Uh, I guess we’re doing this?
The idea that baseball is going to happen is weird. I’ve been clear about the fact that I’m not convinced it should happen. Even aside from the ethical questions of devoting so many resources to a recreational activity that puts its participants at risk during a global pandemic in the country that has tried the absolute least of anybody to curb said pandemic, it’s hard to care. But there is still a baseball season that is scheduled to start in three days. And it’s going to be really stupid.
Per Baseball Prospectus’s projections, the worst team in Major League Baseball is the Baltimore Orioles, who project for 21.7 wins in 60 games. The projected best team is the Los Angeles Dodgers, at 38.4 wins. The total spread between these two teams is 16.7 games, which is smaller than the gap that separated the St. Louis Cardinals from first place in 2016…a season in which they finished in second place.
Gambling on sports is a thing I generally do not recommend as a financial strategy, and I only do it when I think I’m getting genuinely good odds and I’m betting on my desired outcome from a purely emotional standpoint (my last sports wager was in January, when I put $20 on the Tennessee Titans to win outright against the New England Patriots in their AFC Wild Card game, and I ended up picking my battle wisely). In a 60-game season in a sport where 162 games probably does an insufficient job of truly determining the best team, gambling on baseball is especially foolish. But if you’re going to do so, don’t abide by my season projections.
My season projections are not based directly on probability—I took probability and simulated the 60-game season and its postseason based on the Bill James LOG5 method. I calculated, based on their projected records, that the St. Louis Cardinals would have a 57.3% chance of beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in any given game. When simulating the ten games the two will play this season, the Cardinals’ most likely outcome is winning five or six. And indeed, the Cardinals won six. But this wasn’t assured.
These projections are, despite adding a wrinkle of randomness, arguably overly conservative, because (assuming the season actually plays to completion) players are going to end up missing chunks of it due to contracting COVID-19. Given the nature of the disease and the close proximity inherent in playing baseball, entire teams being wiped out (probably just from being able to play, hopefully not from being alive) is a factor to consider. But I figure teams really aren’t that much more likely than others to fall victim to this. I was tempted to give an extra boost to the Toronto Blue Jays for playing in a country that’s at least vaguely starting to get their act together, but Saturday’s ruling that the team can’t play games in Toronto (this is clearly a sports league that has their act together right now) kept me from doing so.
Here are my projected standings.
- Tampa Bay Rays (40-20)
- Toronto Blue Jays (32-28)
- New York Yankees (31-29)
- Boston Red Sox (26-34)
- Baltimore Orioles (23-37)
- Minnesota Twins (35-25)
- Chicago White Sox (32-28)
- Cleveland Indians (30-30)
- Kansas City Royals (30-30)
- Detroit Tigers (20-40)
- Houston Astros (38-22)
- Texas Rangers (32-28)
- Oakland Athletics (29-31)
- Los Angeles Angels (27-33)
- Seattle Mariners (22-38)
- Atlanta Braves (33-27)
- Philadelphia Phillies (30-30)
- Miami Marlins (29-31)
- New York Mets (28-32)
- Washington Nationals (28-32)
- Cincinnati Reds (40-20)
- Chicago Cubs (34-26)
- St. Louis Cardinals (29-31)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (26-34)
- Milwaukee Brewers (24-36)
- Los Angeles Dodgers (39-21)
- Arizona Diamondbacks (34-26)
- San Diego Padres (33-27)
- Colorado Rockies (24-36)
- San Francisco Giants (22-38)
For the most part, the results aren’t that chaotic. While it’s a little weird to see Mike Matheny’s old team outpaced by his new team, this would be objectively very funny, and I say this as a fan of his old team. But the division winners are all teams that are either favorites or were considered reasonable picks even in a 162-game season. The most fun division by a mile is the NL East, thanks to the Miami Marlins’ surprising competence and the defending World Series champions falling to last place. And this still involves them being better through their first sixty games than they were last season.
Before the postseason technically begins, though, we have a tie-breaker situation in the American League, as three teams tied for the first Wild Card. Per rules, two of the three play each other, and then the loser of that game plays the third team, and then the winner of that game plays the winner of the first game. Long story short, the Rangers beat the Blue Jays and then the Blue Jays beat the White Sox. Sure. Cool.
Let’s get to the real playoffs.
Wild Card Games
Texas Rangers defeat Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago Cubs defeat Arizona Diamondbacks
Texas Rangers defeat Tampa Bay Rays, 3-1
Minnesota Twins defeat Houston Astros, 3-1
Chicago Cubs defeat Cincinnati Reds, 3-1
Atlanta Braves defeat Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-1
Minnesota Twins defeat Texas Rangers, 4-0
Chicago Cubs defeat Atlanta Braves, 4-1
Chicago Cubs defeat Minnesota Twins, 4-3
So there you have it—a season that ends with the Wild Card Chicago Cubs winning a World Series at an empty stadium in Minneapolis in late October. Truly the fate that we deserve.