Allegany Communications Sports

Everybody’s in a fluff, at least everybody who follows baseball in Los Angeles, Atlanta and (so far) half of New York is. The Dodgers, 111 wins in the regular season, the defending champion Braves and the Mets, both with 101 wins in the regular season and, until we find out what happens today beginning at 4 o’clock, the Yankees, winners of 99 games this season, could all be out of the postseason.

Gone are the defending world champions, two division champions, and possibly three (if the Yanks lose today), who combined for over 400 victories during the 2022 season – out, done, finito, Taps City, turn out the lights, eliminated, pack your bags, you’re through.

Well boo, flippin’ hoo.

Life’s tough in the big city, and life is tough when the grind of the 162-game season, which does not lie, is determined with a winner-take-all crapshoot, kill or be killed playoffs format that does — it lies through its teeth and it always has.

This year’s playoff system would seem to lie even more so, as the keenest gripe seems to be that it shouldn’t be fair for teams such as the Dodgers, the Braves and possibly the Yankees to be eliminated from the postseason in a five-game series (the Mets and the Cardinals, 93 wins, were both gone in best-of-threes); that they should only be granted the privilege of having to be ousted in a seven-game series given the great success they achieved over 162 games.

Ah, but it should also be noted that the top seeds in the MLB crapshoot, the Dodgers, the Braves, the Astros and the Yankees, by virtue of their great regular seasons were awarded the privilege of receiving first-round byes, which meant all four teams sat for five days following the regular season. And in truth, not only is baseball about the grind, it is about the rhythm of the season and the rhythm of a team’s performance, and those five off days did not appear to help three of those teams, as all three of them showed rust once the division series began.

(The Astros, meanwhile, the AL’s top seed, have been awaiting the Yankees or the Guardians in the ALCS and have no complaints.)

Of course, the results in this postseason have also had plenty to do with the play of the Padres, the Phillies and the Guardians, three fine ballclubs who found their groove in the late stages of August and early September and have been playing with it ever since without extended time off.

(It should also be noted that the Guardians, the youngest team in baseball and also one of the most talented teams, won the AL Central Division in a walk with 92 wins.)

Well, this is the system they signed up for, at least for this season after the owners’ lockout delayed the start of it. And while we’re at it, there are no assurances that the best team always wins a seven-game series, anyway. Ask the Baltimore Orioles teams of the late 1960s and through the ‘70s. Ask the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s.

In 1969, the Orioles fielded the greatest team in franchise history and one of the greatest teams of the modern era, winning 109 games and sweeping the Minnesota Twins in three games in the very first American League Championship Series. Yet they lost the World Series to the Amazin’ Mets in five games.

In 1971, a season after winning 108 games with three 20-game winners and beating the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series in five games, the Orioles won 101 games in becoming the second team in baseball history to have four 20-game winners, swept the ALCS for the third straight season, then lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a memorable seven-game World Series.

In 1979, the Orioles won 102 games, yet lost to the Pirates again in seven games in the World Series. Things got worse the next season when they won 100 games and didn’t even make the playoffs.

The Braves? We all know about the Braves dynasty – and it was a dynasty, even though they won just one World Series. The Braves won 14 straight division titles and through the decade of the 1990s, 925 games.

And just as the Orioles had done it with Palmer, McNally, Cuellar, Dobson and others, the Braves did it with Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Avery and others. Pitching, defense, timely hitting — that’s how you build for and win through the grind of 162 games. And that’s what those Orioles and Braves teams, the greatest teams of their respective times, did. Yet between them, they won just three World Series, the Orioles two out of five, and the Braves just one out of nine.

The postseason? It’s a crapshoot. It always has been, even when there was just one series, the World Series. Some teams are just built better for a shorter series and certainly deserve to win in those shorter series. After all, they got through and won their own 162-game seasons as well.

Ask the 1960 New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yankees outscored the Pirates, 55-27, in seven games of the World Series. The Pirates won four of those games to become world champion.

Mickey Mantle said it was the only time in his life he cried about something baseball.

That’s baseball. There’s no getting around it. Unless, of course, you’d prefer just to sit out the postseason altogether and not be so stressed about it.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT