Sometimes statistics and radar guns don’t tell the entire story. This is an argument made constantly by baseball lifers who simply cannot accept the sweeping tide of statistics-based analysis that has enveloped their beloved sport over the past decade or so.
And yet, this sentiment that “the playoffs are played for a reason” seems to have never rung truer than this postseason. The Yankees were supposed to win the championship, at least all of the experts were sure of it. On paper they had everything they could ever need and they steamrolled into the playoffs. Many of the same things had been said about the Minnesota Twins, with their ace hurler and young sluggers. Nonetheless, neither of those two teams will be playing baseball this week.
The Detroit Tigers have already advanced to the World Series and seem to be the overwhelming favorite to take the title over whichever team advances from the National League, with their dominant pitching and timely hitting. Much like the Yankees were practically handed their rings before the postseason started, now the Tigers are being crowned prematurely by most baseball fans.
So where am I going with all of this? A celebration in New York or St. Louis, that’s where. The New York Mets have one thing on their side that means more in baseball than any star player or hall of fame manager: magic. I wrote an article last spring and again at the beginning of these playoffs detailing how the Mets felt like a championship team They have lost their two best big-game pitchers and have been picked up by a forty-something future Hall of Famer and a twenty-something kid who pitched just well enough to win a game for them. Their dynamic shortstop and superstar third basemen have been inconsistent, but the rest of their offense has picked them up. Now that they are close enough to smell a championship, we have to ask ourselves: can destiny take over?
The same could be said for the St. Louis Cardinals. They limped into the playoffs with the least victories of any playoff team. Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen were struggling and hurt, their pitching was questionable and they had no closer. Some of those questions are still present, but Adam Wainwright has emerged as a dependable closer and they have a chance to take out a Mets team that at first had made them look overmatched. If the Mets have destiny on their side, the Cardinals certainly have a bit of luck on theirs.
At this point in the playoffs, nobody can deny that both of these teams are equivalent to an 80-win team over the course of an entire season. The important thing to remember, however, is that they don’t have to win 80 games; they only need to win four.
So do the Mets or Cards have what it takes to steal four games from the Tigers? On paper, probably not. But when combined with the magic and chemistry that the two teams have displayed, they might actually have an edge in such a short series. The Tigers might logically be the better team, but the Mets and Cards, much like many teams before them, play well together and persevere through adversity. The lesson from the first round of the playoffs should be clear: The best team doesn’t always win but, come playoff time, the best team always does. Keep crossing your fingers and knocking on wood Mets and Cards fans, either one of your teams might just be that team.