In the span of 24 hours, baseball’s top two payrolls were knocked out of the 2011 playoffs. The third-highest payroll didn’t even make the playoffs. Neither did the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth.
The four teams left rank tenth (Detroit), eleventh (St. Louis), thirteenth (Texas), and seventeenth (Milwaukee). It’s clear that money doesn’t buy championships anymore. Sure, it helps, but you still have to be smart with it. Small market fans can no longer say, “I hate the Yankees and the Red Sox because they have so much money and it puts my team at a disadvantage.” As we move out of the Moneyball Era in Major League Baseball, several teams have gotten pretty good at “winning at an unfair game.”
The mixture of money and Moneyball principles hasn’t worked for the Red Sox. Somehow the Yankees have a $201 million-payroll and only one starting pitcher. The Phillies has built the best pitching staff in the history of baseball, but can’t hit in October.
Turns out, there is baseball outside of the northeast corner of this country. Who knew?
At the end of the day, baseball is a crapshoot. The Cardinals will tell you that what wins in October doesn’t win from April to August. The Brewers will tell you that what wins for them is some guy who couldn’t win for the Nationals. The Tigers will tell you that what wins is getting lucky at the trade deadline by picking the right irrelevant Mariners pitcher. The Rangers will tell you that getting rid of Cliff Lee and adding a couple rookies to your pitching staff is what wins.
A random combination chemistry, talent, and wisdom is what wins. Money no longer factors into the equation. In fact, it probably hurts more than helps now. That is evidenced by the fact that seven of the 10 highest payrolls in baseball didn’t make the playoffs.
In fact, the part of the equation that might weigh the most is team chemistry. Look at the teams that have recently won it all. Last year the Giants had the theme of “torture.” In 2008, the Phillies had the whole Philadelphia curse. The ’04 Red Sox had the idiots. That points toward the Brewers winning it this year. That’s my pick.
With Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez and Prince Fielder parading around Miller Park, where the Brew Crew would have home-field advantage throughout the rest of the playoffs if they keep winning, the Brewers have the intangibles.
October brings many surprises, but maybe we’ll stop being surprised when the big payrolls get knocked out early. Sure, TBS and FOX are a little unhappy at the relatively small markets involved (Dallas excluded), but I hope those complaining small market fans enjoy the rest of October.
Baseball is a weird sport. The ball leaves the bat and you suddenly have literally zero control over what happens from there on out. You could hit it right on the screws, but right at somebody and end up with nothing to show for it. You could cue ball it off the end of the bat and end up with a base hit.
You could approach a ground ball doing everything right and, one pebble later, you have a broken nose and there’s a runner on first base. That’s what makes it so amazing and entertaining. That’s what yields nights like Friday night, with two incredible Game Fives. It’s what breeds nights like the last one of the season wherein three teams were down to their last strike and came back to salvage their seasons. The outputs of the game are a lot like its inherent qualities—unpredictable.
So, I’m picking the Brewers, but don’t quote me.