Time -- or, more specifically, time to write, and not just write, but write what I want to write -- is a difficult commodity to come by these days, and you never really appreciate its scarcity until time begins to run short on you. There's also something to that old axiom about how "absence makes the heart grow fonder," because my urge to watch this team and write things about this team is expanding even as the time for me to do so dries up.
And, in the interest of that, I wanted to drop a few words on something that's been gnawing at me lately.
Last September, I made it a point to talk about just how much fun the 2011 Rangers had been to watch (of course, there may have been some recency bias creeping into that assessment, given that they had just capped their 96-win campaign with a torrid 14-2 run to close out the season), how silly it was to claim that finger-pointing would ensue if they fell short of the ultimate prize, how we really couldn't ask for anything more than every man on that roster playing their hearts out for their manager, and how I was going to be at peace with that team regardless of what the post-season outcome looked like, because that would go down "as one of the very most special Rangers teams you ever had the privilege of watching ... [and] we're not always going to be this lucky."
Well, some of that proved true, and some of that didn't. They did fall short of the ultimate prize, and finger-pointing did ensue (primarily at Nelson Cruz, Neftali Feliz, and Darren Oliver, all of whom sadly became a part of "one more strike" lore), and as for being at peace even after that outcome, yeah, I'm not sure how many people actually managed to achieve such a state of mind after such a tormenting finish to a final seven-game series that all but belonged to Texas. And now the thing I'm wondering about is how we're going to reconcile this emergent "Texas has to win it all this year" line of thought with the likelihood that the Rangers won't win it all this year.
There are two things relating to that which have particularly stuck with me. First, there is the post-season probabilities table at PlayoffStatus.com, which lacks transparency as far as its methodology, but does offer results which conform with my rough expectations ... and over there, you'll find that no team in baseball is currently projected as having a better than 19 percent chance of winning the World Series. The Rangers are second in baseball, at 16 percent. That number will naturally tick upwards a bit as the month progresses and the hangers-on at the fringes of the playoff races drop out and as the wild-card playoffs are played to completion, but those numbers do strike me as just about right for where the Rangers and the rest of the league are at this point in time.
And if you're thinking that that number is far too low for a team that's 26 games over .500 in early September, the other thing that has gnawed at me is this bit from Baseball Prospectus's Russell Carleton, in which he elucidated just how difficult it really is for the best team in the league in any given year to actually win the World Series:
I don't know if this is sabermetric thinking or just two minutes of critical thinking aided by a calculator (same thing?), but let's assume that there was a team that was so good that if they played a billion games against other playoff teams (i.e., those that are actually good), they would win 60 percent of their games. On the 162-game scale, that would be 97-65... again on a schedule entirely devoid of cellar dwellars and mid-packers. This would rank as one of the greatest teams in major-league history.
Using a simple binomial function, in a five-game series, our amazing team has a 68 percent chance of winning the first best-of-five round, and a 71 percent chance of winning the best-of-seven LCS, and then the best-of-seven World Series. This means that our ridiculously good team has a 34 percent chance of winning all three rounds... better than any one of the other teams, but not better than all of the rest combined. But let's flip it around the other way. Two-thirds of the time, in a field containing a downright amazing team, some team that is not the best will come through to win the trophy.
If there's something that sabermetrics has shown us, it's that over small sample sizes (like, say, five games), there's a lot of luck involved. It's an odd irony that in a country where success is presumed to be the result of hard work (and hardly of luck) that its national pastime should be so affected by the ever-tinkering hand of chance. It's un-American not to conflate the result (winning) with the input (being the best team). But for all the little edges that sabermetrics has granted those who embrace it, there's another lesson that's true, but oh-so-hard to swallow: Sometmes you do everything right, and the ball doesn't bounce your way.
And that, of course, is the reality that a superteam, or a team capable of destroying other teams with playoff-caliber quantums of talent, faces -- a one-in-three proposition of winning it all. The Rangers are very good, but they're not a superteam on this level, and this is where it all becomes really difficult for me to work through. If nothing less than a world championship will suffice this year for you, then you're far likelier than not to be consumed by bitter disappointment sometime next month, and/or to regard another season where the Rangers won 95-96 games as a failure. Are you prepared to accept that? Or can you possibly achieve a state of peace about what this team does in October, be it sink or swim? Is that even possible after the heartbreak of last year?
I don't know. The realization that this team could easily be blown out of the post-season tournament by the whims of luck and small sample size is sickening to say the least, but it's the reality of the Rangers' current position. They could do everything right the rest of the way, they could win 96-plus games, they could storm into the post-season with a white-hot aura about them ... and, much like last year and the year before that, they could fall short again.
That, I think, is why it's such a bad idea to go into the post-season with a nasty leftover taste in your mouth and with a "they have to win or ... or ... or ELSE!" mindset consuming your baseball fandom. It is, objectively speaking, a terrible idea, because there's a great chance that you, as a fan, will fail to get that which you covet so deeply, and that you'll dismiss what was otherwise a great season as a huge disappointment because your team didn't emerge victorious from the post-season gauntlet. That strikes me as a really bleak way of looking at things.
But for many Rangers fans, that's going to be the only way of looking at things this year ... and for everyone else, it's going to be a lot tougher to swallow another year without a championship if they don't catch all of the right breaks.