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?

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.

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.

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.

Almost There

We’re almost there. The MLB preseason is just about over. Opening Day is Monday, though as usual, we’ve got Scheduled For TV games on Sunday–three of ’em this year.

As we all know, the beginning of the season means two things: cats are making predictions and this year’s baseball video games hit the shelves.

Let’s start with the bad news.

Check out this commercial for MLB The Show 17.

Assuming you haven’t fled, screaming in horror, let’s talk about what’s wrong with this.

For starters, did you notice that every single person in the commercial is “this guy” and “he”? I’m not sure whether Sony thinks that women don’t play video games or that there aren’t female baseball fans, but either way it’s a damned offensive assumption.

Then there’s the celebration of Manfred’s Kool-Aid. “Quick three inning games”? Are you kidding me?

And speaking of that guy–four jobs and twelve kids? Come on! As Groucho Marx once didn’t say, “I love my cigar, too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while!” Maybe if the dude hadn’t dropped $300 on a PS4 and $60 on the game, he could afford to quit one of those jobs.

I don’t play video games–not even baseball games–but I’m tempted to buy a PS4 just so I can boycott MLB The Show 17. The only thing stopping me is that Sony makes the console too.

Moving on.

Of course we’ve begun indoctrinating Rufus into the household traditions. He’s seen some baseball on TV (about ten seconds worth of highlights), so we figured he was qualified to make predictions for the 2017 season.

On the other hand, he is new to the concept, so we decided to start him off with something straightforward: predicting the final standings for the American League West. We’ll keep working with him during the season, and if his predictions pan out, we’ll give him a shot at the playoffs.

He used a treat-based methodology to make his selections.

The final prediction:

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Houston Astros
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Oakland Athletics
  5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

It’s not the order I’d have liked to see, but it’s not completely unreasonable, based on the preseason predictions. For comparison, FiveThirtyEight has Houston, Seattle, Texas, LA, and Oakland.

Rufus definitely enjoyed making his picks.

He was, however, rather less enthusiastic about the obligatory Wearing of the Cap that followed.

Checking In

Yes, I watched the AAA All-Star Game yesterday. Did you?

It was pleasantly like going to a minor league game between two teams whose success I had no vested interest in. I was able to root for whoever was behind, and when the International League came back from a two run deficit to win, I was delighted. Of course, I would have been just as happy if the Pacific Coast League had mounted a ninth inning rally to take the game back.

Moving on.

As I promised, here’s the mid-season report on my predictions for the playoffs.

I had to make some ex-cathedra predictions about the teams whose first games were postponed due to weather. So far, those predictions are holding up well:

  • The Red Sox are doing better than I expected, at eleven games over .500, but they’re still trailing the Orioles by a couple of games. No AL East pennant for them.
  • The Indians are the surprise of the season so far. I thought they’d be lucky to make .500; they’re currently twelve games over, with the second-best record in the AL.
  • The Astros are seven games over .500, nicely in line with last year’s record, but they’re five and a half out in the division and two out in the Wild Card.
  • And, joy of joys, the Yankees are 44-44, seven and a half out of the AL East lead and five and a half out of the Wild Card.

As for the rest of the predictions, my method doesn’t seem to be doing very well.

Texas is currently leading the entire AL, so they’re well-positioned to take the West as predicted. After that, however, my predictions are in serious trouble. The White Sox and Kansas City are currently tied for third in the Central, and their Wild Card hopes are fading badly. Toronto, who I picked for the AL East title are third, albeit only a couple of percentage points behind Boston. And the Orioles, my second Wild Card pick, are leading the division. Ouch.

On the NL side of the ledger, the SenatorsNationals and Cubs are leading their divisions, as predicted. I called the Dodgers and Giants to finish first and second in the West; currently they’re second and first. Colorado, however, predicted to take the second Wild Card, are at 40-48, seven games out of the Wild Card race.

Add it all up, and–if the season were over right now–I’m three for ten in my predictions. If we just look at the playoff teams regardless of position, I’m doing quite a bit better, six for ten. If that hold up, I’ll have met my goal of getting over .500.

Stay tuned to see how well the numbers hold up through the second half. And who knows, maybe the Blue Jays, Rockies, White Sox, and Royals will get their acts in gear and bump my score up even further.

Goin’ All the Way

Last week I promised my MLB playoff predictions. Never let it be said that I don’t live up to my promises.

Remember, we’re testing the theory that run differential on the first day of the season is a good predictor of teams’ ability to make the playoffs.

Here, for easy reference, are our playoff teams. I’ve included their current Won/Loss records for your amusement.

Team

Won/Loss

Run Differential
Toronto

3-4

29-30 (-1)
Texas

4-4

32-35 (-3)
Chicago

5-2

28-19 (9)
Kansas City

4-2

21-19 (2)
Baltimore

6-0

31-17 (14)
Team

Won/Loss

Run Differential
Washington

4-1

21-16 (5)
Chicago

6-1

47-18 (29)
Los Angeles

4-3

42-26 (16)
San Francisco

5-2

43-25 (18)
Colorado

3-3

35-51 (-16)

The first thing we notice is that Colorado is lucky to have scraped together a .500 record. If they’re going to make the playoffs, even as the second Wild Card, they need to beef up their defense.

OK, playoffs.

The Orioles are obviously the class team of the AL this year. They’ll demolish the Royals in the Wild Card game, crush the White Sox in the Division Series, and mutilate the Blue Jays (who squeaked past the Rangers) in the League Championship.

The NL playoffs are going to be even less competitive. The Giants will shred the Rockies in the Wild Card, then be flattened by the Cubs in the Division Series. So much for the “Even Year Dynasty”. The Dodgers won’t have any trouble bouncing the Nationals out of the playoffs, but they won’t get anywhere against the Cubs in the League Championship.

That gives us a Cubs/Orioles World Series.

On the face of it, the Orioles should coast through the series, riding their record-breaking 162-0 regular season performance, but that pesky run differential tells a different story. The Cubs may only have gone 138-24, but their run-scoring and run-prevention, nearly twice as good as the Os’, will make the difference.

The Cubs’ curse will be broken, only one year later than the Back to the Future movies predicted. Congratulations, Chicago.

Now, how about a World Series win for Seattle next year?

Happy New Year (2016)

And here we are at the beginning of the season again. All the signs are there: reminders that “everyone is 0-0,” worried perusals of the weather report for such tropical climates as Milwaukee and Cleveland, my semi-annual haircut…

As usual, the proverbial anyone and everyone are making their predictions for the season. Jackie, who is not just anyone or everyone, has hers up. Not to take anything away from her panel of experts, but I entertain some doubts about their conclusions.

So I’m going to pretend to be anyone and everyone myself, offering my own prediction. Last year, my Sooper-Scientific Algorithm, based largely on margin of victory had a forty percent success rate calling the playoff teams. That’s actually pretty good. This year, I’ve applied a few tweaks to the methodology. My goal is to get over .500. (What can I say? It’s a rebuilding year.)

MLB has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the works, however. In years past, we’ve been given the spectacle of a game the night before Opening Day. It didn’t affect my process last year, since the two teams involved, the Cardinals and Cubs, took an off day, so all teams had one played one game when I ran the numbers. This year, we got three games on Sunday, and only four of the teams took yesterday off; as a result, the Rays and Blue Jays have two games under their belts. Fortunately, Toronto won both games, so we’ll simply use their combined numbers for the two games and treat it as one 10-6 victory.

Also, note that two games were postponed. The Giants/Brewers game went on as scheduled, despite a raging blizzard–hooray for domed stadiums–but the Astros/Yankees and Red Sox/Indians games were scrubbed because of “inclement weather” and “cold and wet” respectively*. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that, however. I’m going to assert ex cathedra that the Red Sox aren’t going to go cellar to ceiling, the Indians will be lucky to crack .500 again (sorry, Cleveland fans), and the Astros might reproduce last year’s 86-76 record, but it won’t be enough to make the playoffs. The Yankees? Trust me, the Baseball Gods won’t be tasteless enough to let them make the playoffs two years in a row.

* This isn’t the first time the weather in Cleveland has caused problems at the beginning of the season. Ask any Seattle fan about the winter of ’07 when the Mariners/Indians Opening Day game was snowed out. The same thing also happened in 1996 when the Yankees were in town to open the season. Unlike other commentators, I’m not suggesting that all Opening Day games should be scheduled for warmer climates. I think it would make more sense for the entire city of Cleveland to look into relocating–team, fans, Progressive Field, and all–to someplace warmer.

Moving on.

In the AL East, Toronto is the clear division winner, thanks to that 10-6 rout of Tampa Bay. The West is obviously going to Texas, as they’re the only team in the division that managed to win a game. Kansas City and Chicago both won 4-3; to break the tie, I looked at their preseason records*. On that basis, the White Sox take the Central on the strength of their 17-13 preseason, far better than the defending champion Royals’ 14-21 mark. We’ll give KC the first wild card; the second, Jackie will be happy to hear, goes to Baltimore thanks to their 3-2 victory over the Twins.

Moving to the NL, Washington grabs their division by virtue of winning their game, a feat no other NL East team could manage. In the Central, Chicago will be returning to the playoffs. And the West is clearly the toughest division in baseball, with three teams racking up convincing victories. LA will win the division, as shown by their 15-0 trouncing of the Padres. San Francisco’s 12-3 pounding of the Brewers gives them the first Wild Card, and Colorado takes the second by virtue of their 10-5 win over the Diamondbacks.

* As we know, preseason results are a poor predictor of regular season success, but this is a case where poor data is better than no data.

Of course, this is all well and good, but making the playoffs is only the beginning. What everyone really wants to know is who’s going to win the World Series? We’ve got the chance for an all-Chicago World Series this year. Is it going to happen? Can the Giants continue their pattern of winning it all in even-numbered years?

Much as I’d love to answer those questions, I can’t. Not yet.

In the immortal words of every sportscaster who’s covered a baseball game, the season is a marathon, not a sprint. I need a longer baseline than one game to properly assess teams’ ability to handle the additional month of baseball once they make the playoffs.

Tune in again next Tuesday for my fearless World Series predictions.

Not So Great

Well, so much for that experiment. I’ve run out of good news. So, back to the usual ration of doom and gloom I serve on days starting with a “T”.

We’ve got less than two weeks left in the MLB season–barring the possibility of a tie-breaking game being needed, the last regular season games will be played on October 4–so let’s check in on how the playoff picture is shaping up, with particular emphasis on the predictions I made at the beginning of the year.

In that post, I laughed at Cubs fans for basing their hopes of a World Series victory on the Back to the Future movies. Winning the Series would, of course, require that they make the playoffs. As of today, they’re at 88-62, sitting in the second Wild Card slot, and holding a 9 1/2 game lead over the Giants and Nationals. So there’s still hope. Tenuous, perhaps, but present. Let us not forget that both World Series teams last year were wild cards.

My predictions for the American League were for Boston, Kansas City, and Seattle to win their divisions, with Toronto and Baltimore taking the Wild Card slots.

Um…

Boston is currently 72-77 and cannot win their division. Ditto for the Mariners at 73-77. Both have faint hopes of squeaking into the playoffs via the second Wild Card, but they both have elimination numbers of six*. Note, by the way, that I ignored the numbers to take Seattle over Oakland for the West title. Oakland is the only team in the AL to have guaranteed themselves a losing record this year and the only team mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Kansas City, on the other hand, is at 87-62 with an eleven game lead over the Twins. With thirteen games remaining, it would take a historically unprecedented collapse for them to fail to win the division.

* The elimination number is the number of losses by the team in question and wins by the team they’re chasing that will mathematically eliminate them from contention. So in this case, both the Red Sox and Mariners will be eliminated by a combination of six losses and/or Houston wins.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are at 86-64, leading the East by 3 1/2 games. They could still wind up in the Wild Card as I predicted, or even fail to make the playoffs, but they’ve got decent odds of winning the division. The news isn’t as good for Baltimore. They’re barely ahead of Boston and Seattle in the Wild Card race with an elimination number of seven.

So the odds right now say that one of my five predictions is likely to be correct; two if we just go by the predicted teams making the playoffs.

Over in the National League, my numbers aren’t much better. The predictions were for New York, Cincinnati, and Colorado to win their divisions, and St. Louis and Pittsburgh to take the Wild Card slots.

The Mets are leading the East by 6 1/2, so there’s that. However, the Reds (63-86) and Rockies (63-87) have already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

There’s better news for Cardinals and Pirates fans: St. Louis is leading the Central by four games over the Pirates, who currently hold a two game lead over those smug Cubs in the Wild Card.

Nobody else has much of a shot at the Wild Card. Only San Francisco and Washington have any chance at all, and they both have elimination numbers of four.

So here too, only one of my predictions seems likely to materialize. If the Cubs put on a late run and take the division away from St. Louis, then I’d most likely have three of five right.

By the most likely outcomes, I’ve scored a 20% rate with my predictions. That’s not too great, but that Cubs rally would up it to 40%. Sounds better. (Just predicting the playoff teams, I did rather better. Right now the odds say I hit 50%. That’s not bad*.)

* If I’ve done the math correctly, you’ve got one chance in three of being correct for each team you pick at random making the playoffs (30 teams and 10 playoff slots). So the chances of making a correct pick five times are 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3. That’s one chance in 243. Hey, anyone out there more knowledgeable about stats than I am who can tell me how badly I’ve screwed up the calculation by not allowing for the fact that the teams are split into two leagues?

There are, by the way, other ways to slice and dice these numbers. Consider that there’s one chance in five of picking division winners at random. I did that twice at odds of one in twenty-five. Not too shabby.

So what have we learned here? First, picking playoff teams is hard. But I think we knew that already. Second, I don’t really understand statistics. But we knew that too, as witness the fact that I buy lottery tickets. Third, and more to the point, it suggests that margin of victory in the first game of the season is a decent predictor for the playoffs. Who cares if it’s a sample of one?