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People follow sports for so many different reasons – the competition of the athletes, the exceptional physical performances, the sense of being part of a larger group of like-minded enthusiasts and so on and so forth. Additionally, each separate sport provides fans with a slightly different experience and appeals to a particular athletic preference.
Basketball fans enjoy the fast-paced, high-flying scoring of some of the best athletes on the planet as they try to outperform each other on the court and in the tattoo parlor. Football fans enjoy the complex strategies, the bone-crushing hits and the circus act plays as skill players and monster-sized men collide in tight pants. Hockey fans enjoy the combination of grace and violence on the ice as mostly non-Americans compete for the enjoyment of mostly Americans. Soccer fans enjoy watching athletes in excellent physical shape endlessly run around an oversized field, faking injuries and hardly ever scoring goals with the players thinking that if their parents had just bought them a real “football” their lives could possibly mean something.
However, above all of these sports (and soccer) is baseball. Baseball doesn’t have a fast pace or complex strategies or ice skating or endless running. But, more so than any other sport, baseball has one thing that clearly separates it from the rest: unpredictability. As with other sports, baseball fans enjoy watching games for what is happening, but they also enjoy watching for what could happen. In any given moment in a baseball game, there are hundreds of different combinations of events that can happen and the more of these you know, the more interesting baseball becomes.
As an example, in game five between the Tigers and the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez came up to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. In this situation there are so many different potential outcomes from each individual pitch – from scoring zero runs on a strikeout to end the inning to getting four runs on a home run that would have been enough to win the game – and everything in between. Of course, maybe A-Rod is a bad example because we all knew he wasn’t going to do anything but make an out – but in theory something else could have happened.
You just cannot predict baseball. There’s actually a website dedicated to this very phenomenon called www.youcantpredictbaseball.com. On a daily basis, they list off the very unlikely events that happen each day in the unpredictable world of baseball – like “Every Game Five has been a one run game in the ninth inning” and “The first back-to-back homers in Tigers postseason history: Don Kelly and Delmon Young” and “Jorge Posada triple. He had no triples in the regular season.” If you aren’t following these guys on Twitter, then you’re not a real baseball fan. Or you’re not on Twitter. Okay, maybe you’re a real baseball fan and you just haven’t heard of them; but now you have, so there’s no excuse.
Spoiler alert! I’m about to discuss the results of the first round of the playoffs, so if you have the games cued up on your DVR and don’t want to know who wins, skip to the last paragraph and then come back and read this article when you’ve watched all 19 games.
As I’ve said before, the baseball playoffs do not determine the best team in baseball; they determine who is the champion. Occasionally it’s the best team that wins the championship, but more often it’s a team that got hot and had a few lucky bounces and a few unexpected contributions. A few years ago, one of the worst players in the league, David Eckstein, won the World Series MVP award for his surprising offensive production that week.
Anything can happen. Let’s take a look at what has happened so far.
Milwaukee Brewers. They definitely looked like the best team from the worst division in baseball against the Diamondbacks. They’re pitching was shaky and their offense was spotty. After taking a two-game lead, they had to scratch out a win in the final game of the series. The combination of their relief pitchers and the massive intake of brats and beer have got me worried for Milwaukee’s fans.
St. Louis Cardinals. Almost as unlikely as their presence in the playoffs, they beat the Phillies to advance to the National League Championship Series. However, they were outscored in the series. This team can be best described as erratic with the pitching and offense being just good enough. For them, it’s all about timing – getting just what they need when they need it. It’s a dangerous way to play baseball, but it’s working, so keep doing it – whatever “it” is.
Detroit Tigers. Mother Nature seems to be conspiring against the Tigers and just won’t let Justin Verlander get into his normal routine. Despite facing a statistically superior foe in the Yankees, and with a variety of kooky lineups which themselves produced some highly unpredictable results, Detroit triumphed and moved on to the American league Championship Series. And immediately lost two outfielders for the rest of the playoffs. Time for Detroit to get the hint: The big guy (or guys or gal) upstairs doesn’t want this to happen.
Texas Rangers. They were the only team to avoid having to play all five games of their series, and they kind of just took care of the Rays after letting them win the first game 8-0. The Rangers seem like the best overall team left in the race, but their starting pitching seems to be lacking that one guy. And don’t give me any of this nonsense about C.J. Wilson. I pity the fool who signs him for huge dollars in the off-season. (Please let it be the Yankees!)
New York Yankees. Old age and karma teamed up with the Tigers to beat the Yankees and send the American League’s best team home for the rest of the playoffs. CC Sabathia looked exhausted and the rest of the team just looked slow – might be time for some of these guys to think about working on their shuffle board games in preparation for retirement. Hopefully this will teach Joe Girardi a lesson in instant karma, and, next time, he won’t throw the last three games of the season to spite his rivals.
Tampa Bay Rays. They seemed to spend everything they got getting into the playoffs and then winning that first game. Their pitching was solid, but they needed a little more offense – or to play the Red Sox some more to get some easy wins. The pitcher in game one was a rookie named Matt Moore. He is scary good. I am uncomfortable with the idea that he is not on my favorite team. Oh, and, Johnny Damon, please retire, we’ve all had about enough.
Philadelphia Phillies. The best team in the National League lost to the second-best team in the worst division in baseball. Their offense killed them just like it did all season. But their awesome pitching staff wasn’t awesome enough to bail them out. They’ll be back next season and they’ll contend. But on the last play of the game, their first baseman Ryan Howard exploded his Achilles tendon – his five-year $125 million contract extension starts next year. Yikes.
Arizona Diamondbacks. These guys did a lot better than I thought they would. Maybe they were too young or too inexperienced. I think that’s a bit of a cop out. This is a really good team that just kept fighting and fighting. Not many people in Arizona really cared because they were all too busy being old and regretting their real estate investments. But, assuming that Ned Colletti and Brian Sabean are still running the Dodgers and Giants, this Diamondbacks team will be back next year to give it another shot.
So, let’s recap: The worst division in baseball has two teams in the National League Championship Series while the three teams that everyone thought were the best did not get past the first round (with one not even making the playoffs – the Red Sox). There are no East Coast teams or West Coast teams advancing and the top nine teams in payroll are watching from their homes – their very, very expensive homes.
I still think it will be the Rangers against the Brewers in the World Series, but, of course, I can’t say for sure. Maybe the weak-hitting Brandon Inge will channel Babe Ruth and power the Tigers to the championship. Or maybe powerhouse Ryan Braun will channel A-Rod and let the Brewers down when they need him the most. “But, Jed, how can he channel A-Rod if A-Rod is still alive?” I don’t know these things! I didn’t pay much attention to what I was reading in school.
The only thing I can predict for sure about baseball is that it will be unpredictable. And that’s why baseball is the best.