So far, baseball has enjoyed a great postseason. With the exception of the Yankees’ washout in the ALCS, every other series has gone the distance, meaning in the span of about two weeks, seven sudden death games will have been played just to get to the World Series. Throw in the exciting conclusions to both the A.L. East and West division races, and October has certainly been a month to remember. Bud Selig couldn’t have drawn it up any better.
*In pre-division era (before 162 game schedule), the 1926 (180 combined wins) and 1959 World Series (184 combined wins) would also make the list. The strike-shortened 1981 season and WWI-shortened 1918 season are also excluded.
Unfortunately, there has been a trade-off for all the drama. If the Tigers and Cardinals meet in the World Series, it will mark the first time baseball’s championship will be contested by two teams that failed to win at least 90 games (not including the strike-shortened 1981 season and WWI-shortened 1918 season). The combined total of 176 victories would also match the 1973 World Series for the lowest among World Series combatants. That year, the New York Mets, who only had 82 wins, squeaked by Cincinnati’s burgeoning Big Red Machine to face the Oakland Athletics, who won 94 games.
A knee jerk reaction would be to blame the new dual wild card system for what could be a very mediocre World Series. After all, 10 teams, including the Angels and Rays, who didn’t make the postseason, won more games than the Cardinals and Tigers. So, if the Fall Classic does feature that matchup, there will be plenty of teams watching at home with a chip on their shoulder. However, while the Cardinals did benefit from the expanded format, the Tigers were a division winner, so their entry into the postseason was not aided by the new system. Also, despite tying for the 11 best record in the majors, St. Louis had the fourth best run differential, so, from a Pythagorean perspective, the Cardinals are as deserving a team as any.
During the wild card era, the postseason has stopped being a validation of the regular season. Since 1995, only three teams that compiled the best regular season record in the majors went on to win the World Series. In other words, winning a marathon doesn’t necessarily put a team in good position to run a gauntlet. Besides, because of the disparity between leagues and the unbalanced schedule, even regular season records are hard to compare without qualification. That’s why it’s not worth getting too wrapped up about the relationship between “best” and “champion”. As long as baseball maintains the integrity of the regular season, October can be enjoyed on its own merits without having to exaggerate the relationship between the two.