A Little Different This Time

Now that we’ve arrived at the All Star Break, I took a look back at my last few ASB posts. There’s a consistent thread running through those posts: all of the teams I root for suck.

This year, not so much. The Mets are sitting on top of the NL East with a solid six game lead over Atlanta, the Giants are a mere half game out of the third NL Wild Card slot, and the Orioles have a respectable* .500 record (and are only three and a half out of the Wild Card).

* When it comes to baseball, I define “respectable” as .500 or better. So, okay, yes, the O’s are there by the thinnest of possible margins. But there they indeed are.

And then there are the Mariners. A fourteen game winning streak has brought them from irrelevant unrespectability to nine games over .500, the second Wild Card slot, and–with seven of their first ten after the break against Houston–a chance to challenge for the division.

The streak can’t last forever; it’s one short of their best-ever, and even if they surpass that mark, the all-time longest winning streak is 26. That was set in 1916, a lapse of time which should give you a very clear picture of just how hard it is to string together wins in MLB. And, let’s face it, the All Star Break has ruined more than a few winning streaks; momentum is a thing. But the beauty of baseball and the 162-game schedule is that you don’t need to win every game to succeed. Just win consistently.

But enough daydreaming.

I’m writing this post Tuesday afternoon. The actual All Star Game is tonight, which means yesterday was the Home Run Derby. The universe being the intermittently cruel place that it is, I was at work. And I especially wanted to watch this year, what with the Mariners connection: Julio Rodriguez. At the very least, he figured to erase the pitiful performance we got from the last M to play Derby (Cano, 2016: 7 home runs).

I hate watching pre-recorded sporting events. It’s too hard to avoid spoilers, and cheering your favorites doesn’t give them any help*.

* Of course cheering for your team while watching on TV helps them. Well-known scientific fact. But if cheering worked retroactively, teams with small fan bases would never win: the fans rooting for the Yankees to complete their 162-game sweep would drown them out every time.

I recorded it anyway and watched it earlier today.

Let me tell you, Rodriguez put on the most impressive rookie performance since Aaron Judge in 2017. He didn’t hit as many long bombs as Judge had, but a total across the three rounds of 81? Holy Flying Salmon! (For the record, Judge only needed 47 for his win.) He didn’t win–that was Juan Soto–but he sure turned a lot of heads.

Soto, by the way, is available for a trade, and just about every team within sniffing distance of contention would love to have him. He’ll be expensive; probably too expensive for the Mariners, still smarting from the result of that huge contract they gave the aforementioned Robinson Cano. But can you imagine how much opposing pitchers would hate to face the reigning Derby winner and runner-up hitting back to back?

I know, I know. I said “enough daydreaming”. But some dreams are irresistible.

2022 Prognostication

It’s time for me to make my predictions for the 2022 playoffs. And, since there’s a new playoff format–12 teams instead of 10, with an additional Wild Card team with no tiebreaker games–I’m going to tweak my approach.

My picks are, as in previous years, primarily based on Run Differential, modified by record and prejudice. This year, however, I’m going to throw out the record and just go with the traditional “personal prejudice” metric.

With no further ado, our American League playoff teams.

The East winner will be the Yankees (spit) with a +4 RD.

In the Central, it’s the IndiansNoNamesGuardians with a staggering +23 RD through their first six games.

The West will be won by the Athletics (spit) at +12.

And our Wild Card teams are going to be the White Sox (+10), Houston (+10), and Texas (+3). For seeding purposes, MLB would award the top Wild Card spot to Houston, based on their 3-1 record against teams in their own division. Since I’m only predicting teams, not their relative ranking, I won’t argue MLB’s methodology.

Turning our attention to the National League, the picture is even simpler.

In the East, nobody is even close to the Mets’ +15.

The Cubs have a firm grip on the Central with a +9 RD.

And the West winner can only be the Dodgers (spit) thanks to their +14 record.

Which means that all three Wild Card teams are coming out of the West: the Giants (+11), Padres (+10), and Rockies (+6).

One has to pity the Diamondbacks; the only NL West team sitting out of the playoffs this year.

Just as a side-note, the two teams trailing their respective leagues–and guaranteed to miss the playoffs with identical -17 RDs–are the Royals and Nationals. Sorry, Kansas City; but a big Simpsonsesque “Ha-Ha” to Washington.

SAST 18

[Administrative Note: The last SAST post was 19. The one before that was 17. Oops. Consider this a modest nod in the direction of numerical consistency.]

I was pondering the fact that the two stories everyone knows about George Washington both involve wood. That is, of course, that he chopped down a cherry tree and that he wore wooden dentures.

The first, obviously, is a myth. But I wondered if the infamous dentures were made of cherry wood. That would be at least an amusing coincidence–because the tree-chopping legend surely doesn’t predate the real dental appliance–and possibly even a source of the legend.

So, a bit of research ensued. And, annoyingly, it turns out that the wooden dentures story is totally fictional as well.

Okay, not totally. George did wear dentures. Just not wooden ones.

Still, it does leave room for some creative fictionalizing. Anyone want to help spread the story that President Washington’s wooden dentures were made from the very same tree he chopped down as a nipper (sorry)?

Moving on.

Gotta love the rumor mill.

There was a rumor making the rounds that Apple was going to release a new Mac Mini this year. Perfectly logical: the entry level Mini now has an M1 chip, but the high end Mini still has an Intel processor. Gotta have a high-end M1 Mini, right?

Then Apple introduced the Mac Studio. Which is, to all intents and purposes, an ultra-high-end Mini.

So now, of course, the rumor is that Apple is not going to come out with a new Mini this year. It will be next year.

Personally, I don’t see why we even need a high-end Mini. The original Mini was unveiled as a “bring your own peripherals” deal that would let Apple sell you on their hardware and software at a significantly lower price than the rest of their line. It’s still a great idea, and the M1 Mini fits the niche admirably.

Leave it at that, Apple. Keep the Mini low-end and low-rent and let the people who need power go with the Studio.

Moving on again.

Thanks to Eric for pointing me at this article in Politico.

There isn’t much in it that will be new to anyone paying attention to the Oakland As efforts to convince the city to give them a dream platter of goodies–though I’m somewhat amused by the author’s characterization of the Mets as the antithesis of the As.

What struck me while I was reading it, though, was the thought that perhaps we’ve been misreading the situation. The team’s ownership keeps presenting it as “give us what we want or we’re moving to Vegas.”

Totally standard sports team tactics. Except that the Athletics keep moving the fences back. Every time it starts to seem that they’re going to get what they’re asking for, they add something to their demands.

At this point, they’re promising to put $12 billion dollars into constructing their megafacility–if. Given the typical lack of correspondence between construction estimates and actual costs, the bill is likely to be closer to $25 billion than the twelve the team is promising.

What if the As ownership doesn’t want to get handed their dream package? If the city coughs up the land, the tax district, and whatever add-on gets added to the demands next, then ownership is on the hook for those big bucks.

I’m starting to think they want the deal to be rejected. They’re just looking for an excuse to head for Nevada, where they can rejoice in actually being a small market team, rather than having to fake it enough to get those subsidies from the teams in larger markets.

At this point, I’m almost ready to hope Oakland does give the As’ ownership everything they’ve asked for, just so I can see what kind of verbal gymnastics they go through in denying they’d ever promised to build a ballpark…

And, finally, on another baseball related note:

Commissioner Manfred (spit) is trying to butter up the players. He’s gifted every player on a big league roster with a pair of $200 Beats headphones.

Let us not forget that, under the just-signed collective bargaining agreement, every one of those guys is making at least $700,000 this year. I think they can probably afford their own headphones–and probably already have a set or six.

Hey, Rob! Instead of making nice on the players–who aren’t going to believe for an instant that you’re on their side, or even that you like them–why don’t you try making nice on the fans? You know, the folks who contribute the money that lets owners pay those players, not to mention the salary that you used to buy all those headphones.

We could really use a no-local-blackouts, no social-media-exclusives broadcast package.

Remarkably Relaxing

When approached with the proper attitude, Spring Training exhibition games are amazingly relaxing. The games don’t matter*, so it’s easy to disengage from the score. Nobody cares who wins the Cactus or Grapefruit League titles, not even those teams’ fans. There’s no advantage carried into the regular season.

* Ignore anyone who tries to tell you that the regular season games don’t matter either. Obviously a heathen.

You can take the games as they come. Pitcher can’t find the strike zone? No matter. Last year’s Gold Glove shortstop bobbles three ground balls in one inning? ‘Sokay. Pricey new slugger can’t lay off the fastball a foot over his head? Eh, he’ll figure it out.

I’ve almost reached the point where I can watch the Yankees win a game and not swear. (Not that I’ve had much opportunity to practice that particular skill this year. As I write this Tuesday afternoon, the Yanks are 1-2 and are losing to the Blue Jays.)

Team stats don’t matter. If they did, I’d be calling our World Series teams now. (Red Sox versus Brewers–both currently have a +21 run differential. I don’t know about you, but I’d rate the probability of that happening as “very low”. For what it’s worth, BetMGM agrees: their picks are the Dodgers and White Sox.)

Neither, for that matter, do individual stats. Does anybody think Jose Rojas is going to keep his 2.278 OPS into the regular season? No? There are eight pitchers who have yet to let anyone on base. They’re not going to do that for long in the regular season–and at the other extreme, I’d put long odds against Caleb Smith continuing to give up three and two-thirds walks and hits per inning.

What isn’t relaxing is trying to actually watch or listen to the games. MLB’s app has always been notoriously bad in the preseason, but this year they’ve outdone themselves. Reports of audio streams cutting out every few minutes are rampant, and many are reporting video problems as well. In my case, it’s been even worse: I couldn’t even start the audio streams because the buttons weren’t tappable (or rather, nothing happened when they were tapped). Any attempt to start a video stream gave a generic “something went wrong” error*.

* I seem to have fixed the non-responsive buttons and the video errors by deleting all the app’s data and setting it up again from scratch. So now I just have to deal with the audio stream cutting out every couple of minutes–not good when trying to listen to a game in the car.

And, of course, MLB’s response is to tell anyone who complains to read their troubleshooting webpage, which offers such helpful suggestions as “MLB Audio does not broadcast pre-game or post-game shows , and may not broadcast during rain delays or commercials.” That’s great, but it’s no help at all for the playback not starting.

That said, radios and TVs still work. We can get our baseball fixes via local broadcasts. History suggests MLB will have stomped on most of the app bugs by the time the season starts–or at least by the end of June, just in time for the update they’ll be issuing for the All Star Game to break everything again.

While We’re Waiting

No baseball.

Yes, I know. We’ve got college ball. We’ll have minor league baseball shortly. Odds are, if MLB doesn’t give us any signs of progress, we’ll get Korean and Japanese baseball on TV.

But for many of us, that’s all methadone. We want the full-on MLB experience.

Maybe not every little bit of it. I, for one, could do without the outrageously expensive tickets, the TV blackouts, or the looming threat of robot umpires. Which probably gives you some idea of which side of the labor strife I’m on.

Not that I think the players are blameless either. But I’m sympathetic to their desire to make the most of their skills.

I had a dream. No, not literally. That was last week.

But I dreamt that Congress found something to unite behind: revoking MLB’s anti-trust exemption. With that and a few other changes, a rival league could rise up. Maybe one of the independent leagues could catch major attention with a retro approach, rolling back all of the oddball experiments MLB has inflicted on us. Or go the other way, trying a bunch of experiments to see what really works–like the original XFL, but with a dose of sanity.

Of course, none of that would work without access to players. So the other half of the dream is to free up the players, which would require additional legislation. The goal would be to break the bonds that tie players to a single team from Day One. So, block the draft and require that MLB contracts be subject to “At Will” requirements.

A software engineer at Google can over to Apple–or go independent with her own startup–without Apple having to send Google two QA Analysts to be named later. So why can’t a ballplayer with, say, the Phillies, send a note to the Orioles–or the Austin Weirdos*–“Hey, I hear you’re looking for a second baseman. I’m having a breakout year; what’s 6 WAR worth to you?”

* Currently in the Pecos independent league. But in a new regulatory regime, who knows?

Obviously, there’d need to be some limitations. But any league could set their own rules: no player hired after such-and-such a date can play in the playoffs, for example. Or in our hypothetical XBL, maybe players hired in the last month of the season or during the playoffs have to wear flat shoes instead of cleats.

None of the above is ever going to happen, of course. MLB is too good at defending its turf. But our current freedom from MLB means we’ve got some freedom to make our own 2022 season.

HOF 2022

Hey, it’s Baseball Hall of Fame time again.

Last year, I was on hiatus in January, so I didn’t comment on the results.

In 2020, I noted that if Curt Schilling “can keep his mouth shut through the presidential elections, he’ll probably be elected next year.” Oops. Didn’t happen. He hit 71.1% in the 2021 voting, sixteen votes short of election; this year he only scraped together 58.6% of the vote. Looks like his sour grapes demand that the writers not vote him in was honored.

One hopes that the Veteran’s Committee takes character into account and declines to elect him as well. Aside from anything else, he flat-out stated that the only people qualified to judge a player are former players. Fans and sportswriters don’t count–his words–in Curt Schilling’s world.

The other big question marks in their last year of eligibility, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, made small gains of around 5%. I suspect they will eventually be voted in by committee, and I’m largely okay with that.

Then, of course, there’s Alex Rodriguez. In his first year on the ballot, the new poster child for the “Numbers not Integrity” crowd got the nod from just over a third of the voters. About what many people expected. I’m betting his numbers will climb, but fall short of 75%, just as happened with Bonds and Clemens. Unless, of course, he does something to force the baseball press to take fresh note of him. Perhaps fortunately for his HoF dreams, his bid to buy the Mets fell through. Sorry, NBA fans, there really wasn’t any way we could stop him from turning those dollars over and buying into the Timberwolves–but we’d sure appreciate it if you could keep him too distracted to keep popping up on TV.

The current Edgar (“He really belongs in the Hall”) candidate is Omar Vizquel. Unfortunately, his polling numbers continue to drop. 52.6% in 2020, 49.1% last year, and only 23.9% this year. Plenty of time left–this was his fifth year of eligibility–but it would be a hell of a comeback.

So who did make it in? David Ortiz, with 77.9% of the voters coming in on his side. History suggests he’d have added at least another ten percentage points if he’d played for the Yankees, but who cares? He’s in and it’s well deserved.

Were there any sympathy votes this year? Of course there were*!

* My assumption is that any player getting less than five votes is getting sympathy votes, often of the “I can’t stomach Player X, so I’m going to use one of my votes as a pat on the back for Player Y” variety. Five or more, I assume at least one or two votes are legitimate nods to the Hall.

Two votes–half a percent–each to Prince Fielder and A.J. Pierzynski.

I didn’t expect Tim Lincecum to collect enough votes to stay on the ballot, but I’m a bit surprised he didn’t hit double digits, but there it is: nine votes, 2.3%.

Closing the Loop

And here we are again. Another season has ended with the sodden thump of a rain-soaked newspaper splatting on the doorstep.

I mean, really? Atlanta and Houston–a pair of Rule One teams–in the World Series?

But anyway, before we move into the dark part of the liturgical calendar, let’s close out 2021 with a look at my predictions for the season and the playoffs.

Back in April, I picked Miami, Cincinnati, LA, San Diego, and Milwaukee to make the playoffs on the NL side. Instead, we got Atlanta, Milwaukee, San Francisco, St. Louis, and LA. Two of five.

In the AL, I called Boston, Minnesota, Houston, Cleveland, and Chicago. A much better assortment that who actually made the playoffs: Tampa Bay, Chicago, Houston, Boston, and New York? Three out of five.

So, once again I wound up with the moral equivalent of a 81 win season. I should do an experiment: see if I can get better results by picking the winners at random. Maybe next year.

As for my playoff predictions, well…

I take some solace in the fact that I predicted the Astros to make it to the World Series and lose. But I also said the series would only go five games, and I certainly didn’t expect the Braves to make it to the Series, much less win it. Even if I’d picked them to face Houston, their respective run differentials should have meant a quick exit for Atlanta: +205 versus +134 shouldn’t even have been a contest. (For what it’s worth, Atlanta outscored Houston 25 to 20.)

Ah, well. Next year.

And now, onward to the Winter Meetings and the WabbitDuckFree Agent Season.

It’s That Time of Year Again

The regular season is over. I’m (over)due for my semi-annual haircut. And so it’s time for me to (a) make my predictions for the results of the playoffs–based, as usual, on a mix of run differential and personal prejudice–and (b) help those of you who aren’t affiliated with a playoff team choose someone to root for.

I’ll score my predictions, both for the regular season and for the playoffs in November.

And, because I’m perverse that way, I’ll make the prediction first, then tell you why you shouldn’t root for the inevitable winner.

Let’s start with the American League. Alphabetical order, don’cha know.

It’s going to be close. Tampa Bay has a +206 run differential, and Houston came in at +205. That’s basically a rounding error (or would be if you could earn fractional runs in baseball.) Nobody else is even close. I’m calling it for Houston, though, based on consistently good playoff results.

Over in the NL, there’s no ambiguity whatsoever. LA smoked all of baseball with a +269 run differential.

And, all prejudices aside, I don’t see the Astros overcoming a +64 run-scoring lead. Heck, not counting the Dodgers themselves, only eight teams in all of baseball had a run differential above +64.

So, look for the Dodgers to stroll through the playoffs, and take the World Series in five games.

Now, who should you be rooting for?

For a full recap of the rules for choosing a rooting interest, check out the 2019 Playoff post.

In brief, though, you can’t root for a team that claims to be everyone’s team. You shouldn’t root for a team that’s in the other league or in your usual team’s division (assuming you have a usual team who didn’t make the playoffs). And teams with a record of futility get bonus points.

Again, starting with the AL:

You do not, repeat not root for the Yankees or Red Sox. Houston, tainted as they are by the recent cheating scandal should probably not get your consideration either. So that only leaves two options for American League fans.

If you normally root for a team in the AL East or AL West, you should be pulling for the Chicago White Sox. If you regularly follow an AL Central team, pin your playoff hopes and dreams on the Tampa Bay Rays.

Over in the NL, it’s a little more complicated. Rule One eliminates the Dodgers and Braves, but that still leaves the Giants, Brewers, and Cardinals as worthy candidates for your attention. NL East orphans can pick any of the three. NL Central fans can, naturally, pull for the Giants. And those of you who usually follow the Padres, Rockies, or Diamondbacks can either flip a coin between the Milwaukee and St. Louis or you can consider yourselves as normally unaffiliated.

As for those of you who don’t have a regular-season team and you NL West orphans, consider this: of the five teams you could root for, only one–the San Francisco Giants–didn’t make the playoffs last year. Granted, last year was the expanded playoffs after the COVID-19-shortened season, but it still counts in the record books.

Much as I hate to recommend breaking Rule Two, I don’t see any choice. Root for the Giants–this year’s Cinderella team (they won the NL West by one game over LA)–to go all the way and slap the Damn Dodgers’ other cheek.

Note: there won’t be a Wednesday post this week; I’m posting early, both to beat the playoffs starting Tuesday, and to give you a chance to order team merchandise for your playoff favorites. Remember, Amazon does have same- and next-day shipping to most of the country if you need an appropriate cap, pennant, or foam finger.

SAST 19

3-13

1-15

Baseball tradition says there are two ways a team can react to back-to-back drubbings like the pair the Mariners suffered Friday and Saturday. Really, after losing two by a combined score of 27-4, your only choices are to either throw your hands up in the air and surrender the season or flip the table and go on a buzzsaw rampage through the opposition*. But Seattle has chosen another path.

* Look, don’t take me too literally here. I mostly write fiction. I’m allowed to promote wistful memory to the status of established fact.

I get it. Nobody enough attention to hallowed baseball tradition these days. Not even–especially not even–the commissioner, who’s supposed to be the one responsible for maintaining the continuity of the game and ensuring it continues into its third century.

Instead of blowing Game Three against Houston 0-96 or thrashing them 78-2, the Ms squeaked out a 6-3 victory on Sunday, and needed 11 innings to do it. Okay, yes, given how poorly Seattle has done against the Astros over the last four or five seasons, any victory feels like a blowout win. But then the Mariners moved on to Oakland.

Monday, they managed a 5-3 win with three runs in the ninth–their first lead of the game. Tuesday, 5-1, but they didn’t score the last two until the eighth. Not exactly the stuff of buzzsaws.

On the other hand, that is three wins in a row, boosting Seattle to a season-high 11 games over .500 and, as I write this Tuesday afternoon, a mere two and a half games out of a playoff spot.

A nail file may not be as fast or efficient as a buzzsaw, but it can eventually cut down a tree. And those last few cuts are going to be darn exciting.

Moving on.

You know what I’m finding nearly as frustrating as the complete denial of reality exhibited by a large segment of the population? It’s the fixation on a single action as a solution to a large problem.

Let me put it in simple terms: You can safely ignore anyone who says “All we need to do is…”

“All we need to do is vaccinate [some percentage] of the population to stop COVID-19.” Nope. Even if we somehow got everyone vaccinated, we’d still have breakthrough cases and local outbreaks as immunity declines.

“All we need to do is get all the gas-burning cars off the road to stop climate change.” Nope. We’re already past the point where natural processes can get all the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a useful-to-humans timeframe.

“All we need to do is ban construction of single-family houses to end homelessness.” Do I need to crunch numbers here to show how ridiculous this one is?

These are only a few of the “All we need” statements I’ve heard people make in all seriousness in the last two weeks. And not one of them holds up to even a cursory examination.

Just say no to “All we need”.

Moving on again.

It’s been a long, long, long time since I highlighted any amusing spam. It’s odd, but the latest tactic in blog spam seems to be insulting the blogger.

“Why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?”

“This is the worst post you’ve ever written!”

“I wish you would write about something interesting like [random subject]”

And then they go on to say “Best price on [ED drug of choice] here!” Just so you know it’s spam and not an actual disaffected former reader.

Seems counter-productive to me, but given how enthusiastic the spammers are, I guess it works occasionally.

But one brave spammer seems to be taking a contrary approach. A couple of days ago, I found this in my might-be-spam folder:

“Rattling informative and great complex body part of subject material, now that’s user pleasant (:.”

For the record, it was spam. “great complex body part” was a link to a discount pharmacy of dubious quality. But I had to admire the spammer for not only bucking current trends in advertisement, but also working a pun into his pitch.