Sports alert! A beginner’s guide to the baseball playoffs

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Our statisticians believe there is a roughly 100% chance the Red Sox won’t win this year’s World Series

As you probably were (not) aware of, the Major League Baseball playoffs begin tonight with a play-in game between the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics. They continue tomorrow with the other play-in game (San Francisco Giants-Pittsburgh Pirates) before the real series start on Thursday.

If none of that made any sense, fear not! Blog is here to explain things.

All you need to know about the way the playoffs work is this: five teams in each league (American and National) make it. The two worst in each league–the ones already named above–play a single game against each other to determine who goes on and who goes home. Then the remaining eight teams are paired off into four “Division Series” in which the first team to win three games wins. Then the remaining four teams are paired up in “Championship Series” in which the first team to four games wins. Then the last two teams–the winners of the American and National Leagues, respectively–play in the World Series, which is also won by the first team to four games. The winner of the World Series wins everything!

But, you ask, which team should I root for? Or, more accurately, which teams are playing? Or perhaps, most accurately, why should I care? The final question we can’t answer, besides that baseball is, uh, our national pastime.

But consider: despite all the talk about the demise of baseball, revenues are at an all-time high and local TV ratings are (generally) very strong. So other people care, which means you should too! Now, to answer the other two questions, here’s a beginners rundown of the teams competing this October:

American League

Kansas City Royals

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Sports are fun!

Two-sentence bio: The Royals are among the lovable underdogs of the year, having made their first playoffs in 29 years (29 years!!!!). Unfortunately, they’re not actually that good, having made it in despite one of the worst offenses in the league; they’ll rely on pitching and defense to advance past the play-in game and truly break their playoff-free streak.

Informed-sounding comment: “Boy, those Royals sure get going on the basepaths, don’t they?” [This is a reference to the team's ability to steal a lot of bases.]

Players to name-drop: Starting pitcher James Shields; Closer Greg Holland; Left fielder Alex Gordon [above left]; Catcher Salvador Perez.

Most fun name: Mike Moustakas (third baseman).

Uniform quality: The Royals recently brought back their baby blue shirts to great effect, making them one of the more well-dressed teams around.

Should you root for them? Probably, yeah. Everyone loves a Cinderella story.

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Sixth Man: Red Sox

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Just because Providence doesn’t have any professional sports teams, per se (sorry, Bryant University Field Hockey), doesn’t mean you can’t get the top-level experience with limited investment. For a $20 round-trip train ticket, a $10-ish bleacher seat, and whatever the opportunity cost is of taking five hours of your time (thousands of dollars, I’m sure), you can attend just about any weekday Red Sox game. That’s what I did yesterday, since you asked. It was great.

If you’re going to Boston, the Amtrak Acela is a bit on the pricier side ($15-$35, depending on the train and the time), but if you have work to get done, it’s the way to go. They have almost-21st-century amenities, like outlets at every seat and semi-functional Wi-Fi, and they can get you from Providence to Back Bay Station in 55 minutes. Fenway is about a 20-minute walk from Back Bay, but if you’re a real badass like we were, you’ll take the PediCab and save a little time. The PediCab, for those unfamiliar, is the bike-cab. It is a little bit awkward, and they don’t tell you how much to pay, just a “tip range.” But they are not so happy if you lowball them.

We actually got free tickets for Wednesday’s game, because we bought tickets to Tuesday’s game, and Tuesday’s game was such a disaster (13-0 Red Sox loss, rained out after seven innings) that the Red Sox re-issued those tickets. Pretty cool. I should note that I’m actually an Oakland A’s fan, and I was going because they were in town. The only notable things that happened during the game were 1) my friend and I unsuccessfully trying to do homework during the first inning and 2) some guy behind us picking a fight with me for supporting the A’s and “having my parents pay for college.” I told him I was sorry I was smart, and then he made me tell him my SAT score. It was not my proudest moment. Continue Reading


Brown Does PawSox Game This Sunday

Matthew Colantonio ’11 of the visiting Columbus Clippers

If you’ve been looking for the perfect time to hit up some minor league baseball, you just found it. For a 20-dollar price tag, the event sponsors will hit you up with a ticket to this Sunday’s PawSox game, round-trip bus transportation, a meal (hot dog, chips, Gatorade), and a chance to run the bases after the game, if that’s something you’re into. The PawSox, of course, are the Red Sox triple-A affiliate (that is, their best minor league team) and the only professional baseball team in Rhode Island. Yeah, that’s right – somehow, there’s only one professional baseball team in Rhode Island. Go figure.

Need some more reasons to go? Fine. 1) The PawSox are a good team–league champs last year and 12-7 so far this year. 2) Brown alum Matthew Colantonio ’11 will be playing for the visiting Columbus Clippers. 3) I really only thought of two reasons, but you should go. According to the Facebook event, those who want a ticket should email Joshua_Weiner@brown.edu or Connor_Sakwa@brown.edu. The PawSox are waiting.

Image via.


Students who do cool things: Lewie Pollis ’14

Since the publication of Moneyball (now a major motion picture!), there has been no shortage of armchair baseball statisticians ready to proclaim their candidacy for Yankees Director of Baseball Operations because they understand what an On-Base Percentage is. But the ranks of baseball statistics gurus operating on the same level as Billy Beane (that’s the guy Brad Pitt plays in the movie) have remained thin. Leading the pack of future Brad Pitts, though, is none other than Lewie Pollis ’14, an economics concentrator and Cleveland Indians fan.

Pollis has been a fixture on the baseball statistics–aka sabermetrics–circuit since the debut of his Indians blog, “Wahoo’s On First.” But he took his game to a whole new level by winning the SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Commentary. The award specifically recognized Pollis for his post on the blog Beyond the Box Score refuting the suggestion that Hall of Fame voters should have seen a player in action in order to cast a vote on that player’s enshrinement. Receiving the honor capped a memorable weekend for Pollis at the SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, AZ, which he describes as the first time in his life he has been able to have in-depth, in-person conversations about the complexities of baseball analysis. Continue Reading


Moneyball

Keepin’ it Reel: Moneyball

Keepin’ It Reel is a weekly to biweekly movie column that aims to do reviews the Brown way: by waxing philosophical and perhaps using the word “hegemony.” If there’s an upcoming movie that you, gentle reader, would like reviewed, don’t only mildly hesitate to place your requests below.

Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), manager of the Oakland A’s (whose mascot either is the letter “A” or a really tiny elephant) and controversial pioneer in applying statistical reductionism (“sabermetrics“) to America’s Favorite Pastime. Along the way, Billy befriends a Yale econ grad (Jonah Hill), has a falling out with his team manager (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and even learns a little about being a father. If that sounds about as thrilling as, say, a “Facebook movie”, then you’re actually onto something: this little ditty was written by West Wing mastermind and recent guest of Brown Aaron Sorkin. But that doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near as good. Continue Reading


Oh say can you see…

Don’t worry if the closest you’ve gotten to a sports game this year was “GISP0001: Sports that Legitimize Female Aggression.” For tonight, sports fans and a capella aficionados alike can tune into ESPN at 7:00 pm to watch Brown’s all-male a capella group “The Jabberwocks” perform the national anthem at the start of the Mets game.