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!

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.