The dichotomy in baseball is more apparent than in any other sport. Baseball is a game managed purely by the percentages, and yet no other athletic endeavor has been filled with more superstitions and an utmost belief and respect in the intangibles. Millions of dollars are spent on stat tracking and analysis in the MLB; come up with a new way of projecting statistics – Pythagorean record, anyone? – and you’ll get picked up by a front office immediately. And yet, while most analysts and talking heads in sports reporting constantly rely on bastardizations of the numbers to prove some inconsequential point, this is the World Series, baby. Screw the numbers; this is the time of the year when legends are made.
I’m going with the gut feeling, the boys who continually beat all odds, the obviously rad manager with a Mohawk, and the men who were destined for the ring. I’m picking the Tampa Bay Rays in five.
But let me back up a bit. I’m not just picking the Rays because I think they are pulling off the greatest rebound since Ol’ Dirty Bastard got out of jail. On paper, the Rays are seriously good. While they have oft been overshadowed by their hot offense, Tampa’s pitching staff has rocked the postseason from top to bottom. Garza, Sonnanstine, Shields and Kazmir hold the four through seven spots on the top 10 playoff E.R.A. list. Sure, there aren’t a whole lot of options to make that list, but no other playoff team contributed more than two hurlers from their bullpen.
Of course, clutch hitting and big home runs are the true stuff of Series legends, and the young Rays offensive squad has provided them in spades. Aside from a three-way tie at the top, the Rays own the one through nine positions in number of postseason hits, with seven players having at least 11. They aren’t pussy baby hits, either; these young kids can drive the ball. B.J. Upton leads the playoffs with seven bombs, but Evan Longoria has already set a rookie record with six, and Carlos Pena is sitting in the third spot in the rankings with three. Boston’s wannabe comeback aside, these guys showed that they are a complete team in the middle part of that series. Outscoring the Red Sox 31-13 in their first three wins – 22-5 in the middle pair – the Rays showed that they’ve got equal doses of power and heat. It’s an unbeatable combination.
But, as I said before, screw the numbers. At this point in the year, with both teams fairly evenly matched, it all comes down to things numbers can never predict. After over 170 games, no one thought that the young Rays could keep their composure, and certainly no one thought that they would be able to hang tough in tight games this late in the year. And yet, they are still looking strong. These upstarts don’t care that they’re playing for a team that’s never had a winning season, and they definitely don’t care about the Phillies. Simply put, these Rays don’t give a fuck about much aside from winning ball games. All the stats and predictions aside, it’s that confidence in the team and swagger around the clubhouse that wins ballgames. That’s the reason why, in a week, the Rays are going to complete one of the most magical seasons in baseball history.
What a World Series we have ahead of us, right? We’ve got a team nobody cares about versus a team that’s built its entire miserable, short history on being awful. Everybody and their mothers that don’t live in Pennsylvania are pulling for the plucky team from Florida, but I have news for you all: That’s not how baseball works.
Baseball isn’t fair. The team with the better story doesn’t win. Last year, Colorado was hot stuff and facing off against a team with money, fans and recent success in the Boston Red Sox. And how climactic was that series? It was as climactic as a drama-less, boring four-game Sox Sweep sounds. It didn’t matter that the Rockies had the fifth biggest regular season comeback in MLB history. It didn’t matter that it was their first playoff appearance in over a decade. The Sox systematically dismantled both the team and Fox’s ratings for the series.
What about 2006? Cardinals versus Tigers was a similar story to this year. Tigers always sucked, had a good year and had the feel-good story behind them. Cardinals were boring, and nobody outside of their state could justify rooting for them, even against a place as awful as Detroit. But do you remember what happened? Me neither, so I looked it up. Oh yeah, turns out the Cardinals won handily four games to one and nobody cared.
The last time a team with a decent story won the series was in 2001, when the D-Backs beat the ever-detestable Yankees. I’m convinced that only happened because the baseball gods were living by the axiom “Fuck the Yankees.” It was about stopping NY from getting a fourth straight title, and it had nothing to do with Arizona’s good story.
There is no hate for Philly. It’s just another boring, faceless team destined to dash people’s dreams and ruin baseball’s already dwindling excitement. I don’t expect the Phillies to win because they’re any good. I don’t care who their players are, or whether or not they were even the best team in their own league. I expect them to win, because that’s what happens in modern baseball.
For all the lore America’s pastime has associated with it, it’s been really boring as of late. In the last four series, the eventual runners-up have accumulated one win in 17 tries. That’s boring. In each of the last three years there’s been a marked underdog story, and each year that team has been smoked. This series feels like more of the same to me.
I hope I’m wrong. I mean, the Rays are a good story and the Phillies are boring as hell. But a team that thrives on home runs isn’t exactly the epitome of consistency, and Tampa has hit a bunch to get here. Also, when the pressure was on in the ALCS the Rays just about blew it. The World Series is a lot more pressure, and I get the feeling that once the homers stop coming the Phils will run away with it. Philadelphia in five.
I guess I’m just pessimistic, but I really wouldn’t get my hopes up about Tampa if I were you — baseball will just dash them anyway.