The 2014 MLB Playoffs are now behind us, and out of the 10 teams that competed for the ultimate prize, the San Francisco Giants emerged as the eventual World Series champs. Does that mean they were the best team?
Marathon - or Sprint?
Baseball is the quintessential summer sport. Summer is supposed to be a time when the pace of life slows down. It's hot in the summer, and moving too fast, doing too much, just isn't very comfortable. Days are longer - and taking one's time is just one of the simple joys of those long sultry months.
That's why a slow moving game like baseball is perfect for summer. You can go to a game and relax in the hot weather, watching athletes who also take there time - only running (and sweating) occasionally as they basically stand around waiting for something to happen.
And the season itself is long too. Football's NFL plays 14 games in their season - and they're done. Basketball's NBA plays many more - coming in at around 80 games during their season. But major league baseball scoffs at such part-time nonsense by playing 162 games every summer.
Traditionally, one of the main reasons for this is to determine who is the best team. After all, over the course of 162 games, every team will go through its ups and downs - but the most consistent amongst them will be at the top when all is said and done. It's a marathon. So why do we pick the eventual winner with a sprint?
Old School versus New
Back in the day, there used to be just two leagues: American & National. The two winners of the 162 game marathon were the winners of their respective pennants. No playoffs needed. 162 games settled it conclusively. And while the World Series between the two winners was just 7 games - at least you knew the two best teams were playing. And if who you thought was the best didn't win that series - well - at least you knew one of the two best teams did.
Then came maybe the best pennant race in major league history - the 1962 National League season. The Dodgers and Giants tied at the end with 100 wins each. And for the first time ever, there was an exciting 3 game playoff to determine the champ - won by the Giants in dramatic fashion. And the genie was out of the bottle.
So exciting had that playoff series been, that baseball executives (and fans) hoped it would happen again. And then they took steps to assure it. In 1969 each league split into two divisions, and now there was a league playoff series every year.
Fast forward to 2014, and the trend has continued until now we have three divisions in each league, each with a winner, and two second place teams thrown into the resulting playoffs. That comes to ten playoff contenders for the title of Champs.
So now you have a situation where teams winning 98 games during the regular season must play teams who won considerably less than that before they can advance to the eventual championship round. And since some of these playoffs are a mere 5 games - a couple of off-performances usually means you're done for the year.
So it was that this year, six different teams entered the playoffs with 90 or more wins; each of them at the top of their divisions. A long 162 game schedule had determined each to be the best in their respective slot. And not one of them went on to win the championship.
At the end - they all had to sprint to finish the marathon - and the team with the least wins among them was first to the tape. Did that mean they were the best team? Well, in my opinion - not by a long shot. But 100 years from now when someone looks up who won the 2014 MLB championship, they will see not the 98 game winning LA Angels (of Anaheim), but rather, the 88 game winning San Francisco Giants.
And I have just one thing to say about that outcome.