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!

2020 Foresight

If it does nothing else, this weird season has at least given us a year away from reminders that “the MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Of course, robbed of their favorite truism, broadcasters are now continually reminding each other–and us–that this season is a sprint. Can’t win ’em all.

It’s also given us a heck of a lot of complaining that the new playoff scheme will result in large numbers of teams with losing records making the playoffs.

I beg to differ.

Had this season’s rules been in effect last year, only one sub-.500 team would have made the playoffs: the Texas Rangers. That’s hardly a flood, and only mildly annoying.

I also checked to see who would have made the playoffs had the season ended at about 60 games. (I say “about” because off-days and rainouts mean that not every team has played the same number of games on any given date.)

In this case, had the season ended on June 5, no teams with losing records would have made the playoffs. Even the Rangers started off well: after sixtyish games, they were at .525.

Granted, two teams–the Athletics and the Padres–were at exactly .500, but I’d have been fine with that.

Additional food for thought for anyone who thinks adding teams to the playoffs will increase competition: of the sixteen teams that would have made the playoffs had 2019 ended after 60 games, only three would have dropped out with the full 162 game schedule. The Phillies, Rockies, and Padres all started strong, but faded later, and would have been replaced in the playoffs by the Mets, Diamondbacks, and–amusingly enough–the Nationals.

I don’t know about you, but I think if the playoff lineup is more than 80% determined a third of the way through the season, increased competition down the stretch isn’t going to have much impact.

Moving on to this season, I’m going to modify my normal prognosticatory technique. Since the season is a sprint–sorry–I’m just going to go with the run differential and won/lost records as they stood at the end of the day Tuesday and use them to predict the playoff teams and the eventual World Series champions.

For purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that the full sixty game season will be played, as will all the playoff games. That’s seeming wildly optimistic, but it wouldn’t be much fun to declare the season a washout this soon.

In the NL, our playoff teams–determined by run differential, not record–are Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, LA, San Diego, Colorado, and Cincinnati.

Over in the AL, we’re looking at Tampa Bay, Toronto, Minnesota, Cleveland, Houston, LA, Oakland, and Kansas City.

For what it’s worth, the last team in each league has a DIFF of -1. Clearly, while run differential is indicative of victories, it’s not a one-to-one relationship. But we knew that.

Anyway, once we get into the playoffs, actual victories are more critical. In the NL, the Cubs and Padres sport identical 4-1 records. While Chicago has scored more total runs, they’ve also allowed their opponents to score more; their run ratio is a hair under 1.5. The Padres, on the other hand, have scored more than twice as many runs as their opponents. Accordingly, I’m calling the Padres the probable NL World Series representatives.

Turning to the junior circuit, the Rays and the Possibly-Soon-To-Be-Nameless-Team-From-Cleveland are also sitting at 4-1. Again looking at the run ratio, the Cleveland PSTBNs (that’s a mouthful. I’m going to call them the Postbins.) have outscored their opponents by exactly two to one. That puts them comfortably ahead of Tampa Bay and their 1.7 ratio.

Postbins versus Padres in the World Series. And won’t that set a lot of prognosticators’ teeth on edge?

The winner? Based on run ration, it would be San Diego. But 2.0 versus 2.1 is awfully close, and could easily be overcome by moderating factors such as home field advantage or even pure luck. Even allowing for the Padres having scored more runs than Cleveland (26-21), it still seems close.

Let’s look at the historical record. San Diego has made it to the World Series twice and lost both times. Cleveland’s been in the Series six times and won twice. History is on the side of the Postbins.

But. They haven’t won since 1948. And people like round numbers and multiples of five. Cleveland’s best chance for a World Series victory isn’t until the seventy-fifth anniversary of their last one. That’s 2023.

I’m calling 2020 now. Padres over Postbins four games to two.

2019 Playoffs

Already know who you’re rooting for in the MLB playoffs this year? Or totally lost to the One True Faith? You might as well skip this post. Come back Wednesday–I may have another post this week–or Friday for the cats. The rest of you, gather around.

Sure, you can watch the playoffs without rooting for anyone. But where’s the fun in that? This post aims to help you choose a rooting interest, whether you want to pick a single team to follow throughout the month or pick a new team in each series.

Again, this isn’t about picking a winner. I’ve made those predictions, and I won’t revisit them until November. (As a reminder–Spoilers, Darling!–I picked the Dodgers to win it all. There’s still time to call Vegas.)

If you’re new to this blog, you may be surprised to hear there are rules for choosing a rooting interest. But why should something so important be left to whim and chance?

Rules for Rooting, 2019 edition

  1. Unless it’s the team you follow during the regular season, you must not root for any team that has been promoted as “America’s Team” or otherwise held up by its owners and/or the media as the ultimate expression of the sport. If you do root for one of these teams, this is a great time to reconsider your life choices.
  2. You should not root for a team from your own team’s division.
  3. That said, you should root for somebody from your own league. Crossing the league boundary without a really good excuse is in bad taste.
  4. Possession of team merchandise with sentimental value OR a history of following a favorite player from team to team trumps Rules Two and Three. It does not override Rule One. Nothing overrides Rule One.
  5. Teams with a record of recent futility or legitimate “misfit” credentials get bonus points in the decision process. A record of futility means multiple losing seasons or a lengthy stretch without a playoff appearance and/or title. What constitutes legitimate misfittery is up to you. Be honest with yourself.
  6. All other rules notwithstanding, you are always free to root for the Indians, holders of a seventy season World Series drought.

That said, rooting for the Indians this year would be an exercise in Zen Futility, since they’re not in the playoffs. But I digress.

Since I’m writing as much as possible of this post ahead of time, we’ll start with the National League, where the teams were set by the middle of last week.

The National League playoff teams are Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles.

As always, Rule One applies to the Braves, thanks to Ted Turner. It also applies to the Nationals (for obvious reasons) and the Dodgers.

We’ll award a futility point to the Brewers, whose fans have now been waiting for a World Series title for half a century.

Dodgers, Nationals, and Braves followers can take the next couple of days for reflection. Fans of the other NL East and West teams have an obvious pick in the Brewers. And, much as I hate to encourage violation of Rule Two, it’s a lesser offense than breaking Rule One. So those of you who usually cheer for the Cubs, Reds, or Pirates should also be rooting for Milwaukee.

Now, on to the American League, where the playoff teams weren’t settled until Friday. The Junior Circuit has given us New York, Minnesota, Houston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay.

Fortunately for my sanity, there’s only one AL playoff team subject to Rule One–the Yankees, of course.

We’ll give the Athletics and Twins a futility point each, since their World Series droughts are at twenty-nine and twenty-seven years, respectively. (Last year, I gave the As a misfit point, primarily because of Khris Davis’ four-year streak of hitting exactly .247. That string ended this year–he finished at .220–so no misfit point for the As.)

Yankees boosters, go meditate on your media-enabled sins.

Non-playoff affiliated fans, your guidance looks like this: If you’re normally in the AL East or Central, you should looking west to cheer for the Athletics. If you’re from the West Division, the Twins are your crew. Simple, huh?

And, as always, if you don’t normally follow baseball–whether because you’ve lost the True Faith or never been properly entered in the rolls of the Faithful–you can exercise your free will. You can choose your team based on geography, following the guidelines above. Or take the easy way out and root for the As. Or exercise your masochistic side and root for the Indians.

And to reiterate: Even though I’ve predicted the Dodgers to win the Series, you can not root for them unless they were your team through the regular season. Even if you’ve got money down. Rule One is absolute.

2019 Prognostication

Once again, it’s time for me to peer into the future, using Science! and Mathematics! to predict the results of the MLB pennant chases and playoffs. As I did last year, I’m combining the two predictions into a single post, because it just works out better that way.

To refresh your memories, the playoff teams are those with the largest margin of victory in their first games, and the playoff predictions are based on the teams’ run differential over the first week of the season.

Unlike last year, when two games were rescheduled, all of the Opening Day games were played. Hooray for a cooperative Mother Nature! The gotcha–there’s always some complication–is that darn overseas “Opening Series” between the Mariners and Athletics. As I said a couple of weeks ago, I find it difficult to accept those games as part of the regular season. The conditions are just too different from the other 160 those teams will play. And, let’s be honest here, I don’t want to have to account for the fact that the Ms and the As didn’t play each other on the real Opening Day. I can’t figure out a way to handle that without doing at least one of the four teams involved a serious misjustice. So as far as my predictions go, March 20 and 21 Didn’t Happen.

Once again, the American League team won the World Series; consequently, they’ll be leading off.

  • East – Regrettably, there’s no competition here. By virtue of their status as the only team to win their first game, the Yankees will be the AL East champions.
  • Central – What a mess. Three of the five teams won their games by a two run margin. Even worse, two of those three games finished 2-0. My devout thanks to the Royals for scoring five runs and breaking the tie. They’ll be this year’s AL Central winners.
  • West – Would you believe it’s the Mariners? The team widely predicted to finish dead last in the division? Can’t argue with their 12-4 pounding of the World Champs, though. The numbers say this is the year the Mariners break their playoff drought.
  • Wild Cards – We’ve got another tie here. The Astros and As both racked up victories by four runs, they’ll be our AL Wild Card teams. Houston wins the tie-breaker, five runs to Oakland’s four, so they’ll get the home field advantage in the Wild Card Game.

Turning our attention to the National League, matters are much less complicated.

  • East – The Phillies 10-4 victory is the weakest of any of the NL division winners, but any Philadelphia fan will cheerfully assure you that the important thing is to make the playoffs.
  • Central – Cubs fans, on the other hand, will point to their +8 run differential and loudly proclaim themselves to be the class of the league.
  • West – And the Dodgers’ fans will tie their brains in knots trying to figure out a way to justify claiming a +7 result is better than a +8. Good luck with that.
  • Wild Cards – The Rockies fans will breathe a sigh of relief at learning their three run victory on Opening Day earns them the first NL Wild Card slot. The Mets, Reds, and Padres provide the NL’s only real playoff drama, all claiming two run victories. As in the AL Central, two of the games finished 2-0, allowing the Reds to grab the second Wild Card by virtue of a 5-3 Opening Day victory.

There you have it. Get your bets down now, seeing as how sports betting is no longer a federal crime.

Parenthetically, our long-suffering (last year must have felt like at least three seasons) friends in Baltimore may get some relief this year. While the Orioles lost their first game, and their run differential is currently negative one, they’ve still managed to put together a 4-2 record. Keep that up all season, and they’ll finish with 108 wins. Not good enough for the playoffs, unfortunately, but still a nice turnaround from last year’s dismal 47-115 record.

Oh, you want to get a World Series bet down as well? No problem.

Here’s the information for our ten playoff teams after a week of play. Again, the Mariners’ two games in Japan are not included.

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Yankees

2-4

20-20 (0)
Royals

2-3

26-27 (-1)
Mariners

5-1

42-28 (+14)
Astros

2-5

15-22 (-7)
Athletics

5-3

31-23 (+8)

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Phillies

4-1

39-22 (+17)
Cubs

1-4

32-37 (-5)
Dodgers

5-2

55-34 (+21)
Rockies

3-4

17-25 (-8)
Padres

4-3

23-24 (-1)

Clearly, the Mariners will have no problem making it to their first ever World Series. The As will beat the Astros, then be eliminated by the Mariners. The Yankees’ offensive/defensive equivalence will get them past the Royals, but be no match for the Mariners.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers will stroll past the Wild Card winning Padres. The Phillies won’t even break a sweat when they face the Cubs, but will go down to a hard fought defeat against LA.

So both World Series teams will be from the West Coast. Nevertheless, their fans will miss the beginnings of every game of the series, as MLB will insist on 5pm starts, ensuring empty seats and unwatched televisions until everyone gets through the rush hour traffic, along about the third inning.

That said, the imbalance in the teams’ run differentials suggests we won’t be getting a full suite of seven games. The Dodgers should win three of the first five, and wrap up the title in Game Six.

Disappointing for the Mariners, certainly, but greed is bad. Breaking the longest current playoff drought, making the World Series for the first time, and winning the Series in the same year? Definitely a bit too grabby.

There you go. Good luck in Vegas.

Winter Is Still Coming

And so another MLB season comes to its end.

But before we look ahead to the long, dark, cold winter* that lies ahead, let’s look back. All the way back to April, when I made my annual playoff predictions.

* Disclaimer: Thanks to climate change and your local geography and climatology, some or all of those characteristics may not apply.

What with one thing and another, last year’s review got rather shorted. This year, I aim to do better.

Let’s start with the first set of predictions: the teams that I expected to make the playoffs. My overall average for the years I’ve been making predictions is right around 50%. That’s actually pretty good, considering that random chance would put the odds for any one pick around 33%. Did I improve my average this year?

Well, in the American League, I picked the Yankees, White Sox, Astros, Rays, and Athletics. The correct teams: Yankees, Indians, Astros, Red Sox, and Athletics. Three out of five! Note that, had I gone with differently colored socks, my feet would have been just as warm, and I’d have made four out of five.

As for the senior circuit, I called out the Mets, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Braves, and Pirates. Reality offered up the Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Cubs, and Rockies. Um. Two out of five.

Hitting .500 would be a fabulous job on the diamond. Record setting, in fact. Out in Prognostication Land, it’s not so hot. Better than chance, but it’s not going to do much for my position when it comes time to negotiate my contract for next season. On the bright side, my record this year didn’t ruin my lifetime average.

As for my playoff prediction, well…

Let’s not wallow in depressing matters. I picked the Astros over the Braves in seven games. The actual World Series teams were…wait for it…the Red Sox and Dodgers, two teams I completely failed to pick to make the playoffs.

Nor did it go to seven games. A bare five–though we could make a case for six, since we did get nine extra innings in Game Three. Still not seven, though.

And no, onward. Winter is coming. Anyone got any great new ideas for how to fill the baseball-free void which lies ahead?

Playoffs

Your team didn’t make the MLB playoffs? Sorry to hear it. But we all know watching the playoffs is more fun when you’ve got a rooting interest. As always, I’m here to help.

(Those of you who are fans of playoff teams can come back Thursday.)

This isn’t about picking a winner. I did that back in April–to save you the trouble of re-reading that post, my prediction is Astros over Braves in seven high-scoring games. (Fortunately for my pride, both teams did, in fact, make the playoffs.) Come November, we’ll take a look at how well all my predictions turned out.

If you’re new to this blog, you may be surprised to hear there are rules for choosing a rooting interest. But why should something so important be left to whim and chance? We’ve been tweaking the rules for the past few years; for the first time in blog history, they haven’t changed.

Rules for Rooting, 2018 edition

  1. Unless it’s the team you follow during the regular season, you must not root for any team that has been promoted as “America’s Team” or otherwise held up by its owners and/or the media as the ultimate expression of the sport.
  2. You should not root for a team from your own team’s division.
  3. That said, you should root for somebody from your own league. Crossing the league boundary without a really good excuse is in bad taste.
  4. Possession of team merchandise with sentimental value OR a history of following a favorite player from team to team trumps Rules Two and Three. It does not override Rule One. Nothing overrides Rule One.
  5. Teams with a record of recent futility or legitimate “misfit” credentials get bonus points in the decision process. A record of futility means multiple losing seasons or a lengthy stretch without a playoff appearance and/or title. What constitutes legitimate misfittery is up to you. Be honest with yourself.
  6. All other rules notwithstanding, you are always free to root for the Indians, holders of a sixty-eight season World Series drought.

Yes, the Indians did make the playoffs this year. But let’s do this in an organized fashion.

Since the Astros won it all last year, we’ll give the AL home field advantage and make the NL bat first.

The National League playoff teams are Atlanta, Milwaukee, Colorado, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Rule One clearly applies to the Braves (blame Ted Turner). And as far as I’m concerned, no Vin Scully retirement and no assault on the MLB record for wins in a season means no Rule One exemption for the Dodgers.

We’ll award a futility point to the Rockies, who’ve never won a World Series in their twenty-five year history, and two to the Brewers, who have been around for forty-nine years and are still looking for their first title.

Braves and Dodgers fans, you go do you. For those of us who don’t follow overly-aggrandized teams, it looks like this: if you normally root for an NL East team other than Atlanta, you should pull for Milwaukee. If you usually follow the Cardinals, Pirates, or Reds, cheer for the Rockies. And if you’re normally a Diamondback, Giant, or Padre booster, show your October love for the Brewers.

Now, on to the American League, where the playoff teams are Boston, Cleveland, Houston, New York, and Oakland.

We can eliminate the Yankees via Rule One and, given how ESPN is slipping back into their old habit of glorifying the Boston/New York rivalry, I’m invoking Rule One on the Red Sox as well.

As noted above, the Indians get multiple futility points. The Athletics deserve a point as well, not having won a World Series since the infamous 1989 cross-bay affair. If you want to award the As a misfit point as well, based on their reputation as a bunch of unknowns and lunatics who’ve managed to piece together a winning season, I won’t argue with you. Hell, I’ll give Oakland the point just for having Khris Davis–the only man in history to hit exactly .247 four consecutive years–on the team!

Yankees and Red Sox boosters, go join the fans of the Braves and Dodgers in your media-created hell. Currently-unaligned AL fans, your teams are as follows: Central Division dwellers, you get Oakland, and those of us out west (or southwest–I’m not forgetting you Rangers’ fans) will take the Cleveland. Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles fans can take your pick and go for either Cleveland on their record of futility or Oakland for futility plus misfittery.

And, as always, if you don’t normally follow baseball–whether because you’ve lost the True Faith or never been properly entered in the rolls of the Faithful–you can exercise your free will. If you choose a team based on proximity or sentimental reasons, follow the guidelines above. Or take the easy way out and root for the Indians.

Do not–I repeat, not root for the Astros just because I’ve told you they’re going to win. The Baseball Gods do not favor bandwagonism. And besides, there’s a chance my prediction might be wrong. That’s why they play the games and why we cheer.

And me, I’ll be in front of the TV Friday night when my-for-the-moment Cleveland Indians take on the temporarily-hated Houston Astros.

Which is not to say I won’t be watching any of the five games before then, because I will. Following the rules, of course. That means I’ll be rooting for the Rockies in the NL Wild Card tonight, the Athletics in the AL Wild Card tomorrow–much as it pains me to root for a division rival to my Mariners, nothing trumps Rule One.

Thursday is trickier. It’s easy enough to root for the Brewers over either the Rockies or the Cubs, but what about the late game? Both the Braves and the Dodgers are subject to Rule One, and mutual destruction isn’t an option. Coin flips are so arbitrary. I may have to play the underdog card and root for whoever is losing at any given moment.

Prognostication

It’s time once again for me to predict who’s going to make the playoffs and who’s going to win it all.

Yeah, usually that’s two posts, but because of the way the blog schedule aligns with MLB’s schedule this year, I decided to combine the posts.

As usual, the playoff teams will be determined based on their margin of victory in their first game*. The playoff predictions are based on run differential over the first week of the season.

* It was nice of MLB to schedule everybody to play on Opening Day. Too bad Mother Nature got involved and forced two games to be rescheduled.

So here we go.

Since an American League team won the World Series last season, we’ll force them to go first.

  • East – Regrettably, it’s clear the Yankees are going to take the AL East. It won’t even be close, given their +5 run differential.
  • Central – The White Sox are obviously the class of not just the division, not just the league, but all of MLB. Their +7 margin of victory shows the season’s going to be smooth sailing for them.
  • West – It’s going to be a close race on the Pacific coast. The Astros will take it in the end, in line with most professional prognosticators’ predictions. But a +3 isn’t much; they’re obviously going to have to work for their victory.
  • Wild Cards – Another tight race. The Rays will take the first slot, based on their two run victory in their first game. But there are three teams tied with a +1 record. The tiebreaker is total runs, which eliminates the Mariners, but Tampa Bay and Oakland both scored six. I hadn’t expected to need a second tiebreaker, so I gave Commissioner Manfred a call. “Reward whoever did the most to speed up the game,” he said. By now you all know my feelings about pace of play and those people who profess to be worried about it. Accordingly, the second Wild Card goes to the Athletics, on the grounds that their game was sixty-two minutes longer–an extra innings thriller.

Matters are slightly simpler over in the National League.

  • East – To the surprise of nearly everyone, the Mets are going to take the NL East on the strength of their +5 run differential.
  • Central – It’s obviously Chicago’s year. The Cubs pulled out a +4 margin of victory to make it a Central division sweep for the Windy City.
  • West – The team that can’t be beat in the NL is Arizona. The Diamondbacks‘ +6 falls a little short of the White Sox’ number, but it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
  • Wild Card – The Braves and Pirates both put up +3 records. Since nobody else did better than a +2, we don’t need a tiebreaker to settle who goes to the playoffs, but somebody needs to host the Wild Card Game. We’ll award that to the Pirates, in recognition of their 13 runs, far better than the Braves’ 8.

So, with our teams selected, let’s move on to the results of the playoffs. To simplify matters, here are the teams with their records–the first tie-breaker–and run differentials over the first week of play:

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Yankees

4-2

35-21 (+14)
White Sox

3-2

29-31 (-02)
Astros

6-1

41-20 (+21)
Rays

1-5

15-28 (-13)
Athletics

3-4

24-29 (-04)

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Mets

4-1

22-13 (+09)
Cubs

2-3

19-19 ( 0 )
Diamondbacks

5-1

35-20 (+15)
Pirates

4-1

30-27 (+03)
Braves

4-2

48-27 (+21)

Laid out in tabular form, I think it’s obvious what the results will be. But leaving it at that would be an awfully short post, so let’s take a closer look.

In the AL, the As will knock off the Rays in the Wild Card game and then get flattened by the Astros in the Division Series. Meanwhile, the Yankees will knock off the White Sox without breaking a sweat. In the Championship Series, Houston will knock off New York.

Over in the NL, the Braves will steamroller the Pirates in the Wild Card, trample the Diamondbacks in the Division Series, and fold, spindle, and mutilate the Mets in the Championship Series.

Which brings us to the World Series, Atlanta versus Houston. The teams are evenly matched on run differential, suggesting we’ll see a high-scoring seven game series. The teams’ won/loss records to date make it clear that in the end, the Astros will win Game Seven, most likely on a home run in extra innings, to repeat as champions–the first team to repeat since the Yankees won it all three times in a row from 1998 to 2000.

Take that, pace-of-play-we-want-shorter-games advocates.

Darkness Descends

Two thirds correct, but it’s that remaining thirty-three and a third percent that’s the important part.

So, yeah, as I said Tuesday, I did predict one of the two World Series teams. Unfortunately for my reputation as a scientific prognosticator, that team was the Dodgers. I also correctly called them as the ultimate losers.

Oh, heck, I’ll even give myself credit for predicting a “tight, high scoring, seven game World Series”. Game Five aside, it wasn’t that high-scoring, but it certainly was tight, and it did go seven games. Call it an overall seventy percent success rate.

But in the final analysis, I picked the Twins to win it all. Yeah, the Twins. The team who squeezed into the playoffs as the second AL Wild Card and proceeded to get slaughtered by the (pfui!) Yankees.

It was a great series, even if it didn’t get extended to nine or more games. And, despite the disappointment of the fans of the twenty-nine teams that didn’t win the World Series–especially the twenty teams that didn’t even make the playoffs–it was a good year. Because even a year of losing baseball is better than a year of no baseball.

Onward into the Great Darkness.

Free agents can begin signing with any team next week. The Winter Meetings are next month. Spring Training is about three and a half months away. And Opening Day is March 29.

Interesting note: Every team’s first game will be on Opening Day in 2018, thanks in large part to the Players’ Association bargaining for a few more off days during the season. That might make my job of predicting the winners a little easier. Not more accurate, mind you, but easier.

In any case, we do have a few baseball matters to occupy ourselves with during those long stretches of No Baseball. Aside from the usual “What’s Manfred going to do to ‘make the game more exciting’?” discussions, it’s beginning to look like expansion is a real possibility.

There are a lot of potential advantages to adding one team to each league, not the least of which is the chance to realign the divisions. Nobody seems to think keeping the current three divisions in each league is a great idea; that would mean two five-team divisions and one six-team division. Awkward.

So the hottest discussion in baseball right now (after whether the ball has changed) is whether to go with two eight-team or four four-team divisions.

I’ll have more to say about expansion and realignment later, but it’s sure going to be nice to have a distraction from arguments over computerized umpires calling balls and strikes.

Go, Uh…

We’ve arrived at the season after the season, i.e. playoff time. I’m posting this today to give you all time to run down to the mall or get your overnight-shipping orders in: the first game of the playoffs is tomorrow, and you want to have a cap, shirt, or big foam finger for your guys when you kick back in front of the TV, right?

As usual, my congratulations to those of you who normally root for teams that made it into the playoffs. Y’all can come back Thursday; today’s post is for those of us who need to pick someone to root for.

Remember, this has nothing to do with predicting the World Series champion. (I did that back in April. It’s going to be the Twins.) This is about where we invest our emotions for the next month.

The first five rules haven’t changed since last year, but I’ve clarified a point of confusion and contention. Rule Six, of course, has had a significant change.

Rules for Rooting, 2017 edition

  1. Unless it’s the team you follow during the regular season, you must not root for any team that has been promoted as “America’s Team” or otherwise held up by its owners and/or the media as the ultimate expression of the sport.
  2. You should not root for a team from your own team’s division.
  3. That said, you really ought to root for somebody from your own league. Crossing the league boundary without a really good excuse is in bad taste.
  4. Possession of team merchandise with sentimental value OR a history of following a favorite player from team to team trumps Rules Two and Three. It does not override Rule One. Nothing overrides Rule One.
  5. Teams with a record of futility or legitimate “misfit” credentials get bonus points in the decision process. A record of futility means multiple losing seasons, a lengthy stretch without a playoff appearance and/or title, or a generation-long demonstration of the ability to choke in the clutch. What constitutes legitimate misfittery is up to you. Be honest with yourself.
  6. All other rules notwithstanding, you are always free to root for the CubsIndians. By virtue of winning it all last year and holding together well enough to make the playoffs this year, Chicago has forfeited their position as the council of desperation. That role is now filled by Cleveland, holders of a sixty-eight season World Series championship drought.

So let’s break it down.

The American League playoff teams are Boston, New York, Cleveland, Minnesota, and Houston.

As always, I’m tempted to invoke Rule One on the Red Sox, and this year they don’t have the David Ortiz farewell tour to swing sentiment in their favor. So out they go. Blame ESPN. The Yankees, of course, are also banned under Rule One.

None of the teams, IMNSHO, qualify as misfits. As for futility, we’ve got the Indians under Rule Six and the Twins by virtue of their 103 loss season last year, which capped a run of losing seasons (only one year over .500 since 2011).

So, if you normally root for a team in the AL East or West, take your pick between Cleveland or Minnesota. AL Central fans, your only choice is Houston. Sorry.

Over in the National League, we’ve got an interesting slate: Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Arizona, and Colorado.

Rule One clearly applies to the Nationals. The Dodgers are still flirting with a Rule One ban, but since so much of the media attention this year was legitimate–their run at the single season win record, followed by their epic slump in August and September–I’ll give them a pass again this year.

As in the AL, there are no obvious “misfit” candidates. As for futility, the best we can do is the Rockies, who’ve never won a World Series–but then, the team’s only been around since 1993. Twenty-four years isn’t much compared to the Astros’ fifty-five year career without a Series victory.

So your choices are straightforward: if you normally follow the NL West, you get the Cubbies as they try to repeat. NL Central and East fans, take the Rockies. They just squeaked into the playoffs, not clinching until the next-to-last day of the season, and they could use some love.

That leaves you unaffiliated folks. You can align yourself with a team based on where you live, and then follow the above guidelines. Or you can just make the easy choice and root for Cleveland.

Me? As a Mariners fan, I get to do the Indians/Twins coin flip. Or I could go with my fallback Giants and Mets, which would leave me cheering for the Cubs. Given those choices, I’m all-in on the Twins.

And, naturally, rooting for seven-game series all the way; Division Series, Championship Series, and World Series alike.

My Twins take on the Yankees at 5:00 Pacific tomorrow as they start their march to the title. I can’t wait!