The HBT staff makes its World Series predictions

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If you think about it (and look at it a bit sideways, with one eye-closed), this isn’t a seven game World Series. It’s a best of 169, with the 97-65 Red Sox and 97-65 Cardinals in a dead heat before their final games.

OK, maybe that’s not true. But if it were, it would absolve us from making any sort of prediction, because all of us here at HardballTalk already whiffed on a 169-game prediction. We took the Nationals or the Tigers or someone back in March, so claiming we have some sort of clairvoyance now is disingenuous in the extreme. But, hey, that’s baseball, right? We can know an awful lot about it — and I think we do — yet still have no idea what’s gonna happen. Indeed, some crazy people may argue that that’s what makes it so cool.

But of course, convention is such that people who opine about baseball are supposed to make predictions. And we will. Even though this is one of the more evenly-matched World Series in living memory. Even though anything can happen. Even though Silva is a degenerate Cardinals fan and most of the rest of us couldn’t give a care one way or the other, thereby infusing our predictions with a fun mix of both bias and indifference.

But here goes:

  • Craig: Cardinals in seven because, well, I don’t know and I kinda like their starting pitching. Still not abandoning my pick of the Nationals to win it all. DON’T COUNT THEM OUT!
  • Aaron: Cardinals in six. He didn’t say why, but I’ll assume it’s because he really doesn’t want a Game 7 interfering with his trick-or-treating next Thursday.
  • D.J.: “Cardinals in six games. Carlos Beltran WS MVP (the only way such an outcome is palatable for me).” Mets fans: even more degenerate than Cards fans.
  • Drew: He eventually said Cardinals in six. For a while he didn’t respond to my email asking for a prediction because he was busy posting insane crap like this on Twitter. I’m actually surprised he didn’t pick the Cards in two “because of Ditka” or something. He claims this is an unbiased selection, though, so we’ll take him at his word.
  • Matthew: Red Sox in six. This is quite the improvement over his last Red Sox prediction.
  • Bill: “Cardinals in five.” Please excuse his curtness, though. He’s too busy sobbing over footage of the Joe Carter home run, which happened 20 years ago today.

So that’s that. Given our usual level of accuracy, I think these predictions mean that the 1969 Seattle Pilots will prevail over the 1874 New York Mutals in 11 games, with Brabender going the distance with a two-hit shutout.

Major League Baseball considering expansion, radical realignment

Don Ryan/Associated Press
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Tracy Ringolsby of Baseball America wrote yesterday about a “growing consensus” within baseball that expansion and realignment are inevitable. The likely expansion cities: Portland and Montreal. The 32-team league would then undergo a radical realignment that would also involve reducing the season from 162 to 156 games while expanding the playoffs to 12 teams.

To be clear, Ringolsby’s actual reporting here is limited to that “growing consensus” about expansion, and the most likely cities involved, not regarding the specific realignment or game reduction plan. That I take to be speculative — he refers to it as “one proposal” — though it seems like reasonable and informed speculation. The general idea is that, if you expand, you have to realign, and if you realign you have to change the playoff structure lest too many teams in any one division become also-rans. That, combined with the near impossibility of changing the early-April-to-late-October footprint of the season and the desire of players to have less arduous travel schedules and some extra time off, leads to the shorter season.

The details of the plan:

  • The American and National Leagues would be disposed of, with MLB putting all 32 teams into four, eight-team, regionally-based divisions: East, North, Midwest, West. This is designed to (a) maintain regional and traditional rivalries while (b) cutting way back on cross-time zone travel. Both New York teams and Boston are in the “North,” both Chicago teams and St. Louis are in the “Midwest,” etc. Texas and Houston are in the “Midwest” too, but we’ll let the Texans get mad about that later.
  • The playoffs would feature a LOT of play-in games. Specifically, Ringolsby would have the four division winners go to the Division Series, where they would play the winner of four different Wild Card games, the participants in which would come from the eight non-division winners with the best records, regardless of which division they came from.
  • The schedule would go back to 156 games, giving every team an off-day every week. Between that and the more compact, almost all single-time-zone divisions, the travel schedules would be far less taxing, with shorter flights and more flights which could leave the day after a night game as opposed to directly after a night game, causing teams to arrive in the next city in the wee hours of the morning.

Thoughts:

  • Obviously this would piss off the purists.  The elimination of the traditional leagues, the shorter season, a (slightly) altered standard for records and milestones, and a doubling of one-and-done playoff series would make a lot of fans dizzy. On the one hand, I could argue that baseball has NEVER been as pure and unchanging as people like to pretend it is so maybe people shouldn’t get too bent out of shape over this, but it’s simply unavoidable that this would rattle a lot of baseball fans, and not just the ones hopelessly stuck in the past. Baseball should not be slavishly devoted to its history, but it needs to recognize that its history is a selling point and an important touchstone for many, many fans.
  • Ringolsby’s specific realignment idea is kind of fun, but will inevitably lead to some winners and losers. For example, many traditional rivalries or regional rivalries would be maintained — Chicago and St. Louis and Boston and New York would remain division rivals — but other, less-sexy but very real rivalries would be disposed of. The Mets, for example, would have no old NL rivals in their division. There will also be some teams which get screwed logistically. Here, all of Minnesota’s division rivals would be Eastern Time Zone teams, so all of its road games would be played in a different time zone. You could fix that somehow, but someone else would likely be inconvenienced. There isn’t a perfect way to do it. As such, implementation could be pretty messy, with some owners opposing it, possibly vehemently.
  • The playoff idea would make for a lot of drama with four play-in games, but I don’t think it’s a sustainable model. Yes, division winners would all be guaranteed a five-game playoff series, but having two-thirds of all of the playoff teams subjected to a random one-and-done game as opposed to the current four of ten would inevitably lead to calls for longer Wild Card series. And it would likely, over time, diminish the cachet of the Wild Card itself. Now most people think of Wild Card teams as having made the playoffs, With this plan, I suspect fewer people will think of it that way as opposed to some sort of weird, non-quite-the-playoffs limbo, thus hurting late season interest among fans of non-division winners.
  • A 156-game season wouldn’t be the end of the world. We had a 154-game season for a little over half a century total and a 162 game season for 56 seasons so far. Changing it might cause people to get grumpy about records and milestones, but other changes in the game, be it pitcher usage patterns or juiced baseballs or integration or night games or any number of other things have already changed the context in such a way that such standards were never as set-in-stone as people tend to believe. At the same time, extra off days might very well improve the caliber of play as players are more rested and therefore sharper.

In the end, it’s important to recognize that Ringolsby’s article is, in all likelihood, a trial balloon leaked by Major League Baseball, so don’t take any one aspect of it too seriously, even if we should all take the idea of some radical shift involving expansion and realignment in the not-too-distant future seriously.

Why? Money mostly. There are huge financial incentives for baseball to do this. Part of this involves the cost-savings which would result from better scheduling and less travel that Ringolsby mentions. A much greater incentive would come from the franchise fees the owners of the two new teams would pay the 30 current owners in order to be allowed into the MLB fraternity.  In the last round of expansion, the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays owners paid $150 million each for their teams. Given that franchises have gone up in value by a factor of ten twenty, it’s not inconceivable that new owners in Montreal and Portland would have to fork over well north of a billion dollars each to enter the league. That’s a check for $66 million written to each owner in exchange for simply voting “yes” at some meeting in Scottsdale on some fine December afternoon.

So, while there may be no uncertainly on the “how” of it all, the very fact of expansion and subsequent realignment seems inevitable. Now is a good time for us to start thinking about how the details of it all would work.