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Real Madrid are young and dynamic and it’s annoying

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Last season, as Real Madrid went on their bloodless procession to both La Liga and Champions League title, those of us who aren’t decked out in white could console ourselves in the fact that sometimes, there are things you just can’t help. Their league triumph was due to the fact that Barcelona had become the biggest basketcase in the soccer world, and there are no other contenders in Spain. Their march to yet another Champions League trophy was due to the dark arts and spells only they can cast, because they are Real Madrid.

Madrid exist to win. While Barcelona in the past or Man City now run over anything with an identifiable style, changing how the game is played the world over and how we view it, Madrid are the Lannisters. They show you how the world as it really is. None of the style or character or tenets really matter if you still win in the end. None of Madrid’s Champions League triumphs in the past decade or La Liga titles can be attached to a particular ethos or method. They win because they’re Madrid, and because they’re Madrid they win. It’s not much more complicated than that. You can have your statements on the sport or your game-altering tactics or your name that echoes in history, they’ll just take the trophies, thanks. They have great players who are buoyed to perform in the biggest moments basically because they put on that jersey. Detailed tactics, nuanced instructions? Fuck that, they’ll just score more goals or give up less or whatever means yet another win. Ends, not means.

Except this time around, Madrid are pretty exciting and dynamic, instead of just the monolith that keeps moving forward due to its own momentum. Which sucks.

Madrid hosted Barcelona yesterday, and though the stats and analytics will tell you that Barca actually had the better of this one, with the better chances, more shots, and far more of the ball (2.16-1.14 in xG to Barca), it never actually felt like Barcelona would win or even come close to doing so. It’s very Madrid to say the other team can rack up the figment numbers, and they’ll just take the only one that matters.

Madrid’s opening goal was pretty much the story of their two seasons, even though Barca remains only three points behind Madrid after yesterday’s loss. Whenever Barca come up against a quality team, their defense can be completely firebombed. And there are few if any teams more electrifying teams in space than Madrid. In the 12th minute, the Barca midfield was too far upfield, the defensive line was about as organized as kindergarten recess, which left Toni Kroos all the time in the world to send Vinicius Jr. through. And once Vinicius Jr. is through on goal, no one’s catching him.

Vinicius surprisingly missed this chance, but in Barca’s scramble to recover, it left Karim Benzema – who is mere minutes away from winning the Ballon D’or at the time of writing – a neighborhood of space to slot home the rebound.

23 minutes later, here’s Barca getting passed into oblivion before Fede Valverde had a farm of territory to launch a groin-grabbingly thunderous shot into the corner.

From there, Barca would huff and puff, but it always felt like Madrid had them at arm’s length, and were basically playing with their food. Barcelona pulled one back late in the game, which meant as soon as Madrid tried again they earned a penalty to ice it.

This is Madrid now. Instead of old heads doing it from memory like last year, when Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos and Casemiro and Benzema went full reunion tour, this is now Vincius Jr.’s, Valverde’s, and Auréllien Tchouaméni’s team. It’s Rodrygo’s team. It’d Éder Militão’s team. All under 25, all looking to make the next generation of Madrid arrive today.

Vinicius Junior we’ve know about for a while now, an absolute terror on the left side of their attack who is playing like he might keep the Ballon D’or in Madrid next year. Which makes Kylian Mbappé’s reported desire to flee to Madrid all the more hilarious, because it’s very debatable whether Madrid would be better off slotting him ahead of Vinicius Jr.

This year’s revelation, though it started last season, is the Uruguayan Valverde on the right side. He has four goals and an assist in just seven starts so far this season in the league, and though he nominally starts on the right side of the front three, his actual position most times feels like it’s “everywhere.” He pops up all over the field, and yesterday frequently was an additional right back to keep Ousmane Dembele quiet. Benzema has missed a chunk of this season through injury, which didn’t matter much as Rodrygo poured in four goals in five starts in his absence and formed an amoeba-on-speed front line with Valverde and Vinicius that took any form at high speed.

Tchouaméni was so good so quickly at the base of midfield that Madrid felt comfortable punting Casemiro to Manchester, even though he’d been the linchpin for five Champions League winning teams. When Kroos or Modrić need a rest, Eduardo Camavinga is around. Militão has become the pivot point for the defense for both Madrid and Brazil.

And the old heads are still around when needed. This is the rare case of a club being able to pair one iteration of a great team to the next with a seamless transition, every position being handed off when the time is right while conserving the declining tanks of the older players.

Madrid clearly will take more than small pleasure in capping off a horrific week for Barcelona, which basically crashed out of the Champions League, the money from which it desperately needed to justify its scoop and toss financial plan from this summer. There is probably a really good team within the Barcelona squad, but it was asking the world for neophyte manager Xavi to be able to unearth it in mere weeks with so much on the line. After he’d already kind of done so at the end of last season with a whole different group of players. Without the cash from the knockout rounds of the Champions League coming, Barca could really be anything come March or April.

No matter what Barca does, no matter what anyone else does, there will be Madrid. Because they’re Madrid. Whether they’re just there or are galvanizing as they are now, they’re there. It’s their thing. 

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Carolina Panthers trade Robbie Anderson to Arizona Cardinals

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Wide receiver Robbie Anderson’s time in Carolina is up.

Wide receiver Robbie Anderson’s time in Carolina is up.
Image: Getty Images

They’ve lost three consecutive games, all by double digits. A team that was supposed to have an outside shot at the playoffs in a weak NFC South, currently is the frontrunner for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Bryce Young sweepstakes may not be the international story of in the NBA’s for Victor Wembanyama, but he appears to be as sure-fire a quarterback prospect as any in recent years.

A hard reset is necessary for the Panthers who haven’t been able to get their team on the right track since starting the 2018 season 6-2, before Cam Newton’s body finally broke down for good. They finished that year 7-9, and have won only five games for the last four consecutive seasons.

With a healthy Christian McCaffrey, the addition of Baker Mayfield, and a solid defense, this was the year for the turnaround. Instead, during Week 6 they hit a new low. Mayfield was out with an ankle injury, and legendary backup P.J. Walker went down with a neck injury so the Panthers had to turn to Jacob Eason, a 2020 fourth-round pick of the Colts. Also, there was a sideline dust up that was all over NFL Red Zone and social media. The most significant moment for the Panthers in 2022 for all of the wrong reasons.

Robbie Anderson got into a few confrontations with wide receivers coach Joe Dailey. They got into a heated screaming match once that got broken up, and that wasn’t the only time that the cameras caught Anderson getting in his face. Eventually, interim coach Steve Wilkes ejected Anderson prior to the start of the fourth quarter.

It hasn’t been 24 hours since Anderson was sent to the locker room and he’s already gone, traded. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Panthers are sending Anderson to the Arizona Cardinals. ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that the Panthers will receive in return a 2024 sixth-round pick and a 2025 seventh rounder. Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported before the game that both sides were in agreement that two seasons and change had been enough, and it was time to part ways. Apparently it wasn’t happening soon enough for Anderson’s liking. On Monday, he appears to be relieved to be getting out of North Carolina.

Anderson told the media after the game that the argument began because he was taken out on a third-down situation, and it escalated to him feeling disrespected. The situation ended with him angrily yelling back at the sideline from 50 yards away in a packed football stadium.

Cutting him seemed like the logical next step after this incident. The team just fired its coach, and they look bad enough while playing football. It doesn’t need to be compounded by a situation made for a cable-reality TV show audience. But the Panthers were able to get enough change back from the dollar they gave up for this deal to afford a small pack of gum afterwards.

Getting anything in return for a player that was sent to the showers by an interim coach in his first game in the role is worthy of an ovation in the office for general manager Scott Fitterer. Not only did they get some draft picks, but the team got even worse and thus have bettered their odds of landing that No. 1 overall pick. Now if they could just unload McCaffrey who Glazer reported was available as well.

If the Panthers are going to be awful for a fifth consecutive season, at least they’re doing it right this time.

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Prominence or MLB relievers makes for a boring postseason

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Long day for Penn Murfee and the rest of Seattle’s reliever corps.

Long day for Penn Murfee and the rest of Seattle’s reliever corps.
Photo: Getty Images

Having no love for the Dodgers (I was threatened with far too many stabbings in the Dodger Stadium upper deck at an impressionable age to get over it), I certainly am gleaning at least a modicum of joy over their fans’ wailing about seeing a 111-win team eat it at the first hurdle in the postseason. Yeah, the playoffs are unfair, baseball doesn’t make sense and never has, but that’s a good thing when it happens to teams you don’t want to see win. And now that I no longer have any horse in the race, that’s basically every team to me. It’s a sweet spot.

However, if there are baseball cranks out there (is there anyone who watches baseball regularly who isn’t a crank?) who just need to quench their jonesing for something to complain about, there’s an easy target. And it’s relievers. It’s bullpens.

On consecutive Saturdays in the postseason, we’ve seen an extended scoreless game. The Guardians and Rays went 15 innings. The Mariners and Astros then saw that and raised to 18 innings. And in neither game were either team all that close to scoring before a decisive home run. It’s not like any of the four bullpens had to dance through the raindrops and get out of jam after jam and have those big moments of a key strikeout or double play with the bases loaded that we remember. It was just a pile of strikeouts that turned it all into an unrecognizable blob.

On Saturday, after Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. exited, six relievers from the Astros pen threw seven innings (usual starter Yimi Garcia tossed the last five) with nine strikeouts, one walk, and three hits. Once Mariners starter George Kirby exited after seven shutout innings, the Mariners pen threw 10 innings via eight relievers, striking out 14, walking one, and only giving up two hits before Penn Murfee — and his lack of a first name or correctly spelled last name — gave it all up.

Going back a week, the Rays pen had five relievers come in after Peter Fairbanks left due to injury, and they threw seven shutout innings with 13 strikeouts, one walk, and two hits. The Guardians pen struck out 15 over nine innings. And trust me when I tell you that any reliever out of four of these bullpens could have shown up at your door stark naked and holding a wolverine and you wouldn’t have had any idea who they were.

The Padres were able to oust the Dodgers mostly because their bullpen was lights out in a way it had only been sporadically during the season, and the Dodgers pen was bad. This is the game now, and we understand that, but it doesn’t make for the most galvanizing viewing to watch guys you’ve barely heard of strike out all the hitters you have while barely straining to do so thanks to their velocity and spin. The fact that a playoff game went 18 innings is a funny quirk or anomaly, but the actual viewing of it was pretty punishing. You were treated to a series of guys essentially playing catch.

This isn’t to squash what has always been playoff lore, and that is the unsung hero. MLB playoffs specialize in this, because everyone gets an at-bat and a crucial one might just land on your 7th or 8th hitters. Starters don’t go long anymore, which is fine and something of a natural evolution of the game, so the biggest moments are going to be pitched by relievers. Tyler Matzek, Will Smith, and Luke Jackson are some of the biggest reasons the Braves won last year. It’s the nature of the thing, even though you couldn’t pick any of them out of a police lineup if they were in there with four wookies.

But the fact remains that any jackass trotting out of the pen is more likely to strike out two or three of the three or four hitters they see, and it’s just not great viewing. We also like chaotic comebacks in playoff games, and the Padres got to have theirs in Game 4, but those are rarer and rarer. Even the Phillies, who had a middling pen all season, were able to smother the Braves just because baseball occasionally dictates a bunch of relievers turn into Dennis Eckersley for a week.

Quite simply, too many guys throw too hard and with too much spin for the best hitters in the world to do much. Perhaps a pitch clock will help next year, but that remains to be seen. The only answer to truly counter velocity is to move the mound back, but a bitch-fest filled and underwhelming results of the faulty experiment with it in the Atlantic League last year has probably pushed that back for years, if not completely off the table.

So instead, baseball’s postseason will continue to be determined by the most faceless members of the team. That used to be a bug, now it’s a feature. Maybe that’s your thing, maybe it’s not. But as we get more games that death march into the deep extra innings without any runners getting a sniff of third base as yet another whosit trots in from the outfield to start another inning, my guess is it’ll be more not people’s thing.



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Tom Brady’s Bucs and Aaron Rodgers’ Packers are at a loss

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Aaron Rodgers (left) and Tom Brady

Aaron Rodgers (left) and Tom Brady
Photo: Getty Images

Even before another wildly impressive Patrick Mahomes vs. Josh Allen showcase, it was clear that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are no longer the featured performers at quarterback in the NFL.

Then after watching those two young stars of the league dazzle in the Tony Romo, Jim Nantz late-afternoon window, while the very, very veteran QBs struggled early in the day, for those loyal cheeseheads and TB12 method subscribers who still think one of these two are the best, it’s time to stop posting your dinners on Facebook, and learn something about TikTok. Times change. You once bought CDs and unplugged your phone to use the internet.

Both Brady and Rodgers are dealing with teams that have lacked personnel at times this season because of injury, and/or a loss of talent during the offseason. However, those are problems that the younger versions of Brady and Rodgers would likely have overcome.

Through six weeks of play, both quarterbacks still have a chance at postseason success — especially because neither one will play against Mahomes or Allen in the playoffs — but a .500 record through the first third of the season leaves Brady and Rodgers lumped in the giant cluster of teams that can also be described as “still having a chance.”

While the quarterbacks need to be better, for this season to have any type of pleasant ending for the Buccaneers or Packers, the teams as a whole need to elevate their level of play. If not, these Week 6 performances will start to look more like regular days than bad days.

Brady screams, the Bucs lose to the sputtering Steelers

For someone who enjoys playing football so much that he felt it necessary to return for his 23rd NFL season, Brady sure doesn’t appear to be enjoying his time on the field. The shots of him yelling at Josh McDaniels or smashing a tablet used to be caught on camera occasionally. These days it seems every week Brady is losing that cool demeanor that he gives off in press conferences and those new Hertz commercials.

This week he was caught on camera berating his offensive line as a group. This unit has struggled with injuries — center Ryan Jensen will not play this year due to injury — but as healthy as they have been all year, they got picked apart by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who Vegas was giving 9.5 points, all day.

The Steelers have struggled to rush the passer ever since T.J. Watt got injured, but not against the Buccaneers. While blitzing only once, they sacked Brady twice and pressured him eight times. The Buccaneers did not score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. When they punctuated that drive with a 2-point conversion, the third-best defense in the league — per weighted DVOA — couldn’t get Mitchell Trubisky off the field as he and the Steelers’ struggling offensive line ended the game with a 4-minute drill.

Rodgers’ 2022 season is turning into a bad trip

Let’s start with some credit first for the New York Jets. They’re 4-2 for the first time since Fitzmagic lasted for an entire season in 2015. When they needed big plays, Corey Davis, Sauce Gardner, Quinnen Williams, and Breece Williams came through.

Were the Jets aided by some Packers’ special teams miscuses, most definitely. A blocked field goal, and blocked punt that gets returned for a touchdown, in the same game can put any team behind the eight ball. But it wasn’t until the punt mishap — late in the third quarter — that the Packers finally put the ball in the end zone.

It took the Packers eight drives to score any points, and for as good as the Jets played, that field goal near the end of the first half tied the score at three-all — the Jets got their first points of the game on the previous possession.

Conversions that used to seem automatic for the Packers seemed just out of reach all day. They also lost Randall Cobb — one of Rodgers’ most-trusted pass catchers — to an ankle injury. Rodgers only averaged six yards per pass attempt. Even the Packers’ strong running attack never got on track as they fell to two games behind the Minnesota Vikings in the standings.

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Patrick Mahomes vs. Josh Allen is better than Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning

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Mahomes-Allen is now NFL’s main event.

Mahomes-Allen is now NFL’s main event.
Image: Getty Images

Surely many of you believe that Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills should’ve been the Sunday Night Football matchup. It’s arguably the two best players and best teams in the league, played in front of a crowd that would be worked up into a lather no matter the weather.

Surely many of you believe that Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills should’ve been the Sunday Night Football matchup. It’s arguably the two best players and best teams in the league, played in front of a crowd that would be worked up into a lather no matter the weather.

However, do remember that four of America’s top-10 television markets are located in the seven-hour stretch of I-95 between Boston and Washington. Combine that with the Dallas Cowboys being the reigning, defending world’s most valuable sports franchise, and both hated and beloved up and down that section of interstate, they get the primetime slot for the big matchup.

While Chiefs vs. Bills has none of the history of Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, they have the quarterback rivalry for Gen Z. Patrick Mahomes vs. Josh Allen.

The Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchup was always the most-hyped regular-season matchup of the year when Manning was more famous for having the authority to call a timeout on the field instead of frantically making the motion in his basement. The matchup fed into some easily digestible sports narratives. The prodigy and No. 1-overall pick, with the NFL QB father, against the sixth-round pick, underdog story of underdog stories who can’t help but win Super Bowls.

There was plenty of fanfare, but rarely were the games that compelling — besides of course that time during the 2006 season when football’s ultimate winner surrendered an 18-point lead and ended the game with an interception.

Mahomes vs. Allen is so much different. Since Allen took possibly the biggest leap in quality of play in 2020, this is turning into more of a classic boxing rivalry than football matchup. What Triple G vs. Canelo (sans the most recent fight), Ward vs Gatti, and of course Ali vs Fraizer had was a natural energy. Of course there’s heavy promotion to sell it, but even the viewers at home, or the bar, could feel the magnitude. Then the fight starts and it’s one blow followed by another, the crowd hanging on every swing. It’s sports in its highest form.

Even though the only moment that Mahomes and Allen share on the field together is the postgame handshake, their games, especially the last two, play out like a boxing match. The action is a little slow as they feel each other out, and then boom, one rolls to one side of the field then throws the ball to the other and drops it effortlessly into the wide receiver’s arms.

Now it’s time for the counter. This particular one doesn’t require nearly seven seconds of scrambling, just a big strong guy rearing back and throwing a pass 44 yards in the air for a touchdown, while flat-footed.

Once the pace picks up, it’s big shot after big shot. Both quarterbacks can scramble, but that doesn’t mean they’re always going to take off and run. That being said, when Allen does, a defensive player better be on his toes, have his chin strap buckled, and mouthpiece in. Allen can run through him or around him, or in the case last night, over him, it all depends on what he thinks is most effective. Mahomes on the other hand, will make just enough players miss to reach that ball over the first-down line as he runs out of bounds, or slides.

Of course football is a team sport, and it was one of Allen’s teammates that helped him put the game away on Sunday. Of Mahomes’ last three drives, Von Miller ended the first two with a sack, and the final one was a pressure that resulted in an interception.

Score this fight a victory for Allen, just like their regular-season matchup last season, but Mahomes is still 2-0 in the postseason. There is a strong chance that they will see each other again in January, as they look like the two best teams in the NFL, and the Chiefs hope to not be missing two starting cornerbacks in a future meeting.

As big as Brady vs. Manning was, that just felt like football. Mahomes vs. Allen is something bigger. It’s got more horsepower, a higher wattage, and a piercing decibel level. It’s like Hagler-Hearns trying to knock each other’s heads into fourth row, except they’re doing it by throwing a football.

Energy. Pure, natural, sports, energy.



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A Philadelphia Eagles-Dallas Cowboys rematch on Christmas Eve, yes please

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Oh what fun!

Oh what fun!
Image: Getty Images

Happy spooky season to all of you with pumpkin emojis in your social media names. May your costumes get you all of the likes, loves, eye emojis, and finally noticed by your crush.

I’ve always been more of a Christmas guy. The whole family gathers, I get to listen to classic songs that I never play other times of the year, and there’s sports. NBA on Christmas Day has been one of my Christmas traditions since Steve Kerr still played for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For me, on the occasion that Christmas falls on Sunday, NFL games feel like an intrusion. Goodell, keep your shoulder pads and challenge flags away from me on Dec. 25. This is the one day I’m happy spending part of my day watching the New York Knicks play.

Christmas Eve, however, I’m ready for some football this year.

There is a Week 16 dandy on Saturday afternoon. Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles Part II, this time hopefully with Dak Prescott.

The two teams played last night, and with the Eagles undefeated and the Cowboys having only lost one game, this Week 6 Sunday Night Football matchup looked like an early game of the year candidate for NBC. And with the Philadelphia crowd riled up after the Phillies took their bats to the Atlanta Braves’ championship defense at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, this was certainly a spooky-season night fit for “Dreams and Nightmares.”

What a nightmare it was for the Cowboys at first going, down 20-0. Backup Cooper Rush threw two of his three interceptions in the first half, and the Eagles tenderized the Cowboys’ defense like it was a brisket from H.E.B. This game had all the makings of this being the primetime moment when the Eagles separate themselves from the rest of the league in front of a crowd frothing at the mouth, during what might be the highest-rated regular-season game of the year.

For a while, it appeared that the only positive about this night for the Cowboys would be that the Rush experience would be over after Week 6, but the defense dialed in at the end of the first half and forced the Eagles into two field goals. Then someone must have clicked on Dorrough’s “Get Big” at halftime, because the Cowboys manhandled the Eagles to start the second half.

Ezekiel Elliot, Tony Pollard, it didn’t matter who carried the ball, the gains were significant. Zeke even looked swift again when he made that long cut for that 14-yard touchdown. On defense, this Cowboys unit that had been dominant all season swarmed Jalen Hurts, limiting his effectiveness.

Suddenly we had 20-17 game in the fourth quarter, until the Eagles finally scored again and Rush threw his final pick of the game on the next drive. Big plays on both sides of the ball, division rivals, fast and physical defense, oh please let’s run this back.

For those of you whose parents let you open one gift on Christmas Eve, we all get that experience later this year. If you’ve got a family party that day, either start it in the afternoon, or wait until night time.

While Memphis Grizzlies vs. Golden State Warriors should bring the always appreciated bad blood to Christmas Day, the game of the weekend is Cowboys Eagles II.

Get your eggnog ready.

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Padres, Phillies reach NLCS, Braves and Dodgers are out

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Was a rough night for Mookie Betts and the 111-win Dodgers.

Was a rough night for Mookie Betts and the 111-win Dodgers.
Image: Getty Images

The past 24 hours or so have been filled with shrieking referendums on the MLB playoffs and its structure. Not that this structure is really all that different from what came before. But the hope, expressed by yours truly as well, was that making the lower-seeded teams play one or two more games before even getting to the divisional round was supposed to reward those who romped through the regular season more than the playoffs had before.

Obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way. The Phillies and Padres are champions of nothing and yet will play for the championship of the National League. They aren’t just layabouts that hoped to goldbrick their way into the playoffs, though. Both have spent over $200 million this season in the hopes that they would run with the big dogs in their divisions. Their rosters were just kind of wonky in various ways that kept them from doing so. Should Cleveland run out of the Bronx with Game 5, you could definitely call their owners the kind of scourge that isn’t interested in being all they can be and getting away with it.

The wailing is two opposing sides, one screaming how unfair it is that a team can spend six months like the Dodgers, proving to be one of the most dominant teams of all time, and then have it all crash around their ears in the span of a weekend. Others are screaming in defiance about how much fun that makes the postseason. They’re both right, in a way. Because the playoffs aren’t a procession, because they really have nothing to do with what baseball and the baseball season is supposed to be. It’s why a lot of people tune in. And it is unfair that the best team doesn’t always, and even rarely, wins. Because they don’t lose due to any lacking or deficiency. They lose because of a brief spike in variance, something that gets lost in the 162 games but defines a short series. It is simply how that hand is dealt, and teams can’t control that.

But the thing is, it’s always been this way. Baseball’s problem, if it even has one, is that a lot of fans (probably more than any other sport given the average age of its fans versus the other sports) easily recall a time when just making the postseason was incredibly hard and was seen as a success. Having to win the division didn’t come around that often. The Red Sox and Cubs and Whtie Sox streaks of futility were epic not just because of their length, but because of how few shots they got to end them. The Red Sox only had 1967, or 1975, or 1986. It wasn’t just the not winning, but the fact that those chances were so sacred and so few. They lost out on so much more than just a chance for a historic parade. The climb back there seemed so daunting. The Cubs’ and White Sox’s chances were even more rare.

Manny Machado celebrates San Diego Padres reaching NLCS.

Manny Machado celebrates San Diego Padres reaching NLCS.
Image: Getty Images

But it wasn’t just them. Those late 80s A’s teams were absolutely loaded. They only won the Series once, and in fact got clocked in two others. But we remember them as an all-time great, because even being there was seen as such an accomplishment. The 90s Braves assembled maybe the greatest pitching staff of all-time. One World Series win. The 2008 Phillies very well may not have been as good as the three Phillies teams that came after them. Still only won the once. Mid-90s Cleveland never won one. The early 90s Pirates never even got to the World Series. This list could go on.

And yet teams that made the playoffs at all before say 1995 are still celebrated, even if they didn’t win. Because they did accomplish something that was rare. We don’t do that anymore, and probably won’t again. Everything has become defined by titles in a NBA-like fashion, but basketball is just a different game.

Our perception of the World Series has changed as the playoffs have expanded and trips to them have gotten more automatic for a group of teams at a given time. Now it’s championship or bust. But even the four-playoff team system was rarely fair, as seen above. Seven games is a mere drop compared to 162. There really isn’t a fair baseball playoff system to be found without making every series best of 13 or 15 or something. And that’s never coming.

We don’t remember any particular Dodgers loss before winning the World Series. They’re just a block of losses now, because the chances aren’t that sacred. They’re only seen as blowing a chance at what could have been and not what came before and what went into it. That six months of work and excellence is just par for the course now. Rote. Same will go for the Astros should they not win in a couple weeks. The playoffs are seen as a given, not the six-month-long journey it used to be.

The fear is that should we continue to see the regular season devalued, to be rendered moot or a waste by what happens over just a few days in October, it will have actual effects on teams and the way they’re built. We’re not there, yet. Again, the Phillies and Padres are teams that have tried hard the past few years. When we get a raft of 87-win teams in the postseason, and continually successful, perhaps we will see a change. There are some signs. Attendance has dropped, but owners don’t seem to mind much. They don’t really need regular-season attendance. Their big TV contracts are in the postseason, which means it won’t ever shrink or be changed in a way that makes sense. We could slip down this slope to something truly distasteful, but it’s still some ways off.

But what those who bemoan the randomness of this postseason system are longing for are the days when we held esteem for what a team did during the regular season. Those days are probably gone. I think of the Giants last year, a 107-win team really out of nowhere, that in a different time would be talked about in the same way 1993’s 103-win team that didn’t even get to the playoffs is. A rare but cherished anomaly. And yet last year’s Giants team’s season ended in less than a week. And I don’t know that they’re ever thought of even a year later.

That 1993 Giants team was basically the reason the wild-card was invented. It was seen as justice for any team like that that would follow, that they would also be rewarded for their excellence. And yet it feels like all it’s done is basically wipe those types of teams from memory, somewhere in the rubble of variance-swept division or LCS series. They’re all just another non-champ.

Baseball has always been this way, we just view it differently.

Hmm

And now, simplicity:

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