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Monday, October 03, 2016

Optimism

The baseball season is now over, and so begins one of my favorite times of year On this day, the 65th anniversary of the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff, when Bobby Thomsen sent Ralph Branca's pitch over Andy Pafko's head at the Polo Grounds, our thoughts turn to baseball's post-season.

Since the league expanded to a ten-team tournament, it has been anyone's guess as to who will win the title. Wild cards have regularly won it all, while teams with the most victories in the regular season have just as regularly not.

This year everyone is looking at the Cubs to break a schneid that is 108 years old--they haven't won the whole thing since 1908, two years before Mark Twain died. They haven't been to the World Series since 1945, five years before Vin Scully started calling Dodger games. But this year they led wire to wire, racked up 103 victories, and look to be the best team in baseball, a juggernaut.

But is there anyone who has paid attention to baseball for more than a few years that would be surprised if they don't win, if they were knocked off by any of the other four teams in the NL playoffs? Despite the optimism of the fan who got the tattoo pictured, most Cub fans live in a kind of crouch, expecting the worse. The last time they looked this good Steve Bartman happened (although he was not the reason they lost) and certainly any true Cub fan has visions of dropped fly balls, wild pitches, black cats, or blood moons in the back of their mind. For what it's worth, fivethirtyeight.com has the Cubs as a 26 percent favorite to win it all, which isn't that much more than the ten percent by pure numbers.

Before we get to the Cubs, there's the wild-card games. There were chances of of numerous ties, even a four-way one, but some teams, like the Mariner and Tigers, folded meekly (my Tigers lost two of three to the last place Atlanta Braves, so they don't deserve anything) so it will be the Orioles and Blue Jays in the AL and San Francisco at the New York Mets in the NL. I'll take the Blue Jays at home, while I'll go with the road Giants and Madison Bumgarner, one of the best post-season pitchers of all time, in the other game.

That would put the Blue Jays against the Texas Rangers, who had a spirited AL championship series last year. The Rangers, who have the best record in the AL, aren't getting much respect (they are only eight percent to win it all on fivethirtyeight.com) but I think they can take the inconsistent Jays. The Giants would then face the Cubs, and while the Giants have won three straight World Series in even-numbered years, I don't think the Cubs will lose in the first round, especially since Bumgarner probably won't be able to pitch twice, and their bullpen has been atrocious.

The 2-3 seed series should be good. The AL has Cleveland and Boston, I'll take the Red Sox in five, with David Ortiz hitting at least three homers in his post-season swan song. In the NL, it's the Dodgers against the Nationals, who are building themselves a reputation for choking in October. Now they have Dusty Baker as manager, who is known for having great regular seasons but has never won a World Series. I'll go with the Dodgers in four.

That would, if I am correct, which is highly unlikely, create a Texas-Boston AL championship. Ortiz will hit four homers in this series, and Boston will win in six. The Cubs will at least get into the Series by beating the Dodgers, but in seven, maybe in a walk-off in the last game.

That would give us a Cubs-Red Sox series, which we almost had in 2004, ruining the dreams of baseball purists. Even though the Red Sox have now won three titles this century, it would still create a lot of buzz--Bob Costas and Roger Angell would be thrilled, and so would I. I'm going to complete the jinx and pick the Cubs to win a classic series, maybe coming back from 3-1 down, or something like that. But I still wouldn't get a tattoo just yet, Cub fans.

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