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.

Rationally Irrational

As I write this Tuesday evening, the Mariners are one game over .500 and trying to make it two. So, naturally, the newsosphere is full of caution. “The season is only a third over.” “A lot could change quickly.” “This is no time for irrational optimism.”

Talk about radical misperception.

Baseball is all about irrational optimism.

Think about it: At least 50 times in each game, somebody voluntarily confines himself to a small box while another guy throws rocks at him. Blunt force trauma is no less dangerous to life and limb than holes-poked-in-you trauma is. Yet these people are optimistic that those rocks won’t hit them–and that they can use a piece of wood to defend themselves against the rock-thrower.

That’s pretty darn irrational.

Every year fans decide, on no evidence whatsoever, that this will be their team’s year.

Ridiculously irrationally optimistic.

The commissioner forces through strange new rules in the hope of making games shorter, yet never addresses any of the delaying tactics players use to control the pace of the game.

Incredibly, stupidly, irrationally optimistic.

So don’t talk to me about keeping my hopes realistic.

Bigger picture: America is full of irrational optimists right now. Justifiably so in many ways.

Removing mask mandates and distancing rules even though vaccination rates are still hovering around 50%. Trusting the unvaccinated to not claim to be vaccinated. Expecting Republican lawmakers to respond favorably to appeals to patriotism, honor, and justice.

It’s been a very long year and a half. Nobody is going to dial it back and settle for rational optimism.

Not that rational optimism is even being offered. This is a confrontational, contrary age. Irrational optimism not your bag? Your only alternative today is irrational pessimism. “Earth is going to be destroyed by an asteroid.” “COVID-19 is the first stage of the zombie apocalypse.” “The Mariners won’t win another game this season.

I don’t know about you, but if I have to make that choice, I’m not going to pick looming disaster. We’ve been there and done that for quite long enough, thank you.

While I was writing the previous two paragraphs, the Mariners gave up six runs in one inning. I’m choosing irrational optimism. Maybe they’ll come back in the last three innings to win. If not, there’s going to be another game tomorrow. After all, the season is only a third over and a lot could change quickly.

Saw That Coming

I’m just surprised it took this long.

The As are threatening to relocate out of Oakland if the city doesn’t roll over and a give the okay for them to build a new ballpark downtown. And, naturally, they have the full support of MLB for a possible move.

This, of course, is only the first step. Once the stadium location is approved, that same threat will be deployed again and again.

Remember, the Athletics currently own half of the Coliseum site and they’re negotiating with the city to buy the other half. Their plan is, apparently, to redevelop the site into housing and shopping–it’s right across the street from a BART station, so (assuming BART recovers from the COVID-19 transit slump) access is easy from anywhere in the Bay Area. There’s a lot of money to be made off that space.

Don’t be surprised if the As threaten to leave town if Oakland doesn’t sell to them (or a third party they’re confident they can work with). After all, they’re going to need that income to pay for the new ballpark.

Naturally, they’d never threaten to leave town if Oakland doesn’t kick in substantial money toward stadium construction. Significantly more than the ballclub is likely to pay for the Coliseum site.

The threat is as inevitable as it is depressing. We’ve seen it over and over again, every time a team in any sport wants a new home.

But to be fair, what other leverage does a sports team have? Fans will come out to see a losing team almost as readily as they will a winner, so threatening to tank (unofficially, of course, as saying it in so many words would get the team sanctioned by their league) wouldn’t accomplish anything. “Help pay for the new stadium or we’ll stay in the old one,” is no threat at all.

And it’s certainly a stronger threat for Oakland than it was in most of the occasions it’s been trotted out since the Sixties. After all, the Raiders are in Vegas now, and the Warriors are in San Francisco. If Oakland lost the As too, that’s one heck of a lot of tax money vanishing from the civic coffers.

So get ready to hear “we’re exploring our options” over and over and over for the next few years.

2021 Prognostication

Here we are, a week and a half into the MLB season. Time for me to try my hand at picking this season’s winners and losers.

In addition to the traditional rainouts, this year we once again face the prospect of covidouts. Makes looking six months out a bit tricky, but hey, as the saying goes, if it was easy, everyone would do it. Okay, so maybe everyone does do it. Never mind, I’m forging ahead.

I’m going back to my original practice of picking the playoff teams without weighing in on the playoff results. I’ll leave that prediction for the end of the season.

As usual, my picks are based primarily on run differential, with ties broken by a combination of won/loss record, run ratio, and personal prejudice. In other words, much the same approach every prognosticator uses.

Data is as of the end of the day yesterday, April 13th.

Starting with the National League, it appears our East Division winner will be Miami, thanks to their stellar accomplishment in scoring exactly as many runs as they’ve given up.

Cincinnati claims the Central Division on a +22 run differential.

Impressive, but it’s not even close to the stunning +30 LA put up to claim the West. Darn it.

As for the Wild Card, San Diego strolls in with a +16, distantly followed by Milwaukee’s +7.

Not much controversy there. And, disappointingly little opportunity for me to exercise my prejudices. I will note that it warms my heart to see the Nationals, owners of the MLB-worst 2-6 record are also holders of the NL-worst run differential at -18. There are, of course, many games left this year (we hope!), but it’s not unreasonable to count Washington out.

Moving on to the AL, the outcome looks just as clear. (Amazing what a difference it makes when you use data from ten to twelve games instead of one or two.)

Our Eastern winner is obviously going to be Boston. Despite a slow start, they’ve still managed to put up a +17 to dominate the division.

Minnesota is going to take the Central Division; their +19 handily beats out Cleveland and Chicago.

To nobody’s surprise, Houston is dominating the AL West: not only do they have a solid +13 record, but only one other team–LAofA–is even in positive numbers, at +1.

I’ve already mentioned the Wild Card winners. The WhateverTheirNameIs gang are well out in front of the rest of the league at +16 and the White Sox narrowly squeezed past the Blue Jays, +10 to +9.

No controversy there, but more heartwarming data: the owners of MLB’s worst run differential are the Oakland Athletics. They’re clearly out of the playoff hunt at -26. Even the fact that they’re somehow at 5-7, better than half a dozen other teams invalidates my prediction.

The season ends October 3–at least, that’s the plan–and I’ll check on the results and give you my playoff guessespredictions before the Wild Card games on the fifth.

A Mixed Bag

Winter again, baseballically speaking.

And, with the election well-launched into its best-of-seven series–that’s a guess: this post was written prior to election night, so at this point I have no actual idea how many state results are going to be referred to the Supreme Court for a fiat decision–it’s time to take a look at my predictions.

As always, my goal is 70% accuracy in picking the playoff teams. Last year, I was a pitiful 40%. This year, in a season marked by weirdness, well…

In the NL, I correctly picked LA, San Diego, St. Louis, Chicago, Florida, Atlanta, and Cincinnati. My only miss was in picking Colorado instead of Milwaukee. Good start.

Over on the junior circuit, I was right with Tampa Bay, Oakland, Minnesota, Cleveland, Houston, and Toronto. Failed on LA and Kansas City; should have gone with New York and Chicago.

Overall, that’s thirteen out of sixteen: 81.25%! I believe that’s my best record yet. Amazing how much of a difference there is between a marathon and a sprint.

That said, I rather fell on my face in picking the actual winners.

I’d anointed Cleveland and San Diego as the World Series teams with the Padres winning in six games.

One team didn’t make the playoffs; the other got swept in the Division Series.

sigh

I take some small consolation in having correctly called the number of games in the Series.

And, as proof that I’m a man ahead of my times, I’ll note that I picked the Dodgers to win it all last year. I’m really going to feel weird if San Diego becomes the 2021 champion.

Assuming, of course, that there is a 2021 season. There’s a lot riding on the U.S. Series between the Donkeys and the Elephants. Don’t forget to watch Game Two of the series in the Supreme Court tomorrow!

A Heartfelt Thank You

Let us all thank the baseball gods for the Tampa Bay Rays and their survival this deep into the playoffs.

Not only do they have the coolest logo of the remaining four teams*, but by making it to the ALCS, they’ve saved us all from a hideous fate.

* Seriously. No, not the “TB” one, the so-called “Alternate”. Check out the version on their caps.

Consider the teams we’d be watching now if the Rays had dropped out of the playoffs:

  • The Atlanta Braves – Ted Turner’s legacy, the team he billed as “America’s Team” in defiance of all common sense and geographic sanity.
  • The Los Angeles Dodgers – For some reason, MLB and their media partners keep trying to promote them as everyone’s favorite (provided you don’t count anyone on the East Coast). Sure, they’ve got a legacy of winning, but how much of it is due to their willingness to throw money at their roster?
  • The New York Yankees – Speaking of throwing money at the roster…The Yankees are the reason Rule One exists. While I don’t quite hold with the average Red Sox fan, who believes Yankee Stadium should be nuked from orbit and the crater sown with salt, I do believe MLB and baseball in general would be well served if the Yankees were forcibly relocated to someplace less visible. Tazmania, perhaps, or better yet, Antarctica.
  • The Houston Astros – Admittedly, the Astros’ place on baseball’s shit list is likely to be temporary. If they manage a couple of winning seasons to show they can succeed without cheating, followed by a few losing years to establish a corporate baseline of humility, they’ll likely be redeemed in the eyes of most fans. But right now they’re the team everyone hates.

Playoffs featuring the Four Loathsomes. A championship series with no rooting interest? (Mutual Assured Destruction is, unfortunately, off the table–somebody will win the World Series this year, as all the evidence to date suggests that Games Will Be Played, even if the final out isn’t recorded until 2021.)

So, thank you Tampa Bay. A 3-0 lead over the Astros is a good start on the ALCS; I look forward to you completing the sweep tonight, or at worst, wrapping up the AL tomorrow.

And may your logo swim to victory in the World Series.

2020 Playoffs

Who would have believed a mere two months ago that we’d actually make it to the playoffs this season?

By “we” I of course primarily mean “we fans,” as only 53% of the teams made it here.

Not that I’m bitter, just because none of the teams I follow are in the anointed slightly-more-than-half.

Orioles? Missed the cut by seven games. Mariners? Five games. Mets? Three. Giants? One measly game. One more flippin’ win and they would have been in.

Not that I’m bitter.

But I do have a bit of a dilemma. Who the heck am I going to root for in the playoffs? The Rules for Rooting haven’t changed–unlike our commish, I don’t tinker with the rules for the sake of novelty–but they’re not much help this year.

As always, I won’t stoop to a violation of Rule One. So that eliminates the Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves. Given that my teams are all from either the East or West, Rule Two pretty well limits me to the Central Divisions.

They’re well represented, so you might think it would be an easy pick. The problem is that they’re too well represented.

I mean, I could go with the current Futility Leaders, the Indians, now in their seventy-first season without a World Series. But we’ve also got the Brewers, who not only have a fifty-plus year futility streak, but are also one of the two teams to make the playoffs with a losing record. (The Astros are the other; both finished at .483, one win shy of a barely respectable .500 record.)

We’ve got the Cubs. Sure, they won the World Series a couple of years ago, but they had a record-setting drought before that. Worthy of a futility hangover.

I could go on, but why bother? This is a rule-breaking and rule-rewriting year.

So I went to numbergenerator.org and got a random number between 1 and 13 (the number of teams in the playoffs, excluding the Rule One teams.)

I ranked the teams by winning percentage and picked the team that matched my number: 12.

Well, that didn’t work out too well, either. Is Number 12 Houston or Milwaukee, given their matching records? I can’t root for two teams. I mean, I could–it would only be a problem if they met in the World Series–but I’m not sure I can split my attention and have enough left to do anybody any good.

So in the spirit of random rule changes, I’m rounding twelve down and rooting for the team with the eleventh worst record. Which is also a tie, but at least there’s an official tie-breaker there; one team took second in their division and the other a Wild Card slot in the same league.

Playoffs start today (Astros vs. Twins at 11:08 Pacific Time), and I’m going to be right there rooting for the team with the second-worst record.

If you want to use the same method to pick your rooting interest, click the link above, then go to MLB’s postseason standings page to check the teams’ records.

Go Reds! Sweep the Braves right out of the playoffs!

Can I Borrow a Sand Shovel?

The Mariners continue to tease us with late season relevance.

It’s a very small tease–they’d pretty much need to win all their remaining games to make the playoffs. And that includes Tuesday night’s game, which they’re losing 6-1 as I write this.

Not going to happen. Not in 2020.

But dreaming about it is a hell of a lot better than paying attention to the way everything political is going in the wrong direction. The Republicans are getting ready to stack the Supreme Court to ensure that the nigh-inevitable challenge to November’s election results goes their way. And if you believe at least four senators are going to slaughter their political careers by blocking the coming appointment, allow me to remind you of every single vote of consequence in the last three and a half years: how many times have we heard that one or two senators were straying from the party line, only to have them vote in lockstep with their orders from above?

Even the current slowing of the COVID-19 numbers has its downside. Just in time for the Dark Side to trumpet the wonderful things they’ve done to stop that virus (that wasn’t as serious as the Democrats wanted everyone to believe) as we approach the beginning of mail-in balloting (that you shouldn’t use because your mail won’t be counted, unless you’re voting Republican).

So, yes, baseball.

The Mariners may be teasing, and the Orioles hanging on by their fingernails–not mathematically eliminated, but winning-the-lottery improbable–but the Giants are still in the running. Half a game back as I write this. That could actually happen.

Even if it doesn’t, it’s looking like there will actually be playoffs this year–assuming I didn’t just jinx it (quite likely: this is 2020, after all)–as improbable as that seemed when the season started last week.

Yes, I know it was a little earlier than that. Doesn’t feel much like it.

And I know obsessing over baseball is burying my head in bread and circuses. I even know that’s a very disturbing mixed metaphor.

But why not? I know how I’m voting. I’ll fill out my ballot as soon as it arrives. And if baseball keeps me distracted enough to prevent full-stomach ulcers until after the election, I’m good with that.