Each week, during college football season DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and (sometimes) what to drink while doing it. Here, a PNP special edition, baseball.
What kind of baseball do you think we’ll see this season? For the first year in recent memory, I’m not sure, before the year starts, I’ll see a better product than I saw last year.
We’ll certainly see a younger product. The average age of a batter last year was 28.3, the youngest baseball players have been since 1988 and the youngest they’ve been in the 30-team era. Will they be faster? More explosive? Probably, on both counts. I bet we’ll see strikeouts go up again as young sluggers try to figure out their optimum launch angles while they actually, you know, learn how to hit big league pitching. League-wide strikeout totals have increased since the dawn of time, but the pace has been particularly pronounced since 1998, when teams averaged 6.56 Ks per game. Last year, that number rose to 8.25, an all-time high, the ninth straight year Ks have risen.
Still, both of those conclusions are easy trend lines to spot, and not necessarily bad for baseball. Largely gone are the stationary sluggers and juiced-up pitchers of the early aughts, the elder statesmen who were signing contracts into their 40s with the aid of steroids. The ages of 30-33 have again begun signaling a decisive decline. Home runs—you saw 1.26 per game in 2017—are at their highest point since 2000, and their highest point ever, period. I enjoy seeing guys put one out.
No, AJ, the thing that concerns me most about the game is that 10-12 teams aren’t trying to win right now. In fact, they minimally wouldn’t hate losing a lot this season to keep stockpiling better draft picks and spending those picks on prospects for the future. On any given day, a third of the games in MLB could feature at least one team not even planning on a wild card run this season. In certain divisions—the AL Central with the Tigers, Royals, and White Sox comes to mind—it’s likely that more of the season than not will feature losing teams contesting joyless series against one another in a race to the bottom.
The converse, of course, is that the true blue bloods could make a killing this year. If everything goes right for Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, the Cubs, and maybe Boston, 100-plus win seasons are as easily within reach as they’ve been in decades. The NL’s cream will feast on Miami, San Diego, Cincinnati and Atlanta, while the top of the AL should bat around Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Oakland and Tampa Bay.
This is unquestionably bad for fans of those tanking clubs. Because there’s still just one Commissioner’s Trophy, more than half of these rebuilds are destined to fail. Then you’ve put your fans through multiple 90-loss seasons for… what, exactly? A chance to compete with your division’s big boy? A chance at a wild card berth in a playoff era that’s as forgiving as any, ever? You can definitely do that without tearing your club down. Six clubs have even parlayed a wildcard berth into a World Series win. It wouldn’t be outlandish to see Minnesota, Toronto (OK, maybe that is outlandish, but I’m making a point here), Milwaukee or the Mets hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy this season because they actually bothered to spend a few bucks.
I get the allure. The Cubs and Astros kicked over all their Legos and rebuilt themselves into champions. But when they did it in the early-to-mid 2010s, they were the only clubs fishing that pond. A dozen clubs are now casting the same line and hoping for the same results. For most of them, it won’t work. The tank will fail, and a new GM with a new five-year plan will come in promising success if they just let him blow it all up and start from scratch.
I kinda worry we’re seeing the start of a cycle for a lot of clubs here. I hope the powers that be in the league office see it, too.
On the flip side, I’ll have over/under win totals for every club in baseball and thoughts on a few of them. AJ, what say you?
Happy opening day and many happy returns.
There’s a few things I want to address in this space: Baseball’s ever-loving need to have the Yankees be relevant (or at least seem relevant), the first-crush heart flutters I feel every time Shohei Ohtani steps up to the plate and the fact that one Vladimir Guerrero Ramos Jr., a Canadian-born, Dominican-raised, son of a HOF’er, rookie Blue Jays third baseman, is everything that’s right with this world (and everything that’s wrong with borders.) But those digressions can wait, the real A’s-sized elephant in the room is, as you mentioned, 10 to a dozen teams that just don’t give a fuck: about their record, about their fan bases or even about… wait for it: Process.
When you talk bottom-feeders, the two teams that top everyone’s cellar-dwelling, moribund-from-the-first-pitch, below-the-Mendoza-line predictions happen to be the letters embossed on your two favorite hats—I’m talking about the Olde English ‘D’ and the (old school) Taco Bell yellow ‘SD’; that’s right Kyle, your fandom has been left for dead somewhere outside Pahrump even before the rubber gets scuffed.
Though I gave up my allegiance to a specific squad (I am, as ever, a fan of the West Coast and do everything in my power to act as a reactionary to the East Coast bias grinding away at the doubters like John McClain talking himself through a heating duct. Sure, nobody’s there to listen to the underdog, but at least the chatter keeps ‘em going) I do feel that there is something beautiful in the suffering, if, as you mentioned, you feel a team-in-transition’s ownership has some kind of winning scheme.
Of your Sophie’s Choice of fandom, I think it’s your adopted hometown Friars that have the better shot at breaching above .500 like Shamu looking for a midday snack—maybe even this season. The Padres farm has a surfeit of MLB top 100 prospects and the town no wall can keep down is especially blessed with young arms (Mackenzie Gore, Cal Quantrill, Adrian Morejon) and middle infielders with big-time pedigrees (Luis Urias, Fernando Tatis Jr.) all in the 19-22-year-old range; maybe they’re not quite ready for prime time in the whale’s vagina, but surely they’ll find their way into the SD Camo alts before August whether the Padres are contending in the still-stacked NL West or not.
Detroit is a problem of a different sort. Last time I checked my copy of Ken Griffey Jr. baseball for SNES, at least three starting Tigs, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Francisco Liriano are on there. There’s almost 50 years of MLB experience between that trio, unfortunately, that translates to winning—in 2004.
The Detroit stair chair squad is a happy anomaly in one respect: With MLB careers shrinking at a faster rate than me in a wetsuit, it’s a safe bet that once the big D and baseball bids farewell to the last holdouts from the HGH era, their replacements will be up-and-comers rife with Nuke Laloosh arms who have running back-sized careers, three flashy years, one visit to doctor James Andrews, one outsized contract (maybe, if they’re lucky) and then off to the pen and the great beyond sometime after thirty. Position players may fare slightly better, but using the GIants’ signings of former small-market luminaries Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen in the offseason for precisely two sourdough bread bowls and two pints of Anchor Steam, well, the MLB youth movement is more than a thing, it’s the only thing.
And that’s fine. As you mentioned, baseball is in a transition moment. It’s trending younger, it’s trying to capture a younger demo (the e’er-coveted Millennial and Gen Z demos aren’t, as the medias would have you believe, on their phones and ignoring visceral acts like a leather ball bouncing off a wood bat, but they’re simply finding other ways to waste their time, you know shopping for fanny packs or at least getting a tattoo of a fanny pack to complete their left sleeve.) Baseball, in spite of token and ill-advised efforts to speed up a game with no clock, is definitely your grandpa’s game no longer played effectively by anyone of car rental age and older.
Truly, like all ways the game evolves, this era is filled with joy-filled contradictions.
And that is why, yet again, I’m back.
OK, a six pack of teams that will surprise in 2018 when you call me back up to the blackboard Kyle.
Without further ado, onto the picks:
Arizona Diamondbacks 85.5 under
Atlanta Braves 74.5 under
You need to squint pretty hard to see 75 wins on the Braves’ schedule, especially with Philly potentially improving and New York’s rotation back in business.
Baltimore Orioles 73 under
Boston Red Sox 91.5 over
I still don’t believe the Red Sox are a very strong club, but Baltimore, Tampa, and Toronto all look like they might be a walk, especially if they end up selling at the trade deadline.
Chicago Cubs 94.5 under
95 is a big number with Milwaukee and St. Louis both looking better than competent.
Chicago White Sox 68 over
Cincinnati Reds 73.5 under
Cleveland Indians 94.5 over
Tigers. White Sox. Kansas City. Cleveland will cut through the rest of the division like a hot knife through butter. The balance between the rotation and bullpen, plus a healthy Michael Brantley, means the team is deeper than any other in the Central.
Colorado Rockies 82 over
Detroit Tigers 68.5 under
Houston Astros 96.5 under
The Astros don’t need a hangover to undershoot the win total. They just need a desperate Seattle, improved Anaheim, and steady Texas to skim a few Ws off the top. And guess what? All three of those teams fit the bill.
Kansas City Royals 71.5 under
Anaheim Angels 84.5 over
The Angels season doesn’t hinge on Ohtani, Mike Trout, or Albert Pujols. No, the deciding factor for a Halos pennant run will be a healthy Garrett Richards. If the Angels’ ace can get more than 30ish starts a year, he’s extremely valuable.
Miami Marlins 64.5 under
Milwaukee Brewers 84.5 over
Minnesota Twins 82.5 over
Paul Molitor might be the best manager in baseball not named Maddox or Bochy and he might be getting more out of his guys than either of those two.
New York Mets 81 over
New York Yankees 94.5 under
Oakland A’s 74.5 under
Philadelphia Phillies 75.5 under
Pittsburgh Pirates 73 under
San Diego Padres 69.5 over
The Giants might be a Dumpster fire again, and Arizona and Colorado only treaded water. The Pads step forward less out of intention than circumstance.
San Francisco Giants 81.5 under
Seattle Mariners 81.5 over
St. Louis Cardinals 85.5 under
Tampa Bay Rays 77.5 under
Texas Rangers 77.5 under
Toronto Blue Jays 81 under
Washington Nationals 92.5 over
This eventually has to happen, right? Might as well be in Bryce Harper’s walk year.
Alright AJ, who do you like?
My dirty half dozen:
Anaheim Angels 84.5 over
Though raised a Giants fan, my first professional game was at the Big !A in Anaheim. I still have my Wally World souvenir program (I didn’t get the irony at the time of the Angels’ marketing department using first-gen Mormon hardballer Wally Joyner as a marketing fuck you to Disneyland) and I will always feel the tug of Angels fandom, kind of like stalking your college ex on social media every now and again with more than a passing interest. (My college ex was actually an Angels fan, so this all makes sense.) A-hem, where was I? Oh yeah, I think the Angels win 90+ and though there are some holes in their pen and they’re in a wildly competitive AL West, they fill the cracks at the deadline and Trout finally gets a playoff showcase deservant of his talents.
Minnesota Twins 82.5 over
Heady times for the Twins who have one of the youngest and livest starting five in the game. They sneaked up on the Central last year and though that won’t be the case in ‘18, with the exception of Cleveland, who may be peaking this season, the rest of the division will be looking up at the Twinks. I like them as a second wildcard, assuming the other comes out of the East.
Oakland A’s 74.5 over
The 2018 A’s are in what I like to refer to as the “stage 3” of their constant rebuild: Stage 1 = firesale, Stage 2 = bring up green prospects and watch them underperform, Stage 3 = signs of life/fielding an unexpectedly competitive team and Stage 4 = just as they’re about to contend, prep for the firesale again. In other words, the A’s, even in a stacked division, will be surprisingly competitive and scrappy and endearing this year… then they’ll all go away like dandelion seeds. BTW, I think it’s the team’s 50th year in Oakland which means there’s going to be a lot of hipsters with Harvey the ball-delivering rabbit tatted somewhere on their sleeves.
Philadelphia Phillies 75.5 over
Philly is young and on the come-up in the worst division in baseball. They’ll surprise.
San Diego Padres 69.5 over
The Padres are my “sexy” pick this season. As mentioned above there’s too much talent on the farm to keep them out of the conversation for long. They’re still probably a campaign or two away from complete relevance, but kids—they do mature quickly these days.
…And one that might not quite make the cut:
San Francisco Giants 81.5 under
As a long-suffering Giants fan (first as the team ping-ponged around the bottom of the NL West for decades and then, after d-bag central opened on the shores of China Basin) I can’t help but think this team refuses to go away. The familiar names of the most dynastic moment in San Francisco baseball history are mostly all there: Posey, Pence, Panik, Crawford, Bumgarner, Belt—living, breathing shrines to an era already bygone. For them, their place in baseball lore is assured and most of them have a trio of rings to show for it, that’s more than any player could want. So why keep going? Well, baseball, like life, keeps going too—there is no happily ever after, and certainly that will ring true once more for the 2018 men in black and orange.