Futility Friday vol. 2: Lame League season preview!

Lame League: Belligerent Snobs Division (AL East)

Baltimore Orioles:
This team has a long history of drafting talented young players, keeping them for a couple of years, then trading them away in order to obtain aging veterans whose ligaments promptly give out, causing them to perform their jobs poorly. I cannot name a single player on this team out of my own memory. Which is usually a bad sign, considering that most of the players I can remember (except for a handful of Cubs, former Cubs, and the inimitable Peter Bergeron, formerly of the former Montreal Expos, now the Washington Nationals) are players who are very good indeed.
Dave says: A couple years ago the Orioles hired a general manager (Andy McPhail, formerly of the Cubs) who started phasing out the ligament-less veterans and getting in some young, fresh talent. Unfortunately this means they are now a team composed primarily of young, fresh mea--er, talent, in what is widely considered to be the most challenging division in all of baseball. As Dave put it, "No one is predicting they'll finish in anything other than last place." Even though they now have at least one talented young outfielder, plus a prospect who plays catcher and is considered the number one prospect in the game. So heck, who am I to disagree with everybody? Especially when everybody agrees with my existing prejudices?
But no! I have to be original and different! I shall throw my ducks with reckless abandon!
The Orioles will finish fourth. Out of five.


Toronto Bluejays:
I don't care about the Bluejays! Not in the slightest! They are less bad than the Orioles, but not by much. They play in Canada, which has no significance except in so far as I can make jokes about it. I recall that David Wells played for them for a brief period, during which time he grew fat and dissatisfied because they were a team without much hope of making it to the playoffs. He was later excited when he learned he would be traded to the White Sox, and even said "Yo!" I was pretty sure he still pitched for the Yankees. But apparently, he was recently forced to retire when no team would sign him. Even though he had to give up beer because of the gout! Which gives me a mental picture of him sitting in an easy chair beside a highway, holding up a placard which reads "Will Pitch In Major League Rotation For Whiskey And/Or Opportunities To Engage In Fisticuffs." That is all.
"They had the best pitching in baseball last year, believe it or not." But a couple of their best pitchers are out for either the whole year or most of it due to injuries, and they had a very quiet offseason. In other words, they lost something of value (the baseball-playing abilities of the injured pitchers) without finding something of value with which to replace it.
Therefore they shall lose.
The Bluejays will finish fifth, in other words, last.


Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays prospered last year, possibly because they changed their name from "Devil Rays" to "Rays". Or, less superstitiously, because the Yankees were just getting older and more expensive, the Red Sox somehow lost or traded away a couple superstars without being able to replace them, and the Rays themselves had a bunch of talented young-ish players who all simultaneously figured out how to hit and/or throw.
Dave says: "That's pretty accurate." Hooray! Also they made it to the World Series last year, even if they didn't win. Which oddly I didn't remember at all, even though I watched it. I still can't name any players on this team off the top of my head. Hmm.
But I think these guys are riding high on the River Euphrates. They have had a taste of success, or at least less failure, and will want very much to have even less failure than that. And because they are young and need less banned substances to cope with the physical stresses of a 162-game season, they will again display athletic goodness in the long haul.
I boldly predict that the Rays will finish second. Ha.


Boston Red Sox:
One of the two big-name franchises that inspired me to give the Belligerent Snobs division its fake name, the Boston Red Sox broke their less-than-a-century-long streak of failing to win the World Series in this millennium. Leaving the Cubs' monumentally long non-winning streak the unquestioned champion of fail! They no longer have the hard-hitting but also possibly insane Manny Ramirez. He was unhappy and hence unreliable for them last year. If a guy getting paid multiple millions every year to play baseball occasionally puts his glove on his head or sits around on the grass watching the dandelions grow rather than attempting to field his defensive position, this can be bad for a team. On the other hand, Manny swings a carefully shaped wooden stick like few other men alive. He is very, very good at making the vaguely spherical object move long distances, despite his crazy hair. And I'm pretty sure the Red Sox have lost other good players to free angency or something, and some of their guys who helped win them the championship are possibly older and less efficient.
Dave says: The Red Sox added a couple of of very good pitchers who are also at high risk for injuries. Namely John Smoltz, who is excellent but old, and Brad Penny, who missed a chunk of last season with an injury. The outfielder they got from the Dodgers to replace Manny, one Jason Bay, is quite good. But they aren't sure who will be their catcher, and even though they are rich enough to spend twelve million on a long shot--namely, the two pitchers mentioned above--they are way less improved over the offseason than they could have been.
So the Red Sox will finish third. Take that, Bill Simmons. Even though you are a famous sports pundit who will never, ever read this, and hence cannot possibly be affronted by it.


New York Yankees:
See, the Yankees are, like, this thing. People use them as a handy metaphor for other areas of endeavor in which a single group is unreasonably dominant in a particular field of competition, through some combination of wealth, mind control, an immense groundswell of bandwagony popular support, and pure, unmitigated evil. (Unless the person making the metaphor is a fan of the Yankees, in which case they are code for awesome.) They pay too much for aging veterans, refuse to trade any of their oft-overrated prospects for less than one and a half times market value, and sneakily keep for themselves those prospects who turn out to be both talented and susceptible to mind control. Also they got C.C. Sabathia, who is at the moment one of the best pitchers in baseball. I choose not to discuss the alleged existence, actions and/or injuries of Alex Rodriguez.
Dave says: "Keep in mind that this perception of the Yankees is steeped in irony, because they haven't won a World Series since 2000." Good point. Alas, here my prejudice against the Yankees has impeded my own ability to recognize irony! For shame! But still. They always seem to generate a burst of winning in the final weeks of the regular season. Even if said winning doesn't enable them to win the World Series, the mind control still seems to enable them to get close enough to smell it almost every year.
So the Yankees will win the division.


Lame League: Belligerent Underachievers Division (AL Central)

Kansas City Royals:
For many, many years, the Royals were just plain awful. They were practically not a major league franchise. Kansas is a state whose fan base cares more about college football and, uh, magical tornados that whisk unsuspecting young women away to Oz than they are likely to ever care about baseball. However, I'm pretty sure that recently they've gotten either new ownership or new management or both, and they are slowly assembling a group of young players who are all learning together how not to lose quite so much. The problem is, if I pick the Royals to finish anything but last, that means I think that either the Twins, White Sox, Tigers or Indians are worse than the Royals. Which seems, as Vizzini would say, "Inconceivable!"
Dave says: They got a new GM, but have the same ownership group. And although they traded for good position players, in doing so they gave up a couple of their more reliable setup men. So they have a more good hitters. Woo, hoo. They also gave up good pitchers who pitch for short periods in the late innings, whose job it is to preserve leads or prevent blowouts. What good are a couple more runs in, say, the third or fifth inning, if the other team scores a couple more runs in the seventh or ninth?
So my opinion is unchanged: The Royals will finish last. They grow stronger, but they are not a Jedi yet.


Cleveland Indians:
I don't know much about the Indians. Truly, I don't. I think of them as playing a very competent third fiddle to the White Sox and Twins, occasionally being elbowed out of the way by the strangely competent Tigers. It is a tight division, and though it seems the Indians always threaten, they rarely carry out their threats.
Internet says (Dave is watching the conclusion to a very good MASH, and I don't want to make him pause it!): The Indians are, as I suspected, in a pretty uneasy spot. They added a couple guys and their hitters will probably do well, but their rotation is full of question marks. I put a lot of value on a team having a reliable starting rotation. Since, y'know, your pitcher needs to prevent the other team from scoring too many runs, or else all the good hitting in the world won't help you win.
So the Indians will finish fourth.


Detroit Tigers:
When I first started to be really aware that baseball existed, around the turn of the millennium, the Tigers were almost as terrible as the Royals and frequently fought with them for the losing bracket at the end of the regular season. However, they did make the playoffs a couple years ago and were not awful even last year. So they're not exactly basement bums anymore, even though I don't think anyone expects them to set the world on fire. Or put it out, if it were already on fire, thereby becoming heroes.
Dave says: "Yeah, they're pretty much a middle-of-the-road team. They had some significant injuries and some underperforming pitchers last year, which is probably why they didn't make the playoffs. But [referring to what I said above] I don't think I'd change anything about that."
The Tigers will finish third.

Minnesota Twins:
The Twins are tricky for me. I think I know some things about them, but most of the information in my brain is a couple years old. I know they no longer have Johan Santana, a pitcher who was their ace but now plays in New York. They no longer have star outfielder Torii Hunter and his magnetic glove of awesomeness--I think he's somewhere on the west coast. I'm frankly not sure whom they do have. And although I don't believe they made the playoffs last year, in my mind they and the White Sox are rivals and the two best teams in the division, so I have to assume they'll do well.
Dave says: "The Twins are coming back as basically the same team. They tied for the division lead last year with the White Sox. They played a one-game playoff for the tiebreaker, and they lost that game. Also they're getting Francisco Liriano back, who was out most of last year." I glean from this that Liriano is a starting pitcher who is good enough that his presence is expected to improve the team. (And I was close to right about the former Twins I could remember: Hunter plays for the Angels, and Santana now pitches for the Mets.)
Y'know what, I originally wanted to pick the White Sox to win the division. Because they are quite good. They've been the better-playing Chicago team for years now, they won the World Series in 05, and I really rather like them and want to see them do well.
But instead I am going to pick the Twins to win the division. I don't know why. But they will do it.

Chicago White Sox:
As you may have notced above, I do remember a few things about the White Sox. They're good, they're winners, they have determination and a positive attitude, regular human beings can occasionally afford tickets to their games, and they have a number of talented players. Like, uh...Mark Buehrle. (An excellent pitcher, who once used the tarp covering the field as a Slip'n'Slide during a rain delay!) And Jermaine Dye. (He is good at hitting. Also Dye is an easy name to remember.) And I think they got some good guys over the offseason, but I don't remember whom.
Dave says: Their pitching rotation is set up to do well with a method that's worked for them before. They have Mark Buehrle, John Denks and Gavin Floyd, who are all good and presumably healthy, and Jose Contreras, who is not as young but got back into shape in the offseason and should play well. Then they have a bunch of rookie pitching prospects who can compete for the #5 spot, so hopefully one of them will work out. They have a couple of other rookies in their batting lineup; Dave is optimistic about one and pessimistic about the other. But even if neither of them works out, the rest of their team is pretty solid.
So. For absolutely no reason at all I say they will still not win the division. But they will make the playoffs anyway because they'll get the AL wild card.


Lame League: Half-California Division (AL West)

Texas Rangers:
The first thing I always remember about the Texas Rangers is that they have good hitting and unreliable pitching. Good with the carefully shaped wooden sticks, not so great with the spherical objects. The funny thing is that this seems to keep being accurate, year after year, even when the team is composed of completely different players. And you'd think at some point, somebody in charge of hiring baseball men to represent their franchise would lean back in their chairs and say, "Why don't we make it our priority to obtain some fellows who really know how to throw the spherical object in a swift and accurate manner?" But instead, they repeatedly spend all their money on guys who can swing the carefully shaped stick with style, aplomb, and a very loud "thwack!" and then settle for mediocrity in the spherical-object-throwing department. And then scratch their close-cropped Texan skulls and wonder why they haven't managed to defeat the competition and bring home the triangular piece of cloth! Argh!
Dave says: Sadly, my rant is pretty accurate. "Last year, they pretty much had the worst pitching in all of baseball, and most of the guys they're bringing back this year are going to be the same guys." Furthermore, their club president is a man named Nolan Ryan, whose name you may recognize. He is one of the legendarily good pitchers of the Times Of Old, But Not So Old That They Are All Deceased. He was heard this offseason saying something to the effect that young pitchers these days get "mollycoddled", and that the club should demand they always pitch a full nine innings whenever it's their turn. Presumably, regardless of pitch count. Under ordinary circumstances, a team will take the starting pitcher out of a game if he throws more than 100 pitches, to prevent injuries. For young pitchers the number is sometimes even lower, say, eighty pitches, because they have not yet developed the stamina required to throw 100 pitches once every five days for the length of a 162-game regular season.
I predict the Rangers will finish last in a four-team division. Perhaps that will learn them to be less curmudgeonly and to spend more money on men who are paid to throw things.

Seattle Mariners:
I don't know too much about the Mariners. I know Ichiro Suzuki, a Japanese player so famous he actually goes by his first name, plays for them. The way that man swings a carefully-shaped wooden stick is a joy to behold. He has a small frame, but the precision and controlled force of his swing seems to place the entire weight of his body behind the exact spot on the wooden stick where it connects with the spherical object. Like a small but very tightly coiled spring with a little boxing glove on the end of it that punches you in the face and knocks you down. Yes, even if you are very large. However, the rest of the team does not really stick in my memory. They always play hard, but even in the notoriously weak Half-California division they rarely advance into the playoffs.
Dave says: "They're largely a question mark to me too." The team has a new GM, who traded for a whole mess of players during the offseason. The Mariners are trying to reinvent themselves, and while they expect it to be a long-term process, nobody really knows what this year's team is going to look like. However, I think the feeling of new and different times afoot will juvenate this franchise. (Not rejuvenate. That would require them to have been sprightly and motivated at some previous time. Yes, I know, juvenate by itself isn't a word. Don't worry, I won't try to use it next time we play Scrabble.)
The Mariners will still finish third, though. Maybe they'll win the division next year.


Oakland Athletics:
Another team regarding which I am ill-informed. Their GM, Billy Beane, is known for being the first baseball decision-maker to make use of the ideas in the book Moneyball. This is a famous-within-baseball book which made a statistic popular, namely OPS. That's right, statistics can be popular! OPS adds together a player's on-base percentage--how frequently he gets to go step on the white squares after batting--to his slugging percentage--how many of those white squares he gets to step on. This is a way to measure how likely a player is to be able to score a run that takes walks into account. Other statistics didn't give people a way to mathematically describe how useful it is when a guy can get to go stand on the white square without having had to use his carefully shaped stick at all. As for who actually plays for the A's or what they've been doing lately, I have no idea.
Dave says: Moneyball was really more about taking advantage of the gap between the statistical measurements on which others rely and the realities those measurements describe. OPS was just the first case in point. People relied too much on stats that didn't measure the actual value of a walk, so Beane focused on getting cheap hitters who drew a lot of walks. But whatever the underestimation of the day is, you can always hire good players for less, as long as those players are good at the things no one else values properly. These days, his focus is more on how the defensive abilities of players are underrated. He can get affordable players who may not have a lot of stick-swinging prowess. But when they're on the grass and/or dirt, they can usually catch the spherical objects hit into play by their opponents, and prevent said opponents from running all the way around the big white square and thereby scoring. The A's starting pitching is a little sketchy, but they have good defenders, traded for or signed a couple guys who can hit for power, and have good late-inning pitchers as well.
The A's will win. Why not? All they have to do is win more games than the Angels, Mariners and Rangers. It can't be that hard.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
They won the World Series in 2002, which I chiefly remember because their mascot was a ten-second clip of a cute monkey jumping up and down, clapping its hands, and going "eek!" Also, they have the most annoying team name in baseball. If the Cubs played in, say, Des Plaines, would we call them the Chicago Cubs of Des Plaines? No! We would call them either the Chicago Cubs or the Des Plaines Cubs. And besides, as we all know, in Spanish Los Angeles means Angels, so naming their team that is about the least imaginative possible thing they could have done. Like, we don't have the New York Yorkies, the Atlanta Atlanteans, the Chicago Chicagoans or the Tampa Ta...well, you get the idea. Lame name. They've still played reasonably well--for an AL West team!--over the past couple years.
Dave says: They've still got Vlad Guerrero and they added Bobby Abreu. They've got a couple homegrown young infielders, like Brandon Wood and Chone Figgins. They're down two pitchers because they lost John Garland (who I keep forgetting is no longer a White Sock) and Francisco Rodriguez (also known as K-Rod because he striKes guys out) to free agency.
Sounds to me like the A's have gotten a little better and the Angels have gotten a little less good.
The Angels will finish in second place. Ha, ha.


So, to recap:

East winners: New York Yankees. Although if it turns out to be the Rays, I will be neither disapointed nor shocked.
Central winners: Minnesota Twins. Don't know why.
West winners: Oakland A's.
Wild card: Chicago White Sox.

In the first round of the playoffs, the White Sox will beat the A's, while the Ra--I mean, Yankees, will beat the Twins.
The Yankees will then lose to the White Sox, sending at least one Chicago team to the World Series. Hooray!


Now quick, somebody gather up a bunch of ducks and balloons and a monkey, so we can have other predictions on record here that will prove to be even more accurate!

3 comments:

Dave said...

Dave's $0.02:

I agree with the AL East standings- I might have the Rays as the wild card, though. That division usually gets the wild card because of the presence of the punching bags in Baltimore and formerly Tampa, inflating the records of the other teams. Toronto might be bad enough this year to become the other punching bag team, thanks to injuries to Dustin McGowan and... uh, that other dude what pitched good last year.

I'm not as keen on the White Sox as you. They might finish second, they might finish fourth. I do think Minnesota is primed to win that division. Cleveland and Detroit both have bounce-back potential... I'll go Cleveland second, Sox third, Royals fourth, Tigers fifth. Detroit is hoping for big things from Gary Sheffield.

I had to check out Seattle's roster before I knew for sure... but I'm gonna stick with The Red Team in the AL West. I wanted to pick the Mariners because of King Felix and his associates in the rotation, but I can't bring myself to do it. Oakland's rotation is too smoke-and-mirrors for my tastes. Texas looks as hopeless as they have been this entire century. The Red Team's bringing what looks to be their weakest roster in years, though... I can't say any team's the clear cut favorite.

After some waffling, I like the Indians over the Rays and A's in the wild card race.

So my playoffs are: NYY over CLE; MIN over The Red Team, then probably the Yankees going to the World Series.

Amber E said...

Looks interesting. I know nothing much about baseball but alas lack a dartboard. My random picks would be names I recognize like the Yankees and the White Sox or names I randomly like for no reason like Mariners....let's give the Bluejays the Wildcard so Canada isn't totally left out.

Fiat Lex said...

Cool, we now have three sets of picks! :D Looks like all three of us have the Yankees winning the East; I suppose the ducks get the grand prize if the Rays win or something. XD

And it would be awesome if the Bluejays won the wildcard. I've been sad on Canada's behalf ever since the Montreal Expos got moved to Washington DC. Now instead of having two terrible teams on which to pin their hopes, they have only one. So I like your idea, Amber: go Bluejays!

Tomorrow if I can manage it I will try to do the other half of baseball. If I'm going to do anything like this next year, do you guys think I ought to split it up into several weeks? Because this one long post has got to be as much of a drag to read as it was difficult (though fun) to type.

Thanks for sticking it out anyway! If I had access to medals made of candy, I would give one to each of you!