Craig Calcaterra


Sorry, the “better” team doesn’t always win


The Blue Jays got really scary at the end of the season and by the time October rolled around many, including the oddsmakers, figured they’d win the AL pennant. They’re down 2-0. The Cubs won seven more games than the Mets and, having dispatched the 100-win Cardinals, were favored by some to dispatch New York too and win it all. They’re down 2-0.

This has led to a bit of “well, the [losing team] is STILL better” talk. From some Cubs fans. From some Cardinals fans. From some Jays fans. It’s not necessarily strident. That tweet from the Jays fan seems more aimed at self-assurance than smack talk. It’s not necessarily widespread. And it’s certainly not exclusive to fans of certain teams. Indeed, every single year there are at least a small handful of fans of teams that have either been vanquished or who are on their way there who claim that, results of a playoff series be damned, their team is the better team. Lord knows that with the Braves’ many, many playoff failures I have heard it often among my fellow Braves fans. And it’s not just fans. Some analysts, citing sample size, randomness and luck, will say it too in service of some argument or another.

No matter who says it, however, it’s always bound to lead to mocking because the only necessary response to the “yeah, but they’re actually better” argument is “scoreboard.” Or “but you lost, dude.” It’s a pretty comprehensive argument and the more one fights against it, the worse one looks. Sports are about winning and losing and when you’re on the losing side you’re never going to look good and you’ll certainly never win by saying “yeah, but actually . . .” And you probably need to stop.

Not because it’s such a wrongheaded notion. Indeed, there is a lot of truth to the idea that 162 games is a better test of a team’s strength than a winner-take-all game, a best-of-five or a best-of-seven. And, this being sports, there are a lot of people who will forget all of that and claim that, by definition, the team that wins the championship is “the best,” because that’s just how sports and sports fans work. Against that backdrop it’s very tempting to “well, actually . . . ” these people and to talk about team depth and sample sizes and luck and randomness and all of that stuff. Either to stick up for your local nine who had a bad week in the playoffs after six months of dominance or to demonstrate your deep understanding of the dynamics of an extremely complicated sport.

But don’t do that. Really, just don’t do that. If you find yourself poised to claim that the team losing the series is better, bite your tongue and save it. Because when you do that, you’re taking all of the fun out of this stuff.

Sometimes the “best” team doesn’t win in the playoffs. A lot of the time, actually. But when you point that out you’re forgetting that baseball is entertainment, and that’s just as bad if not worse than someone forgetting about sample sizes and the true test of the regular season. Major League Baseball knows that, say, a one-game wild card is gimmicky, but it’s also very, very exciting. Most fans, if pressed, know that a short series can be random, but they’re also stoked with drama and unexpected heroes. The playoffs are a lot of fun, dang it, and either a complaint that the “best” team isn’t really being chosen or a dismissive reference to the playoffs as merely being some random sort of tournament that means nothing makes you sound like a petty killjoy.

If you insist on “but [team] is actually better,” talk, IMMEDIATELY follow it up with the co-observation about how, even if that’s so, it doesn’t matter and they’re simply not executing and/or getting whupped at the moment. Or, better yet, wait to do it after the season is over and do it in service of analyzing the team separate and apart from the playoffs altogether. Let the dust settle a bit.

The point being, don’t take people’s fun away. Don’t dismiss the playoffs in a sour grapes fashion. Don’t make yourself look petty. There’s time for dispassionate analysis later and, during that time, you’ll be able to comfort yourself by remembering the good things your team did and made you feel for six months without the harshed buzz of the playoffs hanging over your head. Save it now, enjoy the spectacle of the playoffs even if your team has been eliminated and let thoughts of who was technically “better” help you get through the cold months a bit easier.

Besides, there will be a much better time for you to employ your clever, longer-view of baseball strengths and weaknesses mindset. Like, say, when some team signs Daniel Murphy for way too much money this winter on the back of his amazing October. Indeed, that may be the only way Cubs and Dodgers fans will every get any enjoyment out of Daniel Murphy whatsoever.

The Nationals dismiss their entire training staff

Jayson Werth wrist

James Wagner of the Washington Post reports that the Nationals have dismissed their entire training staff: head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz, assistant trainer Steve Gober and strength and conditioning coach John Philbin were all told they weren’t coming back.

The Nationals had a lot of injuries. Some of them were not a matter of poor medical or training, such as Jayson Werth‘s wrist was broken by a flying baseball, for example. And a year in which Bryce Harper was healthy seems like something of a miracle given all of the stuff that has befallen him in the past. But as Wagner notes, some Nats injuries such as those to Stephen Strasburg and Denard Span may have come from being rushed back too soon.

How much of that is on the training staff is hard to know from the outside looking in. But given that the entire coaching staff was shown the door, it’s not terribly surprising that the other changes are being made as well.

Alex Rodriguez is going to be in the studio for Fox

Alex Rodriguez

From announcer bias to announcer . . . well, whatever it is Alex Rodriguez has.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post just tweeted that A-Rod is in Los Angeles and will be part of the Fox NFL Sunday show today. That’s . . . weird, but who cares about football? What we do care about is that he will be announced as part of the Fox postseason studio shows going forward as well.

This inspired an almost immediate tut-tutting, but that seems premature to me.

On the one hand, yes, It is absolutely certain that Fox’s motivation here is to turn heads and get attention. This is why they do most of what they do these days, be it hiring Jason Whitlock and Colin Cowherd or inflicting Pete Rose on us all. It’s pretty transparent, actually, and putting A-Rod on TV is right in line with that. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean he won’t be good! Indeed, I could see this going either way.

If Rodriguez is self-conscious and concerned with how he looks on TV — a pretty classic A-Rod thing — he could be terrible and stiff. He has shown in the past year, however, that he can be pretty funny and quick in interviews. And regardless of demeanor, his actual baseball knowledge and insight has long been lauded by his teammates and coaches. Even the ones who hate him. If that translates, he could be good. You never know with analysts until they start analyzing.

This could be a Pete Rose situation in which a controversial figure is hired and delivers bad insight and analysis. It could be an A.J. Pierzynski situation in which a controversial figure is hired and delivers pretty damn good insight and analysis. The point is, no matter what motivated it and no matter how controversial the figure, all we as fans should want is some good insight and analysis.

I’d like to think A-Rod will give that but I’m prepared for the possibility that he won’t. Either way, we should give him a chance and see how he does.