It is fitting that this season -- which has gone by so quickly that they never got around to filtering all those uniforms with numbers like “85” and “92” on them -- will end with a mad-dash postseason like we’ve never seen before. This entire 60-game season has been unprecedented, flashing by your eyes so quickly you'd get dizzy … and now, this week, we get this.
Look at that schedule this week. Four games on Tuesday. Eight games on Wednesday. Possibly eight more games on Thursday. It took a few weeks to adjust our internal calculators to the idea that one game during this regular season was worth about 2.7 in a 162-game season, but now, with eight best-of-three Wild Card Series with advancement to the Division Series on the line, every game is essentially worth 2.7 League Championship Series games. Playoff games are always high-stakes, win-or-go-home environments. But this will make your face melt.
It is understandable if you are a fan of, say, the Los Angeles Dodgers, to look at this Wild Card Series and wonder whether or not it is “fair.” After all, this Dodgers team has been historically terrific, one of the best five teams of all-time by winning percentage, albeit in a season when everyone’s winning percentages are a little bit inflated (and, on the other end, deflated). Is it “fair” to have a team that won so many games potentially have its season end in two or three days against a Brewers team that didn't even get to the .500 mark?
While nodding to the Dodgers’ frustrations about what “fair” might mean in the wake of their ongoing Astros feud following the sign-stealing scandal, it is worth noting that this is long what baseball has been. No team knows that more than the Dodgers. They have now won eight consecutive National League West titles, an incredible number that, in this day and age, might rival what the Braves did in the ’90s and early aughts. And you know how many World Series championships that has gotten the Dodgers? Zilch. (It has actually gotten them one fewer than the Giants have in the seven seasons prior to this one.) The idea that a fantastic season can turn on a dime isn’t just new to this season, it’s not even new to the Dodgers; they did, after all, just lose in the NLDS last year to a team that won 13 fewer regular-season games than they did. The new playoff system adds an extra level of potential mayhem, but it doesn’t add a new one.
It remains to be seen whether this will be the final year for this playoff format. But for 2020, it will provide three, maybe four, maybe even five days of absolute delirium. And that’s what’s most important. I’d argue that’s what we need the most.
See, this season has gone by so quickly and has brought us so much joy, silliness and surprise, that it’s important to remember how close we were to not having any of this at all. The thing about that old Rogers Hornsby line, “People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring,” is that this year, even spring didn’t bring solace. During a period of strife that none of us have experienced in our lifetime, something that provides us solace, relief, distraction, hope … it was gone, right when we might have needed it most.
Baseball cannot solve all our problems; it probably can’t solve any of them. But you know what it can do? You’re here, right now, on a site that’s exclusively about baseball. The last seven months, the past two months, all of it has foisted difficulties and tests on you, me and all of us that none of us could have seen coming, that none of us could have been truly ready for. This situation is ongoing, of course, and we are not through it yet. But it has been so all-encompassing that having baseball back in our lives, our daily lives, either the backdrop or the foreground to everything we’re going through … you know how much it has meant. You’re here, after all. Baseball didn’t save us. It can’t. But it has helped so much. I know it has helped me.
And thus this, this reward, this total lunacy of a week, in which every game means so much, and it all happens so quickly. The world is not stopping for baseball this week. We all have to continue to worry about ourselves and our lives like we always have. But for the next four days, you can be awash in baseball. You can immerse yourself in it, be all-encompassed by it. Consider it a reward. A reward for making it this far, a reward for all those days when we didn’t have baseball, a reward for, through it all, picking them up and setting them down -- a reward for staring out the window and waiting for spring, and then summer, and then finally fall. We’re lucky to have it. I find myself simply grateful for it.
Then after 16 teams are whittled to eight, the Division Series will start. And we get to do all this again.
Are the Yankees going to be able to live up to their preseason hype? (And the hype of, you know, being the Yankees?) Can the White Sox and the Padres fulfill all of their promise of youth? Can the A’s, Twins and Braves finally end their postseason pain? Can the Cubs end what might be their last rodeo with another title? Can the Dodgers, at last, get that title? We’ll get answers to all these questions, but in many ways, in this year, the answers aren’t really that important. What’s important is that we get to ask these questions at all. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it to this point; I suspect you weren’t sure either.
But we did. We all made it. And now comes the reward. Enjoy. I know I will.