Ray Ratto

Hell's Own Bracket: An idea simply too enticing for the NBA not to try


Hell's Own Bracket: An idea simply too enticing for the NBA not to try

It is now fairly well established that there are eight NBA teams that are aggressively tanking, working with vigor toward a superior draft choice that either will or won’t matter.

That’s the beauty of losing games deliberately in bulk – all you get is a potential escape rout that typically isn’t. In short, The Process is largely a self-perpetrated fraud – a way to distract the audience that you’re bad by proving how bad you can be if you try.

I guess that’s also called reverse analytics, but why be snarky here?

But there is a cosmic reason why there are eight tankers at sea here, and that is that the deity in charge of sporting justice wants NBA commissioner Adam Silver to take the hint about playoff reform.

Specifically, to take the eight teams – Phoenix (18-44), Atlanta (18-43), Orlando (18-42), Sacramento (18-42), Memphis (18-41), Dallas (19-42), Brooklyn (20-41) and Chicago (20-40) and build Hell’s Own Bracket. A three-day Tournament Of Shame right after the regular season ends, in which the team that wins three times wins the first pick – or, if you want to carry the theme to its Rothsteinian extreme, the team that loses all three.

You end up getting rid of the lottery system, which people pretend to like but secretly fear is too easy to manipulate. You get a three-day talking point that you can charge prime dollars for. In fact, you can put it in Las Vegas and give legalized wagering a go without the unnecessary integrity fee – particularly because this tournament is a shining tribute to the teams’ essential lack of integrity.

Oh, you might have to extend contracts for players another three games’ worth, or tweak the roster size to make sure that players aren’t torn about their job security while they’re playing for their potential replacement – but let’s face it, no matter how you do this, you’re heading down a rabbit hole in which the league is profiting from active refusal to compete. Once you’ve decided that’s in play, you can do anything to the competition with a clear lack of conscience, since this is monument to that very shortcoming.

But the idea is simply too enticing not to try. This is how the league gets to have its killer bread and slather it with coldcuts – celebrating excellence and excrescence at the same time, and getting people to enjoy the game both ways.

How can this be wrong? How can anyone object?

Okay, I don’t want to watch Orlando and Brooklyn play for the right to meet the winner of the Sacramento-Memphis First-To-75 Classic, but I would watch Phoenix play Chicago to see if the Suns and their historically rancid defense can coax 150 points out of the difficult to watch Bulls offense.

Face it, this is so wrong that it’s right, and therefore wronger still. Adam Silver may not get consensus on the 10-deep playoff bracket, but this is too easy not to do. So let’s have this FailureFest booked and done, with a universal chant of “LET’S NOT GO TEAM!”

It will be the perfect sporting event for these wretched times.

The Bay Bridge Series matters this year

The Bay Bridge Series matters this year

The annual struggle to make the Bay Bridge Series matter to a wider audience is on again, this time a six-games-in-10-days extravaganza that actually has a chance to do something meaningful to this largely dormant rivalry.
Namely, killing a team’s postseason hopes.
The Giants have tried ignoring the A’s throughout much of this 22-year boondoggle on the theory that kings do not interact with peasants. They have outdrawn the A’s in each of those 22 seasons, have won three rings and played twice as many postseason games . . . plus they have a ballpark/cash register. And don’t think they hold those up as an impenetrable shield against all westbound jibes.
The A’s, on the other hand, have tried to pick little marketing-driven fights here and there to see if the Giants will respond at all, so far to no success.
So with the two teams ready to lock up for two series on either side of the All-Star Break, the path to rivalry relevance lies in the most basic of methods.
Namely, this way: The A’s beat the Giants out of postseason consideration by winning five of the six games (two sweeps would be too much to ask). Or, the Giants beat the A’s out of postseason consideration by winning five out of six.
And then this way: By forcing the loser to reconsider its position viz -- the trade deadline. As in, “We made you trade Johnny Cueto,” or the reverse, “We made you trade Blake Treinen.”
True, this is a desperate scenario in both directions because there have only been three such incidences in series history of one beating the other five times, and in none of those (2007, ’09 and ’15) did one materially damage the postseason hopes of the other since, oddly enough, neither team made the playoffs in any of those years.
And that might turn out to be true this time as well. Such is the nature of the rivalry – it has mattered only once since 1913, and the time it did, the earth tried to swallow both teams. This mutual hatred thing that the Giants have developed with the Dodgers has never translated to the Bay Bridge.
But every year we live in hope, and this is the scenario we have being given today – that either the A’s or Giants can punk the other out of their postseason fantasies, enough to turn holders into sellers, the most obvious form of surrender in this modern mercantile world.
And then acting all mouthy and attitudinal about it.
This would not be the Giants way, of course, because of their haughty stature and market positioning. It would absolutely be the A’s way, though, and frankly should, because nobody likes a quiet underdog. Their position should be a loud and proud, “Whatever happens to us, at least it happened to you guys first.”
It is the only way that the Bridge can become battleground, especially now that the 49ers-Raiders thing is pretty well done and buried. And Warriors-Kings isn’t happening because they have never even had a winning record at the same time while in the same state.
So there’s your scenario for starting a rivalry that barely exists in the mind and hasn’t actually in the tangible world since Loma Prieta decided to beat them both. Their tasks are clear.
We expect failure.

Fate of A's All-Stars says everything this year


Fate of A's All-Stars says everything this year

All-Star Game roster selections are not in and of themselves foul for compelling examination (although they are typically better than the games themselves), especially so when you pretty much know whom your favorite teams will be sending to the event.
Ahh, but when your team is in the conundrum of deciding whether or not to trade its potential All-Stars . . . there you have something especially – well, huh?
The Giants will almost surely send Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford as top vote-getters at their positions, and even if Posey is caught by Chicago’s Willson Contreras in the last four days, the National League catching lineup is bereft of other candidates unless you think Miami’s only possibility is J.R. Realmuto, in which case manager Dave Roberts would take a third catcher.
The A’s, on the other hand, won’t have a starter but it is generally assumed that Jed Lowrie has the numbers to make the American League team as a backup (second in WAR, OPS+ and OBP among AL second basemen behind Houston’s Jose Altuve, and that closer Blake Treinen might be one of the best at his craft this year – even though teams are fooling with the closer concept more than ever).
The difference between Posey/Crawford and Lowrie/Treinen, though, is that the Giants are likely to be either be buyers or idlers at the trade deadline, while the A’s, who are clearly the better team, still struggle to get close enough to the Seattle Mariners to make the postseason a possibility and therefore more likely than the Giants to be sellers.
And who are the most coveted A’s at this deadline, you ask? Go on. Ask it. Don’t make me a liar. Do it. Now.
Okay, now that you’ve asked out of your own warped curiosity, those players would be Jed Lowrie and Blake Treinen.
This assumes, of course, that the Beane/Forst doesn’t think the Mariners are catchable, and we have no reason to assume any such thing. This also assumes that the A’s don’t desperately need good results to juice a flagging attendance figure (15,846 per game and 28th overall, though close enough to Pittsburgh and maybe even the Chicago White Sox to dream lofty thoughts about 26th).
Seattle may be catchable, of course, because despite being seven games ahead, their Pythagorean record (their expected record given their plus-21 run differential) is 46-41 rather than 55-32, the largest positive discrepancy in baseball, and the A’s, who are 48-39, would be 45-42 based non their plus-16 differential. That’s one game rather than seven, meaning that Seattle could return to the mean if they’d stop being 26-11 in one-run games and 8-0 in extra inning games.
Oh, and the team doing worse against its Pythagorean number is Houston, who should be not 1½ games better than Seattle by that metric but 17½.
In other words, the A’s have to decide if Seattle’s overachievement will continue, if being the best non-playoff team will translate into more local interest, and if Billy Beane’s stated desire to be no longer known as “He Who Sells Players.
And if the decision is that Seattle can’t be caught, or that being the best non-playoff team has no value, or that Beane is still a serial prospect hunter/veteran discarder, then their two All-Stars might be attractive prospect-bait before the July 31 deadline.
That would be one more massive buzzkill for a team that needs to be anything but, but one should never assume that the A’s have finally taken the building-for-now cure. They keep winning and winning and 13-3 winning, and at some point that has to catch on, right?
Well, right?