Ray Ratto

Why it's better to be an Athletic than a Giant at this All-Star break

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USATSI

Why it's better to be an Athletic than a Giant at this All-Star break

As we have reached the point in our sporting experience at which we often prefer the imaginary world to the real one (see gambling, futures odds, daily fantasy, draft and combine obsessions, just to name an obnoxious few), let’s check in on Major League Baseball at the All-Star break.
 
But not as it is, but how it would be if wins and losses corresponded to what they should be based on our great, noble and very dead friend Pythagoras.
 
Now there are many forms of the expected wins theorem because the formulas used to calculate how to metricize run differential are different, but we’ll just pick a few to annoy and amaze you. First, your American League, ranked by how they would be seeded in the postseason:
 
BOSTON (actual 68-30, 65-33 by baseballreference.com and MLB.com, 106-56 projected by Fangraphs)
HOUSTON                          64-35/70-29/104-58 
CLEVELAND                    52-43/55-40/92-70
NEW YORK YANKEES     62-33/61-34/103-59
SEATTLE                            58-39/48-49/90-72
 
By this, the Red Sox lead the Astros and Yankees by 4 ½ games but trails in expected wins by 4 ½. Houston leads Seattle by five games but should lead by 21. The Yankees would have the third-best record, and the Indians barely would make it, only because they're in the worst division ever divided.
 
But Seattle is the funny team because of this:
 
OAKLAND                          55-42/51-46/87-75
TAMPA BAY                      49-47/50-45/80-82
L.A. ANGELS                    49-48/51-46/81-81
 
Based on run differential, the Mariners are three games worse than all three, and being swept in Colorado was unhelpful. Thus, what we have here is four sure things and the Mariners trying to hold off the A’s, Rays, and Angels. In short, here is the future of the American League:
 
July 27-29: Mariners at Angels
July 31-August 2: Rays at Angels
August 10-12: A’s at Angels
August 30-September 2: Mariners at A’s
September 13-16: Mariners at Angels
September 14-16; A’s at Rays
September 18-20: Angels at A’s
September 24-26: A’s at Mariners
September 28-30: A’s at Mariners.
 
The National League is a much bigger mess, and the Giants are looking up at most of it:
 
CHICAGO CUBS                   55-38/58-35/94-58
PHILADELPHIA                    53-42/49-46/85-77
L.A. DODGERS                      53-43/57-39/91-71
MILWAUKEE                          55-43/54-44/86-76
ATLANTA                                 52-42/54-40/84-78
ARIZONA                                  53-44/53-44/86-76
COLORADO                             51-45/48-48/83-79
ST. LOUIS                           48-46/48-46/83-79
SAN FRANCISCO                 50-48/46-52/82-80
WASHINGTON                       48-48/51-45/86-76
PITTSBURGH                          48-49/46-51/80-82
 
By this analysis, the Cubs and Dodgers would win their divisions comfortably, and the Nationals, Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Braves, Rockies and Cardinals would play about 150 games against each other to fill the other three spots. Now that would be the kind of baffling months-long madness we find great fun.
 
But the two teams that aren’t in that group, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, won’t share said fun by these numbers. They are .500 teams who are overachieving to get there, and the Pirates already figure to be sellers at the July 31 trade deadline.
 
The Giants probably won’t be either buyers or sellers, and are in any event positioning themselves for 2019, hoping to figure out what to do about the 46 percent of the payroll taken up by Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon this year, next year and 2020 (hint: contracts will be eaten).
 
In short, based on enjoyment, value and general optimism, it is better to be an Athletic at this All-Star break than a Giant. Plus, it's still easier to mind one team ahead of you and two potentially behind you than seven ahead of you.
 
But it’s good to have dreams. Beer, and dreams.

Distance between the U.S. and SoccerWorld is more vast than ever

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AP

Distance between the U.S. and SoccerWorld is more vast than ever

The World Cup was over for about eight seconds when the good people at Bovada.com whirled into action and made up a futures book for the 2022 World Cup – mostly because degeneracy never sleeps.
 
But also because the run-up to the World Cup In Hell, as the Qatar competition will come to be known, is a good way to establish just how hungry American soccer believers are in getting back into the anticipation game. The U.S. national team, as shambolic as it has been in nearly three decades, is listed as a cool 80-1, the 16th-highest rated team on the planet, generously tied with Denmark, mostly because there will be betting action on the USNMT just so people who want to bet the Yanks can manufacture excitement after a year of utterly mockable inertia.
 
And that’s the key here – this isn’t a measure of the nation’s place in the international game that just captivated us for a month, not at all. The U.S. couldn’t even be 32nd this year and suddenly, with nothing more to bank upon than four more birthdays for Christian Pulisic, they have improved 16 places merely because they are probably more bettable now than they will be for years.
 
We just established that as a nation we can be thrilled by the World Cup without even a hint of America, but that’s not the lesson that will be learned here. The lesson is that teeny little Croatia could get to the final game, and that this was the World Cup in which the chalk mostly failed. France was considered a lively underdog but hardly the equal of Brazil or Spain or Argentina or Germany, and the final four included an improbably happy and agenda-free England side and Belgium’s latest golden generation.
 
And individually, the tournament was not dominated by any single player, no matter how much Fox wanted to cram Ronaldo and Messi and Kane down our constricted yaps. The standouts were Mbappe and Modric and Pogba and Kante and Hazard and Griezmann and Perisic and Pickford – all well known to soccer aficionados, but very much against the run of narrative play.
 
In short, for casual fans it helped to know the players, but mostly the fans came anyway because Americans love to label-shop if their own team isn’t involved, and the World Cup has a great label even despite the continued involvement of FIFA.
 
But as for the Americans, being 80-1 with only 1,590 days left to get themselves together and put up not only a coherent side but a coherent plan installed by coherent men and women seems, well, low. The distance between the U.S. and SoccerWorld is more vast than ever, and now that casual fans have figured out that the flag is less important than the field, the U.S. will not just be able to toss out a few strips of bunting and call itself America’s team. It will have to earn it with actual play.
 
This flies in the face of what America does best – throwing the party. The 2026 World Cup will be America at its most competent and organized, and maybe with 3,000 days of prep time it can deliver even better goods than it did in 1994.
 
But the team itself . . . well, even if you accept the very generous 80-1 line as even minimally valid, it has light years to travel. The U.S. stepped back while the rest of the world stepped forward, and a World Cup as entertainingly unpredictable as this will make it harder, not easier, for the Americans to claim the place it insists for itself by virtue of . . . well, saying it should have a place.
 
If they’re to be one of the 32 again, they will have to re-learn what it is like to be and act like the outsider. Other than Pulisic, feeling ostracized as not good enough is probably the best tool in their shed.

In the meantime, "go you degenerates!" or as the French say, "allez vous dégénérés!" You can show the country the way by betting the Yanks down to, oh, say 75-1.

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.
 
Baseball.
 
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.