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.

Divine Wrath

It’s been a rough week for Seattle baseball fans.

It started with an ordinary aggravation: a rain-out, resulting in a doubleheader. Normally you take those in stride, but it came at an awkward time in the Ms’ schedule: a lot of travel and no off days, thanks to an early-season snow-out.

Then, the day after the doubleheader, Robinson Canó was hit on the hand by an errant pitch. Broken metacarpal bone, out for an estimated 6-8 weeks. A big hit to the team’s playoff hopes and overall morale.

Naturally, then, the Universe doubled down. Before fans even heard the specialist’s appraisal of Canó’s injury and expected recovery time, they found out it was largely irrelevant. MLB determined he’d taken a banned substance and suspended him for eighty games. Not only does that push his return into August, but it means he’ll be ineligible if the Ms’ manage to squeeze into the playoffs.

It’s especially vexing for the fans because of a lack of information. Canó and MLB say he took a diuretic which is on the banned list because it can be used to flush performance-enhancing drugs out of the system. Players don’t get banned for taking that medication; instead, there’s an independent investigation to determine the likelihood that it was taken to conceal PED use.

Canó denies there was any PED use, and that the drug was to control his high blood pressure–a legitimate use. MLB says there is evidence of PED use, but, for privacy reasons, will not discuss what the evidence is or what banned substances they believe he took.

Of course, the result is a persecution complex among Mariners fans, and the rise of conspiracy theories. My favorite says MLB is unhappy at losing the Cubs’ curse as a drawing card and publicity tool. As a result, the theory states, they’re taking steps to extend Seattle’s playoff drought–already the longest in all of the four major American sports–indefinitely. This, of course, ties in nicely with reports that Portland is in the running for an expansion team: how thrilling would it be to have a playoff race between the martyred Mariners and the Portland TBAs? One team trying to break their curse, the other trying to duplicate the success of the NHL’s Vegas franchise–now that’s drama (and ticket sales).

But I digress.

Picture those poor Seattle fans, already dealing with all that.

Tuesday–the same day Canó’s suspension was announced–Nelson Cruz, another key piece of the Mariners’ playoff hopes, was hit in the foot by a pitch.

A wave of fan suicides was forestalled when the team was able to give an update before the end of the game: no bones were broken, but Cruz will be out for several days, and a stint on the Disabled List is still a possibility.

You might think that was enough. But, no. Adding insult to the injuries, most of them couldn’t even watch Wednesday afternoon’s game. Not because of their work schedules, but because it was exclusive to Facebook, one of twenty-five such this season. No local TV, no MLB.TV. Closed your Facebook account in protest of the Cambridge Analytica? Too bad. Don’t want to sit in front of your computer for three hours? Sorry. Don’t have the Facebook app on your mobile device because you don’t want to give them access to your location and contacts? We weep great crocodile tears for you.

Ahem. Sorry.

How was the experience if you were willing to deal with Facebook?

Feh.

In fairness, they did provide a way to turn off the comments window and the stupid emoji scrolling on top of the video. And having the broadcast commercial-free was nice.

Other than that, though…

Even with Facebook comments off, we still got viewer questions and comments slapped onscreen and had to listen to the announcers read them and respond.

Instead of letting fans enjoy the lack of commercials by showing pitchers warming up, attendees singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and all the other enjoyable non-game elements of the live experience, we got historical moments only tangentially related to the current game and more inane viewer comments.

Let’s not forget the frequent use of split-screen, shrinking the actual game in favor of interviews with studio talking heads, players, and managers.

And, of course, several in-game reminders to buy MLB.TV and get access to “all out of market games”, conveniently not adding “except this one”.

Pardon me again.

So, yeah. Baseball on Facebook is better than no baseball–but that’s a given. If there were any alternative short of flying cross-country to watch the game in person, I’d recommend it.

Still, today is a new day. Mariners fans across the country are risking divine wrath by assuring each other that the worst must surely be over, and life will get better from here.

Game time is 7:10 Pacific, and it will be available through all the usual distribution channels. Surely nothing else can go wrong this week. Right?

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.

Finally!

It’s finally Opening Day. Once again we can bask in the glow of baseball games whose scores matter. For one day, we’ll ignore the controversies–pitch clocks, runners on base in extra innings, minor league pay and the possible impending demise of the independent leagues, and team-based pricing for parking.

Plenty of time for the issues later: the season is a marathon, not a sprint*. For now, it’s sufficient to pour the lemonade (or beer, if your tastes run in that direction), grab a hot dog/barbecued rib/artery-hardening ballpark food of choice, and luxuriate.

* Sorry. Had to say it.

All thirty teams were supposed to play today. That’s never happened before. The idea was dreamed up to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Fifty years ago, as a result of his assassination, all of the teams–there were twenty that season–played their first game of the year on the same day. That had never happened before, and it hadn’t happened since.

It’s not happening today either. As I write this, around 9am Pacific, two games have been postponed due to bad weather. The Pirates/Tigers game in Detroit and the Nationals/Reds game in Cincinnati will be played tomorrow, assuming the weather improves sufficiently.

Traditionally, of course, Cincinnati has always hosted the official first game of the season–a tradition that’s fallen by the wayside in recent years, what with teams playing overseas and scheduled-for-TV games the night before Opening Day–so it’s a bit ironic that the Reds’ game is one of the ones getting pushed.

But, MLK tribute or no, there’s still plenty of baseball today. I’ve got a busy schedule just with the teams I follow. I’ll skip the actual first game of the season (Cubs/Marlins at 9:40); my season will start with the Mets game at 10:10, jump between Baltimore and Tampa Bay for the Orioles (12:05) and Red Sox (1:00), swing down to LA for the Giants (4:08), and finally wrap up with the Mariners at 7:10.

Even without extra innings, that’s a good twelve hours of the One True Game. Sounds about right.

I’ll cut back to something a little more sensible tomorrow–if only because the Mariners have the day off–but I’ll wallow today.

Join me, won’t you? Ignore the parachutes, the trained eagles, and the off-key renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful”. Wait for those two words we’ve been waiting for since November.

“Play ball!”

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!