The 2009 baseball playoffs are about to begin. Throughout this decade, the playoffs have been marred, in my view as an opinionated “neutral,” by the success of “wild card” teams at the expense of teams that during the regular season staked good claims to being the best in the sport. Thus, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post tells us that, in this century, teams with 100 wins or more are 7-12 in playoff series, while wild card teams are 23-15.
Upsets are an important ingredient in sports, of course, but when they occur to this extent in the context of an eight team playoff, they tend to produce uninspiring and sometimes tedious series as the playoffs progress. The Red Sox-Rockies World Series in 2007 comes immediately to mind.
This year, barring major upsets the prospects for high quality match-ups seem good (unfortunately, though, such a matchup can prove to be tedious once the play commences). In the American League, a Yankee-Angels championship series would feature the teams with the two best records in baseball. A Yankee-Red Sox series would feature the game’s fiercest rivalry. Moreover, the run differential stats suggest that the Red Sox are every bit as good as the Angels. So only the Twins stand in the way of a stellar AL championship series matchup (sorry, guys). But at least the Tigers, who were outscored by the opposition during the season, have been eliminated.
In the NL there is no “clash of the titan” series to hope for because there are no titans. However, the four teams involved — Los Angeles, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Colorado — are all respectable post-season entities. LA has the best record and the best run differential in the league; Philadelphia ranks second in both categories and is the defending champion. Colorado played by far the best ball in the NL over the last 110 games of the season. St. Louis has a run differential comparable to those of Phillie and Colorado and better pitching. In fact, its playoff starting rotation might be the best of any of the eight teams in the playoffs. All four teams have 90 plus wins.
In short, the NL should produce solid matchups plus a pennant winner from whom a decent World Series performance plausibly can be expected.
There’s much, then, to look forward to.
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