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

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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.

Nationals GM Rizzo won’t reveal length of Martinez’s new contract

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WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez spoke Saturday about managing the Washington Nationals for “many, many years” and over the “long term” and “quite some time,” thanks to his contract extension.

Sharing a table to a socially distanced degree with his manager on a video conference call to announce the new deal – each member of the duo sporting a 2019 World Series ring on his right hand – Nationals GM Mike Rizzo referred to the agreement’s “multiyear” nature, but repeatedly refused to reveal anything more specific in response to reporters’ questions.

“We don’t talk about terms as far as years, length and salaries and that type of thing. We’re comfortable with what we have and the consistency that we’re going to have down the road,” said Rizzo, who recently agreed to a three-year extension of his own. “That’s all we want to say about terms, because it’s private information and we don’t want you guys to know about it.”

When Martinez initially was hired by Rizzo in October 2017 – his first managing job at any level – the Nationals’ news release at the time announced that he was given a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.

That 2021 option had not yet been picked up.

“The partnership that Davey and I have together, our communication styles are very similar. Our aspirations are similar, and kind of our mindset of how to obtain the goals that we want to obtain are similar. I think it’s a good match,” Rizzo said. “We couldn’t have hit on a more positive and enthusiastic leader in the clubhouse. I think you see it shine through even in the most trying times.”

The Nationals entered Saturday – Martinez’s 56th birthday – with a 23-34 record and in last place in the NL East, which Rizzo called “a disappointing season.” The team’s title defense was slowed by injuries and inconsistency during a 60-game season delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg threw just five innings because of a nerve issue in his pitching hand and players such as Starlin Castro, Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Adam Eaton and Carter Kieboom finished the year on the IL.

“This year, for me, we didn’t get it done. We had a lot of bumps in the road this year. But I really, fully believe, we’ve got the core guys here that we need to win another championship,” Martinez said. “I know Mike, myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys we think can potentially help us in the future. And we’ll be back on the podium. I’m really confident about that.”

Rizzo was asked Saturday why the team announces contract lengths for players, as is common practice around the major leagues, but wouldn’t do so in this instance for Martinez.

“The reason is we don’t want anybody to know. That’s the reason,” Rizzo said, before asking the reporter: “How much do you make? How many years do you have?”

Moments later, as the back-and-forth continued, Rizzo said: “It’s kind of an individual thing with certain people. I don’t want you to know what I make or how many years I have. Davey doesn’t want you to know. And I think that it’s only fair … when people don’t want certain information out there, that we don’t give it.”

There were some calling for Martinez to lose his job last season when Washington got off to a 19-31 start. But Rizzo stood by his manager, and the team eventually turned things around, going 74-38 the rest of the way to reach the playoffs as an NL wild-card team.

The Nationals then beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals to reach the World Series, where they beat the Houston Astros in Game 7.

Washington joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams in major league history to win a World Series after being 12 games below .500 during a season.

“Everything from Day 1 to where he’s gotten to now, he’s grown so much. He’s really become one of my favorite managers of all,” three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer said after helping Washington win Saturday’s opener of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. “Davey really understands how to manage a clubhouse, manage a team. We saw it in the postseason. He knows how to push the right buttons when everything is on the line.”