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!”

Finally!

Professional baseball has officially started. All the clues are there:

  • I had my semi-annual haircut. That’s no joke, it’s an absolute necessity if I’m going to wear my Mariners’ cap on Opening Day. See that picture of me over at the right side of the blog? That was taken shortly after a haircut. Copy/paste the beard to the top of my head three or four times and you’ll have a pretty good indication of how I look just before I get sheared.
  • The cats have had their official Opening Day treat (hny). It’s not the greatest stuff in the world–the first ingredient is “fish”. I hadn’t realized that there was an official generic fish. Or maybe it’s an ISO standard fish? But I digress. A little junk food once a year isn’t going to hurt them, and they all–yes, even Sachiko, who’s declared her allegience to the Giants–enjoyed their Mariner’s Catch.
  • The pre-Opening Day made-for-TV broadcast game has been played. As we’ve seen, MLB likes to have a game or two before the official start of the season. In recent years, those games have been in exotic locations, part of MLB’s missionary program to spread the True Faith around the globe. We’ve seen games in Japan and Australia, and this year the Cardinals and Cubs faced off in, uh, Chicago. There are plenty of baseball fans–including Cubs fans–who’ll tell you that professional-caliber baseball hasn’t been played in Chicago since World War II, but still, Chicago is a bit of a come-down from Tokyo and Sydney.

Cubs fans are riding high this year, because the Cubs World Series victory has been predicted by no less an authority than the Back To the Future movie franchise. Of course, those same movies predicted that the Series would change from a best of seven format to a best of nine format, a modification new commissioner Rob Manfred has yet to announce. Still. It seems almost churlish to point out that the Cubs’ quest for glory started inauspiciously with Sunday’s 3-0 loss.

As I write this, the season is 0.671% over; every team has played one game. Prediction from small numbers can be tricky, but what the heck, I’ll give it a shot. With the help of the cats, last year I successfully semi-predicted the Angels would win the AL West. That was before any AL games had been played; this year I don’t have the cats’ assistance, but I do have actual, in-season data to work with. I’ve put together a secret formula based in part on team records to date and margin of victory. So, here for your pleasure are the 2015 playoff teams.

In the American League, the division winners will be Boston, Kansas City (10-1 over the White Sox counts for a lot), and Seattle (low margin of victory is misleading, given the Ms’ habit of underscoring when Felix pitches). The wild cards will go to Toronto and Baltimore*.

* Why the Orioles over the As? Shouldn’t that 8-0 pounding of Texas be significant? Uh-uh. The As are going to find out what the Mariners have learned over the past decade: you can’t ride one dominant pitcher to the playoffs. And did you really think I’d predict anything good for Oakland?

The National League will be ably represented by the division-winning Mets, Reds*, and Rockies, with the Cardinals and Phillies (desperation will beat out the Dodger’s complacency) snagging the wild card slots.

* You could make a case for the Cardinals shutout of the Cubs, but I find the Reds’ three-run victory over the Pirates marginally more impressive; I think Pittsburgh is a stronger team than the Cubs. Sorry, Cubbies. Reliance on ’80s movies–and sequels at that–isn’t going to score runs.

Remember, you heard it here first. Get your bets down now, before Las Vegas changes the odds!

Predictions

Bleah!

Yes, it’s a cat post and a baseball post. Take that, haters!

Happy New Year once again!

Winter is officially over. Whether you’re a Reform believer who considers the season to have begun on 3/22 in Australia, a Conservative believer looking to San Diego Sunday night, or an Orthodox believer honoring Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon*, you can agree that the first game of the season has been played. Even if your team lost, all is right with the world for this one day: baseball is back.

* Or Cincinnati, for the truly Orthodox.

OK, I know there are a few Ultra-Orthodox believers who consider the concept of official games in March to be heresy. I presume that both of you will be glued to your TVs this afternoon for your Opening Day.

Naturally, the media are filled with predictions. For what it’s worth, the Dodgers are the early favorites in Vegas to win the World Series (11/2 odds; it’s amazing what winning a couple of religiously dubious games will do for your reputation). By contrast, Vegas has the Astros at 250/1 odds and almost* everyone else has them down for a dead last finish.

* See below.

There’s a long-standing tradition of calling on pets to pick the winners–and many of the professional predictions read as though they had been picked by a pet. Last season’s best feline prognostication came from Baseball Prospectus. To make everything crystal clear: I’m using “best” to mean “most entertaining”, not “most accurate.” Note that none of the selected teams made the playoffs.

But it’s a tradition, and I, being a traditionalist, figured I should do my part. I chose to avoid the usual approach of having the cats choose all of the divisional winners, the winners at each stage of the playoffs, and the World Series winner. Not only does that help make this post slightly less of a clich√©, but it also made the project practical. By the time I herded five cats through a process that long and complicated, we would already know the World Series winner, and be looking ahead to 2015.

I settled for just asking the crew to pick the winner of the AL West. To give a basis for judging each cat’s reliability and interest in baseball, I also asked them to recall who won the division last year. Maggie graciously lent a hand (two hands, and at least one hip, actually) to the task of feline management. Thanks, Maggie!

It's Texas, damn it!We kept it simple. One piece of paper with the logos* of the five teams in the division. One treat for each logo. We told them to eat the treat that was next to last year’s division winner. After they scarfed the first treat down, we replaced it, and asked them to eat the treat of the team they thought would win the division this year.

* We used the teams’ logos rather than their names because we’re pretty sure that only Kokoro is literate. (Yes, ‘Nuki and Rhubarb are fond of reading the newspaper, but they’re traditional feline butt-readers; we were quite sure that they would not be sitting on the treats.)

The Results

2013

  1. Oakland – The As won the division last year by 5 1/2 games. None of our panel correctly identified them as the winners.
  2. Texas – The Rangers finished the season second in the division. Yuki recalled them as having won. Yuki is the cat who has been most interested in watching baseball on TV, so it’s not too surprising that he came closest to getting it right.
  3. Anaheim (Don’t get me started on that whole “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim thing. Sheesh!) – The Angels finished the season 18 games behind the As. Watanuki remembered them as the winners. My assumption is that since ‘Nuki is the most avid birdwatcher in our crew, he was irresistably drawn to the Angels wings and feathers.
  4. Seattle – 25 games back. Rhubarb identified them as the winners. In his defense, he did see or hear portions of most of their games last year. Maybe the name just stuck in his head.
  5. Houston – The Astros were the only team to lose more than 100 games last year and finished 45 games out of the division race. Kokoro and Kaja both pointed to them as the division winners. Ladies, I don’t know what to say. (Kaja at least has the excuse of having been isolated in Maggie’s office for most of the season, so she can legitimately claim to have been out of touch. That doesn’t explain Kokoro’s pick. Maybe she was confused by the Astros’ peculiar ability to beat the Mariners (9 of 19, including four of six in April and four straight in September).

Our panel went 0 for 5 in picking last year’s division winner, right in line with the standard set by the Baseball Prospectus team!

Maybe I should have asked Grey Tabby to participate. She may not see much baseball, but at least she understands competition.

Moving on. What about the panel’s predictions for this year?

2014

  • Mariners?  Pblthhhhhhht!
    Yuki picked the Rangers. As the panelist who came closest to retroactively picking last year’s winner, his prediction for this year bears a certain amount of authority. I wouldn’t venture to guess whether he’s made a rational assessment of the odds, or just likes Texas.
  • I'm not going to wear the damn cap.
    Kaja also picked the Rangers. Interesting that the two major antagonists on the panel reached the same conclusion. Maybe there’s something to this Texas bandwagon.
  • Texas?  Don't talk to me about Texas.
    Or maybe not. ‘Nuki disdains Texas. He was born in California, and by gum, he’s going to pick California teams. For this year’s division winner, he’s chosen Oakland.
  • I'll get you for this.  Just you wait...
    Kokoro has joined ‘Nuki, also picking Oakland. Did she copy off his answer sheet? Did she belatedly realize that the As have won the division the past two years and decide they’re poised for a third victory? Or does Ms. Koko-poof just have a sneaking fondness for the As’ center fielder, Coco Crisp? She’s not telling.
  • Oh, God!  Why did I pick Houston?!
    So far we’ve got a tie with two votes for the Rangers and two for the As. Rhubarb is the tiebreaker. His choice is… (dramatic pause) The Houston Astros! Um, what? Was that supposed to be a vote for the Rangers? I could see how he could have gotten confused: Arlington and Houston are only about 250 miles apart. Or maybe Mr. Rhubarb has a fondness for the underdogcat. After all, he did retroactively pick the Mariners for 2013. Come to think of it, given his namesake, it’s highly appropriate for him to pick the loveable losers to go all the way.

There you have it. According to a fully qualified team of feline experts*, the 2014 AL West Division champions will be the Rangers. Or the As. Or the Astros. Given the demonstrated accuracy of felines in picking sports winners, my recommendation is to put your money on the Mariners or Angels.

* Translation: They are unquestionably expert at being cats.

Services are again being held at convenient temples across the country. Time to make your plans to sneak out of work and soothe your soul at least once this season.

Just one word of advice: no matter how much they enjoy watching games on TV, don’t take your cats to the ballpark. They’ll complain when you refuse to buy them a hotdog, try to run onto the field to chase ground balls, embarrass you by cheering for the wrong team, and fall asleep in the second inning, leaving you to defend them against foul balls and suicidal seagulls.