Late Midway

Here we are at the middle of the season.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Most teams are past the ninety-five game mark and several are at ninety-eight–60% of the season. But the All-Star Break is still the traditional mid-point, even though–thanks to this year’s schedule changes–it’s never been later.

And we all know how important tradition is to baseball. (One assumes that Tevye and the rest of the gang fleeing Anatevka became rabid fans when they reached the U.S. Though they probably would have rooted for the Trolley Dodgers, so there’s that. But I digress.)

Jackie’s Orioles, while not exactly covering themselves with glory, at least made it to the break on a two-game winning streak, giving them 28 victories on the season and putting them percentage points ahead of the Royals in the race to avoid the “Worst Team in Baseball Dunce Cap” (not a real award).

The Giants (hi, John!), despite dropping their last two games to the Athletics, are still two games over .500 and have a legitimate chance to challenge for the NL West crown and a playoff spot.

And, of course, the Mariners, flying high as recently as two weeks ago, have lately put on a performance that makes the Orioles look stellar. They’ve lost four straight and seven of the last ten. That they’re still sitting in the second Wild Card slot says a lot more about the way the rest of the American League started the season than it does about the Ms themselves.

Vexingly, they’re not in the Machado sweepstakes. They’ve got a pretty darn good shortstop already, and their third baseman isn’t exactly shabby either. So, while Manny’s bat might be just what they need to kickstart the offense again, they don’t have anywhere to put him. (As I write this, it appears he’ll be going to the aforementioned Trolley Dodgers. Feh!)

Anyway, the All-Star Break means the Home Run Derby. You know I love me some Derby, even though it’s not really baseball. (If preseason baseball is methadone, what does that make the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby? Nicotine gum, maybe?)

This year’s HRD may have been the best I’ve seen. Certainly the best since I started blogging. No gross mismatches, a couple of dramatic comebacks, an exciting final round, and a complete lack of distracting charity gimmicks. (The key word there is “distracting”. T-Mobile is donating money to Team Rubicon based partly on the number of home runs hit during the Derby. Good for them. And doubly so for not hitting viewers over the head with their message as has been the case with previous charitable donation promotions.)

I could have done with a bit less Bryce Harper adulation during the event. Yes, I know: local player, heavily favored, plays well to the camera. But the frequent cuts to his latest mugging felt contrived. But it’s a minor complaint, all things considered.

The youthful ball-shaggers were good. I saw a couple of nice catches and only one incident that put me in fear for a kid’s health. And it was great to see them get some on-screen recognition as Pitch, Hit & Run winners. Nobody robbed a competitor of a home run as famously happened to Ryne Sandberg in 1985, but I did see a clean snag just short of the wall.

More nicotine gum tonight with the All-Star Game, then two days of withdrawal before real games resume. (Yeah, okay, there’s a Cardinals/Cubs game on Thursday to help tide us over to Friday, but outside of St. Louis, it’s not a big deal. Certainly unlikely to have significant playoff repercussions.)

Mid-Season Form

We’re here at the All-Star Break again. The official mid-point of the season. As always, it’s a time to take stock and contemplate the ruin your team has made of the season thus far.

And a ruin it has been for the teams I follow. The Mariners are four games under .500–and the really depressing thing is that’s the best record among my teams. The Mets are eight under and the poor Giants are sitting at twenty-two games below respectability. (At least I’m not a fan of the Phillies: twenty-nine games under .500)

It says something about the quality of play this year that nobody–not even the Phillies–has been eliminated from the playoffs yet. Heck, the Mariners are only four games out of the Wild Card. Of course, so are about six hundred other teams, but we’ll take what cheer we can find.

I watched the Home Run Derby last night, of course. No visible injuries among the youngsters chasing balls in the outfield. No spectacular catches either, but a few good ones. And I saw one lucky young boy overrun a pop-up by about twenty-five feet. (I say “lucky” because he clearly had no idea where it was going to come down. Having it land on his head on national TV would have scarred him for life–probably physically as well as psychologically.)

As for the event itself, all I’m going to say is “Aaron Judge is amazing.” Check out his four longest home runs.

Just before the break, I celebrated my birthday with a trip Sacramento for a minor league game. The Tacoma Rainiers (the Mariners’ AAA team) visiting the Sacramento River Cats (the Giants’ affiliate).

It was hot. And I’m not talking about the game. Games. (I’ll get back to that.) According to my phone, it was 101 at game time.
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Fans in the outfield were packed tightly under the trees. Even squeezing shoulder-to-shoulder into the shade was cooler than sitting in the sun.

For those of us with actual seats, let’s just say that dark green plastic above concrete floors raised the temperature to “How did I get into this effin’ frying pan‽” We took an usher’s advice and moved to seats further away from the field, but in the shade.

We got free baseball. No, not extra innings. That ain’t free baseball. Our single game got upgraded to a double-header. Almost. The second game of the season, back in April, was suspended on account of rain and scheduled to be completed on my birthday. Very nice of the teams, we thought.

The game picked up where it left off: bottom of the first, two on, two out. Since Sacramento won, we didn’t get a bottom of the ninth, so we got seven full innings, plus the top of the ninth, plus one batter in the first.

On the other hand, in order to fit in both games and still leave time for post-game fireworks, the game scheduled for that day was shortened to seven innings. That happens in the minors. So the upshot was that we had an extra approximately 2/3 of a game.

Which would have been great, except that the Rainiers played like they thought they were the Mariners. Mind you, they’ve been playing that way all year–they’re currently three games over .500–but since the River Cats have been playing like their own MLB club (33-53 at the beginning of the day), we had hoped for better than we got.
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When the most excitement your team generates is Tuffy Gosewisch taking a pitch to the hip, you know it’s not a good day.

Tuffy, by the way, is a catcher. He’s used to getting hit, though it’s usually balls thrown by his own team’s pitchers. It’s a great baseball name, though. Tuffy. Tuuuuffy. Tuuuuuuuuuuuffy. Can’t you just hear forty-thousand fans chanting it?

“Tuf-fy” [clap, clap] “Tuf-fy” [stomp, stomp]

He needs to up his stats if he wants that to happen, though. Right now he’s looking distinctly average-ish, both behind the plate and at it.

But the post-game fireworks show as good. And it was Star Wars Night at the park; I couldn’t resist buying myself a birthday present.
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The actual All-Star Game is tonight, followed by two days of no MLB action. If you need a baseball fix, there are low-minors games going on all week, the AAA All-Star Game is Wednesday, and high-minor league games resume Thursday. Plenty to get you through to Friday.

Halfway There

Here we are at the All-Star Break again. The official mid-point of the season, also known as “The Week Without Baseball”.

OK, yeah, I know it’s only four days, but I figure that if MLB is allowed to promote the game as something larger and more important than it really is, then I can do the same for the break itself.

Anyway, last night was the Home Run Derby, which isn’t baseball, but is entertaining. MLB addressed my biggest complaint about last year’s event. The threshold to earn bonus time was raised from two 425-foot home runs to a pair of 440-foot shots. That was high enough to avoid making it a “gimme” and I’m fairly sure it influenced the results.

It’s a shame Madison Bumgarner wasn’t allowed to play. Note to MLB and the Players’ Association: nobody wants to see a separate pitchers-only home run derby. We just want to see MadBum launch a few. Let’s be honest–we don’t expect him to win. But watching him try? That’s entertainment. And he certainly couldn’t have done much worse than Robinson Canó’s pitiful seven home run performance.

When Giancarlo Stanton racked up twenty-four in the first round, everyone knew he was moving on, but darn it all, Robbie, couldn’t you at least have managed double digits?

Oh, well. Stanton’s performance was awe-inspiring; well worth the time spent watching a meaningless, made-for-TV entertainment extravaganza.

And, per my usual fascination with side issues: the kids in the outfield made some nice catches this year. Kudos!

Moving on.

The actual All-Star game is tonight. Real baseball, even if it doesn’t matter as much as MLB wants us to think it does.

And then we get two days without baseball.

Well, not really. Don’t forget the minors. The AAA All-Star Game is tomorrow, and if you’ve got the MLB Network on your cable or satellite lineup, that’ll be televised. And minor league play resumes on Thursday. It’s a great opportunity to hunt up your local minor league team and catch a game without feeling like you’re neglecting your major league team-of-choice.

Speaking of catching a game, I’ve been to a pair of minor league games this year.

July 5 was the San Jose Giants. I’ll spare you the pictures, since (a) I didn’t take any and (b) if I had, they would have looked a lot like last year’s.

Then, on the ninth, I went up to Sacramento, home of the River Cats. Until last year, the River Cats were the As’ AAA* affiliate. Now they’re affiliated with the Giants. But I didn’t go to root for the ‘Cats. Oh, no. Y’see, the Tacoma Rainiers, AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners were in town.

* For the uninitiated: AAA is the highest level of the minors. In theory, the teams are made up of youngsters who are almost ready for the majors. In practice, there are also major-leaguers reconditioning after injuries, and older players on the way back down.

Both the San Jose and Sacramento games were, by the way, followed by fireworks shows. That’s not a minor inducement. Ballpark fireworks are generally excellent.

Anyway, the River Cats game was
STARWARS Night
As promotions go, STARWARS Night is fairly harmless. A few gratuitous stormtroopers, Darth Maul throwing out the first pitch, and similar oddities don’t greatly detract from the Baseball Experience.

We had excellent seats.
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Third row back from the Rainiers’ dugout. No protective netting, which made that sign at the lower right take on new layers of significance.
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Odd. I’d never realized that women were at higher risk of injury from flying bats, but flying balls target men. I’d like to see the study that supports the theory. Anyway…

The highlight of the game, at least for Tacoma fans, was once-and-future Mariners’ catcher Mike Zunino. He went three-for-five with two home runs, drove in all five of the Raniers’ runs in a 5-3 victory, and–on a personal note–tossed this into the stands:
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My first-ever game ball. It may not have come to me via a home run or a foul, but I really don’t care. Two people missed their catches, it came to me, and I’m thrilled.

Less thrilled: the kid sitting two rows in front of me, whose father was one of the people who missed the ball. He gave me one heck of a dirty look. I considered giving it to him–especially since he and his father were also rooting for Tacoma–but decided to keep it. Not only was it my first, but I thought the odds were good that he’d have another chance that day.

And I was right. A couple of innings later, his father missed another catch. That ball went to the father/son duo sitting just to their left.

Never fear, though, he didn’t go home disappointed. Not only did the kid’s father finally snag a ball for him in the eighth inning, but at the end of the game somebody in the Tacoma dugout slipped him a used bat.

Very well-used. Dented, scuffed, and with a large crack in the handle, it was obviously not a usable bat. But he was thrilled. And rightly so. He’ll be a fan for life, no doubt.

I confess to a modicum of jealousy, but I’m bearing up. Holding that ball is remarkably soothing. Thanks, Mike!

Moving on.

This is getting long, so I’ll let you go. You’ve got minor league tickets to order.

And Thursday I’ll check on my predictions for this year’s playoff teams. That should be exciting.

Long Week

The Tuxedoed Terrors have a lot in common. They share many things, albeit not always willingly on ‘Nuki’s part.

Case in point, a conversation I overheard last night just before Sachiko’s bedtime.

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“I can haz bafebalz now?”

“Not yet, kid. Not until tomorrow night.”

“Tomorrow?! But I want it NAAAAAAAOH!”

“Not gonna happen. Go to bed.”

“Big brudda Nookles, you tell da hoomin to turn on da teebee?”

“He will, kid. He will. I’ll make sure of that.”
17-02

Mid-Season Break

Here we are at the All-Star Break again.

It happens every year: four days with no meaningful baseball. Monday isn’t too bad. The Home Run Derby isn’t baseball, but it’s close enough to fill the need. Tuesday is the All-Star game itself. Real baseball, even if it doesn’t mean anything*. Wednesday is manageable. There are off days scattered through the entire season. Thursday is tough. Two days in a row with no baseball at all. As I’ve said before, it’s a great day to check out your local minor league team.

* Yeah, OK. World Series home field advantage. It’s a significant edge–Beyond the Box Score pointed out last year that the home team wins 60% of World Series games–but it’s only relevant to two teams. And at this point, nobody knows which teams they are. (That same article picked the Angels and Nationals, both of whom lost in the Division Series to the eventual World Series Royals and Giants.)

MLB has been tinkering with the rules for the Home Run Derby, trying to make it more competitive. While I’m usually suspicious of rule changes to promote competition, I’m completely behind this one. The event is totally meaningless, so why not tweak it a bit to make it more exciting? Before this year, there was no upper limit on the number of home runs the players could hit–players’ rounds ended when they had ten swings that didn’t result in home runs. The result was players wearing out in the early rounds and not hitting in the later rounds.

This year, players had a time limit–four minutes–and competed head-to-head in a playoff-style bracket instead of a single large pool. The result was that every single pairing had an element of drama, and the home runs continued all the way through*. The rules could use a little more tweaking. Awarding bonus time for long home runs is a nice idea, but rather than giving a flat thirty seconds for hitting two over 425 feet–a level every single player reached–how about giving fifteen seconds for each 425-footer? That way the players who specialize in hitting long shots get an actual advantage. That would counter the penalty they incur waiting for each hit to land before they can swing again.

* Hey, remember Kris Bryant? The Cubs did call him up in mid-April as expected. And with less than three months of major league experience, he competed in the Home Run Derby. He lost in the first round, as one would expect for a Cub, but didn’t embarrass himself. Nobody expected him to beat Albert Pujols, but his nine home runs was almost respectable. And he got major cool points by having his father as his pitcher. Can you imagine that conversation? “Hey, Dad, wanna come down to the ballpark Monday night and toss me a few balls? No big deal, just you, me, and 60,000 screaming fans. Sound like fun?”

That penalty is, I suspect, a safety measure for the kids chasing balls in the outfield. Wouldn’t do to have someone get set to grab a ball at the warning track only to be taken out by a sharp line drive out of nowhere. And yes, some of the kids did make nice catches last night. Good to see.

Moving on.

Since we’re at the official mid-point of the season, let’s take a look at my first-day predictions about the playoff teams.

National League

Mets – Currently second in their division, two games back of the Nationals, they’re well-positioned for a second-half run into the playoffs.

Reds – The Reds are 39-47, fifteen and a half games back in their division. They’ve got some serious work to do if they’re going to get past St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and the Cubs.

Rockies – Almost as poorly-placed as the Reds. 39-49, eleven back is not where you want to be at this point.

Wild Card – I called the Cardinals and Phillies. St. Louis currently has the best record in baseball, so they’re in good shape for the Wild Card if the Reds do make a move on the division. Philadelphia needs to pour it on: right now they’re twenty games out of the Wild Card.

American League

Red Sox – Well… Sure, they’re five games under .500 at 42-47, but they’re only six and a half out of the division lead. Overcoming that is totally doable.

Royals – 52-34 and a four and a half game lead in the division. Good job, guys!

Mariners – Sigh. 41-48 and trapped in a “win one, lose one” cycle. Not looking too good, guys. As with Boston, they’ve still got a shot, but the odds aren’t too hot.

Wild Card – The Blue Jays are only one game under .500 and four games back in the Wild Card race. Not great, but not too horrid either. And the Orioles are right at .500, half a game ahead of Toronto. Those in-division head-to-head games remaining could be a problem for both teams, but don’t count either of them out yet.

OK, most of my picks are not where I’d like them to be at this point, but there’s still a lot of baseball remaining. Nobody’s been mathematically eliminated yet, not even the woeful Phillies with their .319 record. I’ll be holding onto my hope for now.

That’s the Way We Do It

I went to a baseball game and no history happened. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

We’ve arrived at the All-Star Break. Last year, I marked the occasion with a pair of posts. I’ll keep it to one this year.

I pointed out that this is the time of year when fans of the under-performing teams begin obsessively watching trade rumors, waiting for the one that will give them hope for next year. What I didn’t mention is that fans of the teams on the edge of making the playoffs are obsessively watching trade rumors, waiting for the one that will give them hope for this year.

So far this year, both groups are still waiting. The only trade with potential major impact was between the As (currently the best record in baseball and the runaway favorite to make the playoffs) and the Cubs (currently the fifth worst record in baseball).* Things should be heating up this week before the frenzy next week leading to the trade deadline.

* Yes, the Cubs are in the first group–under-performing teams–and their fans did get some hope in their acquisition of Addison Russell. However, he’s now their second top prospect at shortstop, a position where they already have a good player. That means if they get a significant boost from Russell, it’s because both of the others flamed out–hardly desirable. More likely, the actual gain will be from a future trade, either of Russell himself, or one of the other two when Russell becomes the full-time shortstop. Either way, there’s a modicum of hope, but it’s a deferred hope, and likely deferred beyond next year.

I also wrote about the joys of the Home Run Derby. It’s not so much the home run hitters, it’s the kids chasing the balls that provide most of the fun and excitement. Last year’s Derby was good in that respect. This year was amusing, but not as good as last year. I think the kids had a touch of World Cup Fever. A lot of flops and slides on the wet-thanks-to-rain grass, but not much “will the ball be caught?” drama.

The Derby isn’t baseball, but it helps get through the lack of meaningful games. The actual All-Star game is tonight. That is baseball. Meaningless, like preseason games, but at least the quality of play is (usually) better than any random preseason game. Tomorrow and Thursday are off days, and the season resumes Friday. So what do we do for baseball Wednesday and Thursday? Well, there are always the minor leagues.

Which brings us back to that baseball game I mentioned in the first paragraph.

The San Jose Giants are, as you could probably have guessed, a minor league team in the San Francisco Giants’ system. They’re a “Class A Advanced” team*, meaning that they’re several steps away from the majors.

* The current classifications are, in descending order of presumed skill and readiness for the majors, Triple-A, Double-A, Class A Advanced, Class A, Class A short season, and Rookie. In the past there were fewer types of “A” teams, and there were “B,” “C”, and “D” leagues. I’ll just note that baseball reflects the society around it, and as such, grade inflation and peer promotion are inescapable.

There is an element of truth in that joke, but it is, as with most of baseball’s long and checkered history, more complicated than that. Maybe I’ll do a post on the Great Minor League Reorganization of ’63 one of these days.

As an A league team, the SJ Giants are not playing in a fancy park like the parent club’s. San Jose Municipal Stadium seats less than 6,000 people, and it looks about half that big. Ignore the small video screen over the right field fence, and it could almost be a small-town stadium from an old movie: small dimensions, painted advertisements on the fences, and an outfield that hasn’t been sculpted to millimetric tolerances.

Since the players are young, the quality of play sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. “Sure” double-play balls aren’t sure at all, flies that look eminently catchable to the eye accustomed to big league play fall untouched, and errant pitches fly past catchers with alarming regularity.

But the teams make up for it in other ways. The small size of the stadium means that even the cheap seats* are closer to the field than 95% of the seats at a major league park.

* And they are cheap. Non-discounted seats for tomorrow’s game start at $11. The major league club changes prices depending on who the opponent is and how far in advance you buy. As of this writing, the cheapest seats for the SF Giants’ first home game after the break are $56.25.

Even in the last row of seats, you’re close enough to really hear the action: the sound of bat hitting ball, ball hitting glove, and–when sufficiently provoked by a bad call–chin hitting ground in disbelief.

And the team takes advantage of the intimate nature of the venue to do things that couldn’t be done at a major league park. In the big leagues, video screens keep attendees occupied between innings by showing “fan cams,” “dot races,” and highlights of other games–sometimes even other sports. The San Jose club is strictly analog in its between-inning distraction. They drive a truck onto the field, and let players throw baseballs at it: any player who breaks a headlight gets $20.00 and a pre-selected fan wins a coupon for auto parts. Four spectators are invited onto the field to play Musical Chairs, with the winner getting movie tickets. A fan throws rolls of toilet paper at the team mascot, who is seated in a Porta-Potty (I never did hear what the fan won).

OK, maybe some of the activities aren’t in the greatest of taste, but they’re still doing better than “Captain Morgan” and a bevy of half-dressed young women throwing T-shirts into the stands while a video urges spectators to drink responsibly. (Yes, this really happened at an As’ game–and, I’ve heard, several other major league parks–a couple of years ago.)

As you move up the ranks from A to AA to AAA, the quality of play improves, and the off-field “product” and ticket prices start to look more like the majors as well. But that just means you can choose your level. There are teams affiliated with one of the MLB clubs in 42 American states (and one in British Columbia: the Vancouver Canadians, a Class A short season affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays). If you need a baseball fix to get you through the next two days, you could do far, far worse than to check out the closest minor league team.

I should note that the game itself, as you might expect, wasn’t a highly-polished performance by either team, but the Giants beat their arch-nemesis*, Stockton, 8-4. The Giants built a 7-0 lead before giving up four runs in the eighth inning: thrills and chills; we wondered if that eighth was ever going to end.

* In Class A, every opposing team is your arch-nemesis, standing between you and the development of the skills you need to move up to the next level.

A good time was had by all. Well, except for Stockton and its supporters, but since they won the other three games that weekend, they can’t complain too much. It was a pleasant evening in the sun with an exciting game. No history was made, but how much history does one need in any given season? Baseball is its own compensation.

Independence Day

You knew it was coming, but you didn’t know exactly when. Now here it is, and it’s too late to hide. That’s right, it’s another baseball post!

We’ll be continuing our series of posts looking at the major religious holidays of the sport. The current one is Independence Day. Unlike the civil holiday of the same name, the baseball holiday lasts four days*. To the heathen, the holiday is known as “the All-Star Break”, the official mid-point of the religious year. Yes, “official” does not equal “actual”. Most teams played their 81st game two or three weeks ago, around the end of June. But who says religion has to be logical?

* This is actually a change in the scriptures. Until this year, the break was three days. This alteration seems unlikely to cause a religious crisis, unlike the previous one which grants home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game. Prior to that change, advantage alternated from year to year. It’s still a highly contentious debate ten years later.

“How can a day last four days?” I hear someone ask. Well, it just does. This is an allegory, after all, not a literal representation of mundane reality. If it really bothers you, petition MLB to expand the break to five days the next time they negotiate an agreement with the players’ union. If that happens, I’ll start calling it Independence Week (after I get done sulking, that is).

Why is it Independence Day?

This is the point at which fans are freed from a number of burdens.

  • Meaningful baseball – just as the civil holiday frees most workers from their jobs for a day, the religious holiday frees most fans from caring about the results of the baseball-related activities they see. (What about the home field advantage in the World Series? Isn’t that meaningful? Well, yes. Historically, the home team has won approximately 60% of World Series games, so there really is a home field advantage. But it’s only meaningful to the two teams that make it to the World Series. That means it’s only meaningful to the fans of two teams. Granted, we don’t know which two they are, but it’s hard to waste brain cycles on the chance that it will matter to your team: 19 of the 30 teams are still seriously in the hunt (I’m defining “seriously” as “odds of no worse than 20 to 1”). Worry about your team getting to the World Series before you start stressing about home field advantage.) And nobody really cares who wins the Home Run Derby.
  • Freedom from bandwagon fans – By now the “fans” who only show up when things are going well have departed for all of the teams who are under .500 (14 of 30 teams, 16 if you include those exactly at .500) and they’re starting to vanish from the teams over .500 but in third place or lower in their divisions (an additional three teams including the Yankees). OK, it doesn’t mean much–there are no fewer loudly expressed incorrect opinions or drunken idiots at the games–but it’s nice to know that almost everyone you see at the game is a co-coreligionist, there because they want to be there, not because it’s the hot place to be.
  • Freedom from unrealistic expectations – Fans of the bottom-dwelling teams are freed from the need to plan vacations around camping in line for playoff tickets. Instead, they have hope. Yes, this is when the cries of “Wait until next year!” begin. For the rest of July, the focus will be on trading current veterans to playoff hopefuls in return for hot prospects to beef up next year’s team. (We’ll talk about August and September in a couple of weeks.) Note that there’s always an exception to this rule. This year, it’s the National League West division, which has exactly one team over .500. The distance between top and bottom is 8.5 games, which means that even San Diego, currently at .438 can’t be totally counted out (odds makers have their chances of winning the division at 15 to 2, though their chances of making it through the playoffs to the World Series are currently at 40 to 1).

Hope? Seriously?

Yup. Isn’t that what religion is all about when you come right down to it? Hope for a better tomorrow/next life/afterlife?

Here’s how it works, using a randomly-selected* team:

The Mariners are currently hoping for respectability this season (a .500 record) and a realistic prospect for making the playoffs next year. The last (mumble) years have been marked by a significant lack of hitting; this past off-season’s acquisitions were intended largely to beef up the bats. For the first half of the year the new bats, mostly swung by older veterans, helped some but the effects were swamped by injuries and highly inconsistent pitching. On the other hand, in the past couple of weeks the rest of the team’s bats have been heating up. Some of those bats are being swung by rookies brought up earlier than planned to cover for injuries, others by younger veterans who had been expected to start hitting last year or the year before. And then there’s Raul Ibanez, one of those older veteran bats brought in during the off-season. He’s making a serious run at the records for home runs hit by a player over 41 and 40 (yes, heathens, the true faithful really do track that kind of statistic). He’s currently at 24; with the records at 29 and 34 respectively, he’s got a damn good shot at them both.

So here’s where the hope kicks in: Rauuuuuuuul (as it’s spelled in Seattle) and the young bats will carry the team the rest of the way this year. They’ll build on the pre-All-Star Break sweep of the Angels by pounding the Astros and Twins (two of the three American League teams with worse records than the Mariners) and hold their own against the Indians. That would bring them to the end of July no worse than four games short of respectability, leaving them well-placed to go just over .500 for the last two month to make it to .500 on the year. Towards the end of the month, they trade Ibanez to a team that wants a clutch bat off the bench in exchange for a decent outfield prospect. Next year the top pitching prospects in the minors come up to the majors, and the team, now with a nice balance of offense and defense vault past the Angels (crippled with expensive, non-performing players) and As (whose ability to get top performance out of unknowns will surely fade eventually, so why not next year) and go head-to-head with Texas for the division title.

Clearly that’s greatly oversimplified, but it gives you an idea of how hope works at the bottom of the standings. And it works, too. Just look at this year’s Pirates, who have put 20 consecutive losing seasons behind them and are currently at .602 with 13 to 2 odds of making the World Series. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone, right?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch the Home Run Derby. It may not mean anything, but it’s hard to find better entertainment than the crew of kids (8 to 15 years old) trying to catch the balls that don’t make it over the fence while not getting beaned.

* Not really random.