The weather’s getting cooler, the days are getting shorter, and it’s finally time for one of my favorite things in the world of sports: playoff baseball. The MLB playoffs started last week after a drama-filled last day of the regular season that saw four teams competing for the AL’s two wild card spots. Now it’s the race to 11 victories (or 12 for our wild card teams) across three different series. And in the uncertainty of playoff baseball, each of these ballclubs has a reason to hope.
None of these teams is here by fluke. Over the course of a 162 game season, the best teams rise to the occasion in their divisions. And sometimes, like with the 106-win Dodgers, there’s a team just a little bit better than you.1
While it’s true that every team is mathematically alive on MLB Opening Day, there are teams that realistically have no chance of winning the World Series in April. But the teams that make it to the playoffs always have a chance to win it all. For some, it’s more of a stretch, but every playoff team this year had at least 88 wins. They were all more or less dominant against their competition.
Take a moment to look at some teams that lived up to that hope. Coming into September, the St. Louis Cardinals were 2.5 games out of the playoff race, trailing three other teams for the second wild card spot. They then won 17 games in a row and won the second wild card by 7 games. Or consider the Chicago White Sox. They were without their two young outfield stars (Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez) for most of the season, and lost starting catcher Yasmani Grandal for most of July and August. They could have fallen apart, and yet they won the AL Central handily and finally appear to have their roster at full strength coming into the playoffs. And while the Cardinals were eliminated in their Wild Card game, who’s to say the White Sox can’t keep winning?
I’m not going to try and make predictions about the playoffs here. For one, I’m far too biased. I’m a White Sox fan through and through. And baseball has so many variables that go into making a winning team for me to do anything but guess hopefully. That’s especially true for the pitching staffs. There’s an old saying in baseball that “momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.” The next guy in the rotation has nothing to do with the previous game, and you never know what kind of stuff he’ll have.
Some team’s dream is going to come true, and none of us knows for sure which team will emerge from each league. And that’s the fun of it all. For the 26 players on the eventual winning roster, they get to live out a childhood dream, whether it’s their first time winning it all or their fifth.
And, of course, for most of the players and organizations, the season will end with a loss. It can be frustrating, especially when high expectations aren’t met, like this year’s Yankees who came into the season as favorites to win the AL pennant.2 For many, they have the hope that they can dust themselves off and try again the next year, though for some this is their last hurrah.
In our own lives, we also face a great deal of uncertainty. And yet we always have that option to hope for something good. We all have our big dreams that might just come true with the right combination of hard work, luck, and circumstances.
But if we focus only on the goals and miss the journey and the relationships that brought us to this point, we lose a major insight that sports teaches us: we cannot do it alone. No single player can win a baseball game entirely by himself, let alone a World Series title.
And so it’s true for us; we all have people that we can work with to help us in each facet of our lives: work, faith, family, or whatever. But, much like baseball, life is unpredictable. Sometimes, an error on our part or on another’s will derail what we hoped would be the case. And we get back up, usually with help from someone else, ready to try again.
No matter what plays out this October, I’ll be watching as many games as I can. And I’ll be hoping for a little postseason magic from my White Sox.