In Washington, where the Nationals won more games than any team in baseball this year, there has been a painful learning curve this month. Nats fans will have to figure out what many other towns already know. You have to have different kinds of pleasure to match the various kinds of success that baseball offers. You really, really want to win the World Series. Somehow. Someday. But if you fixate on it, it’s often a destructive goal.
The best tactic may be the one articulated by former Boston general manager Theo Epstein, who helped the Red Sox break their 86-year “curse.” His Red Sox tried to build a good team that won 90 or more games as often as possible. Then hold your breath, jump into October and hope that eventually you become inoculated to the pressure and caprice of playoff baseball.
The worst mistake is to put too much weight on short-series performance when doing long-term team planning. But it happens all the time. Defeat prompts action — often too much. Right now, eight teams that won 90 or more games are dead for this season. All are tempted to think that something major is wrong with them. Instead, what they should be thinking is: We’re close. We’re almost there. Don’t mess this up.
For example, Nationals closer Drew Storen ended the season as hot as any reliever in baseball. In his last 26 games, he had a 0.75 ERA with two runs and only one walk allowed in his final two months. In addition, his defining characteristic is that he eats right-handed hitters alive, holding them to a .164 batting average and a .418 OPS (worse than many pitchers) this season. Yet in his four-run ninth-inning defeat in Game 5 against St. Louis, he walked two right-handed hitters (Yadier Molina and David Freese) and gave up the game-winning two-run hit to another righty, Kozma.
Both the Cards and Reds will be tempted to think they have big issues to solve because they blew two-game leads — both to the Giants. One reason the Yankees have only one World Series win in the past 12 years, despite spending $2.21 billion in payroll in that span, is because they overreact, year after year, to what they perceive as their postseason “failures.”
Many times the baseball playoffs have brought great players and worthy championship teams to the top. If the Tigers win this year, the proper focus should be on truly great players such as Justin Verlander, triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Even though the Series MVP might just as likely be Jhonny Peralta, Andy Dirks or Gerald Laird.
What do Danny Bautista, Sean Casey, Mark Bellhorn, Scott Spiezio, Edgar Renteria and Mike Napoli have in common? Since ’01, they have all led (or tied for the lead) in RBI in the World Series.
Is that any way to determine the best team in baseball? No.
But since 1903, when obscure Patsy Dougherty of the Boston Americans hit more home runs than all the other players on both World Series teams combined, nobody has been able to figure out a better way.
So wipe away those tears and (try to) enjoy it.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/