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At least we know it's still a crapshoot

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If nothing else, the 2014 playoffs have already proven that there's no logic to postseason baseball.

Dilip Vishwanat

I don't know about anybody else, but I'm certainly comforted. Mainly by the fact that the Angels, clearly baseball's best team in the regular season, were just bounced from the playoffs by the upstart Kansas City Royals. Those Royals just missed out on winning the AL Central, finishing barely behind Detroit, a team that just got bounced by the Baltimore Orioles.

A friend of mine who's a Tigers fan told me before the Baltimore-Detroit ALDS began that he was optimistic: he thought the Orioles would exit the playoffs without facing a starting pitcher who had never won a Cy Young. Something even weirder happened — the Orioles themselves swept the series, in doing so beating three former Cy Young winners (the trio of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price). Price was Detroit's version of Jon Lester — a proven horse who Dave Dombrowski acquired to push the Tigers over the top, making a deep-October run all but inevitable.

It didn't work for Detroit, and the Lester move certainly didn't work for the A's, and now a team from either Baltimore or Kansas City will represent the American League in the World Series. The Orioles haven't played for a championship since 1983, and while the Royals' last World Series appearance was more recent (it came in 1985), they didn't reach the postseason at any point between then and now.

There are six teams still in contention for a World Series. Just three of Forbes' 10 highest-valued MLB franchises are still in the hunt. Similarly, just three of the 10 highest-payroll clubs are still playing.

So money isn't as big a factor as it objectively should be, but it gets weirder: the simplest of stats don't seem to work. Of the 10 teams with the lowest collective ERAs in 2014, just six reached the postseason, and just four are still playing. It's weirder on offense: take the 10 highest-scoring teams, and just three are still in it (the Dodgers, Nationals, and Orioles).

It's worth noting that Kansas City doesn't appear on either list. The Royals were 14th in runs scored and 12th in team ERA. Kansas City — and this isn't to take anything away from the remarkable baseball that team has played over the last week — is marginally above average.

I could go on, but the point is simple. The playoffs have always been and always will be a crapshoot. Money doesn't seem to buy championships, or even wins, these days. As a fanbase that witnessed the 2001 A's win 102 games using the second-lowest payroll in the league ($33,810,750), that's easy enough to believe.

What's stranger is that not even pitching and runs buy championships. The Royals seem to be this year's team of destiny and they're not particularly good at generating their own runs or preventing other teams from scoring their own. Somehow, they're four wins away from a pennant.

Part of the beauty of baseball is the sheer sample size. Any time a team plays 162 games, you'll get a good idea of how good it was. You don't get that in any other sport, or even to the same extent in other leagues around the world (the Japanese leagues play between 130 and 140; the Cuban league plays just 90).

It's obvious the 2014 Oakland A's were never a .630 team. Derek Norris was never going to contribute Barry Bonds-level production for a full season, Brandon Moss was never going to hit 50 home runs, and Scott Kazmir was never going to finish the year with an ERA under 2.50. That's not to say they weren't good; they were. But they were much worse than their-pre August invincibility, and much better than their late-season ineptitude.

That sample size is meaningful, and the playoffs aren't, and that's completely fine. If Major League Baseball ever wants to determine which team in the league is truly the best, it would abolish leagues, standardize rules, shift to a balanced schedule, and simply crown the team with the most wins out of 162 chances champion.

That is what's fair and good and logical, and nobody wants it. Why would they? October baseball is fantastic. Miserably gut-wrenching and heart-breaking as the AL Wild Card Game was, it was a game for the ages. The Nationals and Giants played 18 innings on Saturday. The Orioles and Royals just swept teams that had no business being swept. The World Series is, in my opinion, the best sporting event in the world save for maybe the Stanley Cup Finals (I don't even like hockey, but they're insane) and the FIFA World Cup.

The playoffs, somehow, are everything that is wrong with baseball and everything that is right with baseball at the same time. But if you want to watch baseball rationally, accept that one of Moneyball's mantras is true: a GM can get his team to the playoffs and do little else. At a certain point, nothing really seems to work.