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Baseball in autumn

Seems like every year at this time, I think to myself, “What a good year to be a baseball fan.” I know that’s not an altogether fashionable sentiment, but there it is. Here we are a week from the end and there are only eighteen teams with the big E in the standings, and two of those aren’t technically eliminated from the wildcard. Aside from the fun of the Sox and the Yankees, and the other Sox and the Indians, and the Phillies and the Astros, and even the longshot A’s and Mets and Marlins, my Gigantes have an outside chance to become an answer to a trivia question, and in the process bring up one of my deep philosophical baseball questions: what does it mean to call a team the best team in baseball?

In one sense, of course, one could define best to be more or less equivalent to champion, and to say that the World Series winner is the best. This argument begins from the idea that the goal of each team is to win the World Series, and that therefore the 29 teams that don’t win clearly and obviously failed at that goal, while the one team that does win succeeded, and the best team must be the team that best accomplishes that goal, that is, the winner of the World Series. This is a consistent definition, but a dull one. Furthermore, it gives you a definition of best that doesn’t imply a definition of better; logically, any two teams that fail to win the World Series are equivalent failures. Even if you allow that getting to the playoffs is in some sense closer to winning the World Series and therefore better, a really interesting definition of better, an idea of better that sparks the most interesting conversations, should allow you to compare any two teams, even the Rockies and the Royals, and talk about which one is better.

Furthermore, I don’t think that the goal of each team is to win the World Series. Or at least, I don’t want that to be the goal of each team. In YHB’s world, the goal of each team is to win as many games as possible. Of course, this is a pre-division idea—heck, this is a nineteenth century base ball idea. For me, the post season is post, after, the real season, and is really just an extended exhibition. Lots of fun, and I’m on the whole glad they do it, but really irrelevant. I know, I know, that’s not the way the teams think of it, and if I entirely disregard the way the teams define their goals, I’m living in a fantasy world. But it’s a nice world.

Here’s the question: If the Giants were to sweep the Padres and then sweep the D-Backs, finish at 80-82, roar into the playoffs with a healthy Bonds, Alou, Schmidt and Benitez with lots of off-days, knock off the Braves and then the Phillies (who not only nab the wildcard but somehow beat the Cardinals) and then smack the White Sox around and win the World Series, would they then have been the best team in baseball in 2005? Remember, they lost more games than they won in the regular season.

The thing is, the Giants that I can imagine actually winning the World Series have little to do with the team that played in April, May, June, July and August. Did I mention that Bonds would be healthy and have lots of off-days to rest? That Benitez would be healthy? I didn’t mention that we would have a major-league center-fielder, and that wasn’t true for most of the year. The team that had Reuter and Fassero in the starting rotation, that had Deivi Cruz, and Tucker and Ellison and Marquis Grissom in the lineup, that team can’t be the best team in baseball, can it? I’m not talking about Noah Lowry having an ERA of 5.07 before the All-Star Break and 2.59 since then; that’s the sort of thing that happens with real championship teams. I’m talking about the actual active roster, and whether the team that is represented on that roster is the same team as the one on the field in October.

In reality, of course, my Giants are not going to be on the field in October. In reality, the interesting question is not whether the Giants are better than the Cardinals (they aren’t) but whether they are better than the Twins or the Nationals. And just totaling up the wins doesn’t answer the question; I would look at the strength of the schedule, and at the luck involved. I’d look at the components of wins, the runs scored and the runs given up, and even at the components of those runs—the teams’ rates of outs and extra-base hits, the earned and unearned runs, the starters and relievers, the bench strength, the peripherals, all that stuff. I’d try to balance the strengths and weaknesses of the teams, and I’d totally fail to come up with a persuasively definite answer, but I’d have fun trying, which is the point. And I could do that with the Cardinals and the Angels, or whoever wins the pennants, and if I had a bunch of friends around to do it with, I’d enjoy talking about which was better nearly as much as I’d enjoy watching the Series.

Unless the Giants are in it, after all. Then it’s late nights in front of the TV, all by myself (most likely), eating my liver. And it doesn’t get better than that, does it?

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Even though the Giants, if they win the division, will finish under .500, their comeback would be a great baseball story.

I'm more interested in the NL West race right now than in any of the other races.


i'm into it but... is this barry's last year? will racing as if it were make it so?


While a lot of folks like to bring up the English football idea of promotion and relegation as something baseball should imitate, I think a better idea would be to imitate the dual structure of a league and a completely separate playoff-like structure. The league champion is determined solely by the regular schedule, but the "playoff" is actually an open competition where teams down to the semi-pro level compete, and the two run more or less concurrently. Apparently the top pro teams get byes to the later rounds, so in baseball you could have college teams and indy league teams in the early rounds, with the major teams coming in later and then the final few rounds in October, culminating with the World Series.

I realize there are a ton of practical reasons why it wouldn't work, but I still think it's a neat idea.

In terms of what we do have, I am refraining from commenting on the current fold job happening yet again by one of the teams in the NL Wild Card race. *sigh*


For totally wacky and unimplementable reforms, I like the promotion/relegation idea, myself.

We are, by the way, now up to twenty E's, and two more eliminated from wildcard contention, and your Phillies and my Giants are now only mathematically in it. If we win all five of our last, the Phillies would still one against LA to force a one-game playoff. Still, mathematically in it is better than living in Detroit.

Thanks,
-V.


Huh. I hadn't realized that the D-Backs were still technically alive in the NL West. I had thought we were up to 21 E's.

Right now while I'm still vaguely hoping for a miracle in the NL wild card race, I'm primarily rooting for the 4 way AL East/Central tie simply because of the complete and utter mayhem that would cause. However the way tonight's games are going, it's going to be tough if not impossible for that to actually happen.


i assume there was a third padres batter last night, because of this morning's score reports. i listened through two. that seemed enough.


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