Monday, September 30, 2013

Baseball Playoffs Are The Worst And Also The Best

Tonight, the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers are playing a one-game tiebreaker to determine who gets to play a one-game playoff to determine who gets to actually be in the postseason. This is dumb. In fact, it is undeniably really dumb. These teams just played 162 games, or, you know, 10x the amount of a football season, only to come out with equal records. They both did it in similar ways, even, blowing a huge early-September cushion over the now red-hot Indians and then playing great baseball the last two weeks to get back to where we are now.

On paper, it's a ridiculous matchup. David Price, the Rays' starting pitcher tonight, won the Cy Young last year. David Perez, the Rangers' starting pitcher tonight, put up a 4.25 ERA last season pitching in AAA. Everything else is a wash: the teams put up essentially identical OPS numbers (the Rangers scored more runs but play in a more hitter-friendly ballpark). They both have some great defenders, particularly on the left side of the infield, but no otherworldly advantage anywhere. And as is always the case, none of this really matters because: baseball.

Everyone agrees that one game in baseball is essentially meaningless. It's the cornerstone belief of statistics-oriented fans of the game, for whom properly calibrated sample size is a clarion call. But it's also the ethos of more old school baseball fans. Sabermetrics-hatin' Joe Morgan would agree that some days you just don't have it. Even the great Pedro Martinez gave up six runs in one start in 2000. For reference, he gave up less runs in three separate months that season. So yes, it's dumb and yes, the Rays should have the advantage and yes, that probably doesn't matter.

It's also fun as hell. I don't necessarily want the best team in baseball to win every year because I don't really care if the best team wins. My side is arbitrary, but so is the side that says the best team should be playing for the championship. The regular season pretty well determines who the best team is, although there are issues like unbalanced schedules to be resolved, because it is an enormous sample. It also makes most games relatively unexciting. If every game is essentially a meaningless if enjoyable 3-4 hour block, why would should anyone care?

I watch a ton of baseball because I love watching baseball, but it's hard to convince non-fans to watch a mid-June game between the Royals and Twins. In those dreary mid-summer months it's probably even hard to convince them to watch tonight's matchup between really good teams. Or anything short of Yankees-Red Sox, a matchup I try to avoid watching because it has been marketed to death.

Tonight, it won't be so hard to convince people of the stakes. Tonight it's just one game to determine who wins or loses, hopefully full of drama or maybe painlessly devoid of it. We have a Cy Young winner, some MVP candidates, potentially a slugger returning from a 50-game PED suspension. One game, two teams, 200 limbs, an unquantifiable amount of heart. We have three-plus hours to decide a tiebreaker for a 6-month long season: a one-game-playoff-to-a-one-game-playoff-to-the-playoffs.

It's dumb as hell and I couldn't be more excited.

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