This was all good until Tiffany admitted to me that she had not seen “The Natural” and did not know who Wilford Brimley was. Just the kind of thing that is enough to you off your day, you know?This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
In a lot of ways life is a battle between what is right and what feels good.
Indeed, you could make the argument that it’s the very basis of civilization, with the “feels good” thing being “hitting the neolithic gatherer next door over the head with your club and taking his grinding stones” and the “what is right” thing being, well, not doing that and, eventually, forming city councils and stuff.
Religion is all about that too, right? At least the religions that are not based on dressing up like goats, playing flutes around the fire and drinking all of the wine. Those are the opposite. The more popular religions, however, are all about doing the right thing in favor of the thing that feels really, really great in the moment.
Baseball, which has a similar importance to civilization and religion, has this same struggle.
When the playoffs come the theoretically right thing to do is to make each series as long as it can reasonably be so as to make each series as good a test as possible of the strength of each team. Sure, there are limits. We can’t play until next January and, at some point, the announcers run out of anecdotes to tell about each player as he steps out of the batters box and exhales. But the very point of a seven-game series is to, at the very least, make a team go through its rotation a bit and to take away some of the randomness that can occur in any one baseball game. Is it perfect? Oh, hell no, but that’s the idea.
All of that is thrown out the window for the Wild Card Games. One-and-done, baby. That’s it. Your slugger having an off night? Sorry. Your ace starting pitcher got some bad sushi the night before? Tough. The home plate umpire has a stiff back which keeps him from being able to see the bottom half of the strikezone with anything approaching accuracy? Hey, them’s the breaks. You get one damn game, fellas, and if everything doesn’t go just right, you’re going home. Even if you won 98 games this year.
Which is to say that the Wild Card Game is not fair. Not fair at all. It doesn’t tell you who the better baseball team is in any reasonable way. It doesn’t measure the sorts of things which make a good baseball team good over the course of the previous six months. It gives purchase to the forces of chaos, randomness, and luck in ways that even five and seven-game series don’t, and turns baseball, for two nights, into complete and utter crapshoots.
Good. This is a good thing.
I haven’t always felt that way. As recently as a year or two ago I am sure I wrote some long and thought-out thing about how the Wild Card Game is bad for the very reasons I stated above. And, intellectually, I continue to believe that tossing 162 games over the side in favor of a three-hour sphincter-clench is really messed up. But I’ve decided that, even though the Wild Card Game is not the best measure of baseball supremacy, it’s so much damn fun that we shouldn’t really care too much.
Life very often isn’t fair. Even when we establish structures in order to make it so. That city council that resulted, eventually, from our desire to keep people from beating their neighbors over the head works all kinds of injustices on people. That religion which was designed to save us from our baser instincts and work toward something more meaningful is corrupted so often that we barely bat an eye. Seven game series that, theoretically, tell us who the best team in baseball is often give us a champion that, really, wasn’t the best team in baseball as much as they were the best team for a ten-day period in late October.
So, if we’re not eschewing anything perfect, why not indulge in something less-than-perfect but super fun, at least for two nights? Why not put on some goat skins, fill our gourds with wine and dance around a fire while the Yankees, Astros, Pirates and Cubs squirm uncomfortably for our enjoyment? They’re big boys. No one is dying here. The guys who lose the Wild Card Games will be in nice big houses with their beautiful families this time come Friday. And we’ll have had a couple night worth of serious excitement.
What feels good and what’s right isn’t always the same thing. Once in a while, it’s good to just do what feels good. Now, where’s my flute?
Each day throughout the playoffs we’re going to be doing what we’ll call a reset. Not always a preview, not always a recap, but a generalized summary of where we stand at the moment and what we have to look forward tonight.
Today, of course, is Day One of the playoffs so we can really only look ahead, so let’s look ahead to what’s on tap in tonight’s one and only game.
The Game: Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees, American League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern. Or thereabouts.
The Place: Yankee Stadium, New York
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Dallas Keuchel vs. Masahiro Tanaka
- Dallas Keuchel is the Astros’ ace and may very well win the Cy Young Award, but he’s (a) pitching on three-days’ rest; and (b) not in Minute Maid Park, where he is clearly superior compared to how he does on the road. At the same time, (a) the Yankees haven’t figured him out this year, going scoreless against him in 16 innings and striking out 21 times, including a poor performance against him in the Bronx a month or so ago; and (b) lefty sinkerballer types are basically the platonic ideal of a pitcher you want to throw against the Yankees to drive them crazy. While, historically, pitchers going on short rest in the playoffs fare poorly — in the past 20 years they are 18-37 — sinkerballers and extreme groundball pitchers fare much better than most. It ain’t a perfect setup for him, but you gotta like Keuchel here.
- Meanwhile, Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka has made one career start vs. the Astros: this year, back on June 27. He got beat up, allowing six runs in five innings, receiving no decision. Those disclaimers about past performance not being indicative of future results you see in financial services commercials should apply to this and all other past matchup stats you see in the postseason, however. One random start here or there — or two in Keuchel’s case — doesn’t tell us a ton. This is baseball and tomorrow is always another day. At least if you don’t lose the Wild Card Game. More of a concern for Tanaka: rust. He has pitched only once since tweaking his hamstring against the Mets on September 18 and it wasn’t a good outing. At least he’s rested?
- Both teams are dependent on the longball but both teams have struggled at times on offense down the stretch, with the Yankees’ bats being particular quiet in the season’s last month or so. Someone needs to wake up A-Rod. And Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Brian McCann for that matter too. Of course, all of that firepower may not matter. The playoffs often see offenses go quiet and pitching come to the fore. Both teams have decent bullpens — the Yankees’ far, far more than decent — and given Tanaka’s rust and Keuchel’s short rest, this one is very likely to come down to multiple innings of hard-throwing relief. That favors the Yankees if they can keep it close.
- Both teams are basically stumbling into the postseason, with the Yankees having lost six of their last seven games. They’re also under .500 since the end of July. The Astros swooned themselves in the second half, going 11-16 in September before rebounding in the season’s last week. Good thing momentum generally isn’t a thing in the playoffs — remember those 2000 Yankees losing 15 of 18 before the playoffs started and then won the World Series! — because neither team here has much of it.
This is the Astros’ first playoff game in a decade. While the Yankees haven’t been in the postseason since 2012, there is a lot of playoff experience here, making this an interesting study in contrasts from a storyline perspective. At least if you’re into storylines. Personally I’m not. I’m more into baseball games and in this baseball game I think Keuchel is a tough draw for the Yankees, even on short rest. For New York to advance they’re gonna have to be a team they haven’t been for weeks and maybe months: one that lays off junk down low and hits the ball hard.