Hey Sports Fans, It Ain’t All That Serious

As someone who spent a decade working in sports talk, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of how the medium works. At its core, the structure is based on finding things to argue about, picking a side, and then telling everybody why the other side of the argument is dumb and/or wrong. Now that I think about it, that’s kind of how every realm of media works nowadays. But at least when we’re discussing say, politics, we’re usually talking about issues that have some kind of impact on our lives or society at large. The struggle that sports conversations have at times is that we tend to grab at straws for things to yell about. The result is that we often find ourselves getting all kinds of worked up about things that frankly just don’t matter. Like at all.

There were a couple of examples of this that popped up recently that I think call for some of us to check the temperature of our jets and cool them significantly. Let me start with the underpants-twisting that occurred as a product of what went down in the Red Sox-Rangers game in Arlington on Thursday.

Mike Minor was the starting pitcher for Texas, and he had a significant personal milestone within reach. Nine strikeouts on the day would give him 200 for the season, and that would be the first time in his eight-year career he would have reached that mark. Seeing as how the Rangers and Red Sox had both been eliminated from playoff contention, the outcome of the game didn’t matter for any other reason other than pride. So Texas manager Chris Woodward allowed Minor to keep pitching until he got that 200th K…except that would prove to be easier said than done.

That was in large part because the Red Sox decided that they were as determined to not allow Minor to reach that milestone as Minor was to make it happen. That was made obvious when in the 8th inning, with Minor sitting one strikeout away from reaching the plateau, three consecutive Boston hitters feebly hacked at the first pitch purely with the intention of putting the ball into play. It was at this point that all pretense of this being a battle between two teams trying to win a baseball game was dropped.

So out came Minor to pitch the ninth, despite having already thrown a now almost unheard of 120 pitches. And that’s when things really got absurd. After a Sandy Leon fly-out to start the inning, Chris Owings popped up a 1-1 pitch into foul territory about 30 feet down the first-base line. As first baseman Ronald Guzman converged on the ball, Minor shouted at him to let it drop, which Guzman alertly did. That ran the count to 1-2, following which Minor got an extremely generous strike three call on a pitch that was clearly high and tight. One can only assume that home plate umpire CB Bucknor had seen enough of these teams trying to out-petty each other. But hey, Minor had his 200th strikeout and everyone could go home happy, right?

But that’s not where the story ends, because of course it isn’t. First, the two managers involved in this farce both took swipes at the other in their postgame comments in an effort to paint the other as the REAL bad guy in this situation. Alex Cora lauded his Red Sox for “playing the game the right way,” which is a weird way of describing a team that literally stopped even attempting to put together good at-bats in a game they were losing in the late innings. Woodward accurately mentioned in his presser that the Red Sox “kind of set the tone” by deciding to “not try to win the game.”

Lo and behold there were members of the media who couldn’t let this affront on the game of baseball stand without putting in their two grumpy cents. The Boston Globe‘s Pete Abraham huff-tweeted about how Minor’s 200 K’s “should have a big asterisk” because of how “unprofessional” his pursuit of that milestone was. I was delighted to see Minor himself respond to that tweet like this:

Why do I love this response so much? Because he’s exactly right. NO ONE SHOULD CARE THAT MUCH ABOUT THIS. If you can’t just be happy for a guy who has endured lost seasons due to injury for reaching a significant individual milestone, honestly, why do you even watch sports? Do you need something to be angry about that bad? The 200K storyline was literally the only significance to that game even being played at all. I say good for Mike Minor.

Yet that episode pales in comparison to the energy I’ve seen people waste getting all crabbed up over champagne celebrations for teams that clinch wild card berths. It seems that in the eyes of many a sports fan, despite these teams working since February towards the goal of putting themselves in a position to make the playoffs, that accomplishment warrants nothing more than a firm handshake.

Pictured here: Something people are mad about somehow (đź“·: John Minchillio, AP)

Seriously, just type “wild card champagne” into the search box on Twitter and observe how many of us are all bent out of shape that baseball players have the nerve to experience joy for a feat that two-thirds of the league only hoped to accomplish. Who are you people? Imagine if I suggested that someone who finally gets that new job they’ve been working toward for months shouldn’t celebrate that achievement because hey, IT’S NOT LIKE YOU’RE THE CEO YET. Do we realize how absurd that sounds? I’ve really had just about enough of this never-ending soul-sucking effort on the part of fans and media alike to attempt to remove any trace of fun from sports. IT’S SPORTS! This is supposed to be fun and entertaining. Why do we insist on making every single thing so businesslike and boring. It never ceases to blow my mind.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. One of the most vomit-inducing aspects of sports is when athletes have fun or showcase their personality only for some wet log to say “But, but what about the integrity of the game?” Fucking spare me with that shit. Sports leagues have been riddled with scandal since the goddamn Black Sox were throwing games in the 1910’s, and yet we treat the Brewers popping bubbly as if they’re some kind of scourge that makes us yearn for the good ol’ days when soulless robots celebrated championships with a quiet “Huzzah” mumbled under their breath.

Don’t get me wrong. The point I want you to take from this is not that there’s NEVER anything to get upset about when it comes to sports. There are plenty of things that I feel strongly about that I think are worthy of anger. For example, I think it’s outrageous that Colin Kaepernick has been shunned from the NFL simply for having the balls to say out loud that maybe something ought to be done about bad cops killing black people with impunity. I think Major League Baseball did a terrible job not allowing the Mets to wear hats that paid tribute to first responders on 9/11. The NHL can’t seem to go more than ten years at a time without a work stoppage under Gary Bettman’s watch. These are things to be justifiably upset about. But when we’re talking about a meaningless September baseball game getting sidetracked for one player’s quest for 200 strikeouts, or a team popping bottles after working their asses off for a playoff spot, count me among those that just don’t see what the problem is.

We’re all so on edge all the time nowadays, and one of the byproducts of that seems to be that we reach for things to be pissed about. I understand that any topic that can be spun into a two-sided debate is the kind of content that keeps people tuned in to sports talk shows and the like. But for Christ’s sake, let’s try to be a little bit more selective about the things we allow to grind our gears. I promise we’ll all be much better off for it in the long run.

Let’s Predict Some Stuff: 2019 MLB Edition

After a bitter and cold offseason featuring one of the most frigid free agency periods in memory, we have almost arrived at the proper Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. I always get giddy this time of year, for one, because it means my birthday is right around the corner. But truly, the start of the baseball calendar has always felt like the beginning of the new year to me more than January 1st ever did.

Even though it’s one of the laziest things a writer can do to put words onto a screen, it is undeniably a fun exercise to try to predict what will happen before the season starts. If nothing else, it gives you something to look back on in October and make fun of me for when 75 percent of these predictions inevitably go to shit. With that in mind, let’s get it…

AL EAST CHAMPION: New York Yankees

Let’s get my homer stuff out of the way nice and early. Yes, I am a die-hard Yankee fan. And yes, this is a prediction that is partly being made because it’s what I want to see happen. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a logical argument to be made to back this up.

Obviously, the Red Sox are the defending champions not just of the AL East, but all of baseball. And as Ric Flair put it best, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” That’s never been more true than in MLB’s current divisional scheduling format when the teams play each other head-to-head 19 times a year.

The Yanks are dealing with some pretty major injury concerns to begin the season, particularly with their pitching. Luis Severino, Dellin Betances and C.C. Sabathia will all be on the mend instead of on the mound to start the year.

But an offense that set an MLB record for home runs a year ago actually has a lot of room to improve. The improvement would rely upon getting a bounce-back year from Gary Sanchez, a healthier one from Aaron Judge, and a less schizophrenic one from Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankee bullpen is still the best in the game, whereas the Sox’ pen minus Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly is almost certainly going to cost them a few games this season.

AL CENTRAL CHAMPION: Cleveland Indians

I’m going with the chalk pick, as tempting as it is to pick the Twins to unseat Cleveland here. This really all comes down to starting pitching for me. The starting five of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber is one of a few rotations that can lay claim to the title of best in the bigs.

The question is going to be whether this team can score enough runs to support them. With Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes all gone from the lineup, it puts a lot on Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis to do the heavy lifting.

The bullpen is a bit suspect too without Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, but the Central has been, and still is one of the weaker divisions in the sport. Like I said, the Twins are a tempting pick, but I’m gonna take the team with the better pitching to finish the 162-game grind with a slightly better record. But I would not be surprised if this was one of the tighter races down the stretch.

AL WEST CHAMPION: Houston Astros

This one feels like the most “well, duh” pick of the division champs. The Oakland A’s are coming off a 97-win year and will likely be a tough team to play once again this season. But the Astros are just too damn good. It’s hard to find a definitive weak spot on this squad. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer all have room to improve from their 2018 numbers, and I’d be willing to bet that all three will.

Sure, they lost three extremely capable starters in Dallas Kuechel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. But Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are still very much there. Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock may not be the kind of names that make opposing lineups shudder, but Houston’s coaching staff has done a remarkable job in recent years of getting the best out of seemingly every arm they have. All that said, this team is my pick to finish the year with the best record in the sport.

AL WILD CARDS: Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins

Whichever team between the Yankees and Red Sox doesn’t win the AL East is a slam dunk pick to take one of the wild cards in the American League in my mind. As for the other WC spot, I’m predicting it will go to a team that (as I mentioned) I toyed with choosing to be a division winner in the Twins.

This is a team that captured a wild card spot two seasons ago, and has made some key additions to their offense this offseason. Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez are all guys that will provide Minnesota with the kind of bats that make them capable of putting up runs in bunches. Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson give them a solid 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation.

The Twins are bound to get a strong push from the A’s and perhaps even the Tampa Bay Rays for this playoff spot, but give me Minnesota as the team that will likely get the bricks blown off of them in a Wild Card Game match-up against the Sawx.

NL EAST CHAMPION: Washington Nationals

I’ve made a point of not looking at any other prediction pieces before doing my own, and I wonder how many pundits have written off the Nats after not only losing Bryce Harper, but losing him to another team in what currently stands as the most wide-open division in baseball. But despite being branded with the reputation of playoff chokers, Washington often finds a way to at least get there, last season notwithstanding.

Make no mistake, this team still has a lineup that packs a punch, and a lot of those punches will come from guys who are going to be mainstays for years to come. Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Anthony Rendon are top of mind in that category. And oh yeah, their pitching rotation is money with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the newly acquired Patrick Corbin leading the way.

The Braves, Phillies, and even the Mets could all finish within shouting distance of the top spot, but I still like the Nationals to take the prize.

NL CENTRAL CHAMPION: Chicago Cubs

This is a spot where I feel like I may be relying more on my gut than my logic. The Brewers might actually be a more “complete” team than the Cubs on paper, and the Brew Crew hold the distinction of defending champs in this division. But you’ll remember that came down to a Game 163 last season, so to say it was a close race is very much an understatement. The Cardinals will also pose a threat to Chicago, as they have absolutely made strides in improving their club.

This seems like a cop-out explanation, but to me it just feels like the Cubbies are bound to get back to the top spot in the Central this year. Joe Maddon may be my favorite manager in the sport, and the roster he’s working with feels like a nearly ideal blend of youth and experience. Their starting infield in particular is as good as most teams in the game. And I have to make at least one pick here that is based almost solely on gut feeling. Having said all of that, look for Milwaukee to pop up again a little further down in this column.

NL WEST CHAMPION: Colorado Rockies

This is pretty clearly going to be a two-horse race, as the Rockies and Dodgers are really the only teams in the NL West that are worth a damn. LA may have won the previous six division titles, but I believe Colorado is finally going to put a stop to that streak this season.

This was the other division that needed a 163rd game to decide a winner last year. And while there is no denying the two-time defending NL Champs are still a quality team with loads of depth, the Rockies are returning a very similar looking roster to last season’s while Los Angeles actually changed a lot this winter.

Gone from the Dodgers’ roster are Manny Machado, Yasiel Puig, Yasmani Grandal, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood. That’s a lot to lose. Yes, they did add A.J. Pollock, and a consistently healthy Corey Seager would go a long way toward keeping this team on top. But the Rockies are essentially the same group that took LA down to the wire last season, except with the addition of Daniel Murphy. If Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Jon Gray can pitch to their potential all year, I think Colorado has enough to finish in first.

NL WILD CARDS: Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers

This would set up a rematch of last year’s NLCS in the Wild Card Game. It would be a damn shame to have to lose one of these teams in a one-game playoff scenario, but I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And truth be told, it’s in this scenario that I think the Dodgers’ bid at making it to three straight World Series will come to an end.

The one thing the Brewers are lacking is a definitive ace of the pitching staff, and that is something the Dodgers undoubtedly have in Clayton Kershaw. So maybe you can chalk this up as a prediction of heart over head. That Milwaukee lineup is just so damn good, though. The guy who would likely relish this opportunity the most would be Yasmani Grandal, who left Los Angeles to sign with the Beer Makers this offseason. Imagine if he were to play a big role in sending the Dodgers packing come October. We can dream, can’t we?

ALCS Prediction: Astros defeat Yankees

Ugh. It pains my pinstriped heart to say this, but the Astros are simply the better and more complete team, plus they have had the Yankees’ number in recent history. This is the series I want though. A chance to exorcise the demons of the 2017 ALCS in which the underdog Yanks nearly knocked off the eventual World Champion Stros is surely an appetizing situation. I just don’t think the Yankees really want that smoke. Houston is too good.

NLCS Prediction: Brewers defeat Rockies

This presumes the Cubs finish with the National League’s best record, which is far from a lock, but play along with me. The Brewers beat the Dodgers in the Wild Card Game. The NLDS would then see the Rockies beat the Nationals (because the Nats don’t win playoff series, just as a general rule) and the Brewers upset the Cubs. Brewers-Rockies would be a fascinating NLCS, and honestly, predicting a wild card team to make the World Series just makes for a fun little wrinkle in this here prediction column.

World Series Prediction: Astros defeat Brewers

Of all the truly plausible World Series scenarios, this is certainly one that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would desire the least. Houston and Milwaukee aren’t exactly what you would define as large media markets. But if the Yankees can’t be there, sign me up for seven games of this series.

I’m not so sure it would happen that way, because frankly I think the Astros are simply better than the Brewers in almost every conceivable category. But there ya have it. My official World Series pick. So when the Brewers now inevitably miss the playoffs altogether or something dumb like that, you can point back at this and laugh at me.


Predictions aren’t exactly the most profound thing in the world of sports punditry, but they sure are fun to make. By all means, please sound off in the comments and let me know how wrong and stupid I am. And most importantly, HAPPY BASEBALL SEASON TO ALL!