A Mixed Bag

Winter again, baseballically speaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sigh

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

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

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

Continuing a Theme

And, speaking of balls in the air in a somewhat less metaphorical sense…

Yes, today is Opening Day in what will–for however long it lasts–be the strangest season in MLB’s modern history.

I have to say I feel sorry for the poor folks tasked with putting together the schedule. One would have thought the best way to kick the season off with a bang would be to have everyone playing–especially given the need to squeeze 60 games into 66 calendar days. But, no. Somebody decided the way to go was with a major East Coast match and a major West Coast game.

Giants/Dodgers makes sense. A long, storied rivalry involving both ends of California. Okay, so it’s the disease center of the US right now, but what can you do?

But over at the far end of the country, the schedulers had a major dilemma. They didn’t have much choice about including the Nationals. They won the World Series last year (though, to be honest, that feels so long ago, I had to double-check to be sure I was remembering correctly). But who to pair them with?

The best choice from a rivalry perspective would be the Orioles, but nobody’s going to schedule a team that lost 108 games last year for a “big bang” opener.

Rematch of the World Series? Sorry, nope. Houston is in the AL West; the only way they’ll play against Washington this year is if they meet in the World Series again.

How about Atlanta? There are plenty of reasons to dislike them, dating back at least as far as Ted Turner’s heyday. Even if you can’t get behind rooting for the Nationals, you can root against the Braves. But given the current socio-political climate and the team’s adamant refusal to even consider a name change, that must have been too much hate for MLB’s liking in an Opening Day matchup.

So the schedule makers went with the default choice. If you don’t root for the Yankees, you passionately detest them. Unlike Atlanta’s case, though, it’s just because they’re the Yankees. It’s sanctioned hate. There’s no real rivalry, but it’ll work for MLB’s needs. And if New York is currently the national virus runner-up, well…the game is in Washington. Good enough.

Rivalries or no, virus or no, we’re finally getting what MLB insists we call “meaningful baseball”. As though games that don’t count in the standings–or, worse yet, where the players don’t get paid–are meaningless. But I digress.

It’ll be a strange season, no matter what happens. But it is a touch of the familiar, and perhaps more importantly, something we can use to set one day apart from the day before and the day after.

See you next week, when I’ll share my usual predictions for the post-season.

SAST 16

Apparently someone at MLB.TV is reading this blog. Less than a week after I noted that nobody’s been talking about MLB.TV subscriptions, they decided to prove me wrong.

I said that I doubted we’d get a prorated refund. Surprise!

According to the email I received, we do get prorated refunds. We can have them credited to back to the cards we used to pay, or we can credit them against next year’s subscription.

That’s a no-brainer. I see no reason to give MLB half a year of interest on my money. More to the point, though, after the example of this year’s negotiations between the owners and players, I’m not the only person wondering if there will be a season next year.

Refunds will be issued around the end of July. I presume this is so they won’t have to go through the refund process twice if the 60 game season gets scrapped entirely–something that seems increasingly likely in the light of the ongoing problems with testing.

On a semi-related note, team schedules are now available online. You can subscribe to them with your Google, Apple, or Windows calendar.

If, that is, you’re willing to give an unidentified third party access to all of your calendars. At least, that’s the case in Google-land.

Maybe it’s different for those of you using Outlook or iCal; I suggest you check the permissions that come along with any calendar requests very carefully.

Moving on.

Douglas Adams was wrong. It’s not time that’s the illusion. Dates are illusions.

These days, I’m far from the only person who can’t tell whether it’s a Wednesday in July or a Tuesday in November without looking at a phone (or calendar for those of us who still use paper). I think we all know it’s still 2020, but I’m certain enough to bet money on it.

It’s not just the lack of stimulation, with our limited ability to spend time with friends, or the sameness of our personal schedules–especially for those working at home. It’s the sense of futility that comes from not having an endgame in sight. Nobody knows when life will return to normal–whatever that is or will be–and, worse yet, nobody knows when we’ll know when.

We’re just marking time. Seconds, minutes, hours. But not days. They’re just too big to grasp.

Moving on–in a limited way.

Along with the retreat from “reopening,” we’re getting a return of one of the most noxious notions from the days of “Shelter in Place.” You know the one I mean: “Look at all the free time you have. You can finally do those things you’ve been putting off!”

Poisonous.

Maybe it works for you. I’ll admit it worked for me early on. I wrapped up the third draft of Demirep and put it in the hands of my beta readers (and thanks to all of you!). But after that?

My usual practice is to start the next novel while the beta readers are reading. This time, nope. It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I do. But actually doing anything with them? Not happening.

And the last thing I need is somebody guilting me about it.

Same goes for you. If you’re not capable of working on one of your projects–whether it’s something artistic or practical–you’ve got my permission to not do it and to not feel guilty or defeated. We’re all different, and we all react to events differently.

If someone tells you that you have to work on something, feel free to politely tell them to get stuffed. And if they gloat about how much they’ve accomplished under lock-down, feel free to deliver them to your local taxidermist for stuffing.

On a related note, I will assault the next person I hear saying “Man, being a professional athlete is the worst job these days.” (Yes, people really are saying that. If you haven’t heard it–presumably because you’re being a responsible adult and socially isolating and being a smart adult and staying off social media–I envy you.)

You know what really sucks? Working in a field where you don’t have a choice about going to work every day, where your employer doesn’t pay for tests and won’t pay you if you get sick. Or not working because your former employer is out of business.

We’re all having to learn new ways to do our jobs–it’s not just ballplayers who have to figure out how to get the work done safely. And very few of us have the same safety nets they do. Well-funded unions that actually look out for their members, affordable health insurance, and well-off senior members of our professions who look out for their juniors* are increasingly scarce.

* Major kudos for the various MLB stars who’ve been chipping in money to help out the minor league players who aren’t getting paid at all now that the MiLB seasons have been cancelled.

Moving on.

Well, maybe. One of these days.Sometime.

Here We Go Again

Of course I’m excited for the return of baseball.

If it happens, naturally.

Despite the downsides.

I mean, I hate rewarding the owners for turning a global pandemic into a preview of the negotiations over the next collective bargaining agreement. But.

Come to that, during the entire stretch from March through June, I never saw anything about those of us who ponied up for MLB.TV subscriptions. I’m guessing that if there isn’t a season at all, we’d be entitled to refunds–but I’m also betting that we won’t get a pro-rated refund (sixty-three percent!) for a shortened season. Even if it’s only one game, and then MLB shuts down again, I’m quite sure the owners will keep our money.

That’s not really a major consideration, though. The MLB.TV subscription this year was less than we’re paying for a week of groceries, what with the supermarket price hikes we’ve seen over the past few months. And it’s a sunk cost, anyway.

As for the rule changes, well, they’re a mixed bag.

I’m not thrilled about the universal DH, but I’m not horrified, either. I’d rather see pitchers hit, if only because of the joy they generate on the rare occasions when they make solid contact. But I can live without all those weak grounders and wimpy pop-ups.

Three batter rule? Pros and cons again. Fewer commercials on TV and fewer inane distractions in the ballpark is unquestionably a win. And I disagree with those who say it removes an element of managerial strategy–it just requires a different strategy. On the downside, it means we’re in for months of complaints about the change.

Ejecting anyone who comes within six feet of an umpire while arguing a call sucks. It’s necessary, but it does rather kill the drama of a spirited argument. On the other hand, I’m firmly behind the new “no spitting” rule.

Really, there’s only one rule change I consider a negative. I bitched about putting runners on base to start extra innings three years ago. I’ve matured since then, and my feelings have changed. I’m no longer dubious; I’m not even revolted. I unreservedly loathe the notion. Unlike the three batter rule, it does reduce managerial choice. It makes a mockery of the grand traditions of the game. And–most importantly–it won’t do a thing to solve the problem it’s supposedly designed to address. It’s supposed to shorten games by making it easier to score in extra innings. But it’ll give that same run-scoring advantage to both teams. The only thing I look forward to with this rule is seeing Commissioner Manfred’s (ptui!) face as he tries to excuse the first game to go thirteen innings with both teams scoring in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth innings before the home team wins in the thirteenth with a bases loaded walk.

Still, if the new rules and restrictions are bringing us sorrow–and I realize that others feel more strongly negative than I do about the universal DH and the three batter rule–they also bring us great joy.

Consider the Oakland As recently announced “Foul Ball Zone”. Fans can’t go to games in person, but they can attend by proxy. For a mere $129–with the proceeds going to local food banks, youth development centers, and other worthy causes–a fan’s photo can attend all thirty home games this season. Even better, if a foul ball hits the fan’s proxy photo, Coliseum staff will send them the ball.* I’m looking forward to the legal scramble for the first ball that bounces off of three or four photo cutouts before coming to rest. Does it go to the first one it hit? The last one?

* I presume they’ll sanitize it first–or ship it UPS, which should guarantee that any viruses on the ball will die of old age long before the package arrives at the fan’s home.

Also high on my list of re-pre-season amusements: MLB soundly rejected “Spring Training 2.0” in favor of the more easily licensed “Summer Camp”. In case you missed the announcement, Summer Camp is sponsored by Camping World. Mind you, I don’t believe they paid anything for the rights–they were already the official sponsors of Spring Training, and this probably just represents MLB’s legal requirement to give them full value for their money.

As players–those who aren’t opting out, anyway–report to camp today, I look forward to the video tours of the tents (set up in the outfield, no doubt) for the rookies and minimum salary players and the cabins–repurposed luxury boxes–reserved for the veterans with multi-million dollar contracts.

Play ball, y’all!

A Test of Character

The universe just keeps getting stranger.

Latest oddity? Reports accumulating that Alex Rodriguez wants to buy the New York Mets.

Yes, those Mets. The ones he never played for, but reportedly grew up rooting for.

Yes, that A-Rod. The one who played for the Mets’ crosstown rivals.

Oh, yes, and also the one who was suspended for more than an entire season for his role in the BALCO scandal.

Yes, that scandal. The one involving widespread cheating in the form of performance enhancing drugs.

Why is such a purchase even a possibility?

At the very least, it smacks of tone deafness, with MLB currently mired in sign-stealing scandals–it’s not going to end with the Astros, after all, and most likely not with the Red Sox either.

Of course, tone deafness seems to be Commissioner Manfred’s go-to position: from calling the World Series trophy a mere hunk of metal, through declaring that doing away with minor league teams is good for baseball while simultaneously fighting every attempt to pay minor league players a salary that isn’t an insult, and going back to his insistence that “pace of play” is baseball’s only problem.

It’s an interesting break with tradition for a sport that’s historically been concerned with its image–Black Sox Scandal, anyone? How about Pete Rose? Or even the Hall of Fame rules around “character, integrity, and sportsmanship”?

Barring a surprise return to the playing field, A-Rod will be on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2022. And he’ll almost certainly wind up in the same limbo as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. In a just world, his bid to buy the Mets would also limbo down.

Has anyone at MLB headquarters pointed out that the Astros’ self-inflicted miseries are the result of a team culture that encouraged cheating*. A-Rod received significant discipline for his own venture into cheating.

* Yes, stealing signs is a legal, expected part of the game. But using mechanical or electronic assistance is specifically against the rules of baseball. Breaking the rules to gain an advantage is, by definition, cheating. Whether or not “everyone is doing it.”

Maybe he is a changed man and would never countenance cheating of any sort on his team. But is there any solid evidence of that? Certainly he hasn’t become a tireless crusader for integrity in baseball. I don’t even recall seeing a statement from him taking a position on sign-stealing.

By not takeing a public position on the possibility of A-Rod buying the Mets, MLB as a whole and the individual team owners–who will vote on whether to approve a Mets sale–are coming across as solely concerned with the dollar value of their franchises. More money grubbing from the same folks who just proposed to expand the playoffs.

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.

Too Soon?

The season has started. At least, that’s what MLB is saying. I’m having trouble believing them.

Not in a “The Mariners have the best record in baseball‽” way. (The complementary observation that “The As have the worst record in baseball!” has to be pleasant for fans of the Orioles and Royals: they now know it’ll be at least another week before their teams fall into the AL basement.*) Nor does it have anything to do with the games having been played in Japan in a stadium few of the players know. It doesn’t even have anything to do with my inability to watch those two games** because they’re played in the middle of the night***.

* Actually, since the MLB scoreboard sorts teams with the same record alphabetically by location, Baltimore is currently on top in the AL East. Not bad for a team that finished last year with a historically bad record. May this be a sign of things to come.)

** To be strictly accurate, I did manage to catch the radio broadcast of the last inning of the second game. Twelve innings stretched the game just long enough for me to hear the Ms break the tie.

*** Yeah, there’s a bit of East Coast envy happening. A 5:30 AM game would be a little easier to deal with than 2:30 AM.

I don’t get to watch the first few Mariners games in most seasons. For reasons known only to MLB’s schedulers, the As and Mariners often open the season against each other. Since I’m in the As’ broadcast territory, the games are blacked out on MLB.TV. Sure, I could watch the local broadcast on real TV, but how awkward and uncomfortable would that be, especially if the Mariners lost? So I content myself with radio–which isn’t blacked out–and wait for the second series of the year.

But I digress.

The truth is, an overseas Opening Series is just Too Damn Early.

There’s a rhythm to the seasons, whether you’re talking Earth-around-the-Sun or baseball. Shifting a few days, as has been done recently to keep the playoffs from running into November, is a little uncomfortable, but no worse than switching from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. You feel disoriented for a few hours–a day at most–but then your brain and body catch up.

But this year, MLB is trying to convince us that two games played a week and a half early are real. That’s more like a serious case of jet lag. The kind you get flying from, say, Arizona to Japan. It takes several days to get yourself back in sync with the rest of the world.

It’s nice that MLB wants to give us an opportunity to see what things are like from the players’ perspective. I suppose handing out VR headsets with a batter’s-perspective video of an Aroldis Chapman sinker* with every MLB.TV subscription would be prohibitively expensive.

* Or, to be fair, a pitcher’s perspective video of a Giancarlo Stanton comeback line drive.

It’s a well-known fact that some players need a longer spring training than others. Position players are generally ready before pitchers, even though the latter report to camp first.

But it’s also true that fans need a certain amount of time to be season-ready. We need to fine-tune our attention. Toughen up our throats and palms for maximum volume cheers and boos. And yes, even get a sufficient look at the minor league players who won’t be making the majors this year, but might feature prominently in our “Wait’ll next year!” fantasies.

So we’re a bit off center. Maybe next year MLB will give us that week and hold off the games that count until the last week of March or the first week of April.

As for this year, it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re not quite ready. Remember, there are millions of us in the same position.

Close your eyes, picture an outfield filled with summer sunlight. Think late September, a one game division lead, and the shade of Ernie Banks saying “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame…Let’s play two!”

That’s the goal. We’ll get there.

Room to Disagree

Reasonable people can disagree. (So can unreasonable people, but that tends to get too contentious for daily life. Anyway.)

Not everyone will agree with my assessment of the various proposals being passed back and forth between the MLB Players Association and the league management. But I’m willing to accept the validity of their views, and I’d hope they’ll do likewise in return.

Because, see, I’ve got a few proposals of my own that I think would go a long way to improving baseball. What do you think of these ideas?

    1. Expand the MLBPA to cover the minor leagues. Many of baseball’s problems can be traced to the minors. Currently, there’s no unified voice that can speak for players without major league contracts. As a result, the players are unquestionably underpaid–well below the federal minimum wage–with no ability to negotiate better deals and they have far fewer opportunities to develop themselves off the field. For all its faults, the MLBPA could give them that voice. And, as an added bonus, including minor league players in the collective bargaining agreements would give them a say in the deployment of new rules (i.e. their working conditions), something that’s currently the sole province of the major league owners.
    2. Expand the major leagues. Specifically, add one team each to the AL and NL. That would give sixteen teams in each league, greatly simplifying scheduling and potentially allow a return to the earlier practice of having everyone in interleague play at the same time, something that was popular with the fans; certainly more popular than the current arrangement which has one interleague game every day. For reasons I’ll discuss in the next point, I’d like to see the new teams in Vancouver and Las Vegas (although Portland would be an acceptable alternative).
    3. Realign. Sixteen teams across three divisions isn’t going to work. Better to have four divisions of four teams in each league. In order to maximize the value of geographic rivalries, and better balance the amount each team must travel over the course of the season, I’d suggest that the divisions break from the current time zone orientation and go to the compass points instead:
      AL East NL East
      Baltimore Washington
      Boston Philadelphia
      NY Yankees NY Mets
      Toronto Pittsburgh
      AL West NL West
      Anaheim Los Angeles
      Vancouver (or Portland) Arizona
      Oakland San Francisco
      Seattle San Diego
      AL South NL South
      Texas Atlanta
      Houston Las Vegas
      Kansas City St. Louis
      Miami Tampa
      AL North NL North
      Chicago Sox Chicago Cubs
      Cleveland Cincinnati
      Detroit Colorado
      Minnesota Milwaukee

      Vancouver would not only give a local rival for Seattle, but also a Canadian cross-country rival to the Blue Jays, who’ve had the Land of the Maple Leaf to themselves since the Expos abandoned Montreal. Portland, on the other hand, would mean even less travel for the AL West teams, while still providing the Mariners with local arch-villains. That’s certainly working well in soccer, where Portland and Seattle have one of the league’s great rivalries.

      Las Vegas, of course, is a natural, given their current expansionistic ways in sports. Perhaps they’re a little too far west for maximum convenience in the South–and there are a few other geographical compromises in my proposed alignments–but certainly there’s nothing worse than the current arrangement, which has two Texas teams in the AL West.

    4. Shorten the season. Not much. Just enough to sneak a few more rest days into the calendar. Along with the above expansion and realignment, schedules could break down like this:
      • 13 games against each division rival
      • 5 games against each of the other teams in their league
      • 5 games against each team in the same division of the opposite league (i.e. AL North vs. NL North)
      • 3 games against each of the other other-league teams (home one season, on the road the next so we don’t have one game road trips)

      That would be 155 games, hearkening back to the pre-expansion 154-game season. With proper timing, and perhaps an occasional double-header, that could allow for six or seven more days off scattered throughout the year.

Agree? Disagree? Can we at least be reasonable?

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.