Monday, November 2, 2015

The 2015 World Series: In the Grand Scheme of Things

The Kansas City Royals defeated the New York Mets to become Major League Baseball's (MLB) World Champions in 2015.  In doing so, they won their first Series since 1985, their second Series win in four appearances in baseball's Fall Classic.  So, as a franchise, the Royals have  2-2 World Series record.  The Mets dropped to 2-3 in their Series history.

In most cases, I root for the National League team in the Series but this year I was pulling for the Royals because (1) I tend to dislike teams from New York City, and (2) I have a warm spot in my baseball heart for Ned Yost, the Royals manager, who served as the bullpen coach and third base coach during the 1990's with the Atlanta Braves under Bobby Cox, and (3) the Royals are just a fun team to watch.  I like their talent and their style of play.

A special shout-out goes to Royals shortstop, Alcides Escobar, who made baseball history by hitting safely in 15 consecutive postseason games.  Admittedly, this is easier to do now that we have a three-tier playoff in the MLB than it was prior to, say, 1969 when there were no playoffs at all - just the World Series.  But it is a amazing achievement nonetheless.

One of Escobar's hits was the now-famous first-pitch inside-the-park home run that he hit in Game One of the 2015 Series.  This was the first World Series inside-the-parker since 1929 and the first first-pitch insider since the very first World Series in 1903 when Jimmy Sebring hit one off Cy Young (!).  Escobar is a complete player and is fun to watch both offensively and defensively.

By hitting in 15 consecutive postseason games, Escobar joins an elite group of players.  He ties the great Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics and Marquis Grissom of the Atlanta Braves.  Most of Grissom's hits came in the Braves 1995 World Championship.  Henderson batted a commanding .410 and Grissom .377 during their respective streaks, while Escobar hit a more modest .231 for the 2015 Series. 

Ahead of Escobar on this prestigious list are: Pat Borders with 16 consecutive games, Hank Bauer, Derek Jeter, and Manny Ramirez each with hits in 17 consecutive games.  All of these players achieved this feat over more than one postseason.  Escobar is distinctive in that no other player in baseball history has hit in 15 consecutive games in a single postseason.  Impressive. As icing on the cake, Escobar joins another elite list players with the number of total hits he got in this postseason.

As a fun mental exercise, let's step away from the micro-achievements of an individual player and look at this year's Series in the context of all of baseball's World Series.  The best way to do that is by franchise.  I want to call this the World Series Club.  To be a member of the Club, a franchise has to have won a World Series - appearing in the Series and losing is not good enough.  So, by this reckoning several franchises are not members of the World Series Club.

The Seattle Mariners and the Washington Nationals are the only two franchises to have never appeared in the World Series.  Though they have appeared twice each, both the San Diego Padres and the Texas Rangers are 0-2.  Not good enough for the Club.  Four franchises are 0-1: the Milwaukee Brewers, the Houston Astros, the Colorado Rockies, and the Tampa Bay Rays.  So, eight franchises have yet to make my snobby, elitist definition for membership in the World Series Club.

Once in the Club, I break the members into three tiers.  The lower-tier includes the Los Angeles Angels and the  Arizona Diamondbacks, both with a single Series appearance but with a win (1-0).  One appearance is not really what I would call a "respectable" number, but a win is a win so they get a back table at the fictitious Club's award banquet.  Slightly better but still lower-tier are the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays each with a 2-0 record. 

Rounding out the lower-tier with 2 wins and no more than five total Series appearances are: the 2015 losing New York Mets who now have a 2-3 record, the same record as the Cleveland Indians who have not won a Series since 1948. By winning in 2015 the Royals improve to 2-2 so they remain lower-tier members.  The Chicago White Sox are actually the winningest franchise in the lower-tier with a 3-2 record.

The middle-tier consists of franchises who have between six and 11 World Series appearances.  Here we have the Minnesota Twins at 3-3, the Philadelphia Phillies at 2-5, the Baltimore Orioles at 3-4, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have the highest winning percentage among all Club members with a 5-2 record. My favorite franchise, the Braves, are middle-tier members with a mediocre 3-6 record.  The Cincinnati Reds look stronger with their 5-4 record.  The Chicago Cubs enjoy the double-distinction of having the worst winning percentage in the Club (2-8) and also having gone the longest amount of time since their last World Championship (1908). The long-suffering Cubs fans have not enjoyed their team appearing in the Series since 1945.  The Detroit Tigers round out the middle-tier with a 4 wins and 7 loses.

Then we come to what I would consider to be the elite of baseball's elite Club.  The upper-tier requires at least a dozen World Series appearances.  The best Series franchises in baseball history start with the Boston Red Sox at a very respectable 8-4. The Oakland Athletics are a solid member with a 9-5 record.  The Los Angeles Dodgers (dating back to New York) have the same winning percentage in the Club as the Braves but they have appeared twice as often and possess a 6-12 record.  The St. Louis Cardinals represent the "class act" of the National League with 11 championships against 8 loses.  The San Francisco Giants (also dating back to New York) have 20 appearances but a losing record of 8-12.

Whenever you talk about championships and baseball one team far and away stands out among all others.  The New York Yankees (who I refer to as the DamnYankees) have astonishingly appeared in more World Series than the Giants and Cardinals combined.  The Yankees' 27-13 record perhaps puts them in a tier all of their own, but this is my blog and my Club idea so they simply sit comfortably atop the upper-tier.  They have won more Championships than the Giants, Cardinals, and Dodgers combined. Enough about them.

So, that places some context to the 2015 Fall Classic.  Two comparatively recent teams (the Royals franchise began in 1969, the Mets in 1962) faced off.  Even though the Series only lasted 5 games it was a lot of fun to watch with extra-inning games and plenty of heroic moments by both teams.  The Royals dominated but they caught most of the breaks, had some great late-inning hits, and capitalized on Mets mistakes, yet the 2015 Series was much closer than the 4 games to 1 record will indicate.  

By my reckoning, the Mets have one more appearance to make before they qualify for the middle-tier.  The Royals have to come back two more times.  Considering the talent both teams possess that is certainly possible, though the Mets have gone as long as 15 seasons between appearances and the Royals as long as 29 seasons. It can be a long wait between trips and even longer between wins. But that wait is more than worth it. Just ask any of the eight franchises not yet in the Club.

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