At the beginning of the postseason, I predicted a Los Angeles Dodgers-Houston Astros World Series. The Dodgers seemed like the class of the National League, and I thought the Astros would hold off the New York Yankees in a competitive American League Championship Series.
After the Washington Nationals made it through an exciting wild-card game against the Milwaukee Brewers and outlasted the Dodgers in a thrilling five-game Division Series, it made sense that they’d beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
But the World Series doesn’t make any sense.
The Nationals are two games away from becoming the first team since 1954 to win a World Series after winning 14 fewer games than its opponent. During the regular season, the Nats won 93 games, the Astros 107.
Washington finished four games behind Atlanta in the NL East and needs to win 12 games for a World Series title.
When the Orioles last won the World Series 36 years ago, they needed to win seven games. There was no wild card, nor division series, and the ALCS was best-of-five. The Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox in four games, and the Philadelphia Phillies in five to win the Series.
Now, it’s much harder. The regular season still matters so much. This year, the Cleveland Indians won 93 games and just missed qualifying as a wild card.
It should be difficult to make the postseason, and it is. One of the most appealing things about baseball’s postseason is that just one-third of teams play in October. The regular season is vital, though this year only the wild cards remained undecided in September’s final days.
The NFL is great, and their postseason has 12 of 32 teams. I love the NBA, but there’s no way that 16 of 30 teams should qualify for the playoffs.
In baseball, even if you win 90 games, there’s no guarantee you’ll play on. In 2014, the San Francisco Giants, winners of 88 games became the first World Series winner to play in the wild-card game. The Giants had to win the wild-card game on the road, too.
Washington’s wins over 20-game winners Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander in the first two Series games were impressive. The Astros were 60-21 at home and lost consecutive games at Minute Maid Park only four times this season.
Houston, which beat the Dodgers in 2017 to win the World Series, has won 100 games in three straight seasons. Los Angeles won 100 in 2017 as well as this year, and is on a streak of seven straight NL West titles, but no World Series wins.
In 2016, when the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years — with Orioles manager Brandon Hyde coaching first and Nationals manager Dave Martinez serving as bench coach — conventional wisdom was that the Cubs would be the class of baseball for several years.
Instead, the Cubs haven’t made it back to the World Series, losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS in 2017 and in the wild-card last year. This year, they had 84 wins and fired manager Joe Maddon.
Another would-be dynasty, the Boston Red Sox, won 108 games in 2018 and took the World Series in five games against the Dodgers. This year, they won 84 games and fired their top baseball executive, Dave Dombrowski.
According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Red Sox ($236.17 million) and Cubs ($203) had the first- and third-largest Opening Day payrolls and didn’t win. The Nationals ($197.2) had the fourth largest.
The Orioles, who just two years ago had a $164 million payroll, have one that’s less than half that now.
With the high payrolls come higher expectations, and the Nationals, who have been in the postseason five of the last eight years, are in a great spot to win the Series.
Obviously, spending money doesn’t guarantee success. The Los Angeles Angels have had payrolls in baseball’s top 10 in each year since 2004 and have been in the playoffs just once since 2009. That was a loss in the wild-card game to the Kansas City Royals in 2014.
Orioles general manager Mike Elias, who worked in St. Louis when they won the World Series in 2011 and Houston in 2017, knows how difficult it will be to get there with the Orioles.
It always seemed unfair when the Atlanta Braves, who won 14 straight NL East titles, were criticized for winning “only” one World Series or that the Buffalo Bills were sneered at because they lost four straight Super Bowls.
Winning the World Series is incredibly hard to do, and there hasn’t been a repeat winner since the Yankees (1998-2000). The difficulty of winning a World Series is a major part of its attraction.