Who wasn't ecstatic when the Yankees clinched a berth in the World Series with a win over the Seattle Mariners and became the second half of the first Subway Series in 44 years. "Hopefully, everyone will enjoy it because we're talking about the best city in the world and the two best teams in baseball performing on the best stage in America," said Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman following the Yanks' 9-7 win. Let's analyze this statement.
It isn't even necessary to delve into the claim of New York being the best city in the world, so lets move to his next assertion. Are we dealing with the two best teams in baseball? No, and usually we aren't in the World Series. Rarely does the fall classic pit the two best teams in baseball against each other, but rarely does mediocrity run so rampant. A championship Yankees team would have only the fifth best record in the American League this year and the second fewest wins of any World Series champion ever, better only than the 1987 Twins. If the Mets win, the Series champs will be a wild card team with the fourth best record in the National League. The combined win percentage (.560) is the fourth worst in history, behind only 1973 (A's/Mets), 1997 (Indians/Marlins) and 1987 (Twins/Cardinals).
Naturally, there will be the die-hard New Yorkers who will claim that if these two teams got to the Series, they must be the two best teams in baseball " that they are able to deal with the pressure and win games when it's on the line. However, the best team (amazingly enough) does not always advance to or win the World Series, as I'm sure New Yorkers will tell you is the case in every year but those in which a Subway Series occurred.
ESPN's Rob Neyer writes, "Sometimes it's easy to pick the World Series winner. In 1998, for example, it didn't take a genius to pick the 114-win Yanks over the 98-win Padres. Likewise, in 1990 it didn't take a genius to pick the 103-win A's over the 91-win Reds, and in 1954 it didn't take a genius to pick the 111-win Indians over the 97-win Giants. The problem is that in both 1990 and 1954, it was the favorites who got swept."
It is impossible to forecast the results of a best-of-seven series, and therefore we are often astonished at the results of those series. Who would have predicted the ease with which St. Louis dispatched Atlanta in this year's playoffs? In what league does it seem fair that the 86-win Indians and Wild Card Marlins met in the '97 Series? At the time the series was chastised as a bastion of mediocrity where we might witness a good series, but only because both of the teams were entirely too ordinary. Why are we not hearing the same comments surrounding this series?
To be fair, although all the above is true, the Yankees did win their third World Series in four seasons one year ago. One of the best pitchers of this century will start two games for the Yanks (Roger Clemens) and is backed by a rotation of Andy Pettitte, Orlando Hernandez and Denny Neagle. The best catcher in the American League (until Pudge Rodriguez returns), Jorge Posada, handles the staff; one of the best shortstops in baseball captains a solid infield; and gold-glover Bernie Williams roams an impressive outfield. Furthermore, a series between 87- and 94-game winners won't look incredibly different than that between 96- and 98-game winners.
Although this World Series won't pit the best teams (or close to it) against each other, I think I just might still tune in.