Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter used to say you grind all year to win in Major League Baseball to have the chance to “roll the dice” in October. He essentially meant the best or winningest teams don’t always earn the trophy in October. In a short series, anything can happen.
This season is another example of that.
The Tampa Bay Rays won 100 games to lead all American League teams. They won an AL East that featured four teams with 91 or more wins. But they didn’t even make the AL Championship Series. The AL East sent three teams to the playoffs, but the Houston Astros, after a 95-67 regular season, will represent the AL in the World Series that begins tomorrow night.
In the National League, the San Francisco Giants won 107 games and the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers won 106. Both will be home Tuesday night, watching Game 1.
The 88-win Atlanta Braves will play for the World Series title begin Tuesday night. Toronto won 91 games this year and didn’t even make the postseason.
Some fans might believe this all calls for some changes. Why even have divisions? Why not have one league of 15 teams, play a balanced schedule, and when it’s over, take the top five records in each league?
As for me, I am fine with the current system. Even when that led to a 106-win team having to play in a wild card game. That was obviously a rarity that we will not see very much.
And when that team - the Dodgers - lost to Atlanta in the NL Championship Series, it ensured that for the 21st straight season, MLB would not have a repeat champion.
Starting in 2001, when Arizona won the World Series, there has not been a repeat winner. In fact, 11 times in that span, the World Series winner did not even make the playoffs the following year.
No repeat winners since the New York Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000. This is the longest stretch in MLB history without a repeat champion.
From 1905 on, there have been few instances of years going by without a repeat champion. The Yankees won so many to ensure that. Other teams repeated for two, like the Oakland Athletics from 1972-74, the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76 and the Yankees in 1977-78. There were no repeat winners from 1979 through 1991, and then Toronto won two in a row in 1992-93.
I kind of like that now we’ve had a long stretch with no repeaters. And it’s not like teams haven’t have sustained success. It is just that winning it all is hard. You play 162 games to get there and then could be out in a one-game wild card scenario or a series of five or seven games. A few players can get hot and knock a team out.
But since 2001, three teams have combined to win nine of the last 20 World Series with Boston winning four, San Francisco three and St. Louis two. There have been 11 teams to win once - Arizona, the Anaheim Angels, Florida, the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia, the New York Yankees, Kansas City, the Chicago Cubs, Houston, Washington and the Dodgers last year.
Over that same stretch in the NFL, there has been just one repeat champion. The New England Patriots won three of four years, winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 2004 and 2005. And, for clarification, those were the years in which the Super Bowls were played.
Should we be concerned that a team can win the World Series without being the best team from that year? Why, that can be true in just about every sport every year. Even in the college ranks. Upsets are what makes March Madness great.
It also doesn’t mean baseball has parity, not when some teams are spending nearly $200 million and others are at $50 million or less. But even with that, teams on the lower end can and do win. The Rays say hello.
Maybe this new collective bargaining agreement can further bring together in payroll the biggest and lowest spenders. According to Spotrac.com, the two World Series teams this season rank fourth (Houston) and 12th (Atlanta) in team payroll for the 2021 season.
As for the odds for this year’s World Series, Houston is a minus-135 favorite (20/27), per Betonline.ag. Atlanta is the underdog at plus-115 (23/20). Those odds imply a 57.4 percent probability that the Astros will take the series.
Atlanta was one of the five top favorites coming into the 2021 season with 10/1 odds. Houston was No. 10 on the preseason odds list with 20/1 odds.
Who have you got starting tomorrow night?