“Mr. Meeks, time to inherit the earth.”
We’re back, Fidelity fans. And it’s one of the best sports months of the year: October!!!
College football is into conference play, and every Saturday is full of upsets (down goes another top-ranked SEC favorite!), more Hail Mary’s than the Vatican (BYU is for real!), and hype (BYU is unranked again… but look at Florida!).
The NFL is four games in, so we can begin to get an accurate look at how good each team is—and some franchises are already riddled with injuries.
The NBA preseason has started again, and Fidelity Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant is back on the court! (And what says “the NBA is back” like Derrick Rose recovering from surgery again?)
And, of course, October at Fidelity Sports means one great and beautiful thing… the Hunt for Blue October! That’s right, baaayyy-beeeee!!! The Royals are at it again.
Let’s do this thang right, folks. This month’s soundtrack? Ice Cube’s greatest hits.
“Who owns October?”
—Jude Linneman, age 4
ICYMI, the regular season ended yesterday, and the playoffs start tomorrow (Tuesday).
With a season that spans six months and 162 games, you’d think the ESPN and Baseball Prospectus talking heads and the Billy Beane inspired analysts would be able to come up with some accurate predictions for success. But if you thought that, you wouldn’t be thinking.
For example, ESPN predicted the Nationals to win the World Series (receiving 37 of 88 votes). The Natty’s instead missed the playoffs. ESPN also predicted the Red Sox to win the AL East (the Blue Jays did), the Indians to win the AL Central (the Royals—picked to finish 4th out of five—won), the Mariners to win the AL West (the Rangers won, despite not receiving a single vote from ESPN’s 88 “experts”). The folks in Bristol only got two of six divisional picks right: the STL Cardinals winning the NL Central—which they do every year—and the Dodgers winning the NL West.)
So no one really knows what they’re talking about, except the Committee here at the FS Network. (We forgot to publish our preseason picks this year, but we were six of six on divisional winners and four of four on wild-card teams, as usual.)
So you don’t need to worry about checking any other website for worthwhile MLB Playoff predictions. We got you covered. Here’s what’s going to happen.
AL Wild Card Game: Astros over Yankees
NL Wild Card Game: Cubs over Pirates
ALDS: Royals over Astros in four, Blue Jays over Rangers in three
NLDS: Cards over Cubs in five, Mets over Dodgers in four
It’s a shame the red-hot Cubs have to face the Cardinals in the divisional round, because it would be great to see them win more than a couple games. (Maybe scapegoat Steve Bartman would even accept the city’s attempts at making amends.) The Cards were the best team all year, piling up 100 wins and allowing only 525 runs—a full 70 fewer than any other team. St Louis, once again, is the clear NL favorite entering the playoffs.
On the AL side, the Blue Jays won the trade deadline award, mortgaging their future to pick up pitcher David Price and perennial All-Star Troy Tulowitski. Was it the right thing to do? It certainly paid off in the short run. After starting 50-51, they finished the season on a ridiculous 43-18 tear. (At that rate, they would have won 114 games in a full season.) Toronto finished with 891 runs—more than 130 more than anyone else—and a run difference of 221, also best in the MLB. Needless to say, they enter the postseason as the clear AL favorite.
NLCS: Cardinals over Mets in five
ALCS: Royals over Blue Jays in seven
So why am I picking the Royals over the Jays? Is it local bias (unbeknownst to some, I was born and raised in South KC)? Is it blind nationalism (in the words of Jimmy Fallon, “Nothing says ‘America’s pastime’ like a bunch of Dominicans playing in Canada)? Nope. Let’s remember The Three Rules—the ultimate predictive guide to sports success. The Royals will win for three reasons: (1) KC has built two years of success through playing team-first ball—letting their defense do the talking and the best-ever bullpen to seal wins, while the Jays are a thrown-together mix of individuals who don’t know The First Rule: The Team Comes First. (2) The Jays have a few stars and a lot of momentum, but their $20 million studs can’t match the whole-organization hustle of the Royals, the essence of The Second Rule: There’s No Substitute for Hard Work. (3) There’s an appeal to Toronto because they score a lot of runs and haven’t been in the playoffs in a few decades, but like KC last year, it’s one thing to make an incredible postseason run, and it’s another to close out a Game Seven. Rule Numero Tres? Good Things Take Time.
The Royals have the experience now, they have home-field advantage throughout the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series, and are our pick to return to the Fall Classic.
So where are your stats to back this up, O Captain my Captain? I’m glad you asked.
Batting Averages of AL Playoff Teams
(t-1) KC .269
(t-1) Toronto .269
(3) Texas .257
(4) NY .251
(5) Houston .250
Best ERA’s among AL Playoff Teams
(1) Houston 3.57
(2) KC 3.73
(3) Toronto 3.80
(4) NY 4.05
(5) Texas 4.24
Fewest Fielding Errors among AL Playoff Teams
(1) Houston 85
(t-2) KC 88
(t-2) Toronto 88
(4) NY 92
(5) Texas 119
So it’s pretty clear: The Royals and Blue Jays are the superior AL teams. What puts KC ahead–besides the fact that they’re not Canadian? I give you two final pieces of the puzzle: first, home-field advantage (esp. Games 1 and 7 in KC); second, the Royals have the greatest relief pitcher in MLB history: Wade Davis. His stat line looks made up:
69 games, 67 1/3 innings, 8 wins, 1 loss, 17 saves, 0.94 ERA
0.79 WHIP, 78 K’s, 20 BB, 3.4 WAR
Can you believe that? In almost 70 innings, Davis gave up seven earned runs. Seven! And 78 strikeouts to 20 walks? Merci!
So if it comes down to game seven under the fountains, I give it to the Royals.
Oh, and in the NL, the Cards will knock out the Mets, and we have ourselves a bit of history: on the 30th anniversary of the I-70 Series (the Royals won the 1985 World Series over the Cardinals in Game Seven, an 11-0 blowout), the Missouri boys meet again. What will happen? You’ve got to tune in later in October for that prediction, fellas. (But you might be able to guess which way I’m leaning.)
NFL First Quarter Review
Anything can happen on any given Sunday. That’s what’s so great about the NFL—the Bills can come out Week One looking like the reincarnation of the 86 Bears—and what should keep us from over-estimating any one game—now they look like their old 7-and-9 selves. But after four games, we can start to put a few things together. (I’m adding an early season SRS rating from Pro Football Reference: the higher the number, the more likely the team is to achieve success in its future games.)
NFL First Quarter Power Rankings
(1) Patriots (3-0; SRS rating 18.1)
(2) Packers (4-0; 5.0)
(3) Bengals (4-0; 6.8)
(4) Broncos (4-0; 1.6)
(5) Falcons (4-0; 15.4)
(6) Cardinals (3-1; 12.3)
(7) Steelers (2-2; 8.1)
(8) Panthers (4-0; -0.3)
(9) Jets (3-1; 7.0)
(10) Colts (2-2; -4.9)
(11) Giants (2-2; 13.4)
(12) Chiefs (1-3; -4.3)
So far, our likely divisional winners are the Patriots, Bengals, Broncos, and Colts in the AFC, and the Giants, Packers, Cardinals, and Falcons in the NFC, with wild-card berths going to the Steelers and Jets, and the Panthers and Giants. But don’t rule out a run by the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Chiefs to make the playoffs. Right now, there’s a clear Tier One in the league: the Patriots, Packers, and Bengals are the best three teams, followed by a steep dropoff.
Kobe’s Return, D-Rose’s Injury
“Get me on the court and I’m trouble
Messed around last week, got a triple-double.”
My man Kobe is back!!!
D-Rose is injured, again, and this time it’s a fractured face. He’s only out two weeks, but Chicago has had enough.
That is all on the NBA front.
College Football Review
Much like this point in the NFL season, we can start to make a few critical inferences on each team’s play through four or five games, but it’s still too soon to be sure who the best teams are. Anything can happen from here. But for now, the most impressive teams are…
FS Power Rankings
(1) Ohio State (#1 in AP; SRS rating 35.1)
(2) LSU (#7; 35.6)
(3) Utah (#5; 37.7)
(4) Clemson (#6; 33.9)
(5) Texas A&M (#9; 38.3)
(6) Alabama (#8; 41.7)
(7) Oklahoma (#10; 42.7)
(8) Michigan (#18; 41.5)
(9) Florida (#11; 33.5)
(10) Northwestern (#13; 36.0)
Followed by: 11-TCU (#2; 28.5), 12-Baylor (#3; 32.7), 13-Michigan State (#4; 30.9), 14-Stanford (#16; 36.1), and 15-Florida State (#12; 34.1). And in terms of local teams, Louisville (2-3; 45th in SRS) and Kentucky (4-1; 69th in SRS) both look headed for 7-8 win seasons and entry-level dot-com bowls. And my alma mater, Mizzou (4-1; 58th in SRS), has a new Captain in true freshman sensation Drew Lock at QB—his rating is 6th of 14 SEC QB’s, whereas Mauk’s was 13th—but hasn’t announced a starter to face Florida this weekend yet. I’m still bullish on the Tigers, whose defense ranks in the top 10 of every category and is allowing only 12.0 points per game, and expect them to go 9-3 on the season.
In closing, the FS Committee would like to enthusiastically support…
Black Mass – Johnny Depp was incredible
Straight Outta Compton – still my movie of the year
Sufjan Stevens – he’s back with Carrie & Lowell, his best album since Seven Swans
Robert Greene – gets a bad rap because he’s a total narcissist, but his book Mastery is masterful
Time – you have more of it than you think, writes Laura Vanderkamp in maybe the best time management book ever, 168 Hours
The League of Denial – also reading this right now, rising into my top five sports books of the decade
VW Scandal – I don’t care; I love my Passat and nothing can stop us from being together
The Gospel Coalition – that’s right, in addition to expert sports/culture analysis, our founder also writes a bit on community; one article with these folks means I get to put up a permanent out-of-office email responder that says “You don’t really expect a response do you?,” right?
Dead Poets Society – just a reminder that this movie is worth watching annually
“This is a battle, a war,
and the casualties could be your hearts and souls.”