Preface: This is yet another article I intended as a one-off, but the situation changed and required further explanation– thus turning it into a 7,500-word serial. I’m abusing the new time-stamp feature, as you’ll see. First published on September 22, the main contents here are in italics, and deal with the last day of the MLB regular season, and the following two days through the NL Wild Card game on October 2, 2018.
Hall-of-fame Yankees catcher & dugout philosopher Yogi Berra famously pointed out that, “It ain’t over, until it’s over.” Decades later the times are indeed a-changin’, and that’s when a Marxist philosopher who loves baseball comes along and slaps an asterisk on that proverb by clarifying that, “It ain’t over, until it can’t be overturned.”
I’m going to do something that few other sportswriters do, which is analyze my pre-season predictions. There is one week remaining in the MLB season as of this publication, as these screenshots and analysis cover everything through September 21. This can be done because all the serious races have been decided. This piece will take a close look at Pythagorean record (X-W/L) using runs scored & allowed to determine if a team was “lucky” or “unlucky” in 2018. Any team that veers more than +/- two wins from their actual record can be considered either lucky or unlucky. That can tell you a lot about their expectations in this post-season & 2019.
AL East Prediction:
Contenders: Yankees, Red Sox (WC)
Pretenders: Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles
What happened: The Red Sox had the highest payroll in MLB, and are currently 105-49, but their X-W/L says they should be 98-56. That’s still good enough to win the division, but they’ve also been extremely lucky. The Red Sox are the best team in baseball, but not by as wide a margin as some would have you believe. I predicted the Yankees would win this division, so I was wrong there. But I also said that whoever is the Wild Card in the AL East, will win the play-in game, which is the most significant advantage to winning the division. Once you’re past that, then everything is equalized in the divisional round. What I’m saying is that if the Yankees overpower the Oakland A’s in the Wild Card play-in game, which is what I (and most) expect to happen, then it doesn’t matter who finished 1st & 2nd in the AL East. If the A’s win, then I was really wrong; otherwise I’m correct about everything in the AL that counts, except the second Wild Card. I also predicted the Orioles would be a complete joke, and they are. See: Chris “Crash” Davis, and this offensively bad pitching staff.
AL Central Prediction:
Contenders: Indians, Twins (WC)
Pretenders: Royals, White Sox, Tigers
What happened: No brainer picking the Indians, as they are they only good team in this division. They won despite being extremely unlucky, with a record that is 7 wins below their Pythagorean. That means this team is a bit of a sleeper, and with the acquisition of relievers Brad Hand & Adam Cimber from the Padres at the deadline, they are stacked in the pen. The AL pennant is a heavyweight battle royale, and it’s easy to overlook Cleveland. That would be a mistake, as this is one of the best-run franchises in MLB today. The Twins were the second Wild Card in 2017, and looked like strong contenders to repeat to that plateau with their off-season additions, but it never happened in 2018. This division may be the worst in MLB, and it’s why I picked the Twins for the Wild Card. The Rays are better than any non-Cleveland team in this division, and probably would have won the second AL Wild Card had they played in this division or the AL West.
AL West Predictions:
Pretenders: Angels, Mariners, A’s, Rangers
What happened: The Houston Astros are like Cleveland, in that they have been extremely unlucky, yet they both won their divisions easily– as expected. The Angels acquired this past winter’s most coveted prize Shohei Ohtani, and have proceeded to wreck him. Ohtani needs TJ surgery on his pitching elbow, yet he is still in the lineup DH-ing, even though the season has long been lost. I thought the Halos could finish as high as second, but they fell to fourth. The Mariners hung around for awhile because they were the luckiest team in MLB this year. Seattle is currently 84-69, with a negative run differential [!], which means they really are a 72-81 team. This is an old team full of holes and payroll bloat, so look for a major correction in 2019 for the Mariners. A big reason Oakland gets the second AL Wild Card is because this is a mediocre-to-weak division. Texas is awful, and will be for a long time now.
NL East Predictions:
Pretenders: Braves, Phillies, Mets, Marlins
What happened: Everyone got this one wrong, as no one predicted a collapse from the Nationals. One warning sign I noted early was the hiring of Dave “Vodka” Martinez to replace Dusty Baker a manager. Baker had to go and everyone knew it, but this is a veteran team with a championship roster. The Gnats needed a manger with experience, and instead they went cheap and hired a rookie with no managing experience– anywhere. I haven’t been a fan of this franchise since they moved from Montreal, because they became just the opposite of what they were. In Canada, the Expos were a savvy small-market franchise that developed players from within, and kept payroll low. In Washington they’ve been a payroll behemoth personified by a front office & ownership that has little brains. I do feel for Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and all the rest, because they deserved better and were ultimately let down by this lack of leadership.
With this collapse in DC, someone else had to step in and win this division, and certainly the Marlins & Mets weren’t capable. A few remaining Marlins fans wondered what might have been, if Derek Jeter & co. hadn’t blown everything up upon arrival. That left it to the Phillies & Braves, with Atlanta having the best roster mix of veterans & young talent. I think the Braves are second-rate to the Cubs & Dodgers as far as NL division winners go, but they deserve credit for stepping up when an opportunity presented itself in 2018. I’ll only change my mind on these Braves when they prove it in the post-season. They’re young & talented, so who knows…?
NL Central Predictions:
Contender: Cubs, Cardinals (WC)
Pretenders: Brewers, Reds, Pirates
What happened: The Cubs won the division, but are starting to look more & more beatable. Their Hu Darvish signing was the worst free-agent deal of this past winter, and will financially cripple them down the road. With that said, they’re still capable of winning it all in 2018. As I mentioned in my pre-season notes, the Brewers made the two best acquisitions of the off-season in free-agent CF Lorenzo Cain & LF Christian Yelich. The prospects the Brewers gave up in the Yelich trade were garbage, as this was the biggest steal of the past winter. That, and obtaining just enough pitching is what got the Brewers an NL Wild Card. The Cardinals managed to hang around until the end, as they always do. This is the kind of franchise they are, in that even when they aren’t particularly good, they can still get by, and they are going to get the second NL Wild Card. Overall this division is mediocre by NL standards, even though it has both Wild Cards.
* Since the Padres are out, I’m rooting for the Brewers this fall.
Update: Sunday September 30, 2018 ~ 7:00 PM
The MLB regular season is over as of this writing, with 162 games in the books; and yet nothing is over in 2 of the 3 National League divisions. In the NL Central, the Cubs & Brewers have 95 wins, while the Dodgers & Rockies have 91 wins apiece. This means a one-game play-off for their division titles, with the losers of each slotting in as a Wild Card.
What this means is MORE slow-down of the MLB action, while we clear these division winners up. The owners & networks are primarily responsible for this, however you may feel. I feel this hair-splitting should be decided by the tie-breaker– which is head-to-head record.
It’s just not that important at this level of mediocrity, so let’s get on with it. We’ve already had 162 games to decide this, and if that’s not enough, then this is how we do it. Everyone knows in advance, so it’s fair. You only need these games to eliminate for the 2nd Wild Card slot, otherwise the best head-to-head record decides all tiebreakers. Clean & fair, and most importantly it keeps everything on track. There are enough games already, so I also will advocate for a 154-games MLB schedule, to balance out for the expanded post-season & multiple play-in games.
The Wild Card is a cheap gimmick and big-market insurance policy. The irony is that it takes the focus away from excellence (Red Sox), and mires the narrative in mediocrity, at least for a while. Now, even after 162 games, the regular season doesn’t go away. It’s still there for 4 NL teams. Of all these deciding games, the only one that actually matters is the Wild Card game. IMO, all these contests should be counted as regular season games, as teams aren’t in the post season until they get to the Divisional Round. That’s what it really is.
Part of the beauty of MLB from 1969-93, was its fair, yet unforgivably cruel divisional format, which only rewarded excellence. Winning the division after 162 games, meant being in the LCS. Everyone else went home. In that era, MLB went from a marathon grind, to high-intensity top-quality action for a pennant– instantly!
The “innovation” of the Wild Card was introduced in 1994, the notorious “Strike Season,” and it’s purpose was/is to allow the Red Sox & Yankees to be in the post-season every year. A big-market team wracked with injuries & under-performance inevitably gets a second opportunity to redeem itself after losing the division.
This series of amputations, once done naturally and cleanly by the format, is today’s MLB play-ins & play-offs; broadcast in slow-motion, and painfully framed in stages by Fox. These are your four-and-a-half hour Sox-Yankees broadcasts, that go well past midnight on the east coast. It summons adjectives ranging from mind-numbing & bombastic to boring & unwatchable.
The AL post-season is East coast bias, while the NL (real baseball) is still in hypothetical land. This fan yawns, “Wake me up for the LCS’s. Enough hypotheticals & mediocrity dominating the narrative. It’s supposed to be clarity, and all quality by now, but we have neither.
Again the narrative is where it shouldn’t be. The AL is the much stronger league, and will be heavy favorites in the World Series, regardless of their NL opponent. Astros, Yankees & Red Sox each won at least a 100 games. Cleveland won 91, and the second AL Wild Card Oakland won 97. Incidentally, the Rays won 90 games and finished a distant third in the stacked AL East. The Royals & White Sox both lost 100 games, while the Tigers lost 98. The AL Central is a BAD division from second to last.
Home field advantage in the WS is determined by overall record now. It’s very likely the AL will have it, which is significant because of the DH. It is this rule that allows the AL to create powerhouses that crush NL teams head-to-head over time. In a short series the DH advantage is reduced, but is still significant, as the rules are set now.
Home-field advantage in Games 6 & 7 (if necessary), create a window for umpiring & review bias to influence events favorably for the home team. The Yankees & Red Sox have notoriously the most foul-mouthed, invasive & rabidly-out-of control fans in MLB. The umpires & media are all influenced by this set-up.
It’s not just having 4 homes games to the NL’s 3. It’s about having the advantage in the two most crucial games of a close & competitive series. If it’s a rout or sweep, it’s probably the AL doing it to the NL anyways.
I had to update this piece, because I was wrong about how the NL season would end, even with only 9 games to play. The difference between the 9 days that elapsed since this piece was published is that the Cardinals proved they weren’t a play-off team. As a baseball fan, I’m happy the NL West gets a Wild Card, because they deserve it.
The NL East Braves won 90 games, eight games better than the second place Gnats. The Phillies slipped to 3rd in the end, and finished 80-82. Free agent splash RHP Jake Arrieta was a disappointment, and the Phils owe him 2/$50M. The Miami Marlins finished with the worst record in the NL at 63-99. Congratulations to Mike Hill, Derek Jeter & Bruce Sherman on avoiding 100 losses. The Padres won 66 games, second worst in the NL.
In the AL, the Orioles went 47-115, worst in baseball. Forty seven wins means their entire roster was replacement level. To be fair, they underplayed their Pythagorean by eight wins, so they were actually a little better than their record– but still horrible. Everyone expects a major housecleaning operation from top-to-bottom at Camden Yards, but the question remains: What bright young GM, that is needed to turn this shipwreck of a franchise around, will work for this owner? Orioles fans need to fire their owner, by pressuring him to sell. Don’t buy MLB-priced tickets for this AAAA team– I say. Otherwise Angelos will just hire another “Yes man” like GM Dan Duquette. Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been an albatross to this franchise for too long, as he’s the one who is most responsible for the Chris Davis contract. There’s no hope of bringing in the brain-power needed to fix things, with Angelos meddling & in charge.
Mon 01 Oct 2018 05:21:37 PM EDT
Final from Wrigley Field: Brewers win 3-1, and celebrate a divisional championship, punching their ticket to the Divisional Round as the NL’s #1 seed. They will play TBD on Thursday, at a still undetermined time. The Cubs & their fans witnessed all this, but it doesn’t hurt too much. The Cubs can shake it off, and go get ’em tomorrow at Wrigley against TBD @ 8:00 PM on ESPN. It sure is nice to have Wild Card insurance. Keeps the big boys fat & happy.
Meanwhile out west, the Rockies & Dodgers are facing off at Chavez Ravine. There was a time in MLB (pre-1994), when two teams finished in a tie for the divisional title, and it was magic. One game, sudden death, for all the marbles. Back then winning the division meant you eliminated ALL your rivals & arch-rivals, and got to face the other division winner that did the same to theirs. The point is, in real baseball the Cubs would be eliminated right now. They lost Game 163, and that means you go home for the season– by the rules of real baseball. Unfortunately Bud Selig and the rest of the owners conspired with the networks to give fans this version of a MLB “pennant race” & “post-season” back in the 1990’s when no one was looking. As a lifetime fan, I can attest that this version of MLB is much inferior to the old one. It wasn’t broke, yet they had to “fix” it, and that’s arrogance for you.
My solution is to eliminate the Wild Card. The division winner with the best record goes directly to the LCS. The other two division winners face off, best-of-5. Head-to-head record and strength of division would be fair tie-breakers, as needed. Rotate the home field advantage for World Series, NL in even years and AL in odd years; like it used to be, from the time the DH was first introduced in 1973. Then finally, phase out the DH. That’s how you restore competitive balance, by eliminating these “innovations” introduced by greedy & short-sighted owners & their cronies in corporate media.
At Dodger Stadium, it’s 0-0 in the bottom of the 4th. It should be a charged atmosphere in LA right now, but it isn’t. Remember, this is LA and much of the crowd is still arriving. The team & fan mood there is hopeful. Hopeful they don’t have to fly to Chicago tomorrow, but they will if they have to. Can someone please rationally explain to me what the MLB regular season was for, besides making money?
Mon 01 Oct 2018 06:55:09 PM EDT
Right after (or as?) I was signing off, CF Cody Bellinger hit a 2-run HR to get the Dodgers started. Another 2-run homer in the 5th by 1B Max Muncy, and the Dodgers were on their way to a divisional title. Dodgers fans LOVE a blow-out win. It means they can leave early to “beat the traffic,” with little guilt. It turns out I was correct on the NL West after all, and if I even cared, I would loudly proclaim vindication. As someone who follows the NL West, the Dodgers are better than everyone else, even with all those injuries.
So it’s the Rockies who will fly to Chicago for Game 164 to determine who goes to the NL play-offs. When the “tie-breaker” game got to 5-0, Rockies manager Bud Black went with mostly mop-up options in relief, as this game was lost. It’s best to save the premium bullpen arms for the game that actually matters, the Wild Card game. Wade Davis & Adam Ottavino will be ready in the Rockies pen, and that’s how you have to play it if you are Bud Black. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.
The Cubs starter will be their ace, lefty Jon Lester who was maneuvered in the rotation by Joe Maddon weeks in advance to pitch this game if needed. Otherwise he’d have started Game 1 of the NLDS. The Wild Card hurts the Cubs in these ways: 1) if they lose to the Rockies, 2) if they win, they lose Lester leading off the NLDS and can only start him once in the best-of-5, and 3) they yield home field advantage to the division winners.
That’s it, as everything else is equalized, and everyone is 0-0 again after the Wild Card play-in winner is determined. The regular season has been over for 24+ hours now, but we still have a ways to go towards determining the playoff picture. Can you feel the excitement?
The Rockies starter will be either 5th starter, righty Antonio Senzatela; or their ace on short rest, lefty Kyle Freeland. I’m guessing the Rockies go with the latter. This sets everything up in the Cubs wheelhouse, and this is your MLB Wild Card in action. Call it the house edge for the establishment favorites, and even though the Brewers just defeated the Cubs and won their division, I’m already picturing a (re)match-up in the Divisional Round, and I’m not alone. In a week the Cubs could be returning the favor to the Brewers & their fans in Miller Park.
As for the Rockies, they were the bullies of the NL West in 2018. That’s a Padres fan perspective. They threw at Padres repeatedly (who had no starting pitching to defend their hitters), and broke CF Manny Margot’s wrist intentionally, for no good reason. With that said, I still hope the Rockies beat the Cubs tomorrow, but I know better. The pressure will be on the Rockies to get an early lead, and if they don’t the percentages (and short rest) will likely crack them. It’s baseball, and anything can happen, but you need to be aware of the fix and this is as close as it gets in MLB.
Mon 01 Oct 2018 09:03:19 PM EDT
This consistent unfair bias towards big market franchises can be seen in the post-season seeding in the NL. The Brewers finished 96-67, highest win total in the NL. The Cubs were second highest at 95, but will be the 4th-seed, because they are the Wild Card. Just because, on that. That means the #2-seeded Dodgers (92-71) host the #3-seeded Braves who won only 90 games. The Brewers would surely prefer to face the Braves, and maybe even the Dodgers, but they have no choice, as it’s been decided in advance by the powers-that-be. Note how this leaves the possibility of a Dodgers-Cubs NLCS, which is what MLB & ESPN/Fox want. In the AL they want the Red Sox or Yankees in the World Series every year.
Also note that the AL Wild Card game could have been switched with the NL Wild Card game, as far as the Tuesday/Wednesday dates go. The Rockies, who won 9 of 10 games to end the season in a tie with LA. They haven’t had an off-day since September 20. The A’s @ Yankees is scheduled for Wednesday night, meaning they both get two off-days. Do you believe ANYONE but me has brought up the idea that it would be in the best interests of MLB to accommodate the weariness of the Rockies here? Most ESPN & Fox sports reporters couldn’t name three Rockies players in 10 seconds. In contrast, they know everyone on the Cubs as the background is already done. So who do who YOU like in the big game tomorrow? Also know that the Yankees (& Red Sox) never accommodate anyone for the best interest of all. That’s why they’re so despised. It’s the corrupt power structure behind all this that I despise.
Wed 03 Oct 2018 01:25:41 AM EDT
Cubs-Rockies 2018 NL Wild Card wrap-up: Tons of pitching changes, as this game went past midnight in two time zones, ending at ~1:07 AM ET. Rockies win 2-1, in 13 innings. The starters pitched well, as expected, but were long gone by the time things were decided at Wrigley Field. The Colorado Rockies got a run in the top of the 1st on a sacrifice fly, and ace LHP Kyle Freeland (on 3 days rest) made it hold up through 6.2, leaving the game with a 1-0 lead. On normal rest Freeland probably would have gone 8 IP, and the Rockies would have won 1-0. But instead Rockies righty set-up man Adam Ottavino gave up the tying run in the 8th, and this affair became a battle of bullpens & benches.
Rockies manager Bud Black used 5 relief pitchers, and Joe Maddon used 8 relievers, including 2 starters: Cole Hamels & (losing pitcher) Kyle Hendricks. He also used his entire bench, as many Cubs played multiple positions. Home plate umpire Chris Guccione was solid with balls & strikes, and there were no umpire or replay controversies that affected the outcome. The Rockies play the Brewers in the Divisional Round, which is much more fair to the NL Central champions, versus having to beat the Cubs again. This is a major MLB upset, as the Rockies had every disadvantage you could name, and still managed to beat the Cubs. That’s baseball.
I learn a lot about the hidden nuances of baseball, as compared to those who watch games on television, by following along (as needed) on MLB Gameday. Online is where the numbers of every pitch, the results of all balls put into play, and a running box score are kept for in-game reference. Highlights come soon enough, if one remains alert & patient with the MLB video feed. If you really want to know what’s happening, then you have to do some work, and this is the tool to get it done.
IMO, this is WAAAYYY better than listening to ESPN or Fox announcers, who mostly should be muted while switching to a radio broadcast, if entertainment is the desired goal. Those “golden voices” are mostly gone now, or at minimum, taken off-the-air during modern MLB post-season broadcasts. Their best replacement is Gameday, which gives intelligent baseball fans the data they need, particularly in identifying how pitchers are working hitters and any drop in velocity. Also, as soon as I start seeing inconsistent balls & strikes umpiring, I’m looking at the home plate umpire’s name in the box score. Teams all have vast troves of data on this stuff now.
The best-run franchises in MLB have this in common: they are all well-coordinated from ownership to GM to dugout manager to the players. This extends through the minors & globally. There is little-to-no disharmony in their words & actions concerning the product on the field, or the direction the organization is taking. The GM job is the most crucial, as they must handle the manager & the players, as well as upper-management & ownership– quite a juggling act. Responsibility for an organization’s success or failure most squarely rests on a GM’s shoulders.
A manager needs to understand when he must sit veterans, in order to give playing time to young talent, so an accurate determination of baseball abilities can be made. A GM needs this, so he doesn’t trade away a future All-Star or HoF-er, because he didn’t get enough at-bats or starts as a prospect. When a season becomes lost, organizational priorities change, and the dugout manager must yield extra consideration to the GM, who needs a large-enough sample size to evaluate young players, because growth is involved. Everybody is looking at potential, and grading on improvement. It’s not what you are now, as much as what you can become. That’s the job requirement for at least half the managers in MLB.
A manager’s job is to manage his 25-man roster. That means getting to know, and caring about his players as real people, instead of treating them like pieces of meat. Too many old-school managers crash their roster, or don’t get enough out of the available talent, as they let their egos dictate because they lack brains. It’s a manager’s job to not abuse his pitchers. He needs to know how to build & handle his bullpen, and use his bench. Proper leadership prevents injuries, which always need to be managed, and not allowed to linger on, be rushed back, or go unreported, otherwise they can wreck a roster.
All this requires GM involvement, as players on the 40-man roster are shuffled up & down as depth issues come up. Trade deadline acquisitions are also a team decision for an organization. There needs to be complete agreement on what is needed, and what to give up. Today’s manager needs to be quotable & media friendly, to take the heat off his players and stick up for them as needed. Good managers never trash their players or organization through the media, as all dirty laundry is handled professionally, in house, and in person. In short, winning teams have deep pockets, roster depth, and management that knows how to use it. The Astros are the best at this game right now.
The best teams at this in recent years have been the Astros, Giants, Cubs, Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Dodgers, Brewers, Braves, A’s, Rays, and Padres. That’s a diverse group as far as winning goes, spread out at different points on the win curve, but if you look closely at these examples of elite MLB organizational management, you’ll see how all these franchises have succeeded, or in the case of the Padres, will be the next to succeed. They consider & play every angle.
As for the AL Wild Card, I hope the A’s win, and then go on to sweep the Red Sox. Wouldn’t it be nice? At this point a fan can still dream of it, so I’m ending this serial here. An ending in the middle. It’s true that baseball holds the key to many of the cosmological riddles of our time and I see great things in it, but it’s also a job and mine is over here. With that said, I’ll finish my remaining thoughts on the game here in italics, and when tomorrow night’s reality arrives, I’ll happily be doing something else & not caring.
The fact is the Yankees would win two-out-of-three of these type games at The House That Ruthlessness Built, if they played a large enough sample to determine. A 33% chance for the A’s may be generous, but it also proves that baseball can be unpredictable. What’s published here is proof of that.
The two-Wild Card format began in 2012, and it was an upgrade as it finally made the Wild Card a play-in game. Before that there was no difference between winning the division or Wild Card, except for seeding in the post-season & draft order. The results in the NL have been either: 1) big-market powerhouses (Giants, Cubs) smashing middling second-Wild Card entries, or 2) a Reds-Pirates type affair. Until the Rockies beat the Cubs in 2018.
The Astros were moved to the AL in 2013, from the 6-team NL Central to the 4-team AL West, transforming that franchise, while finally providing competitive balance (and sensible interleague scheduling) for 30 MLB teams. In the AL since 2012, the Wild Card has been won by: the Orioles, Rays, Royals, Astros (over Yankees) in 2015, Blue Jays (over Orioles) in 2016, and the Yankees in 2017. That’s a lot of AL East participation & winning, you may have noticed. The only year the AL East didn’t have a Wild Card team under this format was in 2014, when the Royals beat the A’s.
Those were (coincidentally) the last years of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, etc, and the Yankees were actually rebuilding. Meanwhile the Red Sox had their two worst seasons in recent history in 2014 & 2015. That gave the Royals a window to win a World Series, which they did in 2015. It was definitely an anomaly in MLB. The Royals have now collapsed, and the Red Sox have since traded the farm to become a win-now heavyweight, which is considered the new “normal” for fall in New England.
Concerning free agency this winter, there is much that can be predicted with accuracy. Owners have been told by their GM’s that they shouldn’t overpay for veterans, unless they are top-tier non-pitchers. See RHP Hu Darvish, who signed with the Cubs, and had been on the DL since, with all kinds of arm troubles. That’s 6 years, $126 million down the drain. It was Eric Hosmer & JD Martinez who were coveted last winter. This year it will be SS Manny Machado of the Dodgers, and RF Bryce Harper of the Nationals. Neither will get anything close to the kind of money that they had hoped for, or been hyped on. Bryce Harper is the youngest, about to turn 26, so he can expect an 8-year deal at maximum money. A few years ago, many owners would throw that kind of offer any age 30-ish slugger.
The bigger problem is that mid-tier free agents are getting far fewer big-money offers than they’ve seen in the past. A 2/$10 million deal is a common FA player deal these days. Many free agent pitchers had to take one-year deals. A 4-5-year deal only goes to free agent performers who are in demand. Last winter was the MLB free-agent market crash, and I reported it on this site. It got me kicked off the MLB.com forum, if you need an idea of how sensitive this issue is. Players of all experience levels in Spring Training 2018 had pointed questions for their MLBPA representatives on this heated topic. Their perspective is that if they’re exploited in the minors, and underpaid as arbitration eligible big-leaguers; then what’s the point of free agency if they can’t get a contract that fairly compensates them for their value– past, present or future? Veterans are now dumped for cheaper options, and never get the payday they were promised by the MLBPA union & their agents. This issue won’t just “go away,” so look for it during the hot stove season.
Back to this post-season & its format, an undiscussed point on big market favoritism that pervades MLB is the World Series home field advantage decider. As mentioned above, it is best overall record that decides home field advantage in the Fall Classic. In the World Series, being a division winner is declared irrelevant by MLB, and it’s suddenly best overall record that decides home field advantage. In the AL, the Yankees & A’s are the Wild Cards. The winner doesn’t get home field advantage in the Divisional or ALCS rounds– if they get that far, but they’ll have home field advantage in the World Series if they make it, because they both had a better overall record than all the NL division winners.
There is no consistency to any of this “logic,” until your realize the deeper bias involved. Every year the high-payroll Yankees & Red Sox slug it out in the AL East, and are often the teams with the two best records in MLB– like this year. This flip in the rules for a Wild Card, allows both the Yankees & Red Sox to have home field advantage in the World Series, whomever the Wild Card may be. This year is was the Yankees. This is significant, because of the DH advantage for the AL.
The DH is a major distortion in the rules of baseball. MLB is the only professional sports organization that has significantly different rules for their competing leagues. The NFL has the same rules for the NFC/AFC, and the NBA the same rules for their Eastern & Western Conferences. Same thing in the NHL and everywhere else, except maybe NASCAR– where the rules change week-by-week.
The DH allows the Red Sox to start HoF-ers like RHP’s Pedro Martinez & Curt Schilling, and move this slot in the batting order up to 3rd, so HoF-hitter David Ortiz can pinch hit for them every time. Instant “Babe Ruth” through the DH, to end “The Curse.” Plus, AL pitchers can throw at anyone they please, without ever having to face retribution at the plate. Ain’t the DH grand? The problem is that it’s unfair to most AL teams that can’t afford to compete at that level of payroll, and it’s completely unfair to NL teams, who can’t carry a DH on their 25-man roster during the season.
That’s why interleague play is dominated by the AL, who win two-thirds of the contests, so of course [!] all the AL powerhouses will own the best overall records in MLB. The AL almost always wins the All-Star Game too, as more power pitching & hitting is required to compete in the AL, due to the DH. For years the All-Star game winner was tied to World Series home field advantage. This reflected the same bias. Now there’s a new method to achieve the same desired results.
The World Series winners are closer to even, with a slight advantage to the AL. Both teams get a chance to adjust their 25-man rosters before the World Series, which can help a NL team add a bat they may need. Since 1995, the first season with the Wild Card “innovation” that was played to completion, through 2017; the AL has won the World Series 12 times, and the NL 11 times. In the 23 All-star games during that span, the AL is 17-5-1. * There was a tie in 2002, at Miller Park with MLB commissioner/ex-owner Bud Selig (now a HoF-er) in attendance. To summarize, in a short series (small sample size) like the Fall Classic, the best NL teams can overcome the DH, but it’s still a disadvantage to them. Over time with a large number of games, the NL gets get crushed by the DH.
What these findings & conclusions on this biased format indicate, is that MLB prefers the Yankees or Red Sox to win the World Series every year, as the rules are all set up to that effect. Don’t forget that the MLB rules committee & replay umpiring is run out of New York, and is supervised by the likes of ex-Yankee manager Joe Torre. BTW, who are these replay officials–specifically? Fans would like their names & faces– for accountability. Everyone else in baseball is accountable for their actions, so why do these replay umpires in New York keep themselves anonymous, hidden & far away? To ask the question is to answer it.
Meanwhile, lookout for replay bias in the post-season, as it’s happened too often in the past for fans to ignore. When a controversial call is made, it overwhelmingly favors the big-market franchise. Those bad calls are glossed over by network announcers, swept under-the-rug by the corporate media, and ended with the ultimate excuse, “the Yankees/Red Sox/Cubs/Dodgers would have won anyways.” On the other hand, when a controversial call goes against one of these big-name favorites, there is hysterical indignation in the ESPN-led sports media for a week.
What I’ve highlighted & exhaustively analyzed here (concluded after the NL Wild Card game), is a lot of really small stuff that no one else talks about, yet subtly works in the background– always to the advantage of the favored franchises. So why is this? The answer is money & TV ratings. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a US mid-term election on November 6, and political advertising has already been paid-for. The last thing MLB and it’s network sponsors want are the Oakland A’s vs. the Milwaukee Brewers or Colorado Rockies in the World Series. That may be an intriguing match-up from a purist standpoint, the problem is there are WAY more greedy politicians than baseball purists running & influencing MLB from behind-the-scenes.
MLB manipulates all this because it needs the Yankees or Red Sox to battle the Cubs or Dodgers for all this to pay off. Professional sports is big money & politics, so Cleveland or Houston winning the pennant would be considered a disappointment in the AL, as would be the Braves winning it in the NL. After the Cubs lost the Wild Card game, it was instantly down to the Dodgers for most MLB executives as far as the NL is concerned. Once you absorb all this, then you are ready to watch the MLB post-season with a fair idea of what to expect, and how it’s going to be called.
Contenders: Dodgers, Diamondbacks (WC)
Pretenders: Padres, Rockies, Giants
What happened: The high-payroll Dodgers weathered a barrage of injuries, and outlasted everyone in the competitive NL West. The Rockies surprised me some, as I thought the Diamondbacks were better positioned to repeat themselves for a Wild Card run. If you look at their Pythagorean records (ARZ & COL) you’ll see their places in the standing should be reversed, an example of luck factor which you can’t prognosticate in baseball. The Giants doubled down on veterans over the winter in a vain attempt to make another miracle. Look for wholesale roster changes in SF this winter, as they finished fourth. This is still the toughest division in the NL from top-to-bottom.
I’m a Padres fan, so I optimistically picked the Friars to rise to third place out West, but quickly realized this was a last-place team. In 2017 the Padres were 71-91 and finished fourth, but their Pythagorean record was 59-103. I overlooked that Pythagorean, and that’s why I’m emphasizing it here. The reason the Padres overplayed their record by 12 games in 2017 was 1) Andy Green is an elite manager, and 2) LHP Brad Hand had a season for the ages. Andy Green used Hand often & precisely, and he delivered time & time again. In 2017, there were so many situations where Brad Hand came in a serious jam, and he got the strikeout and/or double play ground ball to end the threat. Hand saved his bullpen mates a ton of runs, and made them look a lot better (ERA wise) than they actually were.
It would be an impossible to expect him to repeat that performance in 2018, and Hand wasn’t quite as good this season, although he’s still an All-Star. The Padres dealt him before the trade deadline to Cleveland for Francisco Mejia, the top catching prospect in MLB. The Padres have played Mejia extensively already and are impressed. This looks like a win-win trade, which is what you like to see when this kind of talent is involved.
Final analysis & Padres notes: As we can see, I got some stuff right and other stuff wrong. Most of the right stuff was easy to predict, as not much has changed in MLB. I’ve admitted my errors and shown you that I don’t know everything about baseball. Don’t you wish more sports-media types would do this? It will probably be another year or two before we see significant turnover in the top teams, as the best-run franchises are pretty well established now, and the second-division teams have a long way to go. The fate & direction of the Nationals will be a big story this winter.
The best bet for a surprise NL contender in 2019 will be the San Diego Padres who have the top farm system in MLB, with a few pieces in already place. Wil Myers moving to 3B will be a big help to the Padres, if he can stay healthy and hold down the position. They have top prospect SS Fernando Tatis Jr. and hitting machine 2B Luis Urias ready to fill in their infield. Age-23 RF Franmil Reyes has been a huge surprise for the Padres in this developmental campaign. He fits with CF Manny Margot and LF Hunter Renfroe who has also shown progress in 2018. Same for Austin Hedges, who is now a legit MLB catcher. They’re still probably another year or two away, but you can see it coming if you’re paying attention.
A big factor in the improvement of these young core players was the addition of free agent 1B Eric Hosmer, who sacrificed personal numbers to provide necessary leadership for this fragile team. This definitely took its toll, making him look bad in 2018, but his efforts weren’t lost on Andy Green & real Padres fans. For the first half of the season, Eric Hosmer was the only Padres position player to be healthy & above replacement level.
The reason this team hasn’t lost 100+ games in a season at any time during this painful building process is because of ownership support for A.J. Preller & Andy Green, who are geniuses at what they do. The Padres are currently one game below their X-W/L in 2018, and much of that is due to the bias in umpiring (on-the-field & replay) that has consistently gone against them. The Padres have been repeated victims of inexplicably bad calls, including the worst umpiring call in the history of baseball, which was barely mentioned in the media. It’s taken a few wins away for sure.
Of course, it’s all about pitching in terms of who wins in baseball, and the Padres dumped/demoted their remaining veterans a few months back, and have turned their rotation over to rookies & prospects to see what they have. Young LHP’s Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi and RHP Jacob Nix are the starters Green & Preller are watching the most closely. When the waves of top pitching talent start making an impact at Petco Park, the Padres will be a force in the NL. The priority for GM A.J. Preller this winter is to protect his prospects from the Rule 5 Draft in December, and then possibly make a deal for an ace pitcher– if one becomes available.
Tue 02 Oct 2018 01:17:08 PM EDT
Padres Notes Wrap-up:
The San Diego Padres went 66-96, and they saved their best for the last play of the season. Bottom of the 10th against the Diamondbacks, 3-3 tie, one out with Manny Margot on third base after tripling. Rookie catcher Francisco Mejia strikes out swing, but the ball scoots past catcher JR Murphy. Mejia sees this, and runs to first base– like he’s supposed to. Murphy scrambles, gathers the ball, but doesn’t have time to check Margot who is holding with a big lead off of third. Murphy fires to first for the put-out on the strikeout, while Margot breaks for home. When 1B Daniel Descalso double clutches, Margot slides in safely with the winning run without a throw, and the Petco crowd goes wild!! The 2018 San Diego Padres were the craziest 66-win team I have ever followed. It was mostly painful, but it had a few moments like these, enough to keep me coming back in 2019.
1B/OF/3B Wil Myers is a big issue for this organization. He’s now age 27, and had another disappointing season. The experiment at 3B in August/September, didn’t go well. Padres GM AJ Preller now faces the need to fill a position (3B), and move a potential 5th-wheel who is about to become overpaid. Look for the Padres to get creative and move Myers this winter, in a big trade to acquire a 3B and/or pitching prospects. All this depends on the organization’s confidence in Myers being able to play 3B, and his overall character– which I really don’t know. I don’t believe they will make any significant free agent splashes, like they did with 1B Eric Hosmer last winter.
The Mets have been rumored to be interested in dealing RHP Noah Syndergaard, but who knows the asking price, or AJ Preller’s level of interest with his injury history. LHP Clayton Kershaw will remain with the Dodgers, so I don’t see any ace-level pitching becoming available. Best to build from within on that front. We saw last winter (and this season) what free-agent pitchers are actually worth. It’s an overpay, for injury risk & drop-off performance. Young pitchers are premium value, at league minimum rates. The same goes for players/hitters. An organization that has that going has the nucleus for a divisional dynasty that will compete for a World Series. Free-agents & acquired veterans can only fill-in needs, they can’t be the core as they are too costly, and prone to breakdown with diminishing results.