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Blue on black

The Blue Jays lost tonight, ending their season. I hated it. But really, they weren’t even supposed to be here.

Late in July, the Blue Jays were sitting at .500, well out of any playoff conversation. They had the hitting, a good team that was underachieving. They needed pitching. The first move was a trade for Troy Tulowitzki. An upgrade on Jose Reyes, sure. But not the one they needed, several games back of the division. He was a hitter, not a pitcher.

Soon after, they trade for David Price. There’s the guy, the pitcher they needed. A bunch of young prospects out the door, for a long shot at a division they’re eight games behind in.

I got caught up in the excitement. Even as the sober part of me agreed with the assessments: They probably wouldn’t make a difference. They might get into the wild card game, make the Yankees sweat, but they wouldn’t win the division. Not with only two months left, and eight games to make up.

It only took them two weeks to catch the Yankees and be ahead in the division. By the end of September it was “how much will they win by”, a conversation not even conceivable in late July, skidding along at .500.

The Flames in ’04 is the comparison here, and I kept coming back to it because it was apt, and it meant something for me. A moribund team, going nowhere, energized by an unexpected and sudden playoff run, galvanizing fans put off by years of irrelevance.

The Blue Jays were different for some, not as important or exciting out in the mountain city I live in. But it meant something. My friends and family were assaulted by my excitement, coming off me in waves.

And it’s gone now. They had their run in the playoffs, but the season is over, and they didn’t win it all. The sun rises tomorrow, as it always has, and will for longer than any of us will likely live.

Sports don’t mean anything ultimately, and maybe that’s part of why it means so much to us. To be a part of something communal, but irrelevant in the final estimation, maybe that makes it meaningful. Because we can invest that, without having any real stakes. It’s easier. It’s fun, and indulgent, and doesn’t change a whole lot, really.

I watched the game with my brother and another friend, and we were silent after it ended. There were no words, no comfort that made this ultimately meaningless pursuit worthwhile, with the ultimate goal of the team not made.

But we’ll be back in March next year, waiting for them to try it again.

Go Blue Jays.

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MLB 2K14

BASEBAAAAAAAAAAAAAALL

(* for wildcards)

AMERICAN LEAGUE

EAST

1. Red Sox – Smart, deep, and talented, basically the worst.

2. Rays* – Good at baseball, but also the worst, because they employ criminals.

3. Yankees – That infield could be the worst.

4. Orioles – Used to be the worst, then started getting kinda good.

5. Jays – Actually the worst, but could be better if they aren’t super unlucky.

CENTRAL

1. Tigers – Will probably sign Stephen Drew or something because they know how to act like a big market team.

2. Royals – I’ve got a feeling.

3. Indians – That tonight’s gonna be a good night.

4. White Sox – That tonight’s gonna be a good night.

5. Twins – That tonight’s gonna be a good good night alright I’ll stop.

WEST

1. A’s – Some injuries, sure, but they do this (almost) every year.

2. Angels* – Rebound potential in the lineup, though pitching still iffy.

3. Rangers – Might pass the Angels with some luck, but early injuries hurt them worse.

4. Mariners – Need more hitting.

5. Astros – The grand, awful experiment continues.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

EAST

1. Nationals – Back on top, baby!

2. Braves – Arms blowing out all over the place, could be a problem.

3. Phillies – The long, slow decline continues.

4. Mets – Some excitement, but need some more time.

5. Marlins – See above, except less good.

CENTRAL

1. Cardinals – Really, really good, you guys.

2. Reds* – Losing Choo, but pitching’s good.

3. Pirates – Sensing a fallback with Burnett gone, and Lirano (probably) worse.

4. Brewers – A full year of Braun gets them closer.

5. Cubs – Building, but not there yet.

WEST.

1. Dodgers – Way better than anyone else in the division.

2. Giants* – Like the Hudson signing for them.

3. Diamondbacks – Whatever hit the Braves pitchers hit them too.

4. Rockies – Not sure what’s going on here.

5. Padres – The least exciting name goes with what might be the least exciting team (non-Jays division).

Revisionist history: MLB 2K13

Clearing out the draft folder, looking back at terrible predictions. This may not be fun. Old in italics, new not. I haven’t updated with offseason stuff, I’ll save that for when I do previews.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

EAST

1. Rays – Portrayed as the plucky underdog, but that pitching staff has some thunder.

Actual finish: Second, won wild card game. Pitching staff fell off a little, offense struggled, but the Rays kept doing Rays things, finding guys off the scrap heap and getting every last bit of value out of them (including former Jays Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson). They’ll rinse and repeat until the pipeline of young talent stops.

2. Blue Jays* – Offseason winners after flashing some cash, but will be a very tight race.

Actual finish: Last. Everything that could go wrong did: Injuries and ineffectiveness out of the gate and throughout the year doomed the Jays. R.A. Dickey wasn’t an ace, Josh Johnson wasn’t even passable, and Brandon Morrow was hurt. Dead spots at 2B, LF, and C didn’t help, but the starting pitching was the biggest problem, and needs to be addressed (again).

3. Yankees – Lost a lot of punch, getting older/worse/hurt.

Actual finish: Third. At least this was kind of close, with injuries and age finally starting to show up for the Bronx Bombers. Eeven the reliable C.C. Sabathia started to slow down. Even if they re-sign Robinson Cano, they might have another couple years of bottoming out before being good again.

4. Red Sox – Not far off, but need some luck to make the postseason.

Actual finish: First, won World Series. The Red Sox are familiar with the Blue Jays’ plight, having been very unlucky last year (though having Bobby Valentine at manager didn’t hurt that). They may have overachieved some, but there is legitimate talent as well, and they didn’t overpay for what they got in the offseason. Aaaaaand they won it all. I’m almost at the point where I can say that rationally.

5. Orioles – Surprised a lot of teams last year, it won’t happen again.

Actual finish: Fourth. Their placement in the division is mildly misleading, as the Orioles are also a legitimately good baseball team, having grown some talent to go along with the close game luck they got in 2012. Some legitimate starting pitching would go a long way to putting them in the class with the Red Sox and Rays at the top.

CENTRAL

1. Tigers – Victor Martinez coming back and Torii Hunter coming in helps solidify their hold on the division.

Actual finish: First. Great pitching, good lineup, easy division. Max Scherzer being better than Justin Verlander is mildly terrifying going forward for a team that didn’t really need another ace-level pitcher. Given the weakness of the division, the Tigers should be good for a while.

2. Indians – Did good waiting out top free agents, but still need some pitching.

Actual finish: Second, won wild card game. The Indians rode surprising contributions from an unheralded starting staff and rode out disappointing seasons from their big money acquisitions (Bourn, Swisher) to a late season run that got them into the second wildcard. They’ll need to keep grooming young talent to stay here, but this has to be counted as a successful season for the Indians.

3. White Sox – Lost a couple pieces, need some help from replacements to go higher.

Actual finish: Last. Everyone got old at the same time in Chicago, except for beleagured ace Chris Sale, far and away the team’s best pitcher. With the old guard moving on, and a shallow minor league system, the White Sox may need to bottom out before getting better.

4. Royals – A curious offseason, trading one of the game’s best prospects for a good (but not great) starter.

Actual finish: Third. Hard to tell if this was a successful season or not for Kansas City, who elbowed their way into wildcard contention late on the backs of hot starting pitching. Shields and Santana worked as well as they could have, and Kansas City finished above .500. This might be the peak for them, and they need to improve to really contend for the postseason.

5. Twins – Barren farm system just starting to get restocked, and the major league club is a disaster.

Actual finish: Fourth. Turns out there was a team worse in the Central than the Twins, but less than 70 wins in a cupcake division isn’t much to celebrate. They’ve finally started to build again, and are now waiting for the high ceiling talent they started drafting a few years ago to bear fruit.

WEST

1. A’s – Won the division last year, and the two closest teams got worse.

Actual finish: First. Pretty happy to call this, even if outside of the easy logic I went with, it’s hard to see how they won the division with traditional measurements. Great depth across the board and unexpected no-name contributors (hello, Josh Donaldson) drove the second best team (by record) in the American League.

2. Angels* – Killer lineup, and some questions about the pitching staff.

Actual finish: Third. So much for that lineup. Mike Trout is still amazing, but Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols had bad seasons, and it’s uncertain as to whether they’ll ever live up to their big money contracts. And yes, the pitching stunk. There’s work to do in Anaheim before they’ll be good again.

3. Rangers – Strange to see the Rangers with good pitchers and uncertain hitting, usually that’s Anaheim’s thing.

Actual finish: Second. A late season rally got the Rangers into the second wild card tiebreaker, but they lost, and it might cost Ron Washington his job. There are arguments for that, but the Rangers’ fall had more to do with how much hitting they lost between the offseason (Hamilton, Mike Napoli) and in-season (Nelson Cruz). They’ve got a great organization, so they won’t be down for long.

4. Mariners – Extending Hernandez a great idea, but went after the wrong bats.

Actual finish: Fourth. So the all bats thing played out about as well as most people expected, and the improvement in offense (marginal)led to a downfall in defense. The pitching might be decent, and there’s some young talent here, but they might need a year or two before challenging the As and Rangers.

5. Astros – Beating the Twins out for the worst AL team this year, but bottoming out is probably the right idea.

Actual finish: Last. Yeah, they’re awful. Maybe this bottoming out thing will work- after several years of a barren farm system, it was probably the right call, but it’s a pain to watch. They have some young talent, but for now, they’re an automatic series victory for the majority of baseball.

National League

EAST

1. Nationals – Will be staring down at the division for a while, I think.

Actual finish: Second. A late run couldn’t quite salvage a dissapointing season in Washington. Some hitters underachieved, and occasional injuries kept them from what many assumed was a straightforward path to winning the NL East. There’s talent here, but there’s more to do before they’re back on top.

2. Braves* – Losing Chipper hurts, but the machine will keep rolling without him.

Actual finish: First. A hot start gave the Braves a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, despite an abysmal year from free-agent signing B.J. Upton. Pitching continues to be an organizational strength, and will keep them contending for a while as long as Jason Heyward and Justin Upton keep hitting.

3. Phillies – The solution for them wasn’t to keep getting older.

Actual finish: Third. The Phillies may actually- really- be starting a rebuild now, with a few late season trades, and Roy Halladay having broken down. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will be rotation centerpieces, but with the entire infield getting creaky, this is a team in decline.

4. Mets – Will stay out of the basement (barely)…

Actual finish: Fourth. They did, in fact, stay out of the basement, and by more than I anticipated, courtesy of young pitchers Zach Wheeler and Matt Harvey, among other highly touted prospects. Harvey’s UCL injury puts next year’s progression in doubt, and the Mets need some hitting to go with their young flamethrowers to get anywhere.

5. Marlins – …Mostly because these guys sold EVERYONE to Toronto- thanks!

Actual finish: Last. The biggest difference between the Marlins and the Astros is that the Marlins are further along, and have some talent at the major league level (Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez). There’s still a couple years of growing, but there’s reason for all 12 remaining Marlins fans to be excited.

CENTRAL

1. Cardinals – A great lineup, solid pitching, and excellent prospects ready to step in.

Actual finish: First, lost World Series. This year went almost according to plan for  St. Louis in a surprisingly competitive division, as they kept graduating talented pitchers to the major league level behind an excellent team. The young pitching will keep them great for a while, even in a tough division.

2. Reds* – Not a slight on them, they should be with the Cardinals almost step-for-step.

Actual finish: Third, lost wild card game. Another good season for the Reds ends in disappointment with a wild card loss to the surprising Pirates. The addition of Shin Soo Choo made their offense elite, though their defense and pitching lagged behind. They might need some youth to stay competitive.

3. Pirates – Have started hot and faded the last couple years, figure that doesn’t change.

Actual finish: Second, won wild card game. The Pirates flipped the script a little, riding a hot start and challenging the Cardinals and Reds all the way, managing to sneak into the wild card game. Even with a playoff loss, this season is a success for Pittsburgh. Questions in the rotation remain, but they’re well positioned going forward.

4. Brewers – Have lost a lot of talent the last couple of offseasons.

Actual finish: Fourth. No surprises hear either, as the Brewers struggled to a fourth place finish. The suspension of Ryan Braun for PEDs didn’t help, but it’s unlikely that he would have made much of a difference. Though Braun will be here for a while, they’ll need a lot of reinforcements to make up ground.

5. Cubs – Still a long ways to go.

Actual finish: Last. Though this was another painful year in Chicago, the building plan is in place, and the path is clear. The trade of Matt Garza brought in more young assets, though a tougher Central division makes the climb a little more uphill for the Cubs.

WEST

1. Giants – Hit all the right buttons the last few years, is that going to change?

Actual finish: Third (tie). As a matter of fact, it did change for San Francisco, as starting pitchers who used to be very reliable struggled through down years. Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito leaving means there will be some changes, and with a veteran lineup, they may struggle to get back in contention.

2. Dodgers – Probably need to hide the chequebook from the owners, but the spending should almost have the desired effect.

Actual finish: First. Early on, the Dodgers scuffled, but the arrival of Yasiel Puig and the return to health of Hanley Ramirez drove a hot streak that gave them a division lead they would never relinquish. Yankees West has shown no fear of a salary cap, so as long as the owners keep fronting money, they’re not going anywhere.

3. Diamondbacks – Trading away talent for grit is a wonderful theory, until you discover that talent can’t be taught.

Actual finish: Second. Though second in the division, the Diamondbacks were a .500 team, with their pitchers struggling to match last year’s output, and yes, missing the talent of Justin Upton in the outfield. But their front office has shown an astute eye for judging talent, so they should be back next season.

4. Padres – Some sneaky-good youth there, but will be well out of the playoff running for now.

Actual finish: Third (tie). The strangest team name in baseball showed some signs of life this year, but franchise player Chase Headley struggled. If he returns to form, and they keep adding offense around him, the Padres might improve next season.

5. Rockies – Expensive offence, but at least the pitching is awful.

Actual finish: Last. Rinse and repeat for the Rockies, who can’t seem to muster enough starting pitching to go with a very good offense. Until that changes, there’s very little reason to think a veteran team will do any better next season.

Intangible evidence

Housekeeping: Importing stuff from the ol’ Xanga blog here. You can go even further back in the archives, and see how terrible I was at this when I started. But nice to have everything in one spot.

The before and after of the 2013 Blue Jays season isn’t something I really want to dwell on anymore. It was a team with great expectations and excitement that didn’t get to what we thought they would. Why they didn’t get there depends on who you ask.

My dad, like me, is a baseball fan, and we’d talk shop throughout the season. One thing he and I always disagreed on was the Jays rehiring John Gibbons as manager. From the moment it happened, he felt uneasy about it.

As someone who frequents baseball blogs in the Getting Blanked/DJF/Tao of Stieb mold, I was quite happy with the re-hire. Gibbons had been, in the eyes of some (and mine, in hindsight), unfairly scapegoated when he was fired previously, and in his prior tenure, shown tactical prowess and progressive thought in managing players, bullpens, and lineups.

This Dustin Parkes piece at the time of his re-hiring reads quite well now, including this money paragraph near the end of the piece:

On the whole, I believe that the hiring is a good one by the Toronto Blue Jays because I believe that John Gibbons is a smart man, and it’s a good thing to have smart people in charge. It’s not foolproof. It never is. Especially not in baseball, where so much is determined by randomness, despite what we think, feel or pretend to know.

This line proved to be unfortunately accurate. The results of the Jays season did little to prove my thesis, and everything to prove Dad’s. Despite spending on a lot of new players, the Jays struggled to a mere one win improvement on the disaster of 2012.

A lot of things happened. Where there is disagreement- whether at home or in the internet- is WHY things went bad. Injuries in the lineup and ineffectiveness in the starting pitching were the main drivers of the Jays’ failure. Good players missed a lot of time, and the Jays’ starters were second worse in the American League in ERA. But there were those who saw John Gibbons as unable to instill a “winning culture”, and maintained that this was a part of why the players underperformed.

Sports has lived for years on the idea of narratives, and I enjoy a good sports story that weaves into the result. Gibbons having a hand in that would be a good narrative. But one of the things I’ve been challenged on the last several years- whether in baseball or in life- is that sometimes things happen, and we won’t understand why. We don’t have all the information.

So, the Jays sucked. Was it because of injuries, ineffectiveness, or the manager? One could go back to the Red Sox of 2012 for an example as to how a bad manager can submarine a season. Bobby Valentine was a disaster from day one, alienating players and media, and showing none of the tactical acumen he’d had previously.

But that Red Sox team was also bitten by the injury bug, missing key players for large parts of the year, and like the Jays this year, had some players underperform. This year, they got a new manager, and won the World Series. So that manager must be good, right?

Who did they get? John Farrell, who’d managed the Blue Jays during that disastrous 2012 season. So he must be a bad manager, right?

Did John Farrell suddenly become a good manager between Toronto and Boston? Ask Sons of Sam Horn, who could rant for 30 or 40 pages on their message board about him. From my perspective, he improved some tactically, but showed some of the same frustrating tendencies that drove me crazy while he managed my team.

So of course Boston went on to win the World Series, and John Farrell almost won manager of the year. There is one thing that several baseball writers in Toronto noted: Farrell seemed happier on Boston. He was smiling. They’d never seen him that way when he was working for the Blue Jays. Was he in a better organization? Had the winning made him happy? Or did he ‘create a winning culture’?

It can become a bit of a chicken and egg discussion. Do we believe that John Farrell created a culture that allowed the Red Sox to thrive, or did they get better players, who performed better than the 2012 team, and that made them all happier/more successful? My argument with my father and others who want to blame Gibbons shows where I’d lean on this, but like most things, I don’t believe it’s that simple. Most things in life aren’t binary, and a baseball team with twenty five players and several coaches can’t possibly be straightforward.

One of the biggest debates in baseball today is how much influence the manager has on how a baseball team performs. They’re not a football or basketball coach, drawing up plays for their team to execute. Their biggest tangible influence is drawing up lineups, managing a bit of in-game strategy, handling the media, and deciding who pitches at a particular time. But there’s so much more we can’t see- what happens in the clubhouse, how they interact with players, how they handle conflict, how they work with the general manager, and so on.

I don’t work in baseball- I work a white collar job, at a bank. I’ve worked for good managers and bad managers in my different lines of work, and can attest to how a bad manager can affect how I perform. When you have someone who’s invested in your success, who communicates your role, and works with you on what you should be doing, it makes for a much better environment, and one I can thrive in. It’s one thing I enjoy about my current employer: The atmosphere is so, so much better than anywhere else I’ve worked.

I’ve also found more success when I’m in the right environment. It doesn’t mean I need to be friends with my coworkers, but if I can trust them, if I can work with them, if they’ll help me and let me help them, that also impacts how I work. That’s not rocket science.

Should this be so at the highest level of baseball? After all, these are highly paid professional athletes, who probably shouldn’t need to be coddled, right? In theory, yes. But athletes are people too, and have different needs and wants. A baseball manager is responsible for overseeing the morale of those twenty five men, for making them a team. Though baseball is a more individualized sport than most; more depends on the skill of individuals than a unit.

The problem is that we as fans only have what we can see to evaluate managers on: The results of the games, how they implement their strategies, how they interact with the media. We don’t see the rest of it, and we can’t measure it’s impact on how the players play. That’s part of why people like Oakland GM Billy Beane initially dismissed the impact of the manager: there’s almost no way to measure it, outside of lineup construction and bullpen management. And sometimes that’s as simple as “play the better guy”.

More progressive thinking has softened this stance. We can acknowledge that there are parts of the manager’s job that we can’t measure or prove. We can optically infer that maybe he handles player X well, or the media, or that he makes strategically sound decisions, but the ultimate deciding factor is the results. It’s easier to replace a manager than 25 players, after all.

So let’s look at the results, which is the primary measurement. For the sake of argument, let’s play the arbitrary endpoint game. Here are four managers:

Manager A: 894-1003. Managed three different teams over 14 years. One division title, two second place finishes.

Manager B: 285-363 – Managed for four years with one team, never finishing higher than third in his division.

Manager C: 851-863 – Managed one team for ten years. Three division titles, though he had three fifth place finishes in his last four years with the team.

Manager D: 305-305 – Managed one team for five seasons. Finished as high as second, with two last place finishes.

So out of those four choices, none of them seem that great at first blush. So when teams interview those guys, they go deeper. They look beyond the results. What is their process? Will they fit into what we’re building? Are they “good people”? Are they smart?

Manager A is Joe Torre, prior to being hired by the 1996 Yankees. A headscratching move at the time because of an unremarkable managing/playing career, he went on to lead the Yankees to 6 AL pennants, and 4 World Series titles. Now retired, he is widely respected as an excellent manager.

Manager B is Terry Francona, prior to managing the 2004 Red Sox. He had a reputation as a player’s manager, that he was weak tactically, and the perception was that he’d been hired because of his relationship with player Curt Schilling. He won 2 World Series titles with the Red Sox, and his being hired by the Indians last offseason was universally praised.

Manager C is Jim Leyland, before he joined the 1997 Marlins. He was always perceived as a “good baseball man”, and benefitted from Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla (two outstanding individual players who had the reputation of being awful teammates) with his ten years with the Pirates. He has now won 6 league championships between the American and National League, and 2 World Series titles. He retired this offseason, and like the two managers before him, has an excellent reputation as a manager.

Manager D is, obviously (if you’ve played the arbitrary endpoint game before), John Gibbons, before coming to lead the 2013 Blue Jays.

Think about the narrative on the first three managers before they had their success. Based on the results, they weren’t good at their jobs. But they ended up winning championships. Was it them? Or the players?

We keep coming back to this because it’s important: the answer isn’t binary. My argument for Gibbons is strengthened by the idea that there’s a lot about the manager’s job we can’t understand and measure, and that the results are a poor indication of the job he’s doing. But that can also weaken it, depending on what we want to believe about the job he’s doing. While it’s dangerous to scapegoat him for everything that went wrong with the 2013 Blue Jays season, we shouldn’t position him as a good manager solely on the things we saw him do right, or based on a nebulous idea that he might be good at things we can’t see.

So Gibbons will likely get another season, from a thoughtful front office who knows much more about his job than I ever will. I support this, but cautiously, because as a fan, there’s a lot I can’t possibly know. He seems smart, and I like how he thinks strategically, but that and five bucks will get me a coffee. Another season like the last will likely put him back on the unemployment line, and continue the neverending debate about just how much a manager really does.

MLB 2K13

Baseball is heeeeeeeeere, time to make my usual one sentence predictions. * for wildcards!

AMERICAN LEAGUE

EAST

1. Rays – Portrayed as the plucky underdog, but that pitching staff has some thunder.

2. Blue Jays* – Offseason winners after flashing some cash, but will be a very tight race.

3. Yankees – Lost a lot of punch, getting older/worse/hurt.

4. Red Sox – Not far off, but need some luck to make the postseason.

5. Orioles – Surprised a lot of teams last year, it won’t happen again.

CENTRAL

1. Tigers – Victor Martinez coming back and Torii Hunter coming in helps solidify their hold on the division.

2. Indians – Did good waiting out top free agents, but still need some pitching.

3. White Sox – Lost a couple pieces, need some help from replacements to go higher.

4. Royals – A curious offseason, trading one of the game’s best prospects for a good (but not great) starter.

5. Twins – Barren farm system just starting to get restocked, and the major league club is a disaster.

WEST

1. A’s – Won the division last year, and the two closest teams got worse.

2. Angels* – Killer lineup, and some questions about the pitching staff.

3. Rangers – Strange to see the Rangers with good pitchers and uncertain hitting, usually that’s Anaheim’s thing.

4. Mariners – Extending Hernandez a great idea, but went after the wrong bats.

5. Astros – Beating the Twins out for the worst AL team this year, but bottoming out is probably the right idea.

NL

EAST

1. Nationals – Will be staring down at the division for a while, I think.

2. Braves* – Losing Chipper hurts, but the machine will keep rolling without him.

3. Phillies – The solution for them wasn’t to keep getting older.

4. Mets – Will stay out of the basement (barely)…

5. Marlins – …Mostly because these guys sold EVERYONE to Toronto- thanks!

CENTRAL

1. Cardinals – A great lineup, solid pitching, and excellent prospects ready to step in.

2. Reds* – Not a slight on them, they should be with the Cardinals almost step-for-step.

3. Pirates – Have started hot and faded the last couple years, figure that doesn’t change.

4. Brewers – Have lost a lot of talent the last couple of offseasons.

5. Cubs – Still a long ways to go.

WEST

1. Giants – Hit all the right buttons the last few years, is that going to change?

2. Dodgers – Probably need to hide the chequebook from the owners, but the spending should almost have the desired effect.

3. Diamondbacks – Trading away talent for grit is a wonderful theory, until you discover that talent can’t be taught.

4. Padres – Some sneaky-good youth there, but will be well out of the playoff running for now.

5. Rockies – Expensive offence, but at least the pitching is awful.

Revisionist history: Baseball

Looking back at predictions from this year in baseball, and musing on where I went wrong. Because I’m self-indulgent that way. Mostly written before the playoffs. One sentence predictions from the previously linked post in italics, new analysis is not.

American League

East

1. Yankees – Probably see some slippage in the offense, but that pitching staff looks excellent.

Actual finish: First, best overall in the AL. Can’t really take much credit for what was one of the easiest calls on the board, though the pitching surprisingly struggled, mostly because of injuries. And they are starting to show some of that age, though Robinson Cano’s still got several great years left.

2. Rays* – Incredible pitching depth, will figure out how to tape together a lineup and bullpen AGAIN.

Actual finish: Third, missed the playoffs. The Rays were close, and did all of those things they always do- great pitching, good enough hitting and defense, and whiffing on free agent acquisitions (Scott, Pena). There’s talk they may trade some of their pitching depth for offensive help, which isn’t new. Same story, different year. They’ll be back again.

3. Red Sox – Best team in baseball for a stretch last year before an historic collapse, but a very curious offseason.

Actual finish: Last in the AL East. I expected some fallback after a sideways offseason, but not nearly as bad as we saw. And to think: If the Red Sox win two more games last year, then-manager Terry Francona and former GM Theo Epstein are probably still there, and they probably don’t trade away $250 million worth of contracts to the Dodgers this year in one of the most incredible trades anyone has ever seen. Bobby Valentine was as much of a disaster as a manager as anyone with a pulse figured he would be, and was fired after this one tumultuous season. They might need a year or two before getting back into the mix.

4. Blue Jays – Lurking, but not there yet, barring a Sawx collapse.

Actual finish: Fourth. Another one I got right, though I was picturing a more competitive fourth place, instead of the 73-win disaster of a season we saw. After humming along at close to .500 for the majority of the year, the Jays got shelled by injuries, losing three starters in a week, and then having lineup centrepieces Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, and J.P. Arencibia all miss time due to injury as well. Depending on how you look at it, either this is the season where everything went wrong for the Jays, or one that showed cracks in the foundation. I’m leaning towards the latter- it’ll be an interesting offseason for a team that was supposed to be on the rise.

5. Orioles – Doomed to perpetual basement dwelling for the next several years.

Actual finish: Second, won wild card game. After a first half where the Orioles were lucky to be in contention with a run differential well below even, they came on strong down the stretch, turning that luck into something a little more tangible. The angles on their success have mostly been played out: they have a strong bullpen, an incredible record in one-run and extra inning games, and every scrap head acquisition they made has turned into gold.  In many ways, they’re the opposite of the Blue Jays. Gripe all you want (and I have), but the games have been played, and the Orioles have their shot at winning it all. As much as their fans could have asked for. Hard to know where they’ll be going forward.

Central

1. Tigers – Might slip a little, but still the class of the division.

Actual finish: First. Overtook the White Sox late in the year to win the division. Prince Fielder did Prince Fielder things, Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown, but there was regression in other spots in the lineup, and the pitching outside of Verlander wasn’t reliable. Victor Martinez’s return next year should help them.

2. White Sox – A sleeper I like, with a lot of rebound candidates in that lineup.

Actual finish: Second. This is a division I’ve historically had trouble picking, so it was fun to see I actually got this right so far. The White Sox were actually leading the division most of the year. They picked up Kevin Youkillis on the cheap from the Red Sox, and Kenny Williams tried some other moves that didn’t quite do as well. Jake Peavy had a great season as well, and is primed to make some money as a free agent. Will be interesting to see where this team goes from here, with a lot of veterans.

3. Indians – Had a hot stretch early last year, but seem to be primed for a backslide.

Actual finish: Fourth. Right on the thinking, though they managed to drop more than I anticipated, leading to the firing of stathead-favourite manager Manny Acta. Their pitching wasn’t as good as they’d hoped, and a weaker lineup was unable to carry the burden. The Ubaldo Jimenez trade has not worked out (though it should be noted that none of the players they send to Colorado are setting the world on fire yet), and they’ll have to retool again for a run in the AL’s weakest division.

4. Royals – On an upward trajectory, which ain’t nothing.

Actual finish: Third. There’s still a lot of youth here,  so the trajectory is still upward, but some of the talent disappointed this season. Still reason for optimism, but they didn’t suffer any injuries, and were only one win better than the injury-thrashed Toronto Blue Jays, playing in a much weaker division. Still need pitching, same as every year for the last ten.

5. Twins – Need Mauer and Morneau to turn back the clock to avoid the basement.

Actual finish: Last. Mauer had a quietly solid season, but not nearly enough on a team that has very little upper echelon talent outside of him and the perpetually-injured Justin Morneau. Francisco Lirano is gone, and it’s hard to see much good on the pitching staff. Without a lot of great prospects on the horizon, it could be a long few years in Minnesota.

West

1. Rangers – Scary good on both sides of the ball.

Actual finish: Second, lost wild card game. The Rangers gave the wild card it’s legitimacy right away- after having a seemingly insurmountable lead for the majority of the year, they lost the division on the last day, and then dropped the wild card game with barely a whimper. Much as with the last two years, a tremendously talented team didn’t come through at the end. It’s easy to poke holes at the tactical weakness of manager Ron Washington, but the playoffs have always been more random, and the Rangers made the mistake of not winning the division, despite having a great chance to do so. A few important pieces are free agents, so the Rangers have some work to do in the offseason.

2. Angels* – Should be right there with the Rangers, but the aging lineup keeps them from first place.

Actual finish: Third. My thinking was close, but the Angels didn’t quite make second, as a horrible start doomed their chances. Albert Pujols finished good after an awful first two months, and C.J. Wilson disappointed, but Mike Trout was the best player in baseball after his call-up, and should be an MVP candidate for several years. With a few rotation pieces leaving, and an older lineup, they have a few tweaks to make, but not as many as most third-place teams.

3. Mariners – Pineda trade a headscratcher, even with the young pitching they have.

Actual finish: Last. Well, Pineda blew out his arm promptly, but the guy they got for him (Montero) didn’t exactly set the world on fire either. The Mariners continue to be sunk (teehee) by a poor offense. Felix Hernandez continues to be incredible without a lot of help. With how strong this division looks, it might be a few years before Seattle sees contention again.

4. Athletics – Not quite sure what the roadmap is for them right now.

Actual finish: First. No one saw this Athletics team coming. After trading 40% of their starting rotation last offseason, and not doing too much to patch a weak lineup, everyone figured they’d be jockeying with the Mariners for last. After being a little better than we expected for a lot of the season, a strong August and September catapulted them into the division race, and a sweep of the Rangers gave them the AL West pennant. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes exceeded expectations, as did a very young rotation. With all that young pitching, the A’s should be in the mix for a few years.

National League

East

1. Braves – Had a worse collapse than the Sawx last year- difference is, their team is much younger.

Actual finish: Second, lost wild card game. Atlanta’s worse choke job escaped the media scrutiny of baseball crazy Boston, and it seemed to do them some good- they had another great year, though it was undone by a loss in the wild card game. A balanced offence and solid pitching depth mean they’ll probably be in the running again next year.  It’ll be strange to not see Chipper Jones in the lineup.

2. Phillies* – Pitching amazing, lineup starting to crack, a lot of bad contracts.

Actual finish: Third. Not quite aggressive enough in downgrading the aging Phillies, who struggled with injuries across the board this year. The pitching staff will remain excellent with Hamels, Lee and Halladay- even if the latter two are starting their decline phase- but the offence has to be a huge concern going forward, and the cupboard is bare in the minors. That Ryan Howard contract looks worse every day.

3. Nationals – Still in the middle unless Strasburg decides to be an all-everything hitter too, but a team on the rise.

Actual finish: First. Steven Strasburg was as amazing as advertised (and he DID hit, as it turns out), but he had a lot of help around him, as the Nationals ran out to an early lead and didn’t look back. With a deep rotation locked up for a few years, and Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup, they’re well positioned going forward.

4. Marlins – Big FA signings seem to have worked for them in the past, but I don’t see them hitting the postseason just yet.

Actual finish: Fourth. Though the caveat here is that I didn’t anticipate the Marlins going into sell mode halfway through their first year of indulgence. Even with their history, that’s jumping the gun. Ozzie Guillen has already provided more headlines than results, and with Hanley Ramirez now in Los Angeles, it’s hard to see where the improvement is going to come from, save for Giancarlo Stanton. They might be in the basement for a bit.

5. Mets – Setting up for a dreary season in Queens.

Actual finish: Last. Though not as dreary as I thought, with a Cy Young-caliber season from late career knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and a mild renaissance from David Wright after a couple years in the wilderness. They’ve got some young pitching starting to establish themselves, but there will be a couple more painful years before they’re relevant.

Central

1. Cardinals – Positioned well for Pujols leaving, solid all around. Interesting to see how Matheny follows TLR managing.

Actual finish: Second, won wild card game. The Cardinals did have the offensive depth to withstand the loss of Pujols (signing Carlos Beltran to a sweetheart deal helped that a lot, as well as more ABs for Allen Craig and David Freese), but the pitching took a bit of a step back.  The jury is still out on Matheny as a manager, but the Cardinals can’t really be disappointed to make the postseason again.

2. Brewers* – A Braun suspension would have probably knocked them from a wild card, I figure, with Prince already out the door.

Actual finish: Third. Didn’t quite nail the drop for the Brewers, who were actually lower in the standings for a lot of the season until the Pirates did a Pirates thing and collapsed down the stretch. Trading Zack Greinke means they’ll struggle to do much better next year- with Shawn Marcum possibly out the door as a free agent as well, this will be a telling offseason for the Brewers.

3. Reds – Should be breaking down Milwaukee’s neck, even with Madson out for the year.

Actual finish: First. I had Madson on my fantasy team, and thought it sucked when he got hurt. As it turns out, it didn’t. An excellent lineup and a loaded bullpen made the Reds the class of the division, and the relative youth of their sluggers and the makeup of their pitching staff means they should be in contention for some time.

4. Pirates – A flicker of hope early last year was extinguished. Need some more youngsters around McCutchen.

Actual finish: Fourth. Rinse and repeat. Always repeat. The Pirates held on a little longer this year, but finished just the same. After a promising first half from their pitching staff- especially Yankees castoff A.J. Burnett- James McDonald and others fell apart down the stretch, and they whimpered their way to another below .500 season. There’s a lot of young pitching on the way, but outside of the aforementioned McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez (and former Blue Jay Travis Snider, if you’re me), there’s not a lot to like in the current lineup.

5. Cubs – Theo takes the Cubs job after winning two titles with the Red Sox. Be something if he could win it here, too.

Actual finish: Fifth. Year 1 of a long building project in Chicago, but Epstein might be the guy to figure it out. Didn’t do the wholesale housecleaning we expected (unlike the next team), but there was going to be a long way to go here anyway.

6. Astros – Worst team in baseball, easy. American League teams salivating for their upcoming move to the AL West.

Actual finish: Last. Even with the upcoming move to the cutthroat AL West, the Astros were smart this year. They made a lot of trades for prospects, stocking a minor-league cupboard that was mostly barren under the prior administration. They weren’t going to be good this year anyway, so their work to ensure a better chance later showed patience and foresight, traits that will help this team down the road.

West

1. Giants – Crazy good pitching has propelled them the last few years, why mess with what works?

Actual finish: First. Despite the bizarre ineffectiveness of Tim Lincecum and a season ending injury to Brian Wilson, the Giants did what the Giants do best, and won the division again. Midseason deals for Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro might have positioned them better for a playoff run- it’ll be interesting to see how they do.

2. Diamondbacks – Seem to be collecting Blue Jays castoffs, which makes me angry that the NL West sucks.

Actual finish: Third. After an overachieving year last year, the Diamondbacks took a step back, and actually underachieved this time relative to their run differential. Blue Jays castoff Aaron Hill had an all-star year, but Justin Upton disappointed, and journeyman Ryan Roberts regressed, leaving the pitching staff to try and pick up the slack (which they didn’t quite). The rumors surrounding Upton don’t seem to go away, but he’s unlikely to be moved unless Arizona gets overwhelmed.

3. Dodgers – Great stars, no filler.

Actual finish: Second. No filler? Solution: Get more stars. Holy moly, did they ever. A midseason ownership change led the Dodgers to flex their financial muscle, picking up Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto in one of the most one-sided trades ever in terms of talent. And that was after they had gotten Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez, and inquired about Cliff Lee when the Phillies put him on waivers (settling for Joe Blanton). A full year with the new crew will help immensely, but with all that cash, the Dodgers will prooooooobably be trying to spend it. No one is too expensive.

4. Rockies – Another team whose direction confuses me. Big contracts, and got older this offseason.

Actual finish: Last. The confusing direction led to a bad year. Outside of lineup cornerstones Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki (and maybe Wilin Rosario), there’s not really a lot here to get excited about. An attempt at a four-man rotation was entertaining for a while, but the struggle for the Rockies continues to be securing adequate pitching for the mile-high altitude. Hard to see where the direction is going forward for them.

5. Padres – Some promising pitching, but still short on bats.

Actual finish: Fourth. The last successful Padres team had good pitching, and given that cavernous ballpark they play in, the next one will too. Outside of lineup cornerstone Chase Headley and young catcher Yasmini Grandal, not a lot to be excited about offensively. Seems like they’ll be jockeying in the back end of the division until some help arrives.

BEISBOL 2K11

Predictions! * for wildcard.

American League

East

1) Red Sox – Moneeeeeeeeeeeeey, and guys not being hurt (hopefully). Scary good lineup.

2) Yankees* – Questions in the rotation, but strong hitting. Hard to see them falling far.

3) Rays – Manny/Damon ease the sting of Crawford/Pena leaving a little, but that bullpen could be frightening.

4) Jays – Young. Fun. Still brewing, though.

5) Orioles – Don’t get the hype on this team. Doesn’t a good righty kill that lineup?

Central

1) Twins – Because it always happens.

2) White Sox – Getting a little long in the tooth, but still good enough for second.

3) Tigers – Could be close, don’t care much for the pitching.

4) Royals – Once the youngins play, they start showing signs of life.

5) Indians – Could be worst in the league. Too bad in a great baseball city.

West

1) Rangers – Losing Lee hurts, but this is an easy division to win.

2) A’s – Another team with a weird amount of hype. Aren’t they this year’s (version of last year’s) Mariners?

3) Angels – Willingly traded for Vernon Wells’ contract. Hard to take ’em seriously after that.

4) Mariners – Yeah.

 

National League

East

1) Phillies – Incredible starting staff, but the lineup’s starting to show cracks.

2) Braves – Not far ahead of the rest. Some youngins starting to play, apparently.

3) Marlins – Got fleeced by the Braves, but keep pumping out prospects.

4) Mets –  Maybe Beltran and Santana play some this year.

5) Nationals – Payed Jayson Werth like Vernon Wells. That’ll cost ya.

Central

1) Reds – Surprisingly good last year. Dusty Baker managing young talent well? Really?

2) Brewers* – Some distressing luck early. I admire their moxie, going all-in when everyone else is stocking prospects.

3) Cardinals – They’ve got a free agent, or something. Been a pretty underplayed story so far.

4) Cubs – Need to tear it down before they can build it up again. Not sure if they’ve figured that out yet.

5) Astros – Some signs of life, but a bad team in a bad division.

6) Pirates – I don’t even have a joke here.

West

1) Giants – Essentially the Phillies, but younger, right? Sounds good to me.

2) Rockies – Seem to be jumping the gun on big money extensions. Which has ALWAYS worked in sports.

3) Dodgers – So is it the guy or the gal that owns the team? I’m not sure.

4) Diamondbacks – Man, what happened to them? Weren’t they up and coming at some point?

5) Padres – Picked them here last year (I think), and was gloriously wrong. Let’s see if I can make ’em good again.