Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2015 Predictions

With the regular season nearly upon us, I thought it was time to make some predictions for how it'll all play out! Not only will I pick playoff participants, I'll pick the results of the postseason! And you can take these to the bank, for my predictions are never wrong. Ever.

When it comes to playoff results, it's easy to know which teams have a chance simply by being aware of the Oligopoly. Granted, I'm not 100% certain who is and is not in the Oligopoly, but it's generally a pretty reliable guideline to use what you know of it. So here you go:

AL West

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

The Athletics always find a way. They aren't a terribly compelling team, but they know how to maximize their potential.

AL Central

1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals*
3. Minnesota Twins*
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Cleveland Indians

I still see Detroit as the best all-around team in the division. The Twins are my pick to be this year's surprise out-of-nowhere team, and I think the Royals have enough left from last year's run to contend again.

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox
2. Baltimore Orioles
3. New York Yankees
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Toronto Blue Jays

The Red Sox never stay down for long. Just when you think you won't have to worry about them for a while, they revamp their team and look like a contender again. I hate them.

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Diego Padres*
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Colorado Rockies

The Dodgers are still the team to beat. The Padres have made a ton of moves, and I think it should boost them into a Wild Card spot this year, but that's about it.

NL Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Milwaukee Brewers

The Cardinals are pure evil. There's no way they don't win this division.

NL East

1. Miami Marlins
2. Washington Nationals*
3. Atlanta Braves
4. New York Mets
5. Philadelphia Phillies

The Nationals may be the talk of baseball, but I predict they'll underachieve, and that the young Marlins will beat them out for the top spot. I wish it weren't so, but that's how these things go.


AL Wild Card: Royals over Twins

ALDS 1: Royals over Red Sox
ALDS 2: Tigers over Athletics

ALCS: Royals over Tigers

NL Wild Card: Padres over Nationals

NLDS 1: Cardinals over Padres
NLDS 2: Marlins over Dodgers

NLCS: Cardinals over Marlins

World Series: Cardinals over Royals

The only Oligopoly teams I have making the Playoffs are the Red Sox, Cardinals and Dodgers, so we know one of them has to win it. Since the Giants and Cardinals have alternated NL pennants this decade, the Cardinals win by virtue of it being an odd-numbered year. The Marlins may be the exception to the Oligopoly, so I could possibly see them upsetting the Cards in the LCS and then winning the World Series to an empty house at Marlins Park, but I'll stick with the safe choice for now.

As for the Royals, I have them making it back on the momentum of last year's magical run. They'll give baseball a brief ray of hope when they upset the mighty Red Sox in the first round, then beat out the Tigers. Like the 2011 Rangers though, the Cardinals will let the Royals get close, only to steal it away in the end. The Cardinals will have their perfect narrative of avenging the Don Denkinger call 30 years later, and their obnoxious self-loving fans will walk around puffed up with bragging rights once again. Ugh. Stuff like this is the reason I'm not getting particularly excited about this season.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Star-Spangled Ballplayers

The U.S. national anthem is a big part of baseball, almost as big as the players themselves. But what about the few players who have performed both in the game and in the pre-game patriotic ceremony? In my cursory search, I've found six players who have performed it, five with singing, one on the trumpet.

White Sox first baseman Lamar Johnson had a big day in 1977 when he sang the anthem and got all three White Sox hits, including two homers, in a 2-1 Sox victory:

Cub outfielder Dwight Smith had a soulful rendition:

Royals pitcher Jose Lima may be the most interesting member of this list, as he wasn't born in America, and he's clearly not singing in his first language. Lima was always known to be a character.

 <a href="http://video.msn.com?mkt=en-us&brand=v5^544x306&playlist=videoByUuids:uuids:1bab105f-d181-44c6-82d9-84abf1afb7f4&showPlaylist=true&from=dest_en-us" target="_new" title="Lima sings the national anthem">Video: Lima sings the national anthem</a>

Former Dodger infielder Nate Oliver and former Oriole Jim Traber are both known to have sung the anthem, but I can't find video of either.

And then we have our trumpeter, former Cub utility man Carmen Fanzone, whose name you may have heard mentioned at the end of the Dwight Smith video. I think this is the anthem I most wish I could hear but can't.

Such a curious list, and definitely an exclusive one.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Congratulations Are in Order, As Well As a List Update

Congrats to our four new members of the Baseball Hall of Fame! Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio are all worthy additions in my book, and I'm glad to see none of them were snubbed. Now the speculation about next year begins...

Until then, you can check out my list of Hall of Famers' first Major League homers, updated to reflect our new additions.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oligopoly FAQ

I've shared my theory about what I've termed "the Oligopoly" in real life and on the internet, and for the most part it's been met with confusion and questions about my sanity. I'm not here to be defensive, since I understand the skepticism of those who can't see. I've come to realize though, that this theory is easily misunderstood, as is my own claim to knowledge of it.

While I've discussed it in some detail in previous posts, I thought it would be good to write one comprehensive post explaining it fully, and clarifying both what it is and is not. For the first time I can recall in my life, I'm writing an FAQ, and answers will be as detailed as I think is necessary.

What is the Oligopoly?

Simply put, the Oligopoly is a select group of Major League Baseball franchises that are also media favorites. The theory is that starting in 2006, some inexplicable force has kept anyone outside this select group from winning the World Series.

So this is a conspiracy theory?

No, because I don't believe there's anyone conspiring. I don't think anyone is rigging games or pulling strings to get a certain result. It's just something that happens. There seems to be an intangible sort of magic that carries one of these franchises to the championship every year.

What are you saying, that there's voodoo involved?

I make absolutely no claim to know how it works, I just observe the pattern. Perhaps the good vibes from the media somehow give these franchises a psychological boost. I just don't know.

Which franchises are in the Oligopoly?

Any franchise that's won the World Series since 2006 is an obvious member, meaning the Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees and Giants. Other franchises believed to be Oligopoly members are the Dodgers and Mets, since the national media would obviously have no objection to either one winning the World Series. There are other franchises that may or may not be Oligopoly members, such as the Angels, Braves and Cubs, but one can't be certain.

Wait just a second here...you don't even know for certain who's in it?

I'm only saying I don't know the full extent of the Oligopoly. While the Angels and Braves aren't overwhelming media favorites, I could see a title for either franchise being favorably received by the media. As for the Cubs, while they're a clear media favorite, they're also a franchise that derives a lot of mystique from not winning the World Series, so perhaps the media would be disappointed not to have that narrative any longer. There are other teams you could make cases for, so I wouldn't necessarily rule them out, but I don't believe they're members.

This makes no sense! Why would a franchise in a relatively small market like the Cardinals be in it instead of a bigger-market franchise like the White Sox, or even the Tigers?

Because neither one of those franchises has ever dominated historically, and both lack a brand that transcends their region. The Cardinals are one of baseball's flagship franchises, and let's face it, the media never tire of talking about what a strong organization they have.

OK, but what about the Phillies? You claim they're in the Oligopoly, but do you really think they have a brand that transcends their region?

No, and I wouldn't say the Mets do either. However, I believe the Mets to be Oligopoly members, because the media have always loved giving them attention, and the Phillies are part of the northeast regional media lovefest. Before the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, the city's title drought that extended back to 1983 got tons of media play, despite being dwarfed by the droughts of cities like San Diego, Buffalo and Cleveland. The media like talking about Philadelphia enough that a Phillie World Series title, while nowhere near as glamorous as say, a Yankee title, is still pretty darn cool to them.

It sounds to me like you're working backwards. Aren't you just making a post hoc rationalization for why certain teams win?

I can see how it would look that way to the skeptic, but I ask you to take a look at some of the teams that have lost the World Series since the start of the Oligopoly: The 2006 Tigers, 2007 Rockies, 2008 Rays, 2010-11 Rangers, 2012 Tigers and 2014 Royals. Right there you have seven teams. All are from franchises that aren't particular media favorites, and none has a widely-recognizable brand. Each of them lost to a team that fit the Oligopoly criteria. The only one on that list I'd consider clearly inferior to their opponent is the 2007 Rockies. Given normal odds, you'd think at least one or two of these teams would've won. It sure seems like more than a coincidence, doesn't it?

But the Royals came close! They lost Game 7 of the World Series by a single run! What if they had won that game?

Then I would have declared the Oliopoly dead. However, they didn't win, so it does nothing to refute the theory.

Why do you use 2006 as a cutoff? Is there something special about that date?

Because the 2005 White Sox are the last World Series Champion I don't believe to be part of the Oligopoly. My little pet theory is that as a White Sox fan, this is my punishment for finally being allowed to see them win it, but I don't necessarily believe that. Why it started at that time remains, like most things Oligopoly-related, a mystery.

So you think this Oligopoly is just going to continue for all eternity, and no one outside this group is ever going to win the World Series again?

No. I have a feeling it'll come to an end at some point, and I'll probably be rejoicing when it does. For the time being though, we're stuck under the dark cloud of media favorite dominance.

What would it take for you to declare the Oligopoly dead?

A team would have to win the World Series that is a clear non-media favorite. If I can't plausibly argue that said team is an Oligopoly member, then it will be proof that the Oligopoly is no longer in effect.

And which teams would those be?

There are 14 teams I am all but certain are not in the Oligopoly. If one of them won the World Series, I'd declare the Oligopoly dead:
  • Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Cleveland Indians
  • Colorado Rockies
  • Houston Astros
  • Kansas City Royals
  • Milwaukee Brewers
  • Minnesota Twins
  • Oakland Athletics
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
  • San Diego Padres
  • Seattle Mariners
  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • Toronto Blue Jays

I'm nearly certain about the following teams being non-members too, but I could imagine a case being made for any of them. If one of them won the World Series, I'd probably declare the Oligopoly dead, but there'd be lingering doubts:
  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Chicago White Sox
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Miami Marlins
  • Texas Rangers
  • Washington Nationals

Doesn't any of this sound nuts to you?

Sure. I don't want to believe this is true, but after seeing the same thing happen year after year, it's hard not to feel like it's true. I would love to have optimism about the teams I like getting a chance to hoist the World Series trophy, but the Oligopoly has numbed me to such hopes. Hopefully it'll come to an end sooner rather than later. Until it does though, I'll continue to be a pessimist.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Markakis Signing Shows Braves Not Done (Sponsored Post)

The Atlanta Braves have been one of the most active teams so far this winter in baseball, and it does not look like they are going to be slowing down anytime soon. After their latest move involving outfielder Nick Markakis, it sets up a number of other possible opportunities. The team is going to be trying to do whatever possible to get back into playoff contention, and it seems like they are focused mostly on shaking up the team chemistry.

For one reason or another, Atlanta regressed a little bit in 2014. Some people feel like the clubhouse was not exactly the best in baseball. It didn’t really leak out into the public eye all that much, but there is a reason why so many players are rumored to be on the move.

Perhaps their best trade piece currently on the roster is fantasy baseball stand out Justin Upton. The outfielder can be a little bit streaky at times, but he is in the prime of his career and he has MVP type potential when everything is clicking. Now that they have another outfielder in Markakis, they might be willing to trade away Upton to try and improve in other areas.

While it is important for Atlanta to make changes in general, they don’t want to make any silly mistakes when it comes to getting players too much money. It is a pretty good deal to get Markakis for 4 seasons and about $44 million. He has been productive for the Baltimore Orioles throughout his career, and he is a guy who grew up in Georgia and should be happy to be home. The Atlanta Braves want to be playoff contenders again, and making some of these under the radar moves might be exactly what they need to catch up with Washington and also hold off teams like Miami and New York.