Tagged: Tampa Bay Rays

All Aboard

February is not the most thrilling month of the year. It is cold, dark, and miserable. The only real excitement in February is the return of baseball. Pitchers and catchers report, full squad team workouts, and Spring Training games. Most of the country remains covered in cold weather and snow. However the end of the long, cold winter appears on the horizon. Winter’s grip remains, but it will not last much longer. This glimmer of hope makes the sad days of winter a little less difficult.

Baseball fans have long had the pitchers and catchers report date for their favorite team marked on their calendars. It is the most anticlimactic event in baseball, as there is nothing to see unless you are at the team facility. The same applies to the first full squad workout. You might see a video of players playing catch, nothing you could not replicate in your backyard. The beginning of Spring Training is about the building excitement than actual action.

Spring Training.jpg
The sun is shining, time for baseball. (www.nj.com)

Mark your calendars these exciting, non-events, begin February 11th as pitchers and catchers report for the Oakland Athletics. They conclude on February 16th as the Atlanta Braves are the last team to have their pitchers and catchers report.

The actual fun begins a few days later. Spring Training games begin on February 21st when the Seattle Mariners visit the Oakland Athletics in Mesa, Arizona to open up the Cactus League. The next day, February 22nd, the Grapefruit League begins in Port Charlotte, Florida as the Tampa Bays Rays host the Philadelphia Phillies. The Grapefruit League Opening Day will also feature the defending World Series Champions, Boston Red Sox, beginning their 2019 campaign by hosting the Northeastern University Huskies in Fort Myers. The third game of the day had the Detroit Tigers hosting the Southeastern University Fire in Lakeland.

The Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues help shape the regular season. Spring Training is short, and the regular season is fast approaching. Baseball is a train leaving the station. It slowly builds up speed as it races towards October. Climb aboard, it will be a fun ride.

DJ

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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.

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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

Can He Get On Base?

Lost in the discussions about the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year Awards was the inaugural MLB Executive of the Year Award. The player awards are based on a player’s performs on the field. The Executive of the Year Award is based on a front office putting a contender on the field. Drafting well and player development are critical if an organization is to build a winning team. Executives are judged on long-term work not short-term performance.

There is no doubt Billy Beane, and the Athletics’ front office, has done more with less. Beane, the Athletics’ Vice President of Baseball Operations since 2015, is the inaugural MLB Executive of the Year. Each team has one vote, and baseball has spoken about Beane’s success in Oakland. Success has not come from large payrolls or big free agent signings, rather the opposite. This season Oakland became the first team to ever have the lowest Opening Day Payroll and make the Postseason. The Athletics must scratch and claw with every dollar to compete. One bad signing or trade can set the team back several seasons. Beane has made few mistakes. Oakland has 12 winning seasons and nine Postseason appearances since he became General Manager after the 1997 season.

Billy Beane.jpg
Billy Beane has made the impossible seem routine in Oakland. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Beane’s tenure as Oakland’s General Manager changed baseball. The application of Sabermetrics has helped level the playing field for teams unable to afford large payrolls. The Athletics created a path for teams, like the Rays and Royals, to find success. Moneyball changed baseball. Teams are now spending time and money on analytics to maximize the production of their players and to scout their opponents. Oakland enjoyed several successful seasons before other teams followed their lead.

Winning the MLB Executive of the Year Award only adds to Beane’s trophy case. He won the Sporting News Executive of the Year Award in 1999 and 2012. He won Baseball America’s Executive of the Year Award in 2002 and 2013. Beane has built success from hard work, not flashy spending.

It is doubtful a traditional rebuilding in Oakland would have resulted in similar success. Despite their challenges, the Athletics are competitive almost every season and Billy Beane is one of the main reasons why. Beane is the biggest owner or front office executive since George Steinbrenner. When you think of Beane you think of the Athletics just as you thought of the Yankees when you thought of Steinbrenner. Most importantly, when you think of Billy Beane you think of winning.

DJ

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 5.0

A new season is here and despite a lukewarm stove during the offseason, there are some interesting changes that should make our predictions even more misguided than before. Here’s a breakdown of how we see the final standings and playoffs going down. Bernie’s providing a “scouting report” based on our averaged predictions this time around.

National League

NL East Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Nationals* Follies* Nationals* Nationals* Nats* Nationals *
2 Braves Gnats Phillies Phillies Marlins* Phillies
3 Mets Braves Braves Marlins Braves Braves
4 Phillies Mets Mets Braves Mets Mets
5 Marlins Fish Marlins Mets Phillies Marlins

 

1st Place- Washington Nationals

The  Nationals seem to be suffering from the curse of most Washington sports teams with their inability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. After last season, this led to a hasty change in management. Any moron with a working foot and hands can drive a Ferrari fast. That’s what this team is and why they’ll win the division.

2nd Place- Philadelphia Phillies

We rag on them a lot. It’s been ten head-scratching years since they won the World Series looking like they could have been contenders for several years. So it’s well-deserved. This time, they cleaned house a bit with a lot of cash-in-hand to build a team on the fly.

3rd Place- Atlanta Braves

They’re rebuilding too but the rebuild has had some setbacks. Shelby Miller and Alex Wood floundered. Wood may not have been comfortable in Atlanta but Miller was left out to dry without run support far too often. The front office traded away the pitching staff (giving up Kimbrel for what!?) to get hitters but also gave up one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors – Andrelton Simmons. Nothing has worked yet but they’re still not the head case that are the Mets.

4th Place- New York Mets

They still have formidable pitching if they can stay healthy. Their lineup isn’t drastically different than the one that made a World Series appearance in 2015. In some ways, this lineup has some serious slugging potential. But they’re the Mets. As long as there’s a lurking sideshow like Tim Tebow, you can bet these guys can’t stay out of their own heads long enough to hold it together for a season.

5th Place- Miami Marlins

Part of me would like to call this karmic retribution for ruining perfectly good World Series championship teams from the past. That part is because I don’t want to disparage Jeter but, to be fair, this also feels like certain teams flexing some influence to manufacture winners and losers. Or this could be a genius move to truly build from the ground up…I’m not holding my breath.

 

NL Central

Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Cubs* Reds* Cubs* Cardinals* Cubbies* Cubs*
2 Brewers* Cubbies* Cardinals* Brewers* Brewers Brewers*
3 Cardinals Brewers Brewers Cubs Reds Cardinals
4 Reds Pirates Reds Reds Cardinals Reds
5 Pirates Cardinals Pirates Pirates Pirates Pirates

 

1st Place- Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana are in. Jake Arrieta is out. Kyle Schwarber looks like he was stranded on a desert island during the off-season but in a good way. There’s far too much young hitting and defensive talent on this roster to think that turnover in the rotation is going to do much of anything. Heck, if Schwarber can run down a fly ball better, Cubs fans should be rejoicing because he showed in Spring Training that he can hit for power just from his shoulder rotation.

2nd Place- Milwaukee Brewers

These guys were knocking on the door to the playoffs. I think they added some solid improvements to both sides of the ball with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jhoulys Chacin.

3rd Place- St. Louis Cardinals

These guys are like the San Antonio Spurs. They capitalize on their experience and reload. However, the reloading hasn’t quite been adapting to the rapid changes going on in other places. Molina is still a machine but that’s relative to his age. Same goes for Carpenter, Fowler, and Wainwright (who’s currently hurt). Tommy Pham has a lot of hustle and if Wacha, Gyorko, Wong, and DeJong can find an extra gear to raise their game, third place is going to be off.

4th Place- Cincinnati Reds

One guy north of 30 on the top of their depth chart for fielding but a whole lot of questions about their rotation. If this team could gel together this season, the NL Central will probably be the most exciting division to watch this season.

5th Place- Pittsburgh Pirates

Heart doesn’t win games if you can’t keep them close. There isn’t enough depth here to contend with the rest of the division. Doubt they’ll come in last in the National League but they rest of the Central provides a big obstacle to move forward.

NL West Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Dodgers* Dodgers* Dodgers* D-backs* Dodgers* Dodgers*
2 Rockies* D-backs* Rockies* Dodgers* D-backs* D-backs*
3 Giants Giants D-backs Rockies Rockies Rockies
4 D-backs Padres Giants Giants Giants Giants
5 Padres Rockies Padres Padres Padres Padres

 

1st Place- Los Angeles Dodgers

Let’s give the 2017 National League Pennant winners their due. There’s little else to that’s necessary to mention.

2nd Place- Arizona Diamondbacks

I think Zack Greinke is ready to crush it this season. Taijuan Walker is a solid pick up to round out the rotation. Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb are a powerful one-two punch in a pretty formidable lineup. A healthy A.J. Pollock and an added bat with Steven Souza Jr. gives them a credible threat to unseat the Dodgers this year.

3rd Place- Colorado Rockies

The Rockies didn’t do a whole lot to solidify the impressive season they had last year. Blackmon has been on a steady increase over the last four seasons so he may regress this season. Their rotation is really well balanced without an elite ace.

4th Place- San Francisco Giants

The Giants added Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria to the lineup. Two guys whom many would have expected to be one-team guys for their HoF contending careers. Not sure if that’s a solution or snake oil for their woes that now include an injured (again) Madison Bumgarner.

5th Place- San Diego Padres

There are some shining examples of talent on this team with Brad Hand, Dinelson Lamet, Eric Hosmer, and Hunter Renfroe. Yeah…that’s about it.

paul-goldschmidt-arizona-tri.jpg
Paul Goldschmidt and the Diamondbacks have been waiting in the wings, could 2018 be there time to win the National League West. (Justin K. Aller/ Getty Images)

American League

 

AL East Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Red Sox* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees*
2 Yankees* Jays* Blue Jays Red Sox* Red Sox* Red Sox*
3 Blue Jays Orioles Red Sox Orioles Jays Blue Jays
4 Orioles Sox Orioles Blue Jays Orioles Orioles
5 Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays

 

1st Place- New York Yankees

Luis Severino made the case for being an elite ace to lead the Yankees’ rotation. They had one of most formidable bullpens in the Majors and they didn’t lose it. They dropped a Todd Frazier and picked up a Giancarlo Stanton. Can Aaron Boone lose with this team? It’s New York and odd things happen when you have that kind of pressure.

2nd Place- Boston Red Sox

Chris Sale is probably grinding his teeth a little bit about Corey Kluber getting the Cy Young. There’s also a healthy David Price. Rick Porcello is an enviable 3rd man in the rotation. Mookie Betts might be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors. They won the division last year and lost to the eventual World Series Champs.

3rd Place- Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays retooled their lineup a bit but they’ll have to do a lot in order to take any attention away from the Yankees or the Red Sox.

4th Place- Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are losing depth on both sides of the ball as Chris Davis and Adam Jones have become the elder statesmen of the team. Having one of the best closers in the game being stuck on the DL again shouldn’t be a concern if they’re going to struggle to keep games close going into the later innings. Manager Buck Showalter is a crafty guy though and somehow gets his teams through a lot more than expected. But this is a pretty stacked division.

5th Place- Tampa Bay Rays

Carlos Gomez was a surprisingly good pickup to replace Steven Souza Jr (especially since Souza’s starting the season on the DL). The Rays have a solid rotation with Archer, Snell, Faria, and Eovaldi but there’s an extreme of old journeyman and hopeful prospect talent on the other side that doesn’t bode well for a good season.

 

AL Central Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Indians* Indians* Indians* Twins* Cleveland* Indians*
2 Twins Royals* Twins* Indians* Twins* Twins
3 White Sox White Sox Royals Royals White Sox Royals
4 Royals Tigers Tigers White Sox Royals White Sox
5 Tigers Twins White Sox Tigers Tigers Tigers

 

1st Place- Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians were a game and a series away from being right back in the action everyone thought they were going to coast into. They were stopped a team on an ascendant run while battling some tough late season injuries. 2017 Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, leads a strong rotation that should hold things down for a bevy of young talent in Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, and Bradley Zimmer to really break out while hustlers like Jason Kipnis and Yonder Alonso keep the wheels on track.

2nd Place- Minnesota Twins

Paul Molitor managed the Minnesota Twins like a Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn shore up a strong rotation with Ervin Santana looking more like he did eight years ago and a young firestarter in Jose Berrios who just needs to bring his home game focus on the road. Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano have some devastating bats that will keep the pressure on opposing pitchers.  

3rd Place- Kansas City Royals

This team is rebuilding and it seems like they’ve got a plan. They’ve got some cash to pull in some talent later but only if they think they can make a run. It’s unlikely so third is an optimistic place that’s based more on their divisional opponents’ savvy and struggle.

4th Place- Chicago White Sox

Yoan Moncada has a lot of promise but it hasn’t been cashed in yet. Jose Abreu is either stuck or coasting. The White Sox rotation is patchier than a 12-year old’s security blanket.

5th Place- Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers are at least trying to hold it together and present some semblance of a team. I’m still sore about the way they let go of Dave Dombrowski and I hope they’re kicking themselves repeatedly for it.

AL West Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin

The Winning Run

1 Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros*
2 Angels* Angels Angels* Mariners Angels Angels*
3 Mariners A’s Mariners Angels Mariners Mariners
4 Athletics Rangers Rangers Athletics Rangers Athletics
5 Rangers Mariners Athletics Rangers A’s Rangers

 

1st Place- Houston Astros

They’re the champs. Let’s give them their due. They reloaded this offseason because there really wasn’t anything to rebuild.

2nd Place- Los Angeles Angels

The Angels probably aren’t putting all of their eggs into the Shohei Ohtani basket. They got Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler to add some firepower to the lineup. The rotation looks awful to me but maybe they think Garrett Richards is finally due to bounce back into his 2014 form. They’ll still need to tweak that bullpen.

3rd Place- Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners resigned Ichiro Suzuki. I really hope he can mentor some of their young talent. What I would love to see is that they ask him to start hitting for the fences instead of leading off so we can see some of his fabled home run hitting ability. There are some solid elements in Jean Segura and Robinson Cano, speed in the outfield with Dee Gordon, and if they can keep things close an excited closer in Edwin Diaz.

4th Place- Oakland Athletics

Moneyball doesn’t work when everyone else has the analytics you have now.

5th Place- Texas Rangers

The Rangers sold the farm and now they’re using some of their prize bulls to till the field for the next team to come in.

miguel-cabrera-d778d3f66afa5458.jpg
Will one of the best right handed hitters of all time, Miguel Cabrera, play for a last place Tigers team in 2018? (AP Photo/ Carlos Osorio)

Wild Card

NL WC Winner Rockies Cubbies Rockies Dodgers Dbacks Brewers
NL WC Loser Brewers D-backs Cardinals Brewers Marlins D-backs
AL WC Winner Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Red Sox Angels
AL WC Loser Angels Jays Angels Indians Twins Red Sox

 

Divisional Series

NLDS 1-4 Winner Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
NLDS 1-4 Loser Rockies Cubbies Rockies Nationals Dbacks Brewers
NLDS 2-3 Winner Nationals Follies Cubs D-backs Cubs Cubs
NLDS 2-3 Loser Cubs Reds Nationals Cardinals Nats Nationals
ALDS 1-4 Winner Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Astros
ALDS 1-4 Loser Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Astros Angels
ALDS 2-3 Winner Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
ALDS 2-3 Winner Red Sox Yankees Indians Twins Cleveland Indians

 

Championship Series

NLCS Winner Nationals Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
NLCS Loser Dodgers Follies Dodgers D-backs Cubs Cubs
ALCS Winner Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
ALCS Loser Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Astros
01Sox1.jpg
Red Sox fans should be excited. The Winning Run picked the Yankees to win the World Series. We all know that means the Yankees have no chance for another ring. (AP Photo)

World Series

World Series Champ Nationals Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
World Series Runner Up Astros Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers

 

Sorry in advance to the New York Yankees because this means they’re probably not going to win the World Series this year.

BL, DJ, JJ, & JB

Predictions That Did Go Wrong 4.0

After four seasons of attempting to predict how the Major League season will play out, one would think we would improve. Instead we were pitiful once again. The only consistency continues to be we are individually and collectively terrible at predicting the baseball future. Below is all the proof you need.

National League

National League East

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

 

National League Central

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs Chicago Harry Caray’s Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs
2nd Milwaukee Brewers Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Buckos* St. Louis Cardinals* St. Louis Cardinals*
3rd St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals Cincinnati Fighting Vottos Pittsburgh Pirates Milwaukee Brewers
4th Pittsburgh Pirates Milwaukee Brewers St. Louis Deadbirds Milwaukee Brewers Pittsburgh Pirates
5th Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewniversity Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds

 

National League West

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers Colorado Silver Bullets Los Angeles Dodgers San Francisco Giants
2nd Arizona Diamondbacks San Francisco Giants* Los Angeles Vin Scullys* Colorado Rockies* Los Angeles Dodgers*
3rd Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies San Padres Big Macs San Francisco Giants Colorado Rockies
4th San Diego Padres Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Trouser Snakes Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Diamondbacks
5th San Francisco Giants San Diego Padres San Francisco Gigantors San Diego Padres San Diego Padres
Turner.jpg
Justin Turner and the Dodgers won the National League Pennant, we didn’t see that coming for some reason. (Richard Mackson- USA TODAY Sports)

American League

American League East

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

 

American League Central

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Cleveland Indians Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians Cleveland Indians
2nd Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers Cleveland Up Three Games To None* Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals
3rd Kansas City Royals Kansas City Royals Chicago Black Sox Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers
4th Chicago White Sox Minnesota Twins Minnesota Twinkies Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins
5th Detroit Tigers Chicago White Sox Detroit Militarized Zone Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox

 

American League West

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Houston Astros Houston Astros The Acute Angels of Anaheim Seattle Mariners Houston Astros
2nd Los Angeles Angels Seattle Mariners* Houston Colt 45s* Houston Astros* Seattle Mariners
3rd Seattle Mariners Texas Rangers Oakland White Elephants Texas Rangers Texas Rangers
4th Texas Rangers Los Angeles Angels Texas Dangers Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Angels
5th Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics Seattle Seamen Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics
Yankees.jpg
The Yankees were a surprise in 2017, which seems weird to say now. (Ben Solomon- New York Times)

The Playoffs

National League Wild Card

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

 

American League Wild Card

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

 

National League Divisional Series

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers
Loser Arizona Diamondbacks San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Buckos Colorado Rockies Chicago Cubs
Winner Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs New York Muttz Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants
Loser Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers Chicago Harry Caray’s Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals

 

American League Divisional Series

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner New York Yankees Boston Red Sox Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians New York Yankees
Loser Cleveland Indians Seattle Mariners Cleveland Up Three Games To None Houston Astros Cleveland Indians
Winner Houston Astros Cleveland Indians The Acute Angels of Anaheim Seattle Mariners Boston Red Sox
Loser Boston Red Sox Houston Astros Toronto Canucks Boston Red Sox Houston Astros

 

National League Championship Series

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

 

American League Championship Series

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Houston Astros Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Seattle Mariners New York Yankees
Loser New York Yankees Boston Red Sox The Acute Angels of Anaheim Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox

 

World Series

Reality Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Houston Astros Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Seattle Mariners New York Yankees
Loser Los Angeles Dodgers Boston Red Sox Kansas City Monarchs Washington Nationals San Francisco Giants
Bregman.jpg
Some how none of us had the Astros in the World Series, much less winning it. WHY???!!!! (Eugene Garcia/ European Pressphoto Agency)

Breaking down how we did individually shows some bright spots here and there, but overall we were terrible. Here is a breakdown of everything we correctly predicted before last season began.

Jesse was the worst at predicting the season. He correctly predicted the final regular season standings of just seven teams, a sad showing at 23%. His correct predictions focused primarily on which teams would not contend. He was correct twice in the National League East, his best division, predicting the Braves would finish third and the Phillies would finish last. In the National League Central, he found his only correct prediction with the Cubs winning the division. Jesse looked into his crystal ball and saw the Giants finishing last in the National League West long before the rest of us. Moving over to the American League, the Yankees produced the second place finish he foresaw last April. In the Central, the Tigers followed through by finishing last. Finally, in the American League West, Jesse nailed it with his prediction of the Rangers finishing in fourth place. None of his playoff predictions were correct, and thus Jesse finished last in The Winning Run’s prediction standings.

Derek managed to finish with the bronze medal based on his predictions for the 2017 season. He predicted the final regular season standings for 12 teams, an impressive 40%, tied for the most. His predictions included picking every division winner before the season started. Consistency is the key to success in playing and predicting baseball. Derek was correct on the Nationals winning and the Phillies finishing last in the National League East. In the Central, Derek showed his prediction prowess as he was spot on with the Cubs winning, the Cardinals finishing third, and the Reds finishing last in the division. In the National League West, the Dodgers and Rockies came through finishing first and third respectively. The American League East was the weakest division for Derek, as he was correct only in predicting the Red Sox would win the division. The Indians and the Royals made Derek’s predictions true by finishing first and third in the American League Central. He was correct that the Astros would dominate and the Athletics would be left behind in the American League West. Success during the regular season is great, but as any Nationals fan know, success in the playoffs is what matters. Derek managed only two correct predictions in the playoffs, both concerned the Cubs. He was correct in predicting the Cubs would win their matchup in the National League Divisional Series and would lose in the National League Championship Series. Success in the playoffs is what matters, he will have to wait until next year to see if he climb higher on the podium.

Coming in second place, just missing the gold medal was John. While John managed only 10 correct regular season predictions, a respectable 33%, against Derek’s 12, his success in the playoffs earned him the silver medal. John got off to a good start with the Nationals winning and the Phillies finishing last in the National League East. His success continued in the Central as he again bookended the division with the Cubs and the Reds. The National League West saw him only predict the Dodgers winning the division. Moving over to the American League East we found John’s strength. He correctly predicting the Red Sox winning the division, the Yankees finishing second, and the Orioles finishing last. The rest of the American League was not as easy. In the Central, John managed to only predict the Indians winning. In the West he only correct prediction was the Athletics finishing last. However, once the calendar rolled over to October John made up for last time. He was correct, like Derek, in predicting the Cubs would win their matchup in the National League Divisional Series only to lose in the National League Championship Series. However, John predicted the Red Sox would be kicked out of the playoffs by losing in the American League Divisional Series. While his regular season predictions were a step behind, John was able to make up for his mistakes and use his predicting power to take silver with a solid playoff showing.

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All four of us missed the most obvious sign to pick the Astros to win the World Series last season. (Sports Illustrated)

This leaves Bernie alone at the top of the podium. His success in the regular season and the playoffs earned Bernie the gold medal in predicting the 2017 Major League season. Bernie tied with Derek by correctly predicting the final regular season standings for 12 teams, 40%. In the National League East he had the Nationals winning with the Phillies bringing up the rear. The Central was his strength in the National League, as Bernie was spot on with the Cubs winning, the Pirates finishing fourth, and the Reds finishing last in the division. In the West Bernie found success with the Rockies finishing third. Once again the American League East was a source of strength, as Bernie had the Red Sox winning, the Yankees second, and the Blue Jays finishing fourth in the division. The Central was an easy pick at the top with the Indians, but below Cleveland his predictions missed. In the American League West, the Astros and Athletics finished as predicted first and last for Bernie. A strong regular season only gave way to an even strong playoff run. Bernie was correct in predicting the Yankees would win the American League Wild Card game. He was also correct in picking the Dodgers to win and the Nationals to lose in the National League Divisional Series. The gold medal winning push came in the American League Divisional Series. Bernie was perfect in predicting the four teams who would meet. He predicted the Yankees winning and the Indians losing in this round. If Bernie had only flipped his prediction to have the Astros winning over the Red Sox, he would have been perfect. Bernie found success in the playoffs while the rest of us faltered. The irony is Bernie lives in Washington D.C. and his local team is the Nationals, who are known for failing in the playoffs after a great regular season.

Collectively The Winning Run showed once again the more you know about baseball the less you know. Each of us love baseball and follow it religiously, yet we are terrible at these predictions. We all had the Cubs winning the National League Central and the Phillies finishing last in the National League West. Collectively, we failed at everything else. We failed to predict either the Dodgers or Astros would play in the World Series, even though we recognized both teams would be a force in 2017. We fail at predicting the baseball season every year, so why should this past season be any different?

DJ, JJ, JB, & BL

That Doesn’t Look Right

Spring Training and the first few weeks of the regular season are always a time of double takes for baseball fans. Every off season players change teams, by trade or free agency, and it takes some getting use to. This season is no different.

There are three types of reactions to players in a new uniform in the early weeks and months of baseball. First is the big free agent signings. Second are the forgotten players that moved teams. Third are the players who will forever be linked to their old team.

There are the big names that changed teams, and while you know it happened it is still strange when you see it in real life. We all know Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the Yankees, yet it will take some time getting use to seeing him in pinstripes instead of the bright orange of Miami. The buzz around the damage he and Aaron Judge can do together is about all Yankee fans have talked about since the trade happened. Likewise, the signing of Yu Darvish was a major victory for the Cubs. His arrival in Chicago will help the Cubs remain the team to beat in the National League Central and in contention for the World Series for years to come. However, seeing Darvish in a Cubs uniform is weird.

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Giancarlo Stanton in Yankee pinstripes still looks odd. (Newsday/ Thomas A. Ferrara)

The forgotten free agents and traded players are often the difference makers for their new team. The Marlins trading Stanton meant many people stopped watching Miami and all but forgot Christian Yelich begged to leave South Florida and was traded to the Brewers. So much drama in Miami means the Marlins trading Dee Gordon to the Mariners early in the off season was forgotten by most. The Brewers have relatively quietly built one of the great outfields in baseball when they signed free agent Lorenzo Cain. The breakup of the Royals seemed to grab the headlines instead of where the majority of those players went. The Phillies signing Carlos Santana away from the Indians could be the jump start that franchise needs to return to relevancy, much in the way the Nationals began their rise after signing Jayson Werth. In Queens, the Mets signing Todd Frazier away from the Yankees gives the Mets flexibility at first and third, by protecting the team if David Wright and Adrian Gonzalez are unable to return to form. The Twins, like the Brewers, have quietly amassed talent and look to be ready to be serious threats in 2018. Minnesota signed Michael Pineda, who when healthy will be a major asset to the Twins pitching staff.

The final group of players forever linked to their old team. Andrew McCutchen will forever wear the black and gold of the Pirates. His arrival in San Francisco was the logical choice for a rebuilding Pittsburgh team and for the Giants who want to win now. McCutchen is 31 years old and should have several good years left. Evan Longoria is the first Rays player to have a lasting impact in franchise history. Yes David Price, Melvin (B.J.) Upton, and Carl Crawford were tremendous players for Tampa, but there should be no argument that Longoria is the player the Rays build their team around for years. Trading him to the Giants does not change the fact that he will forever be thought of as a Tampa Bay Rays.

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Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in a Giants uniform is, in a word, weird. (Ben Margot, Associated Press)

Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez leaving the Royals and Dodgers respectively will forever be linked to those franchises because they led the charge in their revivals. Hosmer signing with the Padres mean Kansas City lost their leader, among others, and it is time to rebuild. When the Dodgers traded Adrian Gonzalez to Atlanta, only for the Braves to release him two days later, marked the end of a chapter in Dodgers history. Los Angeles traded for Gonzalez from Boston when they were rebuilding after the disaster that was the Frank McCourt ownership. Gonzalez helped bring the fans back and show the team was serious about winning. Gonzalez gave Los Angeles most of his best baseball, his arrival in Queens should help the Mets, however he will be remembered for his time in Dodger blue.

Certain players should only wear certain uniforms. The early stages of each baseball season are when we all adjust to seeing players in new uniforms. Like seeing Babe Ruth in a Boston Braves uniform or Willie Mays in a Mets uniform, players are remembered with certain uniforms on. Every off season players change cities and uniforms. It always takes some getting use to, but eventually we adjust and return our focus to the game instead of the player in an odd uniform.

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.

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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.

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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