented, and exciting. He’s got the fanciest armor. He’s fiercely loyal to his… guys. It makes a lot of sense. Mike Trout, Jose Fernandez, Kris Bryant, Gerrit Cole, Todd Frazier, and Mookie Betts are now joined by the chest-shaving sexiness of Anthony Rizzo and Gregory Polanco. And when it comes to even younger boys? The golden rose trio of Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, and Lucas Giolito are sure to give this league more than we can handle when it’s finally their turn. It’s tough to trade with Greg, because he likes what he likes and doesn’t allow the prevailing views of society to alter his desires. I respect that. He’s come quite far sticking to his guns: young talent, an excellent scouting network, and sticking with his kings. Of course, this sort of buggery can annoy other owners, but it’s probably just jealousy. After all, it’s tough to argue with that roster. Will our league Loras reach the highest of highs and take vengeance on those who have stolen in like a shadowy figure in the night to kill his dreams and take his trophy from him? Only time will tell, but this could very well be his year.
- River City Cuban Missiles: Jamie Lannister
The Kingslayer: A former league villain, now enjoying a likability rebirth of sorts. Our league’s reigning champion now reduced to third in the power rankings? Well, that’s how I see it. Let’s be plain: A repeat would not surprise me one bit. That said, this fearsome knight has had his sword hand chopped off – his power, his inevitability, are damaged. The loss of the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Chris Davis, and Jose Bautista is not to be taken lightly. He’s still got the heart of a warrior, but he’s going to have to think quickly on his feet, keep his wits about him, and do it a slightly different way. Baby Bryce, Giancarlo, Machado, and Abreu are still the core, and it’s a hard-to-the-core type of core; but questions remain. Who are Yasiel Puig, Adam Jones, and Freddie Freeman really? Are they going up, going down, or bouncing all over the damn place? Will Hanley give enough fucks to make himself relevant? Can Mike keep these guys healthy (several risks here but mostly we’re all looking at you, Tulo.) Somebody call a Maester, because we ‘bout to have a medical situation or two up in this clubhouse. The Missiles proved that one could piece together a rotation and still go all the way, and with the exception of the Zack Grienke signing, that’s essentially what’s being done again this year. That said, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha are nothing to shake a golden hand at. Pineda will be traded to Rojo soon enough, and Shark and Yordano… well again, who ARE they really? The missiles are just that this year: dangerous and explosive, but a bit indiscriminate and hard to maneuver. Depending on who they’re up against though? We might even find ourselves rooting for them more often than not.
Now, at this point I should mention, I think our champion comes out of the above three teams. They’re head and shoulders above the rest of the league. The toughest part of this article will be filling in the rest of the field, because honestly any of the remaining seven teams could make those all important last three playoff spots behind the big dogs. This is gonna be a crap shoot, but here goes:
- Barnegat Banana Slugs AKA Ketel One Frozen Bananas: Bran Stark
And not just because Mike pushed me out of a window in the finals last year! Hell, I mean I did make those finals didn’t I? Look, my team is solid, I have to give myself a little bit of credit. But let’s be clear, I’m working against this whole curse thing here and I’m completely fucked. My back is broken. Sonny Gray has arm fatigue. Jake Arrieta’s getting mysterious blisters. Will Smith ripped his knee in half. Max Scherzer has two different colored eyes! And that’s just the pitchers. Joey Bats has a stiff neck, StarMar is getting tightness in his legs, and I’m supposed to have drained my balls 30 times before sending in my semen to the lab for the first of TWO sperm screenings to make sure the snip was legit and I’m NOT EVEN CLOSE. Anyone else feeling the tension? But just like Bran – I am going to fight the wars ahead with my mind. I’m gonna plug into the Weirwood Matrix and do what I do best: research, research, research. I think my draft went well, I’ve got power, speed, and OBP for days, a solid mix of young, old, and mid-range, and even a promising young’n or two in Trevor Story and Jose Peraza (hell maybe even Sean Newcomb does something exciting). I’m in the trees. You don’t see me, but I’m watching. See that one face? It looks a lot like Josh Donaldson. See that one? The one with no glasses to get in the way of its pretty eyes? That’s Brian McCann. Starling Marte is there. See that really old knarled one? It’s the Big Papi tree, and it’s still putting up the same boring great stats even though nobody wants to touch it. Turner and A-Gonz are keeping the OBP up, Schoop and Joc are mashing homers, Adam Eaton hit another triple, and Ketel Marte just stole another bag. The night is dark and full of terrors. I understand the past, I have visions of the future, and I’m learning to adapt in the present. Curses of the new gods were made to be overcome by the old gods of the children of the forest. The tree is bleeding and bound to the earth, but I still feel as alive as ever.
- Rojo’s Resurgence: Arya Stark
I’ll be clear: I hate Rojo’s team. It’s old, completely devoid of sex, and it seems to be grasping at all the wrong straws. That said, it has an air of scrappiness about it that I like, and if everything falls the right way, RoJigga’s men could be that annoying team that beats you every time, or more times than you’d like. Adding Nelly Cruz and Eric Hosmer was a solid bit of thinking. Kluber, Tanaka, Cueto, and Severino will quietly do the job on the mound, and let’s not forget (as if we ever could) That Rojo has a little sword called Needle. And he wasn’t afraid to take Needle and hide him away for a year or so in the rocks until the time was right to take him out and stick some motherfuckers. Needle is Yu Darvish ladies and gentlemen, and don’t think Rojo won’t switch faces and go all Cat of the Canals on our asses, take that Stark fire in the belly and jump back in the fray with all of us. Or back in the FREY if you will? Anyway, it’s never gonna be shiny, but the whole organization has the possibility to just chug it’s way along like a faceless bringer of death that slices off one too many opponent’s toes this year. Goldy has always been the jewel in his trueborn crown, but there’s more here to like. If guys like Kinsler, Beltre, Pence, Dickinson, Cruz, and Morales can keep their legs attached to their bodies/stave off the wheelchairs for another season, next year could very well be now. I mean there is a bit of youth here: Carlos Gomez is still a pretty exciting player and Byron Buxton could be a serious masher this season and for many seasons to come. A lot has to break right, but Arya is learning and growing. She’s been getting fucked with for years now, chanting our names before her bedtime and plotting our downfall. Revenge is within her grasp and if she doesn’t reach the top this season, she still might assassinate a major character or two before the year is out. And none of us are going to believe that it was the little girl standing before us in the dirty clothes with the little Needle.
- Main Street MooniniteZ: Jon Snow
Splitting up the McLaughlin/Odom family was traumatic; Sean’s crew may have been banished to the Wall, but he’s been making the best of it, and I say he’s back in the playoffs this year over his other half Odom. The MooniniteZ are going to hit the ball hard, knock in runs, get on base, and steal a few bags as well. The Valyrian Steel core of Edwin Encarnacion and Nolan Arenado was always rock hard but it is the mark of a true Northman to beef up the OBP battlements with Joey Votto, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Santana, David Peralta, and Dexter Fowler. Sprinkle in the homers of Khris Davis, the upside of Brad Miller, and the wheels of Delino DeShields, and you have yourself a heap of talent wrapped in a heavy black cloak, just waiting to do some damage. The Bullpen will rack up strikes alongside the saves and holds, and the starters (Ross, Lirianao, McCullers) can mostly get the job done. I worry about Velasquez on the Phillies and Raisel Iglesias with all the innings coming his way this year (I’d never have gotten rid of Rodon but Seany had his reasons I suppose; don’t you dare offer him a crown if it means he’d have to break an oath to his values – even if the values are getting rid of a pitcher who throws the nastiest slider on planet earth because one feels the boy is too over-reliant on it…). Anyway all that time on the Wall – on the outside looking in last year? It built character – and whether it’s as a man, a wolf, a spirit, a white walker or the Lord of Light’s fire, Seany will be back in the mix this year.
- Springfield Isotopes: Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger)
There’s always more going on behind the scenes, and few can pull the strings and seek to benefit from the chaos as much as our goodly commish. Respectable on the surface, but capable of dark and heinous acts behind closed doors, this team will eliminate a few that get in the way, but I believe they are still toward the bottom of a long rope ladder, though they are climbing it steadily. Also, what’s with his obsession regarding Sansa Stark? Has he controlled this girl just long enough to create a monster? More on that later… Back to business: Like a riddle wrapped inside an enigma, what does the mysterious stranger Byung Ho Park hold in store for us? Miguel Cabrera drinks too much, Robinson Cano is not worth the price of his name, Evan Longoria is bang-on average, Prince Fielder is somehow still a professional athlete despite being heavier and having worse sleep apnea than I did at my fattest, and Starlin Castro should not be rostered in a ten team league. But be vigilant. The Commish possesses tools that are dangerous and may manipulate them into victories: AL CY Young winner Dallas Keuchel anchors a solid starting rotation that includes Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander, and the on the rise Marcus Stroman. The addition of Smash Davis and Jason Heyward was smart, and we all know I’ve had a love affair with Trevor Rosenthall for years now, but will it be enough? I have him at seven, but if all those things I said might go right for Rojo go wrong? Littlefinger will slide all up in that ass and might even go on a shocking playoff run.
- Dee-Generation X: Ned Stark
I really can’t believe how low I’m ranking Odom’s squad here, but the going is going to be tough. Our league’s dear old Ned Stark sticks to his guns even in the face of overwhelming deception, corruption, and fuckery. The guns are: those things that the rest of the league mostly tries to plug in later- Saves and steals- The proverbial “S” in SAGNOF (Saves/Steals Ain’t Got No Face)? Well, they do have a face; meet Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, Charlie Blackmon, Elvis Andrus, Wade Davis, and Craig Kimbrel. Now that we’ve all been properly introduced, Where’s all the dirty powergrubbing going to come from in a man so pure? If you refuse to play the game, to change your face to suit the party, are you destined to have your face (and the rest of your dome) lopped from your body? It could be so. We know that Odom will always work his hardest to do the right thing – He’ll make 20 moves for every two the rest of us make – and that his honor and work ethic cannot be questioned. He’s been nothing short of an inspiration to many of the other characters in the league, myself included. But at the end of the day, it just might not be enough to carry the X-Men into the postseason. To prove me wrong, Price, Archer, Shields, and McHugh are going to have to have the seasons of their career, Piscotty, Kiermaier, Duffy and Pillar are going to have to show that they aren’t just flashes in the pan, and they’re all gonna have to be bolstered by some savvy pickups along the way. Otherwise, here comes the chop.
- Club Going Up On Altuve: Sansa Stark
The object of Littlefinger’s controlling hand has been getting shit on for years now and frankly, I think I may be getting it dead wrong not having House Connor closer to the vanguard, but here we sit. Bad decisions and bad luck have been piled on for years. But things are starting to look a little brighter here and there: Altuve is still an amazing fantasy asset, JD Martinez was a great get, Maikel Franco has the ability to beat the ball like a red-headed (trueborn) child, and Billy Burns’ skillset plays in our scoring format. Jake DeGrom will look nice in the stable next to Carlos Carrasco, nabbing Joe Ross was a goody, and Giles and Melancon better do the damn thing this year to justify how high they were taken. Like Sansa, you fuck with her long enough and sooner or later you’re going to reap what you’ve sown. We all could be paying pretty soon, but I’ll wager it’s not a fully marinated revenge roast until next season. Ignore this Club at your peril!
- Whitestone Bulldogs: Theon Greyjoy
Again, this feels too low for what actually isn’t a bad little squad in Cliff-Town, but alas, someone has to be #10. Like Theon, it’s hard to live in one world but still feel an overbearing sense of connection to another; it’s hard to be both here and there all at once. One has to play the game as it’s laid out and not how you’d like it to be in a perfect world. That’s the case both when it comes to league participation (absent in chats) and player selection (overwhelming amount of Mets). Just as Theon turned his back on the family that took him in, Cliff has turned his back on both the rest of the league and on most any fantasy player who isn’t a Metropolitan. To him – Queens Boro = Ironborn and he’s determined to sacrifice his team to the Drowned God of the Aldersons in the hopes that it may net him some long hoped for victory or sense of status. Unfortunately, it’s going to land him in some psychopath’s torture dungeon chained up alongside Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda swapping stories about the Miracle of ’86 in between getting his fingers flayed and his dick pruned with garden shears. Combine this with a low amount of moves and you arrive at the unavoidable conclusion that while what is dead may never die, it also ain’t winning much this year. Come the fall, the Bulldogs might still have their name but their record might be the thing that truly REEKS.
And that’s about it!
Now, I know, I know, you’re upset, you’re thinking “No Tyrion?” But look, no one of us gets to be Tyrion – everyone THINKS they’re Tyrion – he’s the coolest character there is, as well as the most human. But I am going to assign him- to The Backyard itself. Yes that’s right folks, The league as a whole is undeniably Tyrion: Small and insignificant to most, but undoubtedly greater than the sum of its parts. Full of brains, cunning, and sarcasm; sporting a pretty serious drinking problem and fondness for whores.; and most of all? Funny as can be. You lot are good people, and I’d be pleased to brave any Wildling hoard with you all at my side. Good luck this year, in the name of the Old Gods and the New, may the Seven smile upon you, may your bats strike true and your pitchers paint the corners, and if Winter is coming may it never be until we’ve gotten a full season of baseball under our belts first. Here’s to you, lads.