The best team doesn’t always win?

Once upon a time there were six, then eight and then ten teams in each of the American and National Leagues. They played 154 and then 162 games. There were no divisions. The top team in each league won the league pennant and went on to the World Series. Such a format, at least in theory, meant that the best team in each league went on to the World Series. But now, as frequent commenter, Bill, mentioned in last night’s game recap, the World Series is perhaps going to consist this season of two teams that were not the best teams in their leagues. As Bill also mentioned, the playoff system currently in place means that the hottest teams carry the day. Whether any or all of this new era is fair is subject for debate and few will ever agree.

In that old system, two of the twelve, sixteen and then twenty teams had something to cheer about in October. The majority of teams went home after the season and the fan base of those teams had nothing to do but say, “I hope next year is better.” There is no doubt that the current system has been beneficial to the financial security of the game. MLB makes an incredible amount of money. Much of that money is generated by the tiered playoff system that allows more teams to compete for the top prize late into the season. Much more is generated from television rights as networks fight over who will show the multi-layered playoffs.

And so it is a trade off between knowing the best two teams are playing in the World Series and drawing huge interest from more fan bases around the country. The Yankees have not always been the best team in this new system. A case could be made that the 1996 and 2000 Yankees were not the best teams in the American League. And yet, those two teams won the World Series. The 2002 Yankees were probably the best team in the American League and did not go to the World Series. The system has helped the New York team and hurt them. It would also be safe to assume that in 1996 and 2000, no Yankee fans were upset about the Yankees’ success in those post seasons.

The Yankees’ season ended yesterday. It is a fresh hurt. Emotions of the day are going to be all over the place. Some want blood spilled. Others want some sort of explanation. Others want to ditch the entire roster and start over next season. Those emotions are all understandable and we saw them all in the comments the past week. The saddest part of it all is that the Yankees did not even compete in the ALCS.  Depending on your point of view, they were either out-classed by the Tigers’ pitching or the batters went completely cold. It was ugly and it was frustrating. Perhaps the emotions would be different if the Yankees had at least won a couple of games and made a show of it. But they did not.

The season is over. It ended bitterly for the home town fan base. Again, there will be days, weeks and months of churning to figure out how it all happened and to think about how to avoid it next year. For many, there is disbelief that perhaps the best team in the American League is done for the season. And we all know that nothing short of a World Series win is enough for the Yankees and its fan base. But perhaps there should be a bit of room for remembering some of the great moments of the season, the progress of some players, the season of Jeter, the home stretch of Ichiro, and other memories. And perhaps there should be a least a consideration for the Tigers and their fans who have to be thrilled at this opportunity to take it all the way. No matter how this Yankees’ fan base feels, there is knowledge and experience of how good it feels to be them right now.

Did the best team win the ALCS? Does it matter?

About William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at since 2003.

19 thoughts on “The best team doesn’t always win?

  1. The only good thing that will come from this is that Brian won't be able to just "tweak" the roster. After last year's early exit, and this year's epic fail in the ALCS, I would think something would have to be done.

    If for no other reason than to avoid fulfilling Einstein's definition of insanity.

  2. You maybe want to clean up those first couple of sentences. The top two teams in each league played for the pennant and the top team in each league played for the world series. Saying the top two teams in each league played for the world series suggests that the world series included 4 teams. It really should be the top team in each league.

    Otherwise, good points.

  3. It's the same in all the major sports leagues. What's your point? Almost any time you have a playoff system with multiple rounds, the best team isn't always going to win (although in theory they should). Upsets happen and teams get hot and cold. I'm just glad baseball hasn't followed the NBA and NHL where about half the teams make the playoffs.

    • I guess the point is that to go through 162 games, achieve the best record in your league and then get wiped out because of a four game stretch (that was probably similar to one you endured at some point during the season) is frustrating as a fan. Plus, you lost to the Tigers, who underachieved all season and had to go on a tear to win a weak division that they should have won by 15 games. That's all. In the grand scheme of things, it's actually good for the sport, since the playing field is expanded and the interest is more widespread. But from a selfish standpoint, it still stinks.

    • It's the same in all the major sports leagues IN YOUR COUNTRY! Perfectly reasonable to question the validity of the system, I would suggest.

  4. It has been like this for a very long time in all sports. The Giants were tied for the 12th best team in the NFL last year, the year before the Packers were also a 6th seed. It seems that it is very rare for the number one seed to actually win a championship in every sport, team or individual (in some cases, Tiger woods lost plenty during his prime). The only exception may be college football, and that system is the one that gets ripped apart the most by media and fans.

  5. When you go down in flames like this, it is hard to remember that the Yanks actually did just fine this year, up until last Saturday. An aging team ravaged by injury was able to hold of a relentless push by an upstart Baltimore club both over the regular season and again in the first round. They won 95 games and scored 804 runs despite an extremely spotty offense that, if they had played to their potential, could have easily scored another 100 runs this year and won 10 more games. And the pitching was considerably better than expected. Can't wait to see how they'll retool for 2013. Spring Training can't come soon enough.

    • I hope you know that I respect your opinions and was not putting you down. Thanks for the comment and I agree.

  6. Were the Yankees the best team? I felt that they had obvious flaws that came back to bite them in a big way.

    Also, if you want to look at the baseball season, wouldn't you say baseball is testing both the ability to run the marathon type 162 game season and the intense tournament style playoff? In order to get to a world series you must rank in the top five in your league in the 'marathon' and then be successful in the tournament, which uses a lot of different skills. So wouldn't the best team be whichever is set up to do both? Meaning a team set up only for a tournament will probably nev make it there, and a team set up only for the marathon will probably not do well in a tournament. You need a balance of the two.

    • What does a team set-up for the Tournament look like as opposed to a team set up for the long haul??? I don't think there is a blueprint for either………
      I think there are too many teams in most pro sports leagues and especially baseball. How many teams didn't even draw one million fans this year?? I think 24 teams would be ideal, the competitive balance would be much greater with the resources of the other 6 teams spread out over the league, rivalries would be intensified as you would play teams more often.
      As for the Yankees, they are getting old and need a shot of youth but we'd rather trade that away for established guys……….
      I think Joe Girardi is a pretty good game manager but his vision of what makes up a good team is too 'Old School National League" for me.

      • A full season team needs a deeper rotation, more organizational depth, and a better bench. A tournament team needs a few dominant starters, maybe three or so, along with a small number of dominant relief pitchers. You could design a tournament team that would lose over the course of a season, because players would get tired, a weak bench, and no depth. You could also build a team that can win during a season but lose in a tournament because they don't have dominant starters and relievers. Giving up 3 runs per game in the season is good, giving up 3 runs per tournament game isn't so good. Also, in a tournament you don't need to worry nearly as much about players getting tired or needing rest. You know that, in post season, the maximum number of games is going to be 20, and you're going to have at least 4-5 days of rest built in. You can play everyone every day. Try playing guys every day (including relievers) in a 162 game schedule.

    • Agree fully that this roster has flaws which only got worse as injuries mounted. Girardi did his best managing in-season but sadly his worst in the postseason. Despite the good fortune of batting Ibanez for A-Rod and going lefty vs. righty, the Yankees lost the game and sitting A-Rod for the following games and then inserting him as a pinch hitter with runners on in game four when he hadn't faced live pitching in days was downright staggering. He hasn't much experience as a pinch hitter. It was a bad move. Had Chavez provided anything of merit while playing in place of Rodriguez, Joe might have looked smarter.

      In A-Rod's next at bat, Coke was clearly pitching around him and running up his pitch count too. He still wasn't ready to throw right at him which is why the Yankees would have been better served letting Rodriguez play through the slump. Benching Granderson was even far more confusing since the games were in a park where he has had success and is certainly familiar. Taking those two plus Swisher out of the lineup that was struggling to score runs might be wise in May but not in October.

      You can't fire 25 guys and if I was management I would have to look at Girardi and whether he's lost the trust of a few guys without whom they wouldn't have been playing in October at all. If Cabrera slumped would the Tigers have benched him for 3 games? That's just not smart managing.

      Mind you I'd let Swisher go. This was his swan song and a sad one at that. After he gets replaced I'd wonder why the Yankees weren't shopping for a new batting coach to boot. Keep Ichiro and dump Ibanez also. Cano had a great season but folded in the post season. Not shocking since he had no one in the order who anyone wouldn't prefer to pitch to. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.

  7. I look forward to next year. A rotation of Sabathia, Pineda, Hughes and hopefully a fixed Nova. I have a feeling Kurada will be brought back if Pettite does not, although I'd like to see both of them. Mo will be back, Soriano might be gone.

    The only place I'm not really excited is the offense again. Having Gardner back will be nice but what of the others? Will they bring Ichiro back? I know Swisher is gone as is Jones most likely. Do they take Granderson's option? Will Cano play his head off next year? Can Jeter repeat this? Does Arod rebound once his hand fully heals? He was doing pretty well up until then. Do any of the exciting kids come up? It seems like it was a lost season for most of our upper level top propsects i.e. Romine, Betance, etc.

    • After this, I wouldn't count on Andy – he looked pretty dejected in the dugout. (as opposed to Cano, who just looked lost.) I'd take Kuroda, but wouldn't bet on him wanting to return either.

      Gonna be a different team, for sure. With luck, maybe even better.

      • I'd say Pettite will be back; he can't be happy with this as his final season.

        If Kuroda wants back he's welcome to soak up a lot of innings.

  8. My only problem w/ playoff format is that i think the teams w/ the best records should go. how ever many you want whether 4 or 8. who cares about winning the division. that doesnt mean you should be a higher seed specially if you have a weak division. Doesn't seem fair to other teams. Hey i want 5 more games than that team but im sitting home?

  9. MLB should change the format like in soccer leagues (English Premier League) where they have a grand prize for best record and a separate award for the league knockout competition (yes it is not a postseason as every team participates but might as well start this since playoff teams are expanding anyways). 162 games is a lot of games and every one of them should count.

  10. MLB is NOT interested in finding or rewarding the best team. The regular season does that. Bud is trying to prove there is parity in baseball, and the greater variety of teams in the WS, the more it appears to prove his point.

    And did the better team Win?
    Are you serious?
    I won't insult the Tigers, so I will say this.
    They ARE fit to clean ARod's jockstrap.