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INFIELD CHATTER: Runs pool reveals quirks in daily results

In one of my season previews, I rolled out a new option for an easy way to have low-stakes fun watching baseball scores roll in every night. The 13-run pool isn’t my original idea, but I’ve already found it a delightful addition to my daily scoreboard watching.

The setup is simple: set up a grid with one row for every team. The columns are numbers, 0 to 13. A square gets filled when a team finishes a game, win or lose, with that number of runs. The pool can accommodate up to 30 players, assign teams via random draw and whichever MLB squad fills its row first is the winner.

I didn’t actually do the work to have folks playing along this year, but I’m having fun as it is simply tracking the results.

The box has 420 outcomes, 14 possibilities per team times 30 squads. Obviously the actual number of outcomes is infinite, because in theory a baseball team could score an endless amount of runs in a given game. Plenty of teams have already exceeded 14 runs in a single game this season, most notably Philadelphia’s 20-1 embarrassment of Cincinnati that probably contributed to the Reds firing their manager and pitching coach.

At the end of Monday’s slate, 140 empty boxes remained on the grid. So far, 26 days into the season, I’ve marked off at least one square each day.

The Yankees have filled the most boxes, so far missing only a shutout and landing exactly on 13. Things were looking good Monday night with a 12-1 lead over the Twins, but Tyler Austin hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth that pushed them to 14.

Two teams still have seven final scores remaining: the Twins haven’t yet finished a game with exactly 3, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12 or 13 runs, while the Rangers haven’t been shut out or landed at any number from eight through 13.

Seven teams still haven’t been shut out — the Angels’ 2-0 win in Houston on Monday was the first time the Astros have been blanked in 2018.

The Giants are the only team to not yet finish with two runs, while the Orioles are the only team that hasn’t posted precisely four. Nine teams have landed at 13 at least once, putting more ink in that column than either 11 (just six teams) or 12 (only five).

Tracking the outcomes this way isn’t exactly instructive. It shows absolutely nothing about wins or losses (I see that information on a different, color-coded grid), nor do I bother noting how many times a team hits a particular number. The White Sox have scored only one run four times (all losses), the Cubs just twice (also losses). But the Cubs have been blanked three times, the Sox only twice.

And although it’s interesting to see which teams have staved off a shutout — Arizona, Kansas City, the Mets and Yankees, St. Louis, Texas and Toronto — even that doesn’t correlate to success in the standings. The Diamondbacks, Mets and Cardinals all lead their divisions. But the Blue Jays and Yankees trail the crazy hot Red Sox, while the Rangers and Royals have taken up residence in the cellar, having been outscored by 40 and 44 runs, respectively.

Still, the whole point of games like this is to inject a bit of fun into the daily routine of baseball fandom and to introduce a reason to take a second look at the league wide results. It’s pretty goofy to get hung up on standings in April (or May, and most of June, for that matter), but now each morning I want to see exactly how every team performed the night before.

At some point there will be 15 (or even 16 or 17) games in a day but no team will fill one of the empty boxes, and surely the season will end with plenty of gaps left on the board. And then I’ll start over in 2019 and have fund comparing years. Again, it won’t teach much about the actual on-field talent, but little quirks in the game’s numbers over more than a century help make following it day in and day out enjoyable.

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