Baseball experienced a welcome change in 2008. From 2002 through 2007, the World Series featured at least one Wild Card team. Some of those teams — notably the 2002 Angels (99-63) and the 2004 Red Sox (98-64) — could make a case for being there. But in other years it was an inferior team getting hot at the right time and knocking off better teams. That’s the idea sometimes, but to have a Wild Card team in the World Series for six straight seasons? That’s a bit much, at least to me.
That changed in 2008, when the Rays and the Phillies met. Neither had the best record in its league — they both finished second in wins, though neither had to defeat the top team. It is again the case in 2009. The Yankees and Dodgers had the best records in their leagues, but the Phillies had the second best record in the NL, and have been a better team since acquiring Cliff Lee at the trade deadline. It’s easy to make the case that the 2009 World Series will feature the two best teams in baseball.
This is what baseball’s all about. This isn’t the 2006 World Series, which featured two teams that backed into the postseason. The Cardinals backed into their playoff spot, going 3-9 in their final dozen games, including three to the Astros, who just couldn’t rally enough — they went 11-2 in their last 13, but it wasn’t enough. The Tigers, who led the AL Central and the Al overall for most of the season, collapsed in September, chalking up the division to the Twins and changing what we thought was an inevitable playoff schedule. The Tigers apparently have a penchant for that.
There isn’t much more to say on this topic. I just wanted to say it louder, so everyone could appreciate not only that the Yankees are in the World Series, but that the event will feature the best of the AL vs. the best of the NL, rather than the luckiest of each. The Yanks and Phils did get breaks along the way (the Angels’ errors, Huston Street blowing a save with 2 outs and none on), but teams need breaks to get to the Series. I’m just glad the breaks went to the two best teams this year.