Tagged: playoffs

Predictions That Did Go Wrong 5.0

Spring Training marks the return of green grass, warm sunshine, and the crack of the bat. Before focusing on the 2019 season, let us reflect upon our disastrous predictions for the 2018 season. We continued our time honored tradition of failing miserably to predict the future. If we are good at anything it is making consistently terrible predictions. Below was our inept attempt at predicting the 2018 Major League season.

American League The Winning Run Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin Actual
East Yankees Red Sox Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees Red Sox
Red Sox Yankees Blue Jays Blue Jays Red Sox Red Sox Yankees
Blue Jays Blue Jays Orioles Red Sox Orioles Blue Jays Rays
Orioles Orioles Red Sox Orioles Blue Jays Orioles Blue Jays
Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays Orioles
Central Indians Indians Indians Indians Twins Indians Indians
Twins Twins Royals Twins Indians Twins Twins
Royals White Sox White Sox Royals Royals White Sox Tigers
White Sox Royals Tigers Tigers White Sox Royals White Sox
Tigers Tigers Twins White Sox Tigers Tigers Royals
West Astros Astros Astros Astros Astros Astros Astros
Angels Angels Angels Angels Mariners Angels Athletics
Mariners Mariners Athletics Mariners Angels Mariners Mariners
Athletics Athletics Rangers Rangers Athletics Rangers Angels
Rangers Rangers Mariners Athletics Rangers Athletics Rangers

National League The Winning Run Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin Actual
East Nationals Nationals Phillies Nationals Nationals Nationals Braves
Phillies Braves Nationals Phillies Phillies Marlins Nationals
Braves Mets Braves Braves Marlins Braves Phillies
Mets Phillies Mets Mets Braves Mets Mets
Marlins Marlins Marlins Marlins Mets Phillies Marlins
Central Cubs Cubs Reds Cubs Cardinals Cubs Brewers
Brewers Brewers Cubs Cardinals Brewers Brewers Cubs
Cardinals Cardinals Brewers Brewers Cubs Reds Cardinals
Reds Reds Pirates Reds Reds Cardinals Pirates
Pirates Pirates Cardinals Pirates Pirates Pirates Reds
West Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Diamondbacks Dodgers Dodgers
Diamondbacks Rockies Diamondbacks Rockies Dodgers Diamondbacks Rockies
Rockies Giants Giants Diamondbacks Rockies Rockies Diamondbacks
Giants Diamondbacks Padres Giants Giants Giants Giants
Padres Padres Rockies Padres Padres Padres Padres

We are awful at predicting the future. Consistency is critical for an individual or team to find success in baseball. We are consistently awful at making predictions.

A division by division breakdown shows how terrible we were in a Regular Season. Each division had a possible 30 correct predictions; five per person plus five from our aggregate votes as The Winning Run. The Yankees have the most loyal fans (John, Bernie, and Kevin), so one would expect we would successfully predict the American League East. Instead the American League East was our worst division with just three correct predictions. The American League Central was better, in part because of the clear hierarchy of teams. We managed 11 correct predictions. The American League West was our best division in the Junior Circuit with 13 correct predictions. Overall we made 27 correct predictions out of 90 in the American League, a 30% success rate.

We found more success in the Senior Circuit. Derek and Jesse are both die hard Braves fans, plus Atlanta is John’s backup team. Once again the expectation of successful predictions tied to fandom did not come true. We managed nine correct predictions, not great but not horrible. The Central was the toughest in the National League with only four correct predictions. The National League West was our best division in 2018. We made 17 correct predictions (56%), our only division above 50% predicted. We made 30 correct picks in the National League, three more than the American League. Across the regular season we made 57 correct predictions out of 180, 31.66%. A .316 Batting Average is a solid season.

Oakland Athletics versus Texas Rangers
Khris Davis and his perpetual .247 Batting Average led the Athletics back to October. (Nhat V. Meyer/ Bay Area News Group)

A scoring system was necessary to determine who made the best predictions. Regular Season scoring was straight forward, one point for each correct prediction. First up is Derek who managed seven points in the American League; two in the East and Central, and three from the West. He received five points from the National League; one from the East and Central, and three from the West. Derek picked four division winners, including every American League division winner. He tied with a Regular Season best 12 points.

Jesse did not enjoy predicting the American League. He received just two points; one from the Central and West. He completely missed the East. He found better success in the National League with six points; three from the East, two from the Central, and one from the West. He picked three division winners, two American League and one National League. He scored eight points.

John had a mixed bag with his predictions. He scored just four points in the American League; two from the Central and West. Surprisingly he whiffed on the East and his beloved Yankees. The National League was kinder, as he scored seven points. John scored two points from the East and whiffed again on the Central. However, he produced our only perfect division from the West. John picked three division winners, scoring a total of 11 points.

Christian Yelich.jpg
Christian Yelich sparked the Brewers to a surprising National League Central Division Crown. (Dylan Buell/ Getty Images)

Bernie struggled in the Regular Season. He scored just four points in the American League; one in the East and Central, and two in the West. He did not improve in the National League scoring only two points. He whiffed on both the East and Central, scoring only in the basement of the West. He picked only one division winner. Bernie had the worst regular season with a meager six points.

Kevin followed in John and Bernie’s footsteps by striking out on two divisions. In the American League Kevin scored four points; two from the Central and West. Another one of our die hard Yankee fans struck out on the East. Kevin was equally woeful in the Senior Circuit, scoring just four points; one from the East, swinging and missing in the Central, and three from the West. Despite his struggles, Kevin did predict three division winners on his way to eight points.

Combining our predictions we created The Winning Run’s official predictions. We scored six points in the American League despite our Yankee fans striking out in the East. We scored three points in the Central and West. In the National League we also scored six points; two in the East, one in the Central, and three in the West. We picked three division winners to equal the best Regular Season with 12 points.

Postseason The Winning Run Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin Actual
AL Wild Card Angels Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Red Sox Yankees
Red Sox Angels Blue Jays Angels Indians Twins Athletics
NL Wild Card Brewers Rockies Cubs Rockies Dodgers Diamondbacks Cubs
Diamondbacks Brewers Diamondbacks Cardinals Brewers Marlins Rockies
ALDS Astros Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Red Sox
Angels Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Astros Yankees
ALDS Yankees Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Astros
Indians Red Sox Yankees Indians Twins Indians Indians
NLDS Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
Brewers Rockies Cubs Rockies Nationals Diamondbacks Rockies
NLDS Cubs Nationals Phillies Cubs Diamondbacks Cubs Brewers
Nationals Cubs Reds Nationals Cardinals Nationals Braves
ALCS Yankees Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Red Sox
Astros Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Astros
NLCS Dodgers Nationals Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
Cubs Dodgers Phillies Dodgers Diamondbacks Cubs Brewers
World Series Yankees Nationals Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Red Sox
Dodgers Astros Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers

In October everyone could run up the score. Scoring in the Postseason was: two points for predicting the Wild Card Game, four for the Divisional Series, eight for the Championship Series, and 16 for the World Series.

The Postseason is where legends are born and hot streaks go to die. There were 108 possible correct predictions, we made 32 correct picks, 29.62% We made two correct predictions in the Wild Card games. In the Divisional round, we made eight correct picks in the National League and 11 in the American League. In the Championship Series we made seven correct picks; four in the National League and three in the American League. In the World Series we made four correct predictions.

The Postseason separated the champions from the wannabes. A perfect October score is 104 points. No one is perfect. Derek made the worst Postseason predictions. He knew the Yankees would win the Wild Card game. He was correct the Astros would win and the Yankees would lose the Divisional Series. His predictions ended when the Dodgers won and the Rockies lost the Divisional Series. Derek made five correct Postseason predictions for only 18 points.

Justin Turner.jpeg
Justin Turner and the Dodgers could not finish their run through October to a World Series Championship. (Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times)

Jesse fared better in October. He predicted the Cubs would win the National League Wild Card game. In the Divisional Series he had the Dodgers and Astros winning and the Yankees losing. His scoring continued with the Dodgers winning in the Championship Series and losing in the World Series. Jesse made six correct predictions for 38 points.

John did well in the early in October before falling apart. He predicted the Astros and Dodgers winning and the Indians and Rockies losing in the Division Series. Beyond the Division Series, John only predicted the Astros losing the Championship Series. He made five correct predictions for 24 points.

Bernie found his stride in October. He was on the money with the Astros winning the Division Series before losing the Championship Series. He predicted the Dodgers winning the Division and Championship Series before losing the World Series. Bernie made five correct Postseason predictions for of 40 points.

Kevin also  hopped on the Dodgers train in October. He predicted the Red Sox winning and Cleveland losing the Division Series. Then it was all Dodgers. He knew the Dodgers would win the Division and Championship Series before losing the World Series. Kevin made five correct predictions for of 36 points.

The Winning Run’s predictions were successful thanks primarily to the Astros and Dodgers. We knew the Indians would lose the Division Series. Houston predicatively won the Division Series and lost the Championship Series. The Dodgers won the Division and Championship Series before losing the World Series. The Winning Run made six correct Postseason predictions for an October best 44 points.

mookie-betts-red-sox
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox celebrated another World Series victory. (www.CBSSports.com)

The baseball season is an arduous journey with many highs and lows. Champions are successful in the Regular Season and Postseason because they find a way to win. The final standings for The Winning Runs Predictions That Did Go Wrong 5.0. In last place, with a meager 30 points, Derek. He choked in the Postseason despite tying for a Regular Season high 12 points. A horrendous October left him wondering what could have been. In fifth place with 35 points, John. His solid Regular Season, 11 points, could not overcome a pedestrian Postseason. In fourth place, Kevin with 44 points. A weak Regular Season left too few options for the Postseason. He made the most of his October, but it was not enough. Tying for second place with 46 points, Jesse and Bernie. Jesse struggled in the Regular Season with just eight points. Riding the Dodgers deep into October, Jesse to edge out Kevin by a mere two points. Bernie overcame a six point disastrous Regular Season. Against all odds, Bernie used the few teams he had in October to make a deep run to collect 40 points in the Postseason. Despite our individual efforts, no one was destined to wear the championship crown as The Winning Run Predictions That Did Go Wrong 5.0 champion. We tied Derek with 12 points for the best Regular Season before dominating the Postseason with 44 points for a total of 56 points.

The 2019 Major League season is just around the corner. We will once again attempt to predict the future. This time honored tradition continually shows we are great at predicting what will not happen. Someday we could predict the future, but I doubt it.

DJ, JJ, JB, BL, & KB

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Central “Champions”

This MLB offseason has unexpectedly been boring. Despite a marquee free agent class and a number of teams looking to make trades, since December it has followed last year’s offseason of inactivity, at least until Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sign. But as we countdown the days to Spring Training, this period of quiet affords us a perfect time to discuss another smoldering issue: the American League Central was garbage in 2018. While the division’s awfulness is apparent from a quick glance at the final 2018 standings — one team with a winning record, two hundred loss teams, and one 98 loss team — the level of stink went much deeper.

We’ll begin with Cleveland, the Central “Champions.” A cursory look seems to indicate Cleveland had a solid season. They put together 91 wins while finishing 3rd in the American League in runs scored, 2nd in batting average, 6th in OBP and SLG, and 4th in OPS. Their pitching staff was the only one to feature 4 starters putting up 200+ strikeouts en route to the 9th best ERA, 7th fewest runs allowed, and a collective 7.7 WAR, good for 6th best in the league. With the 5th best run differential in the league, Cleveland appeared to be a solid playoff team in 2018.

Francisco Lindor.jpg
Francisco Lindor and Cleveland were not the World Series contenders their record said they were. (Ron Schwane/ Getty Images)

But this impression starts to fall apart when you take a deeper look into their stats, particularly when focusing on Cleveland’s splits again divisional and non-divisional opponents. In 2018, Cleveland put together a 49-27 (.645) record against their division and a 42-44 (.488) record against non-divisional opponents which included a 22-31 (.415) record against teams above .500. While their divisional record is to be expected given the sorry state of their opponents, the non-divisional record isn’t the result of bad luck, they were awful against better quality opponents.  

Against non-divisional opponents, Cleveland was a sub-.500 team with a pedestrian +3 run differential. This is partly the result of a decline in pitching performance, as their staff’s ERA and RA/G against non-divisional opponents increased by over a run, falling below the league averages of 4.14 and 4.45, respectively.

2018 Cleveland Pitching Stats
ERA Runs Allowed RA/G SO SO/9 WHIP RDIFF
Division 2.92 240 3.16 748 9.89 1.09 167
Non-Division 4.53 408 4.74 796 9.25 1.31 3

 

They fared better offensively against non-divisional opponents, putting up a batting line that was above the league average in all categories but markedly below their overall numbers as a top offense.

2018 Cleveland Batting Stats
Win-Loss (%) Runs Scored R/G Avg. OBP SLG OPS
Division 49-27 (.645) 407 5.36 0.269 0.343 0.450 0.793
Non-Division 42-44 (.488) 411 4.78 0.249 0.321 0.421 0.742

 

This split in performance was an outlier among the AL playoff teams. The other AL playoff teams, with the exception of Oakland, performed well against teams both inside and outside their division. The run differentials are against divisional and non-divisional opponents for each playoff team are broken out below with Tampa Bay added in to show how Cleveland compares with the best non-playoff team (Seattle was left out due to their improbable record in close games in 2018).  

2018 American League Playoff Team and Tampa Bay Run Differentials
Team Overall Against Division Against Non-Division Against AL Central
Houston 263 94 169 102
Boston 229 98 131 47
Yankees 182 95 87 49
Oakland 139 13 126 67
Tampa Bay 70 10 60 31
Cleveland 170 167 3

 

With the exception of Oakland having a similar split in the opposite direction, no other playoff team was even close to the type of split that Cleveland put up, despite the AL East teams having the privilege of playing Baltimore more often. Houston may have even performed better against the AL Central than Cleveland, putting up a 102 rdiff against the division in 44 fewer games. That Cleveland played so poorly against opponents outside its division while the rest of the playoff teams did not, is not just the result of Cleveland being a weak playoff team but the division winner from one of the historically worst divisions in baseball since the beginning of the divisional era in 1969.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers
Corey Kluber may leave Cleveland if the team is going to become a real contender.  (www.mlb.com)

In June 2018, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh wrote an article detailing the strength of each division since 1969 using an analysis supplied by Dan Hirsch of The Baseball Gauge. The method is similar to the “Simple Rating System” at Sports Reference Sites and adds the average RDiff of a division against teams from outside its division (“RDiff”) to the average run differential of the division’s opponents in their own non-divisional games, excluding games against the division listed (“SoS”) to produce an overall rating (“SRS”). You can find the full list here, noting the AL Central results are from June 2018.

At the time, the AL Central was on track to beat the awful 2005 NL West (which the Padres won with a 82-80 record) for weakest division. Using stats from Baseball Reference to calculate the AL Central’s final 2018 SRS shows they managed to avoid the embarrassing mark of worst division by finishing as the second worst division since 1969.

Division Rdiff SoS SRS
2005 NL West -1.014 0.099 -1.005
2018 Al Central -0.977 0.092 -0.885

 

While this may seem as another historical curiosity produced by baseball, under MLB’s current schedule and playoff structure, having a division that performs far below the others could add to the trend of teams committing to lengthy rebuilds instead of improving to make a playoff push.

A good example of this is Seattle. The Mariners finished 2018 with 89 wins, good for 7th best in the AL, but 8 games behind Oakland. This offseason, Seattle has decided to undergo a full rebuild, seemingly concluding that they can’t make the necessary improvement to catch up to Oakland or Houston. But that calculus might have been different under a playoff system that sent the top-5 teams in each league to the playoffs instead of the division winners and 2 wild cards. Catching up to Houston and Oakland would still be out of reach in 2019 under such a system, but Seattle making enough smaller improvements to compete with Cleveland, Minnesota, or Tampa Bay for the 5th playoff spot seems attainable.

Terry Francona.jpg
Cleveland has to point the finger at themselves and take a hard look at their team if they want to win in the Post Season. (John Kuntz/ http://www.cleveland.com)

Instead, none of those teams just mentioned are doing much to improve their rosters. Seattle is rebuilding, Minnesota has made a couple of tweaks (claiming C.J. Cron and signing Jonathan Schoop and Nelson Cruz) but hasn’t improved their pitching, Tampa is pursuing its usual strategy, and Cleveland is shedding payroll and looking to trade Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.

Maybe a Kluber or Bauer trade will bring back current players to improve their outfield and bullpen, it appears that Cleveland may focus on the future and seek prospects and young players. A prospects orientated trade would make Cleveland worse in 2019, yet they likely would still be favorites to repeat as AL Central champs.  This is made possible because the AL Central is crud and, at a time when MLB revenues are rising, AL Central teams aren’t spending money to improve (all of its team’s 2018 payrolls were in the bottom half of MLB). This removes a playoff spot from being truly competitive, and may add to the growing list of teams undergoing rebuilds and results in less meaningful and interesting games for fans.

KB

And The Winner Is…

The Championship Series to decide the American and National League pennants are set. The Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. My personal favorite teams are not among the four remaining, so what better time to take an unscientific approach to decide who I want to win the World Series.

Starting with the team’s success every team has won at least one pennant. Their last pennants were: the Red Sox in 2013, the Astros and in 2017, and the Brewers in 1982 (American League). The 1982 American League Pennant remains the Brewers only trip to the World Series. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. The Astros are the defending World Series Champions. The Dodgers last won the World Series with Kirk Gibson in 1988. The Brewers are still waiting to win their first World Series Championship.

Gibson.gif
In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. (www.mlb.com)

Looking at the home cities I have visited Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Sorry Milwaukee, maybe another time. My positive take from Boston is the rich history of the city colonial days to present. The food and drink is wonderful, which is made better by having extended family in Boston. Houston is a fun city. The food and culture is diverse and it never hurts to have a friend working for NASA to show you around. Los Angeles has great weather, great food, and beautiful scenery from the mountains to the beaches. Never visiting Milwaukee, I would guess the beer and brats are delicious and the lakefront area by Lake Michigan is nice. I would guess.

However, for all the great things about these cities there are drawbacks. Boston is cold and the people are not always warm and welcoming. Houston is the epitome of flat, urban sprawl. Los Angeles has its world famous traffic and pollution, not to mention it is expensive. In my mind, Milwaukee is always cold, and I hate the cold.

The ballparks the teams play in a different as well. Fenway Park is a historic park with a unique configuration and appearance. Baseball legends have played on this diamond for over a century. The history of the park all but speaks for itself. Minute Maid Park is modern with all the amenities baseball fans have come to expect. The weather outside rarely matters as the retractable roof creates perfect baseball weather inside every day of the year. Dodger Stadium is timeless in its simplicity and longevity. Legends, including the voice of baseball Vin Scully, have spent decades within its inviting confines. Miller Park remains on my list of Major League stadiums to visit. Beyond the ability to close the roof and have perfect baseball weather, the Uecker seats and the slide for Bernie Brewer are clearly the most important features of the park.

Brewer.gif
Celebratory slide for Bernie Brewer.  (www.mlb.com)

The good comes with the bad. Fenway Park was built when people were smaller. There is not enough legroom between seats, especially for people who are claustrophobic. It is also an expensive park to visit as people flock to historic Fenway to watch the Red Sox continued success year after year. The roof on Minute Maid Park is not perfect. I had the pleasure of sitting under a leaky portion of the roof a few years ago. Luckily I was able to change seats, otherwise the torrential rain outside would have soaked me inside the stadium. The closed roof also means the cannon fire after an Astros home run is deafening. Dodger Stadium is expensive but the biggest complaint I have is the team does not market their history well. I could not find any memorabilia from their storied history. Maybe keep a few Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella shirseys around, people will definitely buy them. Where do I start with Miller Park. Ummm…it looks a little dark when I watch a game on television.

Everything else is superficial, it is the team on the field that matters the most. The Red Sox have a solid rotation with Chris Sale and David Price, arguably the best closer in Craig Kimbrel, stars like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and the Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts. The Astros have a proven winning lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. A rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel does not hurt either. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw leading the charge with Yasiel Puig, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Justin Turner, and a host of other All Star caliber players. The Brewers have the National League Most Valuable Player in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jesus Aguilar supported by an almost unhittable bullpen with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel.

RedSox.jpg
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox look unbeatable. (Boston Herald/ Stuart Cahill)

Each team also has unique drawbacks. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money to assemble a great team. World Series Championships should be won not purchased. The Astros are the defending Champions, their repeating is less than thrilling. The Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series for years, this forever rubs me the wrong way. The Brewers still employ Ryan Braun. I am not a fan of his, not was busted for using Performance Enhancing Drugs, but his attempt to smear Dino Laurenzi’s name, the test collector, to save himself from his own stupidity forever stained his legacy. I have sat in left field when watching the Brewers on the road simply to boo Braun and will continue to do so until he retires.

After weighing the good and the bad for each team my decision on which team to root to a World Series Championship comes down to a single person. Bob Uecker. Mr. Baseball. Bob Uecker has given his life to baseball. He has been the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He was Harry Doyle in the Major League movies. His appearances on Johnny Carson. Andre the Giant choking him. The Miller Lite commercials. He continues to complain about his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame only as a Broadcaster, the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003, and not as a player. A career .200 hitter with 14 lifetime home runs, including off Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, and Sandy Koufax. Yes that Sandy Koufax. The stats speak for themselves. Come on Brewers, give Milwaukee the World Series they deserve with Bob Uecker making the call.

Uecker.jpg
Come on Brewers, let Bob Uecker announce a World Series Champion!!! (Scripps Media-2016)

DJ

September Baseball

The time has arrived for teams chasing the playoffs to claim their spots or fade away into another off season. The boys of summer has worked hard for months for the opportunity to play in October, and September has the ability to give them the world or take it all away. There are 10 playoff spots available and as September marches towards the cooler weather of October there are 18 teams fighting for their spot among the 10. Several teams like the Royals, Mariners, Brewers, and Cardinals have almost no room for error. They must play nearly perfect September baseball to pass teams ahead of them to secure their ticket to the Wild Card game. Is it impossible? No. Is it likely? Probably not, but what is wrong with giving it a shot.

Brewers
Will the Brewers high flying start help them make the playoffs for the first time since 2011? (Noah K. Murray- USA TODAY Sports)

Those teams like the Phillies, Giants, and White Sox are already looking forward to 2018. Even though the results of their games in September will not change the outcome of their season, many players are playing for  their futures. No one wants to pack it in in September because the difference between playing in the Majors and the Minors is microscopic, yet the rewards are enormous. Jobs are on the line for players with  teams who have been out of the playoff hunt since early summer; players, coaches, and the front office need to leave owners with a good impression otherwise the off season could be unkind.

As the calendar turns deeper into September, the games for those chasing the playoffs begin to feel like the playoffs themselves. Every at bat and pitch matters because a single win or lose can be the difference between making the playoffs and watching at home. The Major League season is a marathon and September is the home stretch. Teams need to pick it up and start sprinting to the finish. It is better to go all out now, than to wonder all winter what could have been. Happy September baseball, the playoffs before the playoffs.

DJ

American Dominance

The Houston Astros are rolling through the American League yet it is not a single dominant player that is leading the team, rather it is a full cast. A.J. Hinch is managing an offense that can pound opponents from different angles and a pitching staff that is above average. Put the two together and it is clear why the race for the American League West ended a long time ago.

Offensively the Astros are not a one man show, rather they are a cast of many. A quick rundown of the statistics paints a vivid picture. Houston has:

  • 7 players with 100 or more hits: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 4 players with .300 or better Batting Average:  Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer.
    • Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel are hitting .295.
  • 6 players with at least 50 RBI: Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick.
  • 4 players with 40 or more walks: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
    • Marwin Gonzalez has 37 walks.
  • 8 players with 50 or more Runs scored: George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Yuli Gurriel, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 11 players with 11 or more home runs: George Springer, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, and Evan Gattis.

Houston can hit for average and power, can get a runner over and then in. The Astros have the fewest strikeouts in the Majors, they put the ball in play and good things are happening. Even with Correa, McCann, and Gattis sporting injuries, this team still has enough firepower to continue rolling along. Not relying on one or two players for their offense should prevent the Astros from running out of steam in October.  

HOUSTON ASTROS AT OAKLAND ATHLETICS MLB
The Astros hope to continue the celebration in October. (Aric Crabb/ Bay Area News Group)

Even if the Astros offense gets hurt and/or all runs cold the pitching staff is capable to keeping the team going. While not as dominant as the offense, it’s a tough act to follow, the Houston pitching staff has a 4.24 team ERA, below the MLB average of 4.34. They lead MLB in strikeouts with 1,201 and are only slightly above average in walks allowed with 397, average is 389. The team WHIP is 1.288 against the MLB average of 1.342. None of these numbers are eye popping. They merely point out that the Astros have a serviceable pitching staff able to keep games close enough on those nights when the offense slows down a step. Despite his own injuries, Dallas Keuchel leads the starting rotation with a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts. Injuries to Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh have meant the linchpin to the pitching staff’s success has been the bullpen. Set up men Chris Devenski and Will Harris have ERAs below 2.86, while closer Ken Giles has an ERA of 2.80 with 23 saves and 40 games finished. The ability to shorten a game to only six or seven innings on a given night means even in close games opposing teams have to get their offense going early otherwise the Houston bullpen can shut them down.

Houston lost a lot of games for several years to rebuild into a contender. The plan has worked. The Astros are one of, if not, the best team in baseball. The discomfort of losing season after season should result in winning season after season for the foreseeable future. A.J. Hinch’s team shows no sign of slowing down. The offense is carrying the team, yet the pitching staff is good enough to keep the success going once playoff baseball arrives. Time will tell, but for now Houston looks almost unstoppable.

DJ

Old School Pennant Race

Under the original playoff system the best team in each league met in the World Series. If that system were still in place the pennant race in both leagues would be nearly over. The Houston Astros lead the American League by 6 games and the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the National League by 12.5 games. It is early August. The rest of the season would be rather boring unless at least one of these teams takes a nosedive. Barring the unthinkable, it would almost seem like a waste to wait until October to play the World Series. Houston and Los Angeles have demonstrated their dominance over their respective leagues during the first two-thirds of the season.

Thankfully baseball no longer goes straight from the regular season to the World Series. Instead a potential snooze fest of a season is shaping up to be an exciting stretch run. The Red Sox and Indians lead their respective divisions, with the Yankees, Twins, Royals, Rays, Mariners, Angels, Orioles, Rangers, and Blue Jays within five games of either their divisional lead or a Wild Card spot in the American League. In the National League, the Cubs and Nationals lead their divisions with the Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Rockies, and Diamondbacks within five games of their division lead or a Wild Card spot.

dodgers
The Dodgers hope to celebrate a World Series victory in October. (Noel M. Vasquez/ Getty Images)

Baseball is better when 18 teams are in the running for the playoffs, not just two- exciting playoff races are one way to grow the game.

One of the critics of each playoff expansion, from Championship Series to Divisional Series to Wild Card, has been that the best team in baseball does not always win the World Series. No doubt this is true. The Braves of the 1990’s should have won more than just one World Series. The Indians of that era should have at least one World Series title to their credit. Meanwhile, the Miami (Florida) Marlins won two World Series, both times as the National League Wild Card.

marlins-win-1997-world-series-vault
Sandy Alomar and the Indians were the better team during the regular season, but came up short in the World Series. (www.si.com)

In many ways this unpredictability in the World Series is good for baseball. Think of the billions of dollars the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox have spent over the last decade to win four world Series between them. Large payrolls don’t guarantee World Series victories, nor does a World Series title guarantee success the next season as the Red Sox can attest. In basketball, it’s an easy bet that any team with LeBron James will play in the NBA Finals. In football, the Patriots are usually a solid choice as long as Tom Brady is healthy. It does not work that way in baseball. If it did every World Series would be Mike Trout and the Angels and/or Bryce Harper and the Nationals. How many World Series appearances do they have combined? Zero.

18 of the 30 Major League teams still have at least an outside shot at the playoffs. Are some teams delusional about their chances and were buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline? Absolutely. However, baseball as a whole benefits when the majority of teams are still playing hard with two months to go instead of rolling over and waiting for next year. The Astros and Dodgers should play each other in the World Series, but like most things in life and baseball this is not guaranteed.

DJ

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 4.0

Let’s try this again. For the fourth year in a row The Winning Run will try in vain to accurately predict what will happen during the 2017 Major League Baseball season. We do this knowing that we are terrible at this, yet it is still fun to try. The only thing that we can guarantee about our predictions are that they are wrong and the actual season will be better than the season we predicted. Thanks to Bernie for his commentary on each team. 

We realize that the season has already begun and that we are late to the party. There is a good reason for this. We were all attending Derek’s wedding with Jesse as the Best Man, Bernie as a groomsman, and John as an usher. Sorry about the delay, life got busy. And so, here are our predictions for the 2017 season.

National League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Washington Nationals New York Muttz Washington Nationals Washington Nationals
2nd New York Mets* Washington Gnats Atlanta Braves New York Mets
3rd Miami Marlins Atlanta Bravos New York Mets Miami Marlins
4th Atlanta Braves Miami Fish Miami Marlins Atlanta Braves
5th Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Follies Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies

Washington Nationals – These guys are like Peyton Manning. Great in the regular season but can’t seem to navigate the playoffs. Will they capture hardware this year? I won’t hold my breath. Bryce Harper is pretty much a force of nature in the game but more like a tornado in that the damage is only done if you get in the way.

New York Mets – I’m torn about putting them further down the list. Why? Because of another f-ing football player – Tim Tebow. With arguably the best rotation in the league and young bats that are finding their stride, these guys only get in their own way. If they could borrow some of the “No F@#$s Given” attitude of their crosstown rivals, I’d put them in the NLCS without hesitation. If there’s even a whisper of Tebow getting called up after the All-Star Break, write these guys off.

Miami Marlins – Stanton looked good in the WBC. The team met with considerable tragedies last season. Even if they get it together and settled this year, they’re a couple seasons away from elbowing out the Mets and the Nationals.

Atlanta Braves – The Braves are rebuilding with some interesting young talent. Dansby Swanson is really just the icing on the cake. Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon, is just fun to watch as he continues trucking along as if he were decades younger. Hopefully, he’ll share his experience in a way that keeps the young guys on track and out of trouble. It’s still a long way from seeing them place higher in the division.

Philadelphia Phillies – There are few franchises that I can think of that are more poorly managed from the front office on down. Did I bother to look up anything on their off-season? Why bother?

Colon
Bartolo Colon brings his power bat and arm to Atlanta, can Big Sexy hit career home run #2 for the Braves. (www.mlb.com)
Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Chicago Cubs Chicago Harry Caray’s Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs
2nd Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Buckos* St. Louis Cardinals* St. Louis Cardinals*
3rd St. Louis Cardinals Cincinnati Fighting Vottos Pittsburgh Pirates Milwaukee Brewers
4th Milwaukee Brewers St. Louis Dreadbirds Milwaukee Brewers Pittsburgh Pirates
5th Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewniversity Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds

Chicago Cubs – The Cubs have to get the nod for being the World Series Champs but especially so because the win came on the backs of a core group of young talent in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell. Javier Baez continues to amaze with his acrobatic defense and it’s getting more refined. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks are the only guys on the rotation I’d trust to finish the season strong but that may be all they need to go deep in the playoffs.

St. Louis Cardinals – I’m now more convinced than ever that Yadier Molina is a cyborg. I keep thinking they’re too old to keep up and I’m looking like a fool as they pull out wins. What’s also got me intrigued this season is the new roster of incoming talent with guys like Alex Reyes (before he needed Tommy John surgery) and Luke Weaver. They’re rebuilding while still competing for the playoffs. That deserves a lot of respect.

Milwaukee Brewers –  I think they’re trying to follow the Cardinals’ example of rebuilding without demolishing. For some odd reason, I have a feeling Junior Guerra will have a great season. I don’t put a lot of stock into spring training except to see how individuals spent their offseason getting ready but they’re looking pretty good.

Pittsburgh Pirates – I’ve been high on them in the past. I think I need to sober up. Aside from their all-star outfield, I’m not sure there’s a lot else to be hopeful about.

Cincinnati Reds – They’re rebuilding. I don’t think they’ll be the worst but this division may be the overall best division in all of MLB. Finishing last in the Central but maybe 10th in the National League.

West Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Los Angeles Dodgers Colorado Silver Bullets Los Angeles Dodgers San Francisco Giants
2nd San Francisco Giants* Los Angeles Vin Scullys* Colorado Rockies* Los Angeles Dodgers*
3rd Colorado Rockies San Padres Big Macs San Francisco Giants Colorado Rockies
4th Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Trouser Snakes Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Diamondbacks
5th San Diego Padres San Francisco Gigantors San Diego Padres San Diego Padres

San Francisco Giants – Cueto and Samardzija still have enough in the tank which makes this the best rotation in this division. Melancon is a solid closer addition to anchor a bullpen. The talent on this roster is well-experienced but not fighting the twilight of their careers.

Los Angeles Dodgers – These guys caught lightning in a bottle. Seager is my pick to take MVP this season. But there’s some age on this team that’s probably going to show. It’s not just tarnish, it might be rust. I’m not sold on Joc Pederson. Though he’s shown some moments of pure brilliance, it’s too streaky.

Colorado Rockies – If Trevor Story stays healthy this team may be knocking on the Dodgers door…wait, no pitching. Nevermind. Arizona might catch them by surprise.

Arizona Diamondbacks – It’s a team game. Goldschmidt and Greinke can’t do it all themselves. What I don’t get is why this team can’t seem to get it together when it seems to be there on paper.

San Diego Padres – This team may have better luck if they spent some time with the real life versions of their mascot.

Goldy
The Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt could be a surprise in the NL West. (Ezra Shaw)

American League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Boston Red Sox Toronto Canucks Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox
2nd Toronto Blue Jays* New York Spankees New York Yankees* New York Yankees*
3rd New York Yankees Baltimore Riots Toronto Blue Jays Baltimore Orioles*
4th Baltimore Orioles Steve Irwin Killers Tampa Bay Rays Toronto Blue Jays
5th Tampa Bay Rays Boston Dead Sux Baltimore Orioles Tampa Bay Rays

Boston Red Sox – Getting Chris Sale indicates the Boston Red Sox want to win now. With Price in the pipeline, they might have a slow start to the season but this is probably the most formidable American League rotation this season. There’s plenty of hitting available in the lineup without Benintendi. So he’s just icing on the cake. Blech.

New York Yankees – I think it’s safe to say that Tanaka is a bonafide ace. I’ve heard that Sabathia may have finally perfected another pitch and developed the sort of patience necessary for an arm that’s lost some heat. They got some bats to hopefully keep them in games late so that they can show off what may be one of the top 5 bullpens in the league.

Baltimore Orioles – Manny Machado is a man amongst boys and it’s often forgotten how young he is. Adam Jones is still a force to be reckoned with. This is a roster that’s really good up and down but what I think puts them in third place is that there’s more potential firepower in the rotation and lineup than…

Toronto Blue Jays – Probably the most balanced team in all of major league baseball. Yet, the underachieving in the playoffs is problematic for me. I think this is the year where it’s going to catch up to them this season.

Tampa Bay Rays – Evan Longoria amazes me that he’s still producing the way he does. Chris Archer is an ace on almost any team. What else do they have? Yeah….

Sale
Chris Sale changed his sox and could make Boston untouchable in the East. (www.si.com)
Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians Cleveland Indians
2nd Detroit Tigers Cleveland Up Three Games To None* Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals
3rd Kansas City Royals Chicago Black Sox Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers
4th Minnesota Twins Minnesota Twinkies Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins
5th Chicago White Sox Detroit Militarized Zone Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox

Cleveland Indians – These guys didn’t get into the World Series because they were built on foundation of well-experienced and stalwart veteran stars. This is a dynamic team with a creative manager. 2017 is a reloading, not refurbishing, year.

Kansas City Royals – Something didn’t click in 2016 but this is a well-balanced team. The departure of Wade Davis and Edinson Volquez is troublesome but they added some bats to increase their hitting production. Danny Duffy is an exciting talent that is screaming elite ace but let’s hold judgement until we see how he navigates the season.

Detroit Tigers – A veteran team with the closest thing to Murderers’ Row in the AL. If Verlander bounces back quickly they should be considered higher but, aside from Zimmermann, the rotation is unexciting. K-Rod had a great 2016 season but this doesn’t seem to be a bullpen that can truly shorten games.  It’s feast or famine with the Tigers this year.

Minnesota Twins – They circled the wagons a bit with their lineup but it’s a solid core group. There’s an interesting variety in the rotation but that’s all that can be said about their pitching.

Chicago White Sox – New manager and a great prospect. But at what cost? Sorry, but the departure of Sale and Eaton leaves a lot to be desired.

West Derek Jesse John

Bernie

1st Houston Astros The Acute Angles of Anaheim Seattle Mariners Houston Astros
2nd Seattle Mariners* Houston Colt 45s* Houston Astros* Seattle Mariners
3rd Texas Rangers Oakland White Elephants Texas Rangers Texas Rangers
4th Los Angeles Angels Texas Dangers Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Angels
5th Oakland Athletics Seattle Seamen Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics

Houston Astros – Reddick, Aoki, and Beltran…the Astros built up one of the more enviable lineups in the American League. This should take the pressure off an ERA heavy rotation that can usually pitch deep into games. Gregerson and Giles is a great 1-2 punch in the bullpen.

Seattle Mariners – This remodeling seems to be going along well. Edwin Diaz looked good in the World Baseball Classic with some nasty late movement in his off-speed pitches. But still not sure the Mariners pitching can consistently give the lineup 8 innings to get to him. This lineup looks good though so opposing pitchers may have trouble getting around Cruz and Cano.

Texas Rangers – These guys finished first last season and are getting what should be a healthy Yu Darvish. But I’m not sold that the departure of Desmond, Beltran, and Moreland was properly accounted for in their hitting lineup.

Los Angeles Angels – Having the best player in baseball shouldn’t make a team complacent. But that’s what we have here. The addition of Cameron Maybin brings some good lumber to the yard but the rotation is iffy and the bullpen is in shambles.

Oakland Athletics – These guys may need a new training staff. To say the pitching staff is a stone’s throw away from triage belies the fact that it’s a stone thrown by my four year-old godson.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros
Robinson Cano and the Mariners should be tough to handle with solid pitching and hitting. (Troy Taormina- USA TODAY Sports)

The Playoffs

My season picks were more serious than these. This is more about what I would like to see happen and what I think would make a great storyline for the game. (The number following indicates games won in the series)

NL Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Buckos Colorado Rockies Los Angeles Dodgers
Loser New York Mets Los Angeles Vin Scullys St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

 

Al Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Seattle Mariners Cleveland Up Three Games To None Houston Astros New York Yankees
Loser Toronto Blue Jays Houston Colt 45s New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles

 

NLDS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner (1-4) Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers – 3
Loser (1-4) San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Buckos Colorado Rockies Chicago Cubs – 2
Winner (2-3) Chicago Cubs New York Muttz Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants – 3
Loser (2-3) Los Angeles Dodgers Chicago Harry Caray’s Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals – 1

 

ALDS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner (1-4) Boston Red Sox Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians New York Yankees – 3
Loser (1-4) Seattle Mariners Cleveland Up Three Games To None Houston Astros Cleveland Indians – 2
Winner (2-3) Cleveland Indians The Acute Angles of Anaheim Seattle Marines Boston Red Sox – 3
Loser (2-3) Houston Astros Toronto Canucks Boston Red Sox Houston Astros – 2

 

NLCS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Washington Nationals San Francisco Giants – 4
Loser Chicago Cubs New York Muttz Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers – 3

 

ALCS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Seattle Mariners New York Yankees – 4
Loser Boston Red Sox The Acute Angles of Anaheim Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox – 2

 

celebrate
Who will celebrate in October in 2017? (Brian Cassella/ Chicago Tribune)

World Series

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Washington Nationals – 4 Colorado Silver Bullets – 4 Seattle Mariners – 4 New York Yankees – 4
Loser Boston Red Sox – 3 Kansas City Monarchs – 2 Washington Nationals – 2 San Francisco Giants – 3

 

Time will tell if any of our predictions are correct. This is our fourth year doing this and we still are horrible at making predictions. So don’t blame us if we are wrong, we warned you. Just remember, baseball makes it better.

DJ, JJ, JB, and BL