Goin’ All the Way 2017

Trust the Tigers to sow confusion. After all, they are cats, and you can count on a cat confuse matters given even a microscopic sliver of a chance. Detroit beat the White Sox 6-3, and that three-run difference is enough to bump the Red Sox out of the Wild Card game.

Here, for easy reference, are our playoff teams. I’ve included their current Won/Loss records for your amusement.
National League

Team

Won/Loss

Run Diff.

Mets

4-3

25-25 (0)

Cardinals

2-5

25-39 (-14)

Dodgers

4-4

42-25 (17)

Rockies

5-3 31-35 (-4)
Nationals 4-3

40-43 (-3)

 
American League

Team

Won/Loss

Run Diff.

Rays

5-3

34-34 (0)

Twins

5-1

30-13 (17)

Astros

4-4 21-30 (-9)
Indians 3-3

28-35 (-7)

Tigers

4-2

25-28 (-3)

As Eric pointed out on Facebook, one game is a very small sample size. I agree, but that’s what makes this exercise amusing. That said, if I were to use the results of Opening Week instead of Opening Day, our playoff teams would change just a bit.

National League: Phillies (+9), Reds (+14), Dodgers (+17), Diamondbacks (+16), Cubs (+9)

American League: Yankees (+7), Twins (+17), Angels (+6), White Sox (+5), Red Sox (+2)

That’s not any more appealing. Yes, it gets the Cubs into the playoffs, but it also lets the Yankees and Red Sox in. Worse, it still doesn’t help the Mariners, Orioles, or Giants. Feh.

So I’ll stick with the original, one game, predictions and see how the playoffs will run.

The first thing I see is that we’re going to have some really close games. The Cardinals will get slaughtered while the Twins and Dodgers are slaughtering, but all the other games are going to be tight, defensive battles as the teams struggle to score.

That ought to make Commissioner Manfred happy. After all, low-scoring games are typically short. Unless they run to extra innings. But in the playoffs, extra innings draw viewers. So, again, a win.

The bottom line is that the Twins are going all the way to the World Series. They’ll breeze through the AL, probably in something close to the minimum number of games, and there will be much rejoicing in Minnesota–it’s been a quarter of a century since the Twins were in the World Series.

Meanwhile, the NL playoffs are going to play out as a mirror of the AL with the Dodgers playing the part of the Twins. It’s been even longer since the Dodgers played for the championship–granted, only three years, but it still counts–so the cheers in LA will be even louder.

Based strictly on run differential, the World Series won’t ever end. Clearly, that’s a low-probability outcome. The Dodgers have those additional three years of futility on their side. But I think it’s a mistake to overlook the teams’ won/loss records. Despite a +17 run differentials, the Dodgers are 4-4. They’re clearly scoring their runs in bunches. The Twins have turned that same +17 into a 5-1 record–obviously scoring just enough to win comfortably.

So after a tight, high scoring, seven game World Series, the Twins are going to be the champions. You heard it here first.

And the Mariners will just have to wait until next year. Again.

Happy New Year (2017)

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Of course Solomon was a baseball fan.

I compare you, my love,
  to a well-turned 6-4-3 double play.
Your cheeks bulge with chewing tobacco,
  your neck with ire over a missed tag.

Something like that, anyway.

The point is that we’ve once again arrived at the beginning of the baseball season, and that means it’s time for predictions.

Over at her blog, Jackie has called on a panel of experts to help her select this year’s playoff teams and eventual World Series winner. I’m pleased and honored that she asked me to be a member of the panel.

But such predictions, made before the season even begins, are a matter of guesswork. And so, once again, I’m turning to SCIENCE! to make my own.

For the past two seasons, I’ve used a formula based primarily on margin of victory in the first games of the season. In 2015, I achieved 40% accuracy in picking the playoff teams; last year I upped that to 70%. I’ve made further tweaks to my methodology this year, and I’m aiming for 90% or better.

Until now, I’ve been vexed by having to deal with pre-Opening Day games giving some teams a longer track record than others, while other teams have had their first games rained out. That’s definitely hurt my accuracy.

Fortunately, this year all of the teams that played Sunday had Monday off, so nobody’s played their second game yet. Unfortunately, Monday’s Tigers/White Sox game was rained out. So we’ll use the results of today’s game instead. Assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get rained out too.

So, enough background. What are the predictions?

Let’s start with the National League this year:

  • East – The New York Mets are the clear leaders, thanks to their six run victory over Atlanta.
  • Central – The St. Louis Cardinals are the only NL Central team to win, and that was only by one run. Clearly, it’s going to be a slow year in this division.
  • West – The LA Dodgers are going to build on their 14-3 shellacking of San Diego and run away with the NL West.
  • Wild Cards – This prediction system loves the Colorado Rockies. For the second year in a row, it thinks they’ll grab a wild card, while the other slot goes to the Washington Nationals.

As for the American League, it looks like this:

  • East – Who would have thought it would be the Tampa Bay Rays taking the division? But a convincing 7-3 victory over the Yankees can’t be dismissed.
  • Central – The Minnesota Twins‘ 7-1 victory over Kansas City puts them in the driver’s seat. But with no games played by Detroit and Chicago, we could have a quick change of predicted victors here.
  • West – Many of the conventional predictions have the Houston Astros winning the West, and some have even penciled them in for the World Series. Thanks to their 3-0 clobbering of Seattle, my system also has them taking their division.
  • Wild Cards – The Cleveland Indians will take the first slot on the strength of their 8-5 win against Texas. Both Boston and Oakland had two-run victories; as in the past, we’ll use their preseason records as the tiebreaker. That means it’ll be the Boston Red Sox on the strength of an 18-14 record. Unless, of course, Detroit or Chicago rearrange matters to their liking.

Interesting, wouldn’t you say? The Cubs won’t get a chance to defend their title, the Giants won’t win the World Series* either, the Orioles will be on the outside looking in, and the Mariners will extend their “missed the playoffs” streak to 16 seasons.

* Not that anyone expected them to: the last time the Giants won a World Series in an odd year was 1933.

Forget that “aiming for 90%” thing. This year I’m in the peculiar position of hoping my system implodes spectacularly.

But I’ll go with the predictions as they stand, subject to correction once the White Sox and Tigers actually play a game.

Who’ll be the World Series winner? It’s too early to tell. Last year I took a week’s games as my baseline and that worked well, so I’ll do the same this time. Thursday, I’ll have something of interest for the hereticsnon-baseball fans, and my playoff predictions will go up next Tuesday.

Small Victories

Another season over. If it had to end–and it did–there couldn’t have been a better ending. A Cubs comeback from a three games to one deficit* to force a Game Seven, extra innings–OK, one extra inning–and even a rain delay to keep the season going for an additional seventeen minutes. Plenty of excitement, and enough controversial managerial decisions to keep baseball conversation alive until spring.

* There was a lot of press at the beginning of the World Series about Cleveland trying to put together NBA and MLB championships in the same year. Interesting that the Cavaliers won their title after coming back from a three games to one deficit. So now it’s on the Bulls or the Bears to give Chicago multiple championships for the 2016 season. Don’t hold your breath, though. Halfway through the NFL season, the Bears are 2-6 and would need a major turnaround to even approach .500. It’s early in the NBA season, and while the Bulls are 3-1, they’d have to get past the Cavaliers to make the finals. I suppose Chicago fans could pin their hopes on the Blackhawks, but does anyone outside of Canada and Minnesota really care about the NHL?

With the Cubs’ victory, we can look forward to a couple of years of articles about “The Curse” being broken and speculation about their next title. But, just as nobody mentions Babe Ruth’s piano when talking about the Red Sox anymore, we can expect that to settle down soon enough. Despite the media’s best efforts to create a curse for the Indians, I don’t think it’ll catch on.

So with that out of the way, it’s time to check in on my early season predictions for the playoffs.

How did my formula, based on run differential do in predicting the ten playoff teams and their performance in October?

Last year, I picked 40% of the playoff teams. This year, after a few tweaks to the formula, I was hoping to exceed 50%.

You may recall that I dismissed the impact of two games being postponed. That was a mistake on my part, and I’ll need to find a way to account for that possibility next year. I said that the Red Sox and Indians wouldn’t make the playoffs. Oops. On the brighter side, I was correct that the Yankees wouldn’t make the playoffs. I also said the Astros might go 86-76 again, but wouldn’t make the playoffs. They fell a couple of games short of that mark, but the Mariners went 86-76 and didn’t make the playoffs. Call it a moral victory for my predictive skills.

Moving on.

In the AL, my formula picked Toronto, Texas, Chicago, Kansas City, and Baltimore. The White Sox and Royals faded after their first game victories, but the other three picks came through.

Over in the NL, I had Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Colorado. Darn you, Rockies! My only incorrect pick. (I find it amusing that the Rockies’ 75-87 record is the exact opposite of the Mets’ 87-75 Wild Card-worthy record. Clearly, I’m easily amused.)

Seven of ten correct picks, well above my 50% target! Excuse me while I pop open some champagne. No, I won’t spray it wastefully around the room. Mimosa, anybody?

On to the playoffs.

At least my picks for the league champions both made the playoffs. Imagine my embarrassment if I had called a Rockies/Royals World Series.

I certainly muffed the AL, where I predicted the Orioles would storm to the pennant. Instead, they lost the Wild Card game to Toronto. I correctly called the Blue Jays win over the Rangers, but thought it would be a narrow victory, rather than a three-game sweep. As I pointed out earlier, though, the eventual AL champion Indians were one of my predictive failures.

The NL playoffs went rather more as I called them. The Dodgers did, in fact, knock the Nationals out before losing to the Cubs. The Giants didn’t win the Wild Card, but Chicago had no more trouble with the Mets than I thought they’d have with San Francisco.

So I was half right in picking the World Series teams. 50%!

And I did pick the Cubs to break their curses, based on that early season run differential.

Seems like there’s some validity in the method behind my madness. I’ll spend the off-season working on a way to handle rainouts, and we’ll see if I can call all ten playoff teams next year.

Enjoy your winter, everyone. Only a little more than three months until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Root Who

And here we are again. The marathon is over, and it’s time to sprint. Oddly, Google Translate doesn’t include “Baseball Clichés” as an option, so allow me to offer a somewhat free translation: The MLB regular season is over and the playoffs start today.

Never have I been so unhappy to be correct. The Mariners made a last-minute playoff push, but came up short again. That extends their playoff drought to fifteen years. Disappointing, yes, but in line with my prediction at the beginning of the season. I’ll report on my predictions later–did I crack the .500 mark and achieve respectability?–but, since I also made playoff predictions using the same technique, I’ll wait until I can wrap up both sets of guessesscientific deductions at once.

For now, you’ll have to settle for my traditional guide to selecting a playoff team to root for. Those of you who have teams in the playoffs, congratulations. The rest of you–including those of you who only follow the playoffs–listen up.

The rules haven’t changed much since last year:

Rules for Rooting, 2016 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. 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 Cubs. As I’ve said before, this rule may need revision if the Cubs ever break their jinx–but that’s a problem for the future.

How does that work in the real world? Like so:

The American League playoff teams are Boston, Cleveland, Texas, Baltimore, and Toronto.

I’m tempted to invoke Rule One on the Red Sox, but ESPN has backed off a little on their fascination with Boston and the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. Add in the David Ortiz farewell tour, and I think they squeeze past Rule One, though they may have left a little skin on the corner as they pushed past.

None of the teams, IMNSHO, qualify as misfits. Toronto and Texas made the playoffs last year, Baltimore made it two years ago, and Boston and Cleveland were in the playoffs in 2013. So nobody really has a record of futility to draw on. I’m calling this a draw.

So, if you normally root for a team in the AL Central, my advice is to root for the Red Sox this playoff season. Contrarily, if you ordinarily follow the Yankees or Rays, this season, you’re best off cheering for the Indians. And if you’re an AL West fan, you can choose: David Ortiz, or the Indians’ jump from a barely-respectable 81-80 record to a second-best in the AL 94-67. Or you could flip a coin.

Over in the National League, life is just as interesting. The teams are Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Rule One clearly applies to the Nationals. The Dodgers continue their flirtation with Rule One, but since much of the media fascination with the team derives from Vin Scully’s retirement, I can’t come down too hard on them. The Dodgers get a pass and retain rooting eligibility, along with a Vin Scully bonus, similar to the Red Sox’ David Ortiz bonus.

As in the AL, there are no really obvious “misfit” candidates. As for futility, well… The Cubs, Dodgers, and Mets made the playoffs last year, and the Giants’ last playoff appearance was 2014. (The Nationals are already disqualified, but their last appearance was also 2014, so it wouldn’t help them much.)

So here are my NL recommendations: If you normally root for the Marlins, Phillies, or Braves, you may freely choose the Giants or the Cubbies. NL Central fans can, if they wish, invoke Rule Six to allow them to root for Chicago, or go with the Giants. NL West fans’ only real choice is the Cubs.

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 Chicago. It’s time to end the Cub’s reign as un-champions. Seventy years is plenty.

Me? My fallback teams are the Giants and Mets, so I’m guaranteed to have “my team” make it past the Wild Card. But I don’t get to jump on Chicago’s bandwagon.

And, as usual, those of us who root for Baseball regardless of affiliation, are crossing our fingers in hopes of seven-game series all the way from the DS, through the CS, and on to the WS–even if that does push the end of the season into November.

First game is tonight: Orioles/Blue Jays in the American League Wild Card. Go Birds!

Mood Swings

Baseball is not a game for the weak of heart. And I’m not even talking about playing the game. Even watching it isn’t for those with heart conditions.

Two weeks ago, the Mariners were at .500, clinging to respectability and their fans were starting to mutter about “next year”. I said “They’re not doing well enough to allow one to hope for a turnaround, but they’re also not doing so poorly as to force one to give up on the season.” They were nine games behind Texas in the AL West and six games behind Boston and Toronto for a Wild Card berth.

How true those words proved. In the past fourteen days, the Mariners have played 13 games, winning 11 and losing only 2. That gives them–as the TV commentator pointed out several times last night–the best record in baseball since the All-Star Break. They’re now five and a half games behind Texas and only two back of Boston.

In other words, they’re not in a playoff slot, but they’re relevant. Even more: if they keep winning at their current rate, they’ll finish the season at 101-61. Winning 100 games doesn’t guarantee a team will make the playoffs*, but with the expanded Wild Card, the odds are certainly in favor of getting in.

* Just ask the 1980 Orioles (100-62), the 1993 Giants (103-59), and half a dozen other teams, going back to the 1909 Cubs who finished 104-49, a full seven games behind the Pirates.

Of course, the likelihood of winning 84% of their games over the next six weeks is negligible. According to fans’ guts, which base their estimates on the Mariners’ forty year history, the most probable outcome is an epic collapse in which they lose eighty-four percent of the remaining games to finish at 70-92. That slideplummet could–will, says the gut–begin today against the Angels, who have now lost eleven straight.

Back in reality, of course, the odds are good that the Ms aren’t going to win 101 games and just as good that they’re not going to lose 92. FiveThirtyEight’s updated prediction has them finishing 87-75, with a 44% chance of making the playoffs*. That’s…not bad.

* Since we were talking about the Cubs’ World Series drought two weeks ago, I feel obligated to point out that FiveThirtyEight’s current prediction is for the Cubs to finish at 100-62, with a probability of making the playoffs over 99%. But even with that, FiveThirtyEight gives them only an 18% chance of winning the World Series.

But tell that to the heart. Unless you’re one of those rare people who can sleep on a roller coaster, this is the time of year when your heart gets a real workout. Remember: nobody, not even the lowly Braves (44-74) has been eliminated from the playoffs yet. Any victory could, in theory, be the start of a run like the Mariners have been on for the past two weeks. And any loss could be the start of a plunge to the basement.

So, take your nitro tablets, hold on to the grab bar, and turn on the TV–better yet, collect the family and head to the ballpark, if you haven’t been priced out of it.

Forget Rio; the action is right here. The real playoffs started April 3, and the teams are playing every day.

Checking In

Yes, I watched the AAA All-Star Game yesterday. Did you?

It was pleasantly like going to a minor league game between two teams whose success I had no vested interest in. I was able to root for whoever was behind, and when the International League came back from a two run deficit to win, I was delighted. Of course, I would have been just as happy if the Pacific Coast League had mounted a ninth inning rally to take the game back.

Moving on.

As I promised, here’s the mid-season report on my predictions for the playoffs.

I had to make some ex-cathedra predictions about the teams whose first games were postponed due to weather. So far, those predictions are holding up well:

  • The Red Sox are doing better than I expected, at eleven games over .500, but they’re still trailing the Orioles by a couple of games. No AL East pennant for them.
  • The Indians are the surprise of the season so far. I thought they’d be lucky to make .500; they’re currently twelve games over, with the second-best record in the AL.
  • The Astros are seven games over .500, nicely in line with last year’s record, but they’re five and a half out in the division and two out in the Wild Card.
  • And, joy of joys, the Yankees are 44-44, seven and a half out of the AL East lead and five and a half out of the Wild Card.

As for the rest of the predictions, my method doesn’t seem to be doing very well.

Texas is currently leading the entire AL, so they’re well-positioned to take the West as predicted. After that, however, my predictions are in serious trouble. The White Sox and Kansas City are currently tied for third in the Central, and their Wild Card hopes are fading badly. Toronto, who I picked for the AL East title are third, albeit only a couple of percentage points behind Boston. And the Orioles, my second Wild Card pick, are leading the division. Ouch.

On the NL side of the ledger, the SenatorsNationals and Cubs are leading their divisions, as predicted. I called the Dodgers and Giants to finish first and second in the West; currently they’re second and first. Colorado, however, predicted to take the second Wild Card, are at 40-48, seven games out of the Wild Card race.

Add it all up, and–if the season were over right now–I’m three for ten in my predictions. If we just look at the playoff teams regardless of position, I’m doing quite a bit better, six for ten. If that hold up, I’ll have met my goal of getting over .500.

Stay tuned to see how well the numbers hold up through the second half. And who knows, maybe the Blue Jays, Rockies, White Sox, and Royals will get their acts in gear and bump my score up even further.

Goin’ All the Way

Last week I promised my MLB playoff predictions. Never let it be said that I don’t live up to my promises.

Remember, we’re testing the theory that run differential on the first day of the season is a good predictor of teams’ ability to make the playoffs.

Here, for easy reference, are our playoff teams. I’ve included their current Won/Loss records for your amusement.

Team

Won/Loss

Run Differential
Toronto

3-4

29-30 (-1)
Texas

4-4

32-35 (-3)
Chicago

5-2

28-19 (9)
Kansas City

4-2

21-19 (2)
Baltimore

6-0

31-17 (14)
Team

Won/Loss

Run Differential
Washington

4-1

21-16 (5)
Chicago

6-1

47-18 (29)
Los Angeles

4-3

42-26 (16)
San Francisco

5-2

43-25 (18)
Colorado

3-3

35-51 (-16)

The first thing we notice is that Colorado is lucky to have scraped together a .500 record. If they’re going to make the playoffs, even as the second Wild Card, they need to beef up their defense.

OK, playoffs.

The Orioles are obviously the class team of the AL this year. They’ll demolish the Royals in the Wild Card game, crush the White Sox in the Division Series, and mutilate the Blue Jays (who squeaked past the Rangers) in the League Championship.

The NL playoffs are going to be even less competitive. The Giants will shred the Rockies in the Wild Card, then be flattened by the Cubs in the Division Series. So much for the “Even Year Dynasty”. The Dodgers won’t have any trouble bouncing the Nationals out of the playoffs, but they won’t get anywhere against the Cubs in the League Championship.

That gives us a Cubs/Orioles World Series.

On the face of it, the Orioles should coast through the series, riding their record-breaking 162-0 regular season performance, but that pesky run differential tells a different story. The Cubs may only have gone 138-24, but their run-scoring and run-prevention, nearly twice as good as the Os’, will make the difference.

The Cubs’ curse will be broken, only one year later than the Back to the Future movies predicted. Congratulations, Chicago.

Now, how about a World Series win for Seattle next year?

Happy New Year (2016)

And here we are at the beginning of the season again. All the signs are there: reminders that “everyone is 0-0,” worried perusals of the weather report for such tropical climates as Milwaukee and Cleveland, my semi-annual haircut…

As usual, the proverbial anyone and everyone are making their predictions for the season. Jackie, who is not just anyone or everyone, has hers up. Not to take anything away from her panel of experts, but I entertain some doubts about their conclusions.

So I’m going to pretend to be anyone and everyone myself, offering my own prediction. Last year, my Sooper-Scientific Algorithm, based largely on margin of victory had a forty percent success rate calling the playoff teams. That’s actually pretty good. This year, I’ve applied a few tweaks to the methodology. My goal is to get over .500. (What can I say? It’s a rebuilding year.)

MLB has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the works, however. In years past, we’ve been given the spectacle of a game the night before Opening Day. It didn’t affect my process last year, since the two teams involved, the Cardinals and Cubs, took an off day, so all teams had one played one game when I ran the numbers. This year, we got three games on Sunday, and only four of the teams took yesterday off; as a result, the Rays and Blue Jays have two games under their belts. Fortunately, Toronto won both games, so we’ll simply use their combined numbers for the two games and treat it as one 10-6 victory.

Also, note that two games were postponed. The Giants/Brewers game went on as scheduled, despite a raging blizzard–hooray for domed stadiums–but the Astros/Yankees and Red Sox/Indians games were scrubbed because of “inclement weather” and “cold and wet” respectively*. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that, however. I’m going to assert ex cathedra that the Red Sox aren’t going to go cellar to ceiling, the Indians will be lucky to crack .500 again (sorry, Cleveland fans), and the Astros might reproduce last year’s 86-76 record, but it won’t be enough to make the playoffs. The Yankees? Trust me, the Baseball Gods won’t be tasteless enough to let them make the playoffs two years in a row.

* This isn’t the first time the weather in Cleveland has caused problems at the beginning of the season. Ask any Seattle fan about the winter of ’07 when the Mariners/Indians Opening Day game was snowed out. The same thing also happened in 1996 when the Yankees were in town to open the season. Unlike other commentators, I’m not suggesting that all Opening Day games should be scheduled for warmer climates. I think it would make more sense for the entire city of Cleveland to look into relocating–team, fans, Progressive Field, and all–to someplace warmer.

Moving on.

In the AL East, Toronto is the clear division winner, thanks to that 10-6 rout of Tampa Bay. The West is obviously going to Texas, as they’re the only team in the division that managed to win a game. Kansas City and Chicago both won 4-3; to break the tie, I looked at their preseason records*. On that basis, the White Sox take the Central on the strength of their 17-13 preseason, far better than the defending champion Royals’ 14-21 mark. We’ll give KC the first wild card; the second, Jackie will be happy to hear, goes to Baltimore thanks to their 3-2 victory over the Twins.

Moving to the NL, Washington grabs their division by virtue of winning their game, a feat no other NL East team could manage. In the Central, Chicago will be returning to the playoffs. And the West is clearly the toughest division in baseball, with three teams racking up convincing victories. LA will win the division, as shown by their 15-0 trouncing of the Padres. San Francisco’s 12-3 pounding of the Brewers gives them the first Wild Card, and Colorado takes the second by virtue of their 10-5 win over the Diamondbacks.

* As we know, preseason results are a poor predictor of regular season success, but this is a case where poor data is better than no data.

Of course, this is all well and good, but making the playoffs is only the beginning. What everyone really wants to know is who’s going to win the World Series? We’ve got the chance for an all-Chicago World Series this year. Is it going to happen? Can the Giants continue their pattern of winning it all in even-numbered years?

Much as I’d love to answer those questions, I can’t. Not yet.

In the immortal words of every sportscaster who’s covered a baseball game, the season is a marathon, not a sprint. I need a longer baseline than one game to properly assess teams’ ability to handle the additional month of baseball once they make the playoffs.

Tune in again next Tuesday for my fearless World Series predictions.

Pull Up a Seat

The playoffs have started well, with the Astros and Cubs both shutting out their Wild Card opponents. Is it just me, or does everyone find a zero on the scoreboard magically makes the game more exciting? I know I’ll watch a 3-0 game with much more interest than a 4-1 game, even if there isn’t a no-hitter or perfect game on the line.

AL Division Series games start tonight, giving us our first post-season looks at Texas, Toronto, and Kansas City. We can’t, of course, expect all three teams to win with shutouts tonight, since the two non-US teams are playing each other*. But we can hope for a couple of close shutouts. Why not? 2014 was the Year of the Sweep, thanks to the Royals. Let’s make 2015 the Year of the Shutout.

* What, you mean you don’t consider Texas to be a foreign country?

But shutouts aren’t really what I set out to talk about. Consider for a moment the plight of the Yankees’* and Pirates’ fans. They’ve followed their teams all season, cheering, crying, no doubt swearing at times. They felt the joy of making the playoffs, and now it’s over, and they have to join the rest of us at the “Wait Until Next Year Table”.

* Yes, I really do have some sympathy for fans of the Yankees. Not particularly for the team, but the fans. Some of them, anyway. Mostly the ones young enough to have avoided infection by the sense of entitlement that plagued the House That Ruth Built and now runs rampant in its successor.

This isn’t a complaint about the Wild Card being a one game series. That horrible realization that the season is over is the same whether it comes after one game, seven games, or one hundred sixty-two–and, realistically, for most of us it came partway through the season.

No matter when it happens, it’s the same tire-iron to the kneecap. And it happens to all of us. Yes, even the fans of the eventual World Series winner. The season has ended; the sun has set on the British Empire; someday the sun will burn out. The glories of the past belong in the past. The World Series winners have one advantage over Ozymandias: as long as there is baseball, they’ll be remembered. But then, so will the losers. There’s never been a sport documented in as much detail as baseball. Arguably, if baseball ever forgets its past, it won’t be baseball any more.

But right now, those Pirates’ fans’ knees and those Yankees’ fans’ knees hurt just as much as the As’ fans’, the Phillies’ fans’, and all the fans of the other twenty-three teams that didn’t make the playoffs. Pull up a seat, folks. Have a drink. Grab a plate of turkey (brined in the tears of millions of disappointed fans).

We’ll get ’em next year.

Caps On!

And that’s a wrap. The MLB regular season ended yesterday and the playoffs start tomorrow with the American League Wild Card game.

That means it’s time for the annual guide to who to root for. Normally, this post would go up on Tuesday, but I thought I’d do it today so you have time to visit the sporting apparel venue of your choice to pick up a cap or shirt to highlight your rooting interest.

Those of you who root for teams that made the playoffs, congratulations and good luck. The rest of us–those who normally root for someone else and those who don’t usually follow baseball–are unbearably jealous.

As usual, let’s start with a recap of the rules.

Rules for Rooting, 2015 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.
  5. Teams with a record of futility or legitimate “misfit” credentials get bonus points in the decision process. 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 Cubs. As I noted last year, this rule does make things a bit awkward, but–all Back to the Future jokes aside, next year’s rules will need some revision if the Cubs go all the way this year.

Got it all? Good. Here’s how it shakes out:

In the American League, the playoff teams are the Blue Jays, Yankees, Royals, Rangers, and Astros.

By Rule One, nobody but year-round Yankees fans may root for them in the playoffs.

Kansas City, of course, made it to the World Series last year before losing to the Giants, Texas played in the 2012 AL Wild Card, and Houston was the 2005 World Series loser. Toronto, however, ended MLB’s longest playoff drought–21 years–by winning the AL East.

Sentiment aside, that makes the Blue Jays the runaway choice for playoff-only fans and those who normally root for teams in the AL West or Central divisions. Non-Yankee AL East fans get the Astros, a fine dark horse.

Turning to the National League, the candidatesteams are the Mets, Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, and Dodgers.

Last year, I said that “if the media turn 25% of their collective attention elsewhere…the Dodgers will be readmitted to the ranks of the root-worthy.” That is the case, leaving us with no teams to eliminate from consideration under Rule One.

St. Louis, LA, and Pittsburgh all made the playoffs last year, which means the Rule Five decision comes down to Chicago (last playoff appearance in 2008) or New York (playoff-free since 2006).

Rule Six is optional, but the recent playoff appearances of the Cards, Dodgers, and Pirates tend to reinforce it. My ruling: If you don’t normally follow baseball, or follow a team in the NL West or Central, pull for the Mets. If you usually follow the Nationals, Marlins, Braves, or Phillies, it’s “Go Cubbies!”

The major media are salivating at the thought of another Subway Series (Yankees/Mets)–what could be better calculated to help them spread their opinion that civilization ends somewhere around the middle of the Hudson River.

The sensible among us, however, will be rooting for an International Series (Mets/Blue Jays). I’ve got a sentimental attachment (with cap!) to the Mets, so I’ll be pulling for them to go all the way, and–as usual and despite my qualms about November baseball–for the series to run seven games.

Until we get there, though, I invite you all to join me in front of the TV Tuesday to cheer the Astros as they try to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs in the first round.