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!

Regression

Okay, so the regular season isn’t quite over, but we’re pretty close. Everybody’s last game will be Sunday afternoon. And, while the playoff lineup isn’t quite set, it’s close. Darn close, as in “could be settled by tomorrow”. So let’s get the postmortem on my predictions out of the way. If you don’t care about my prognostications, come back Tuesday when I’ll tell you who to root for in the post-season.

Getting the most depressing news out of the way first, none of the teams I follow regularly made the playoffs. The Mariners have extended their “no playoff” streak to sixteen years*; the Mets missed out on winning their division by a mere twenty-six games or so; the Orioles are, as of this writing, nine games under .500; and the best the Giants can say about their season is that it’s mathematically impossible for them to lose more than 100 games (if they manage to win one of their last three, they’ll keep the loss total to double digits–a pyrrhic victory if I’ve ever seen one).

* Two years ago, they were eliminated on the last day of the season. Last year, it was the day before the last. This year it was a week before the end of the season. Moving in the wrong direction, guys!

Worse, I predicted most of those debacles. On the face of it, that means my overall predictions should look good, right? Well…

As you may recall, last year I picked seven of the ten playoff teams and this year I was shooting for nine.

My picks in the NL–and I’m not even going to bother talking about division winners versus wild cards–were the Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, Rockies, and Nationals.

We already know the story on the Mets. The Cardinals could still make the playoffs. If they win their last four games and the Rockies lose their last three, St. Louis will be in the playoffs and Colorado will be out. The odds at this point favor the Rockies. The dark horse here is the Brewers. It would take an unlikely combination of Brewers wins and Rockies losses for Milwaukee to make the playoffs. It could happen, but for the sake of this post, I’m going to assert that Colorado will be the second NL Wild Card team.

And my other two NL picks, the Dodgers and Nationals, nailed down their playoff berths weeks ago.

So, unless the Brewers pull off a major upset, I’m three for five in the National League. (If the Cardinals pull off an even bigger upset, they’ll be in and the Rockies will be out, so no change in my score.) So much for 90% accuracy.

Moving on to the AL, I called the Rays, Twins, Astros, Indians, and Tigers. All of those races are settled; there’s no chance of a change between now and Sunday in the AL. Picture me wincing.

The Indians, Astros, and Twins are in, but Tampa Bay is currently half a game behind Seattle. While they could theoretically finish a mere two games under .500 (the same as Seattle), that’s not even respectable. But they’re still better off than Detroit, who are currently fighting San Francisco for the worst record in baseball.

Three out of five in the AL as well.

Six out of ten overall, a slight regression from last year–with the slim possibility of the Brewers dropping that to five out of ten, a regression all the way back to my 2015 prediction.

One final note: You may remember that I looked at revising my predictions based on the first week’s play. Had I done so, I would have correctly called the Yankees and Red Sox as playoff teams in the AL–but would have incorrectly picked the Angels and White Sox. So I would have still been three for five in the Americal League. Similarly, over in the National League, I would have added the Cubs and Diamondbacks to the list, but only at the cost of adding the Phillies and Reds, neither of whom will even come close to .500. Again, three for five. A longer baseline, it seems, does nothing to improve the accuracy of the tool.

I will, of course, continue to refine my methodology. It’s something to do during the long, dark months of the off-season.

Checking Out

I’ve made three attempts to write something coherent about health care, Senator McCain, and the Boy Scouts. None of them are readable, and two of the three quickly devolve into a stream of four letter words. The other one gets there too, it just takes longer–and that was the first attempt.

So instead, here’s a belated look at how my predictions for the MLB playoff teams are holding up. I warn you: it’s not much less painful than the subjects of the first paragraph. But at least there’s less cursing, and the implications for America are slightly less severe.

Let’s start with the National League, since that’s what I did in the original post.

I awarded the NL East to the Mets. New York is currently third in the division, five games under .500 and thirteen games behind the division-leading Nationals.

My pick for the Central, the Cardinals, are three games under .500–do you sense a pattern developing here? At least they’re only four games out of the division lead. I did say the Central was going to be slow. So that’s something.

And, following the pattern, the Dodgers, who I expected to run away with the division are at 69-31, eleven and a half games up– Uh, what? Hey, I’ve got one right!

Over to the Wild Card. I picked the Rockies and Nationals. The Nationals probably won’t be taking the second Wild Card, seeing as how they’re currently running away with the NL East. The Rockies are currently holding onto the second Wild Card, five and a half games ahead of the Cubs, and mere percentage points behind the Diamondbacks.

Two out of five (or three if you just look at the teams qualifying for the playoffs and not how they get there) isn’t too great. Let’s move on to the AL, shall we?

How are the Rays doing in their quest to win the East? Put it this way: it could be a lot worse. They’re in third, three and a half games back. But at least they’re over .500!

In the Central, my pick of the Twins is looking, uh, not so great. They’re currently in third, three and a half games back. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) But at least they’re at .500!

Out West, the Astros are destroying the competition, as predicted. What is it about the West divisions this year? Houston’s got a seventeen game lead, and nobody else is even at .500.

Initially, I had called the Wild Card for the Indians and Red Sox. However, after the Tigers beat the White Sox in their first game of the season, I bumped the Red Sox out, giving their slot to the Tigers. At the moment, the Indians are leading the Central by a game and a half and the Red Sox are leading the East by two games. The Tigers, meanwhile, are fourth in their division and ninth in the Wild Card, behind such noted powerhouses as Seattle and Baltimore. For what it’s worth, Tampa Bay is only one game out of the Wild Card and the Twins are right behind them at two back.

So as things stand, I’ve got one correct pick in the AL (or three if you look only at the teams).

Overall, that’s either 30% correct or 60% correct.

As I said in the original prediction post, “I’m in the peculiar position of hoping my system implodes spectacularly.” I can’t even get that right, it seems. 60% is more like deflating than imploding. And while you could make a case for 30% being an implosion, it’s hardly a spectacular one.

Come on Mariners, Orioles, and Giants, time for you all to make late runs at the playoffs so I can look appropriately stupid!

Mid-Season Form

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was hot. And I’m not talking about the game. Games. (I’ll get back to that.) According to my phone, it was 101 at game time.
11-1

Fans in the outfield were packed tightly under the trees. Even squeezing shoulder-to-shoulder into the shade was cooler than sitting in the sun.

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

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

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

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

Which would have been great, except that the Rainiers played like they thought they were the Mariners. Mind you, they’ve been playing that way all year–they’re currently three games over .500–but since the River Cats have been playing like their own MLB club (33-53 at the beginning of the day), we had hoped for better than we got.
11-2

When the most excitement your team generates is Tuffy Gosewisch taking a pitch to the hip, you know it’s not a good day.

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

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

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

But the post-game fireworks show as good. And it was Star Wars Night at the park; I couldn’t resist buying myself a birthday present.
11-3

The actual All-Star Game is tonight, followed by two days of no MLB action. If you need a baseball fix, there are low-minors games going on all week, the AAA All-Star Game is Wednesday, and high-minor league games resume Thursday. Plenty to get you through to Friday.

Should We Be Happy?

Weird game, baseball.

In what other sport would doing something legal–something that players do multiple times every day–provoke so much condemnation?

Yeah, I’m talking about last night’s Mariners’ game. Through the first five innings, the Ms looked a lot like my nephew’s Little League team at the plate. All credit to Justin Verlander of the Tigers; he had everything clicking, and he had a perfect game going.

Granted, there was a lot of game left. The chances that he would have stayed perfect the rest of the way were slim. Remember, there have only been 23 perfect games in MLB’s century-plus history.

Not to unduly prolong the suspense, with one out in the sixth inning and four runs behind, the Mariners’ Jarrod Dyson bunted himself aboard. No more perfect game. Five batters after that, the Mariners were only one run down, and Verlander was out of the game. The Ms picked up four more runs the next inning, and won the game.

Pretty smart move by Dyson, huh?

Well…see, baseball has this thing called the “unwritten rules”. That’s no different than any group, really. There’s no law forbidding you to pick your nose in public, but you probably don’t, fearing the scorn of society. Same thing here. The unwritten rules say you don’t bunt to break up a perfect game.

So, Dyson was violating the rules?

Maybe not. The problem with unwritten rules is that they’re unwritten. There’s no Moses carrying a carved tablet down from Cooperstown, New York after his interview with Abner Doubleday.

Some people say the rule only applies in the eighth and ninth innings. Others say it applies all the time–unless you’re down by less than three runs. Still others say “What the hell are you talking about? The only rule is ‘do what you have to to win’!”

Take your pick.

As far as the Mariners and their fans are concerned, though, the most important result of Dyson’s bunt and the team’s subsequent rally is that the Mariners are at .500.

Yeah, 37-37. The last time they were respectable was May 10, when they were 17-17. Before that? 0-0.

The All-Star Break is approaching. The actual midpoint of the season is even closer. And the Mariners have a chance to go over .500 for the first time all season.

That’s big, folks. Really big. Right now, they’re only a game and a half out of the Wild Card. Seriously. The American League sucks this year. It’s quite possible that the final playoff spot could go to a team with a losing record. Not likely, but possible. But in any case, the next few games will be a big factor in whether the Ms decide to sell off players to be better next year, or buy to improve now.

And there are the Mariners, winners of four in a row, looking to extend the streak. They’re going to do everything they can to get past that psychological barrier at .500 and turn themselves into winners, right? Go with their best pitcher and everything.

Well…

Actually, tonight’s starting pitcher is a rookie making his major league debut.

The Mariners’ pitchers have been injury-prone this year*, and part of their less-than-stellar record has been the inconsistent performance of the guys who’ve filled in. Making it back to .500 is a minor miracle, all things considered.

* To be fair, it’s not just the pitchers. At times it’s seemed like the entire team’s been on the disabled list–all at once.

But rather than working with the known quantity that’s gotten them this far, they’re going to take a step into the unknown. In a game that, in a very real sense, will determine the direction of the entire rest of the season for the Mariners.

No pressure, Kid.

Weird game, baseball.

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.

Back On Track

Baseball is back!

Well, for suitably generous definitions of “back”.

Spring Training has started. Pitchers and catchers for all teams have reported to camp, and the position players are coming–the reporting date is today for nine teams and tomorrow for eleven more. Since some players show up early, it’s safe to say that by the time the sun sets on Friday, more than two-thirds of players will be with their teams in Florida or Arizona.

Actual preseason games, meaningless as they are, don’t start until the twenty-second (the Arizona Diamondbacks will be taking on the Grand Canyon University Antelopes in a game that will, no doubt, give us a good idea of whether the consensus of 76-78 wins for the Diamondbacks this year is accurate.)

MLB is sending out reminders that MLB.TV subscription renewals will happen at the end of the month. However, despite the email’s announcement that subscribers will be able to watch more than 300 Spring Training games, the information about which games will be streamed hasn’t been posted yet. Annoyingly, audio-only streaming, which has traditionally included almost every game, is also still a black hole at this point. There’s no information about which games will be available–and, in fact, I can’t even find anything to support the notion that there will be any radio broadcasts.

But I’m not worried. I have faith that something will be worked out by the time two putative major league teams take the field against each other on the twenty-fourth.

I say “putative” not because of the teams involved (the first games, all at 10:05 Pacific, feature the Mets, Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, Phillies, and Yankees), but because it’s usual for the first few games to feature players who will probably be starting the season in the minors. Gotta protect those name-brand players, and indeed, anyone who’s a probable lock to be on the twenty-five man roster, on Opening Day.

Of course, the World Baseball Classic may put a wrinkle in the works. With so many players leaving camp early, teams may have to decide between playing major leaguers earlier than usual or cutting games short.

But in the first couple of weeks, I really don’t care who’s playing, and I doubt I’m alone in that. For many fans, it’s the presence of the game that matters, and many of us tend to binge-watch or binge-listen through Spring Training and even into the first days of the season. All part of the process of emerging from our baseball-deficient hibernation.

I’m especially looking forward to being able to put a game on in the background this year. It may be biased observation, but I believe I write faster and more fluidly when I’m listening to baseball. I haven’t done exhaustive word count checks, but I think the totals are highest in March–the time of year when there are multiple games during my writing hours every day. I have no idea why that is; speculation about the rhythms of the game relaxing the logical parts of my brain and letting the creative parts take charge are completely unscientific.

But, regardless of why it works, I’m looking forward to exceeding my writing targets for a few weeks. Even if it’s just the placebo effect, the words on the screen will be real.

It’s too early to say “Go Mariners!” How about a resounding “Go Baseball!”?

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.