Sorry for the two-day delay. Some moron had this bachelor party in Wisconsin that took up my whole weekend. The nerve of some people.
I got into a Twitter exchange with Joe Sheehan (name-drop alert) a couple days ago. It was about meaning to the baseball season. Like Joe, though maybe not to the same extent, I mourn the loss of the regular season defining anything. These days, it's what happens in October and really nothing else.
Take the Dodgers now (hilariously) over chase for the 2001 Mariners, and that Mariners team. They won 116 games. We may never see that again. And yet do we celebrate them in any way? No, because they lost the ALCS to the Yankees and hence who cares?
It's strange. It feels like if you're anywhere near my age (17 years old, if you're wondering), we remember the 1993 Giants more than we do the '01 Mariners. Because they're now held up as something of a forgone anomaly. They won 103 games and didn't even make the playoffs. Strangely, the team that kept them out of said playoffs, the Braves, didn't make the World Series either. We forget that.
Would the Mariners team be more fondly remembered if they had the old division system in 2001? They would have run away with the AL West just as easily, but still would have seen the Yankees in the ALCS. Sheehan's point, that back then with the two divisions we remembered anyone who made the playoffs as "successes," is probably a valid one. Even though Will Clark's homer in '89 still hasn't landed and still wakes me up in the middle of the night, I look back on the '89 Cubs fondly. Do I with the '03, '07, or '08 versions? Not even close, though they accomplished the same thing and won their division. Strangely, I love the '15 Cubs more than any of them, and they were a third-place team (speaking of which, the '15 NL Central is probably as close as we'll get to that '93 NL East as far as bunching of the league's best teams. Bet you don't think about that, huh? I can tell you Pirates fans do for sure).
This is a common symptom of North American sports, where the regular season is really nothing more than a table-setter. We'll never go back to the two-league, one winner of each meeting in the Series, though you'd have to say that would probably be the most fair. Perhaps one day, long after I'm dead (so like the 2019 season), if a relegation-system ever took hold here, you could see a massive change as teams at the bottom of the standings would suddenly have stakes. But that is highly unlikely to ever happen, given the money at risk.
It goes the other way, I guess. Say the Cubs stumble over the line in the NL Central, but then get into the playoffs and get hot. Even if they were to lose to what is a superior Cleveland team right now (and they are), we'd probably all say that was a fairly representative title-defense. Except we've spent most of this season bitching about how the Cubs haven't lived up to what we thought they could be. A simple two to three weeks can erase all that. Does that really make sense?
Especially how baseball games warp in form in the playoffs. Relievers in the fourth inning, pinch hitters that early, the volume turned up. I've tried to justify the crapshoot that it is to myself in myriad ways. I always get back to soccer because that's just how I work. I guess the regular season is your league campaign, and if you play well enough you get to enter the Champions League of the playoffs with its extra times and away goals rule and whatever else changes. But it's a stretch. You earn the right to take part in a slightly altered version of baseball. It's a new tournament, everything starts fresh and anew.
But we don't really come to appreciate what got you there. You do after the fact, but if let's say Kipnis's drive in the 9th in Game 7 had straightened out and stayed fair instead of curled foul, would you remember the regular season of '16 as fondly as you do now? Of course you wouldn't, even if it was the most dominant and entertaining regular season the Cubs have ever, and may ever, produce. Does that add up?
All of it amounts to shouting at the rain. This is the way things are. We can perceive them however we want. Don't let no one tell you how to wear your pants. People just might call you crazy, is all.