Category Archives: Sports

The Battle for Mediocrity

The Brewers’ playoff chances are down to 0.1 percent, according to But that’s ok, because the team is on the cusp of a milestone victory. One more win guarantees a non-losing season. Two more would make for a winning season. Not bad for a team that was 12 games below .500 at one point earlier in the year.

There are five games left in the season. All are against weak opposition, so this feat of mediocrity appears eminently doable. As a fan, if playoffs aren’t in the picture, a non-losing season is a decent consolation prize.

They Did It – Almost

Rookie Wily Peralta pitched 8 shutout innings in his third career start, and Ryan Braun hit two home runs to lift the Brewers over the Mets, 3-0.

Meanwhile, the Cubs beat Pittsburgh 13-9. Promising rookie Anthony Rizzo had two home runs of his own, including his first career grand slam.

That means that if the Cubs win all their remaining games and the Brewers lose all of theirs, they will finish with identical 74-88 records. The Brewers can now officially do no worse than their rivals.

To ensure a better finish, the magic number is now 1. The next Brewer win or Cub loss ensures Milwaukee’s bragging rights over their southern neighbors.

Towards a Winning Record

Milwaukee’s magic number to finish higher than the Cubs is down to 2 games. If the Brewers beat the Mets today and the Cubs lose to Pittsburgh, it’s clinched. puts Milwaukee’s playoff chances at 7.3 percent, so I’m not getting my hopes up for that. But they can finish with a winning record. They’re 73-72 entering today’s game, so if the Brewers finish the season with 9-8 run, they can do it. An 8-9 finish puts them at .500.

Considering how the season began, this fan is more than pleased to be realistically hoping for a winning record. If they aren’t playoff-bound, that’s not a bad consolation prize.

Almost There

The Brewers have been on an extended hot streak. To the surprise of everyone but themselves, they have played their way back to .500. Their record is 71-71 entering tonight’s game against Atlanta.

The Brewers are even back in the fringes of the playoff race, thanks to the second wild card spot that MLB added this year. They’re fighting a lot of teams for it — Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philly, LA, Atlanta — but at least they’re fighting. Considering how badly the earlier parts of the season went, 2012 actually turned out to be a good year. I doubt they’ll make the playoffs, but at least they’re playing meaningful baseball this time of year.

The 55-87 Cubs haven’t been so fortunate. By my calculations, Milwaukee’s magic number to beat the Cubs is down to 5. Both teams have 20 games left to play. I might have to set a higher goal for my Brewers.

Brewers 4, Cubs 1

It wasn’t a historic drubbing like Monday’s 15-4 victory, where the Brewers homered back-to-back-to-back for the first time since 2007. Even without extra innings in that game, the Cubs blew through their entire bullpen and had to use a position player as a pitcher for the first time since 1999.

There was none of that, but a regular old 4-1 victory counts just as much in the standings. More importantly, it brings the Brewers’ Cub-beating magic number down to 23, with 34 games left to play.

The Brewers have now beaten the Cubs 6 times in a row, and won 7 of their last 8 overall. They’re still not going anywhere near the playoffs, but it is good to see them playing well.

Beat Those Cubs

The Brewers’ magic number to finish with a better record than the Cubs is down to 27. The two teams begin a four-game series tonight at Wrigley Field. It is the last time they play each other this year.

Each Brewer victory during the series will lower the magic number by two, so a sweep would bring the magic number to 19. If Cubs manage a sweep, it will remain unchanged.

Regulation and the Green Bay Packers

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Kevin Clark offers a novel theory for the Green Bay Packers’ long run of success under GM Ted Thompson: a clone army.

Deep in the wilds of the Upper Midwest, Green Bay quietly has recruited a regiment of interchangeable players. The team’s novel idea is to find players—usually linebackers, tight ends or fullbacks—who can play in a variety of formations and situations because they’re virtually the exact same size and weight. The ideal specifications: 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds.

As Packers tight end D.J. Williams explained, only 46 players are allowed to dress for an NFL game. Every team has to cobble together its starters, reserves and special-teams players from those 46. “So if you can have one person doing what three people can do, it may only be 46 people dressed out there but it’s like having 60,” said Williams, who at 6 feet 2 and 245 pounds is roughly the magic size. “It’s a great advantage.”

It’s Moneyball adapted for football. Find a hole in the market — in this case, players who are a size that other teams shy away from — and mercilessly exploit it. Fellow regulatory scholar and (and fellow Packer fan?) Richard Belzer points out a lesson this teaches about regulation:

This is an excellent example of how market forces lead to efficient resource use, even under a stringent regulatory regime, so long as regulated parties are allowed to comply any way they see fit…

However, in other sports (e.g., stock car racing) performance standards give way to design standards that seek to prescribe every conceivable input into the production process. They inevitably fail for two reasons. First, there is always some production margin the regulators didn’t think of. Second, regulated parties invest extraordinary sums to search for and exploit loopholes.

In other words, regulation works better when it sets a standard without prescribing exactly how to meet that standard. The NFL has a 53-man roster limit, but it doesn’t prescribe how many linemen or quarterbacks the team must carry. That’s up to the GMs. Not only does this type of regulation open up another level of competition for fans to enjoy — front offices, not just players, trying to outmaneuver each other — but it prevents cheating. Lessons abound.