September 11, 2013

Rethink Your Approach to the Playoffs Before They Start

Over the past week or so we’ve seen a peek of what every Braves fan fears for the playoffs.  It’s not that the Braves’ offense has any more of a propensity to go cold than any other offense.  It’s that so many of their hitters had a down week.  A down week or even a down couple of days could lead to an early exit in the playoffs.

As a baseball fan, I take sort of a weird view of the playoffs.  The playoffs are exciting.  I love watching them.  I love the drama and the fact that every play, every pitch is magnified.  But aside from the emotion and the sensations the playoff offer baseball fans, they do nothing for me.  The playoffs tell us nothing.  We gain no new, real knowledge from the playoffs.  If I’m trying to figure out which teams are the best and where the Braves stack up, I’m not going to rely on what happens in a five-game series or a seven-game series in October or at any other time of year.

Yes, I want the Braves to win it all.  I want more World Series wins for the Atlanta Braves in my lifetime.  I want that badly.  But I also realize that aside from the excitement and drama, the playoffs are worthless.  This may be a unique way to look at it but I don’t care because I think this is how all baseball fans should approach the playoffs.  The playoffs are a horrible way to determine which teams are the best in each league and which team is the best in the majors.  I understand why they have to happen and aesthetically I enjoy them as much as any other fan enjoys them.  But applying much meaning to them, beyond the enjoyment they provide and the sensations they make us feel, is frankly annoying.

How many times in baseball do mediocre, .500 or worse teams beat a very good, contending teams three out of five or four out of seven?  How about when you get a bunch of teams that are around 90-win teams or better together and play best-of-one or best-of-five or best-of-seven series?  Think about it.  You’ve probably been watching baseball a long time.  Can a series of such short series really tell us anything about these teams?

Think about what you were thinking after the first week of the season.  Think about what you were thinking after April?  Aside from maybe some extremely bad or extremely great teams (maybe not even them), did you have in your mind which teams were the best and which teams were the worst?  That’s essentially what baseball is asking us to do in October, but it’s worse.  If a team loses one game, or three out of five or four out of seven, they are done.  We don’t even get a month-long sample from every team, like we did after April.

In April the Colorado Rockies were one of the best teams in baseball.  The Dodgers lingered at .500.  The Rays were 12-14.  You’d be insane to think at the end of April these teams were placed where they belonged, in hindsight or even at the time.  At the end of April no one was making a big deal about the Rockies rise to contention.  No one was saying the Dodgers were destined for mediocrity.  No one was claiming the Rays’ magic had finally run its course.  Everyone realized it was only April.  Yet at the end of October we are eager to apply narratives that we wouldn’t touch in April. If you think about it, it’s a weird dynamic.

So my advice?  Don’t take the postseason too seriously.  Realize the players want to win badly.  Realize their ultimate goal is to earn the World Series trophy.  Enjoy the drama and the excitement.  Enjoy the fact that one pitch or one play could greatly impact success or elimination.  But realize the postseason is not really telling us anything new.  The Braves are in a good position.  They made the playoffs, they aren’t a wild card team so they aren’t subject to the one-game round, they have the best record in the league.  Going in, that’s all we can ask for.  What happens after that is going to be the ball bouncing the Braves’ way.



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