Closing the Loop

And here we are again. Another season has ended with the sodden thump of a rain-soaked newspaper splatting on the doorstep.

I mean, really? Atlanta and Houston–a pair of Rule One teams–in the World Series?

But anyway, before we move into the dark part of the liturgical calendar, let’s close out 2021 with a look at my predictions for the season and the playoffs.

Back in April, I picked Miami, Cincinnati, LA, San Diego, and Milwaukee to make the playoffs on the NL side. Instead, we got Atlanta, Milwaukee, San Francisco, St. Louis, and LA. Two of five.

In the AL, I called Boston, Minnesota, Houston, Cleveland, and Chicago. A much better assortment that who actually made the playoffs: Tampa Bay, Chicago, Houston, Boston, and New York? Three out of five.

So, once again I wound up with the moral equivalent of a 81 win season. I should do an experiment: see if I can get better results by picking the winners at random. Maybe next year.

As for my playoff predictions, well…

I take some solace in the fact that I predicted the Astros to make it to the World Series and lose. But I also said the series would only go five games, and I certainly didn’t expect the Braves to make it to the Series, much less win it. Even if I’d picked them to face Houston, their respective run differentials should have meant a quick exit for Atlanta: +205 versus +134 shouldn’t even have been a contest. (For what it’s worth, Atlanta outscored Houston 25 to 20.)

Ah, well. Next year.

And now, onward to the Winter Meetings and the WabbitDuckFree Agent Season.

A Mixed Bag

Winter again, baseballically speaking.

And, with the election well-launched into its best-of-seven series–that’s a guess: this post was written prior to election night, so at this point I have no actual idea how many state results are going to be referred to the Supreme Court for a fiat decision–it’s time to take a look at my predictions.

As always, my goal is 70% accuracy in picking the playoff teams. Last year, I was a pitiful 40%. This year, in a season marked by weirdness, well…

In the NL, I correctly picked LA, San Diego, St. Louis, Chicago, Florida, Atlanta, and Cincinnati. My only miss was in picking Colorado instead of Milwaukee. Good start.

Over on the junior circuit, I was right with Tampa Bay, Oakland, Minnesota, Cleveland, Houston, and Toronto. Failed on LA and Kansas City; should have gone with New York and Chicago.

Overall, that’s thirteen out of sixteen: 81.25%! I believe that’s my best record yet. Amazing how much of a difference there is between a marathon and a sprint.

That said, I rather fell on my face in picking the actual winners.

I’d anointed Cleveland and San Diego as the World Series teams with the Padres winning in six games.

One team didn’t make the playoffs; the other got swept in the Division Series.

sigh

I take some small consolation in having correctly called the number of games in the Series.

And, as proof that I’m a man ahead of my times, I’ll note that I picked the Dodgers to win it all last year. I’m really going to feel weird if San Diego becomes the 2021 champion.

Assuming, of course, that there is a 2021 season. There’s a lot riding on the U.S. Series between the Donkeys and the Elephants. Don’t forget to watch Game Two of the series in the Supreme Court tomorrow!

2020 Foresight

If it does nothing else, this weird season has at least given us a year away from reminders that “the MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Of course, robbed of their favorite truism, broadcasters are now continually reminding each other–and us–that this season is a sprint. Can’t win ’em all.

It’s also given us a heck of a lot of complaining that the new playoff scheme will result in large numbers of teams with losing records making the playoffs.

I beg to differ.

Had this season’s rules been in effect last year, only one sub-.500 team would have made the playoffs: the Texas Rangers. That’s hardly a flood, and only mildly annoying.

I also checked to see who would have made the playoffs had the season ended at about 60 games. (I say “about” because off-days and rainouts mean that not every team has played the same number of games on any given date.)

In this case, had the season ended on June 5, no teams with losing records would have made the playoffs. Even the Rangers started off well: after sixtyish games, they were at .525.

Granted, two teams–the Athletics and the Padres–were at exactly .500, but I’d have been fine with that.

Additional food for thought for anyone who thinks adding teams to the playoffs will increase competition: of the sixteen teams that would have made the playoffs had 2019 ended after 60 games, only three would have dropped out with the full 162 game schedule. The Phillies, Rockies, and Padres all started strong, but faded later, and would have been replaced in the playoffs by the Mets, Diamondbacks, and–amusingly enough–the Nationals.

I don’t know about you, but I think if the playoff lineup is more than 80% determined a third of the way through the season, increased competition down the stretch isn’t going to have much impact.

Moving on to this season, I’m going to modify my normal prognosticatory technique. Since the season is a sprint–sorry–I’m just going to go with the run differential and won/lost records as they stood at the end of the day Tuesday and use them to predict the playoff teams and the eventual World Series champions.

For purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that the full sixty game season will be played, as will all the playoff games. That’s seeming wildly optimistic, but it wouldn’t be much fun to declare the season a washout this soon.

In the NL, our playoff teams–determined by run differential, not record–are Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, LA, San Diego, Colorado, and Cincinnati.

Over in the AL, we’re looking at Tampa Bay, Toronto, Minnesota, Cleveland, Houston, LA, Oakland, and Kansas City.

For what it’s worth, the last team in each league has a DIFF of -1. Clearly, while run differential is indicative of victories, it’s not a one-to-one relationship. But we knew that.

Anyway, once we get into the playoffs, actual victories are more critical. In the NL, the Cubs and Padres sport identical 4-1 records. While Chicago has scored more total runs, they’ve also allowed their opponents to score more; their run ratio is a hair under 1.5. The Padres, on the other hand, have scored more than twice as many runs as their opponents. Accordingly, I’m calling the Padres the probable NL World Series representatives.

Turning to the junior circuit, the Rays and the Possibly-Soon-To-Be-Nameless-Team-From-Cleveland are also sitting at 4-1. Again looking at the run ratio, the Cleveland PSTBNs (that’s a mouthful. I’m going to call them the Postbins.) have outscored their opponents by exactly two to one. That puts them comfortably ahead of Tampa Bay and their 1.7 ratio.

Postbins versus Padres in the World Series. And won’t that set a lot of prognosticators’ teeth on edge?

The winner? Based on run ration, it would be San Diego. But 2.0 versus 2.1 is awfully close, and could easily be overcome by moderating factors such as home field advantage or even pure luck. Even allowing for the Padres having scored more runs than Cleveland (26-21), it still seems close.

Let’s look at the historical record. San Diego has made it to the World Series twice and lost both times. Cleveland’s been in the Series six times and won twice. History is on the side of the Postbins.

But. They haven’t won since 1948. And people like round numbers and multiples of five. Cleveland’s best chance for a World Series victory isn’t until the seventy-fifth anniversary of their last one. That’s 2023.

I’m calling 2020 now. Padres over Postbins four games to two.

2019 Prognostication

Once again, it’s time for me to peer into the future, using Science! and Mathematics! to predict the results of the MLB pennant chases and playoffs. As I did last year, I’m combining the two predictions into a single post, because it just works out better that way.

To refresh your memories, the playoff teams are those with the largest margin of victory in their first games, and the playoff predictions are based on the teams’ run differential over the first week of the season.

Unlike last year, when two games were rescheduled, all of the Opening Day games were played. Hooray for a cooperative Mother Nature! The gotcha–there’s always some complication–is that darn overseas “Opening Series” between the Mariners and Athletics. As I said a couple of weeks ago, I find it difficult to accept those games as part of the regular season. The conditions are just too different from the other 160 those teams will play. And, let’s be honest here, I don’t want to have to account for the fact that the Ms and the As didn’t play each other on the real Opening Day. I can’t figure out a way to handle that without doing at least one of the four teams involved a serious misjustice. So as far as my predictions go, March 20 and 21 Didn’t Happen.

Once again, the American League team won the World Series; consequently, they’ll be leading off.

  • East – Regrettably, there’s no competition here. By virtue of their status as the only team to win their first game, the Yankees will be the AL East champions.
  • Central – What a mess. Three of the five teams won their games by a two run margin. Even worse, two of those three games finished 2-0. My devout thanks to the Royals for scoring five runs and breaking the tie. They’ll be this year’s AL Central winners.
  • West – Would you believe it’s the Mariners? The team widely predicted to finish dead last in the division? Can’t argue with their 12-4 pounding of the World Champs, though. The numbers say this is the year the Mariners break their playoff drought.
  • Wild Cards – We’ve got another tie here. The Astros and As both racked up victories by four runs, they’ll be our AL Wild Card teams. Houston wins the tie-breaker, five runs to Oakland’s four, so they’ll get the home field advantage in the Wild Card Game.

Turning our attention to the National League, matters are much less complicated.

  • East – The Phillies 10-4 victory is the weakest of any of the NL division winners, but any Philadelphia fan will cheerfully assure you that the important thing is to make the playoffs.
  • Central – Cubs fans, on the other hand, will point to their +8 run differential and loudly proclaim themselves to be the class of the league.
  • West – And the Dodgers’ fans will tie their brains in knots trying to figure out a way to justify claiming a +7 result is better than a +8. Good luck with that.
  • Wild Cards – The Rockies fans will breathe a sigh of relief at learning their three run victory on Opening Day earns them the first NL Wild Card slot. The Mets, Reds, and Padres provide the NL’s only real playoff drama, all claiming two run victories. As in the AL Central, two of the games finished 2-0, allowing the Reds to grab the second Wild Card by virtue of a 5-3 Opening Day victory.

There you have it. Get your bets down now, seeing as how sports betting is no longer a federal crime.

Parenthetically, our long-suffering (last year must have felt like at least three seasons) friends in Baltimore may get some relief this year. While the Orioles lost their first game, and their run differential is currently negative one, they’ve still managed to put together a 4-2 record. Keep that up all season, and they’ll finish with 108 wins. Not good enough for the playoffs, unfortunately, but still a nice turnaround from last year’s dismal 47-115 record.

Oh, you want to get a World Series bet down as well? No problem.

Here’s the information for our ten playoff teams after a week of play. Again, the Mariners’ two games in Japan are not included.

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Yankees

2-4

20-20 (0)
Royals

2-3

26-27 (-1)
Mariners

5-1

42-28 (+14)
Astros

2-5

15-22 (-7)
Athletics

5-3

31-23 (+8)

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Phillies

4-1

39-22 (+17)
Cubs

1-4

32-37 (-5)
Dodgers

5-2

55-34 (+21)
Rockies

3-4

17-25 (-8)
Padres

4-3

23-24 (-1)

Clearly, the Mariners will have no problem making it to their first ever World Series. The As will beat the Astros, then be eliminated by the Mariners. The Yankees’ offensive/defensive equivalence will get them past the Royals, but be no match for the Mariners.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers will stroll past the Wild Card winning Padres. The Phillies won’t even break a sweat when they face the Cubs, but will go down to a hard fought defeat against LA.

So both World Series teams will be from the West Coast. Nevertheless, their fans will miss the beginnings of every game of the series, as MLB will insist on 5pm starts, ensuring empty seats and unwatched televisions until everyone gets through the rush hour traffic, along about the third inning.

That said, the imbalance in the teams’ run differentials suggests we won’t be getting a full suite of seven games. The Dodgers should win three of the first five, and wrap up the title in Game Six.

Disappointing for the Mariners, certainly, but greed is bad. Breaking the longest current playoff drought, making the World Series for the first time, and winning the Series in the same year? Definitely a bit too grabby.

There you go. Good luck in Vegas.

SAST 07

Happy Halloween!

We’re not planning to give out any candy this year–although we do have a couple of emergency bags in case someone shows up despite our best efforts to look like we’re not home.

There’s no particular reason we’re being anti-social, just a general lack of holiday spirit.

Beyond that, I am a little distracted at the moment. I’m neck deep in the third draft of Like Herding Cats–I’m hoping to finish before Thanksgiving–and I’m starting to run into the places where I got lazy in Draft 2. See, Draft 2 is written with a pen. On paper. So if I need to add a lengthy stretch of new text, I’ll often just make a note to myself: [Hey, Fred needs to explain why painting City Hall blue was a good idea.]

It’s not that I don’t know why it was a good idea. I just don’t want to have to read and transcribe half a page of my scribbles. And so I defer it to Draft 3, which gets done on the computer.

The downside is that it’s kind of like freeway driving at rush hour in a car with a manual transmission. Cruising along at twenty mph, transcribing the Draft 2 changes. Come to a complete halt while I check my notes–was it robin’s egg blue or sapphire blue–and then creep along at ten mph while I write the scene.

And then get off two exits down the road and circle back because I just came up with a great line that has to go into the new scene.

Anyway, distraction. So you get a bit of a Short Attention Span Theater for Halloween.

Moving on.

Am I the only person out there who got a scam spam of the 419 type from “Jeff Sessions Attorney General” recently?

I know the Trump administration is, shall we say, a trifle challenged, ethically-speaking. But really, Jeff, there are faster, easier, and–dare I say it–even legaler methods to separate fools from their money.

Now, you may say it’s probably not Mr. Sessions sending out these letters, and you’re probably right. Perhaps it’s some flunky in the Justice Department trying to curry favor–or line his pockets at the boss’ expense.

But there’s an more likely explanation. Read the letter I got:

Now ask yourself: who in the current administration is well-known for cranking out dozens of grammatically-suspect, logic-deficient electronic missives in the middle of the night?

Yup.

Donald, put down your phone and go play golf.

Moving on.

A sneak peek at Thursday’s final summation of how I did in predicting the playoffs: I got one of the two World Series teams right. Go, me!

As others have pointed out, it’s far too soon to anoint this the Best! World! Series! Ever! But it’s not too early to say it’s been a great one so far. Close games, mostly not decided until the final inning. Lots of home runs, some interesting strategic decisions to argue about, and a fascinating sideshow in the Yuli Gurriel and Bruce Maxwell stories.

We’re getting Game Six tonight and, if the Dodgers do us a solid, Game Seven tomorrow.

But.

I don’t know about you, but I’m having so much fun with this series, I don’t think even seven games will be enough. I’m hereby petitioning Commissioner Manfred to extend the World Series to twenty-three games. If we alternate two games in each city with a travel day in between, that’ll wrap it up with Game Twenty-Three on November 24, the day after Thanksgiving.

Let’s not forget that Los Angeles and Houston are warm weather cities. No worries about games getting snowed out. And really, isn’t twelve a much more satisfying number than four?

And the best part: consider the advertising tie-ins! Everyone can watch that climactic Game Twenty-Seven on the new TV they picked up that morning in a Black Friday sale.

What do you say? Who’s with me?

As Predicted

Ha! Nailed it!

Pardon my excitement, but I’m not used to seeing my predictions come true so quickly. Last week I suggested that Microsoft would “encourage” diehard Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade to Windows 10 by making the upgrade tool a “Recommended” update in Windows Update. And now several reputable technology sites, including ArsTechnica, are reporting that Microsoft will do exactly that.

If you haven’t already upgraded, you’ll see Windows 10 showing up as an “Optional” update soon, and early next year, it will switch to “Recommended” status. Users who let Windows install updates automatically (the default for non-business users) will see the installer prompting them to carry out the upgrade once the flag is flipped to recommended.

Note that you will be prompted–it won’t be a silent install that suddenly drops you into Windows 10–and you can hide the update in Windows Update to prevent it from being installed, but that could certainly change, especially after the “Upgrade free until July” period.

Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 hard. After October 31, 2016, you won’t be able to buy a new computer with an older version of Windows pre-installed. Windows 7 will still get security updates into January of 2020, but which bugs get fixed is completely at Microsoft’s discretion. As we saw with XP, the number of security flaws deemed not worth fixing grows rapidly as the end of support approaches.


Not all of my predictions come true. After last year’s correct call of the Giants over the Royals in seven games, I had high hopes for the Mets this year.

Unfortunately, the Royals had other ideas. Not only did they stomp the Mets into submission, they didn’t even take the full seven games. A true shame.

New York had good, solid pitching, but as I’ve said before, pure defense will only get you so far. You still need to score runs to win. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but to a significant extent the Mets relied on Yoenis Cespedes to spark their offense for much of the second half of the regular season. When he went cold in the playoffs, Daniel Murphy took over the ignition duties, but nobody (ahem) stepped up to the plate in the World Series after Murphy’s home run streak ended.

Full credit here to KC: they just plain outplayed the Mets–and everyone else they faced in the playoffs–to earn the title. But it’s still disappointing that we only got a five game Series.

Ah well. Back to cooking contests on Food Network to keep me entertained.

Only 108 days until the start of Spring Training.

Caps On!

And that’s a wrap. The MLB regular season ended yesterday and the playoffs start tomorrow with the American League Wild Card game.

That means it’s time for the annual guide to who to root for. Normally, this post would go up on Tuesday, but I thought I’d do it today so you have time to visit the sporting apparel venue of your choice to pick up a cap or shirt to highlight your rooting interest.

Those of you who root for teams that made the playoffs, congratulations and good luck. The rest of us–those who normally root for someone else and those who don’t usually follow baseball–are unbearably jealous.

As usual, let’s start with a recap of the rules.

Rules for Rooting, 2015 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.
  5. Teams with a record of futility or legitimate “misfit” credentials get bonus points in the decision process. 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 Cubs. As I noted last year, this rule does make things a bit awkward, but–all Back to the Future jokes aside, next year’s rules will need some revision if the Cubs go all the way this year.

Got it all? Good. Here’s how it shakes out:

In the American League, the playoff teams are the Blue Jays, Yankees, Royals, Rangers, and Astros.

By Rule One, nobody but year-round Yankees fans may root for them in the playoffs.

Kansas City, of course, made it to the World Series last year before losing to the Giants, Texas played in the 2012 AL Wild Card, and Houston was the 2005 World Series loser. Toronto, however, ended MLB’s longest playoff drought–21 years–by winning the AL East.

Sentiment aside, that makes the Blue Jays the runaway choice for playoff-only fans and those who normally root for teams in the AL West or Central divisions. Non-Yankee AL East fans get the Astros, a fine dark horse.

Turning to the National League, the candidatesteams are the Mets, Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, and Dodgers.

Last year, I said that “if the media turn 25% of their collective attention elsewhere…the Dodgers will be readmitted to the ranks of the root-worthy.” That is the case, leaving us with no teams to eliminate from consideration under Rule One.

St. Louis, LA, and Pittsburgh all made the playoffs last year, which means the Rule Five decision comes down to Chicago (last playoff appearance in 2008) or New York (playoff-free since 2006).

Rule Six is optional, but the recent playoff appearances of the Cards, Dodgers, and Pirates tend to reinforce it. My ruling: If you don’t normally follow baseball, or follow a team in the NL West or Central, pull for the Mets. If you usually follow the Nationals, Marlins, Braves, or Phillies, it’s “Go Cubbies!”

The major media are salivating at the thought of another Subway Series (Yankees/Mets)–what could be better calculated to help them spread their opinion that civilization ends somewhere around the middle of the Hudson River.

The sensible among us, however, will be rooting for an International Series (Mets/Blue Jays). I’ve got a sentimental attachment (with cap!) to the Mets, so I’ll be pulling for them to go all the way, and–as usual and despite my qualms about November baseball–for the series to run seven games.

Until we get there, though, I invite you all to join me in front of the TV Tuesday to cheer the Astros as they try to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs in the first round.

Are You Series? Get Real!

The World Series is over, leaving us staring into the bleak off-season. Four months with nothing to console us but the occasional trade, free agent signing, or contract extension. *sigh*

But before we go there, let’s talk about the series. I made a few requests to the Baseball Gods regarding the way I thought the World Series should go. Let’s take a look and see if the gods were listening.

  1. The Royals should win the first three games. Nope. The Giants won the first game, ending the Royals’ post-season winning streak at eleven games. That’s a major disappointment. I was really looking forward to them taking a record away from the Yankees. Maybe next year–though there aren’t any long streaks currently active, so any new assault on the Yankees’ record would require the challenger to duplicate the Royals’ impressive–and record setting–assault on the first three rounds. It could happen, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
  2. The series should go to seven games. Nailed that one. Nobody’s unhappy about that: the Royals’ rooters are unhappy they didn’t win Game Seven, but they’re not sorry the game was played.
  3. Game Seven should go to twelve innings. Didn’t get that. Almost, though. The Royals had the potential* tying run on third in the ninth inning, but didn’t manage to bring him one. On the bright side, Game Seven was close all the way through. That was a pleasant change in a World Series notable for blowouts. Consider: the average margin of victory in the first six games was 5 2/3 runs. Throw out the Royals’ 3-2 win in Game Three and the average for the other five games was 6.6. A 3-2 game is a thriller. A 10-0 or 11-4 shellacking is not.

    * Broadcasters: a runner on base is not the “tying run” or the “winning run”, he’s only a potential run. Washington Nationals’ announcers, I’m especially looking at you, but this year almost everyone was guilty of this offense against logic and the English language. It’s almost as bad as “walk-off walk”.

  4. The Giants should win the series. Yup. If you can believe the polls, that’s only good news for inhabitants of the Bay Area and a few Orioles fans upset by the way the Royals manhandled their birds. For the other 95% of baseball fans, well, there’s always next year. Expat Royals fans in the Bay Area, note that local radio stations are once again playing Lorde’s song again. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a good thing or not.

So I went 2-2 with my requests. Not bad. I’ll take a .500 average any day.

Moving on.

The Giants’ win is their third World Series victory in five years, and of course the newspapers are throwing around the word “dynasty”. Sorry, I don’t agree. Look, I root for the Giants, and I’m pleased for them but what they have is not a dynasty. According to my dictionary (MW, of course), a dynasty is “a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time”.

I’ll grant the Giants “powerful group” but they fall on their faces on that “maintains its position” bit. Remember last year’s 76-86 finish, fourteen games out of the second Wild Card? Or 2011, when they missed the playoffs by four games?

The Yankees won three consecutive World Series between 1998 and 2000. The As did the same from 1972 through 1974. I’d accept those as dynasties. Even more impressively, the Yankees won four straight (1936-1939) and five straight (1949-1953). No question those were dynasties. Giants? Not so much.

Guys, break the curse of the odd years and win it all in 2015 and again in 2016. Then we can talk dynasty, OK?

I’m Not Making This Up

The World Series starts tonight, and the playoffs have already accumulated enough history to bury us up to our necks.

Those of you who didn’t laugh hysterically when I recommended rooting for the Royals and Giants may now laugh derisively. The Giants and Royals both cruised through the preliminary rounds, racking up a combined record of 16-2. That’s .889, slightly above the .600 figure I cited as the minimum necessary.

I’m not making this up.

They didn’t make it look easy: there were plenty of close games and come-from-behind victories. No boring series featuring obviously outclassed opponents this year. It’s been baseball you want to watch, regardless of your religious affiliation.

As for history, this is the first time both World Series teams won less than 90 games during the regular season. It’s also, not coincidentally, only the second time both teams have come into the playoffs via the wild card.

That 16-2 record? San Francisco is responsible for both of the losses; Kansas City is a perfect 8-0 so far. That’s a new record for wins to start the playoffs. The Royals’ first three playoff wins required extra innings, another record.

The Royals won their final three playoff games in 1985, the last time they made it past the regular season. That gives them an eleven game playoff winning streak. If they win the first two World Series games, they’ll hold the record for longest playoff winning streak. Since the current record holders are the Yankees (twelve from 1927 to 1932 and again from 1998 to 1999), all right-thinking fans will be pulling for the Royals in the first two games.

Really. I’m not making any of this up.

The Giants can’t lay claim to as many records as the Royals this post-season–although they did win the longest playoff game in history (18 innings in six hours, twenty-three minutes)–but they’ve cornered the market in human interest stories. Just look at the last game against the Cardinals: the tying run came on a home run from Mike Morse, who’s been bouncing around the majors since 2005 (Seattle* to Washington, back to Seattle**, on to Baltimore, and now to the Giants). Due to an injury, he played in exactly one game in September, had sat out the first two post-season series, and had only three previous plate appearances in the NLCS.

* There are a lot of ex-Mariners around baseball.

** And a disturbingly large number of players who have been with the Mariners multiple times.

The story behind the winning runs is even more of a tear-jerker. As the San Francisco press has been reporting to the point of nausea*, Ishikawa was released by the Pirates in April, signed a minor league deal with Giants, and sat in Fresno so long he considered retiring. When he was finally called up at the end of July, he was hardly used, appearing in only 47 games. His misplay of a fly ball in the third inning gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. So, of course he hit the game-winning home run to send San Francisco to the World Series.

* We’ll come back to the nausea shortly.

You know, if I were making this up for a book, I’d never be able to sell it, right?

So here we are, with two teams that weren’t supposed to make it past the wild card game playing in the World Series. Since I apparently created this situation by advising you all to root for the Royals or Giants, I feel a sense of responsibility. So here’s my rooting advice for the World Series: the Royals should win the first three games, running their record playoff win streak to an unlucky thirteen. The Giants should then win the next four, with the last game going to twelve innings. That will fortify us all nicely for the long, baseball-free winter that lies ahead.

In the meantime, the rivalry is getting heated. At least one San Francisco radio station has banned Lorde’s “Royals” from the airwaves until after the World Series. Kansas City stations, unable to find a Top-40 hit that has anything to with Giants in the title are retaliating by playing Lorde’s piece every hour on the hour. No offense intended to Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, but that sounds like a cure worse than the disease to me. (For the record, Lorde appears to be taking the high road here. As of the last time I checked, her Twitter feed is blessedly free of any mention of the struggle.)

And here’s one final item that I really wish I was making up. Let it be known that wildly exciting playoffs are not a totally unmixed blessing. Consider this frightening object advertised in the SF Chronicle.
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That’s right. It’s the Precious Moments Giants “Home Run With You” figurine. And yes, there’s one for everyone who wants to horrify their favorite Royals fan as well. (Other teams are also available: due to production lead times, the Cardinals and Orioles have similar figurines. So do the Yankees because, well, they’re the Yankees.) It’s enough* to put one off baseball for life. I told you we would be getting back to the nausea.

* Almost.

Root, Root, Root, for…???

It could have happened, but it didn’t. The Brewers errored their way into a loss to knock themselves out of the playoff chase. The Indians won two of their last three, again, knocking themselves out of the chase. The Mariners… ah, the Mariners. They pulled themselves together and won their last four, but didn’t make the playoffs when Oakland tied their own shoelaces together, because the As didn’t quite fall on their bats.

Am I disappointed? Of course. Am I going to rant about it? Naturally. Just not today. I’ll save it for some time in November, when I’ll be needing a baseball fix to get me through the long, dark days without even a trade rumor. In the meantime, I’ll be over at the kid’s table with my turkey and sour grapes.

I enjoyed doing last year’s post on how to select a team to root for in the playoffs–and enjoyed the comments suggesting changes to the rules even more. So, here we go again with 2014’s Rules for Rooting.

  1. 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. Addendum for 2014: You can root for such a team in the playoffs if and only if they are the only team you root for during the regular season.
  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 trump Rules Two and Three. New rule this year. If an old friend, a lover (or fondly-recalled ex-lover), or beloved relative gave you a shirt or cap, you may root for that team in their honor. You’re on shakier ground if you don’t have the merchandise, unless said flbr has passed away since their team last made the playoffs.
  5. Teams with a record of futility get bonus points in the decision process. Addendum for 2014: So do teams with legit “misfit” and/or “weirdo” credentials. What constitutes legitimacy? That’s between you and your conscience, at least until I get around to doing a blog post on the subject.
  6. All other rules notwithstanding, you are always free to root for the Cubs. A new rule this year, and I hope Stef will forgive me for strengthening the rule beyond her original formulation. Mind you, it’s irrelevant again this year, as it has been in so many years past (the Cubs finished at 73-89, seventeen games out of the division title and fifteen out of the wild card.)

For those of you who don’t want to chase down the logic chains yourselves, here’s your handy guide.

National League:
The teams are Washington, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco.

Washington and LA are eliminated under Rule One, the former for stealing one of Canada’s only two teams and renaming them the “Nationals,” and the latter for the ridiculous media overexposure lavished on Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig. (The Dodger’s banishment is temporary. If the media turn 25% of their collective attention elsewhere next year, the Dodgers will be readmitted to the ranks of the root-worthy.)

Summing up Rule Five’s impact, the Cardinals reached–but lost–the World Series last year. The Pirates made it in as a wild card team, but lost to the Cardinals. The Giants didn’t make it to the playoffs last year. None of the three have strong misfit credentials.

Ignoring sentimental connections, which I can’t manage for you, that means your playoff team this year is the Giants, unless you normally root for San Diego, Colorado, or Arizona, in which case, you’re backing the Pirates.

American League:
Last year’s World Series winners, the Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs this year, which opens things up a bit. We’ve got Baltimore, Detroit, Anaheim (pardon me, Los Angeles), Kansas City, and Oakland.

If I’m invoking Rule One on the Nationals, I also need to invoke it on the Angels, for the cynical ploy of moving the team in name only (for the uninitiated, the team’s official name is “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”). No other team is disqualified under Rule One this year*.

* And thank all the Baseball Gods for keeping the Yankees out this year. Derek Jeter, by all reports, is a nice enough guy, but the idea of extending the Jeter farewell tour into the postseason is enough to induce nausea in the stoutest stomachs.

The ranking under Rule Five looks like this:

  • The As lost the AL Division Series to the Tigers last year.
  • Detroit lost the AL Championship series to the Red Sox. On the face of it, that should put them above the As, but I give them a few bonus points under the misfit clause for the lousy state of the economy in Detroit–they need all the sympathy and support they can get.
  • Baltimore lost the Division Series in 2012.
  • The Royals are making their first playoff appearance since 1985, when they won the World Series.

That makes the choice rather easy. Kansas City all the way–unless you normally root for Cleveland, Chicago, or Minnesota, in which case you’re free to cheer for the Orioles.

Non-fans worried about rooting for the wild card Royals, take note: the short series of games in the playoffs make it possible for any team to go all the way. It’s possible to play .600 ball (win 12 of 20 games) and win the World Series. The Angels are the only team to play better than .600 during the regular season. The worst record among the playoff teams was .543 (As, Pirates, and Giants). That’s a tight spread. A few good breaks can easily trump a nominally-better set of players.

There you have it. I’m rooting for a San Francisco/Kansas City World Series, with the Giants taking it in seven games. I hope you’ll join me.