It is a truth universally acknowledged that a baseball team will lose about 50% of its games in a given season.
Staying above that .500 mark is what it takes to stay in contention. Winning 90 games out of 162 (~56%) is a great year. The Chicago Cubs had the best win percentage in baseball this season, with .640 (103 games won). When they say “You can’t win them all” they mean it, especially in baseball.
So, say your team stays above that .500 mark. Say they win between 80-90 games in the season. 16 teams won over 80 games this season. 10 of those teams are now in postseason contention (with the two Wild Card teams in each league). What about those 6 teams who did well, but just not well enough? Of the teams over .500 who didn’t make the playoffs, four of them were within a game of the postseason.
Last week, the season ended for Detroit, Seattle, St Louis, and Houston. For a brief period, especially in the AL where the win records were higher, it was a 5-team race to the end, with Baltimore, Toronto, Detroit, Houston and Seattle clamoring for those two wild card spots. The Yankees even seemed to be briefly threatening, based on the standout performance of young Gary Sanchez. For fans in those cities it was a dangling carrot, offering a possibility of taking the season into the chill of October and the warmth of victory. For a day, at least, no one could have anticipated how things would go. Baltimore and Toronto lost games, Detroit won, and suddenly it was anyone’s guess who would be victorious. Make up games were scheduled, 163s loomed, and fans sat glued to their seats as Sunday brought with it a tide of must-win games.
Aaron Sanchez took a no-hitter through seven innings in Boston, and the Jays ultimately beat the Red Sox. The Orioles obliterated the Yankees, and the Tigers fell to the unexpectedly healthy starting rotation in Atlanta. In the end the birds flew off with the Wild Card spots, and the big cats were put down for the season.
Likewise in the NL the “it’s an even year” Giants were within a half game of losing the Wild Card to the Cards, and swept the top-seated Dodgers in three games to secure their place in October.
For fans of the almost-rans, it’s tough. One minute you’re thinking of champagne showers and We Own October t-shirts, the next it’s all over. In a lot of ways it’s harder than a losing season, because you’re within arm’s reach of postseason glory, and then it’s over. You tell yourself there’s always next year, that it will all be better in 2017, but it still stings. For some players, it’s their last game in that uniform, the last at-bat with that number on their back. One day you’re watching a fastball whiz by at 100mph, the next you’re dusting off your golf clubs.
Harder still is coming to terms with the fact that if you didn’t make the cut, there are reasons for that. Yes, one-run games are a hard pill to swallow. There are loaded bases that should have been RBIs, but are LOBs instead. Flies that should have been homers, if only the wind had been a bit stronger. But the truth, ultimately, is that the best teams are the ones that make the cut. There’s a little luck, but a lot of hard work, and if your team is done for the season, there’s a reason for that. They just didn’t have it. And not matter how much that stings–and it does–it’s the truth, and one game more or less wouldn’t change it.
You can’t win them all. But sometimes you win enough. And other times you call it a season on October 2.