Don't like baseball's postseason format? Get over it.

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Mike Mussina pitched for the New York Yankees from 2001 to 2008, and during his first seven seasons there, the Yankees made the playoffs every October. But they never won a World Series during that stretch, reaching the Series just twice, in 2001 and 2003.

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I asked Mussina once how a team with so much talent and such a large payroll could be that good from April to September and yet fail repeatedly in October.

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“It’s not as complicated as you might think,” he said in the spring of 2007. “The regular season and postseason are almost like two different sports.”

In the regular season, he went on, a team such as those Yankees will regularly take advantage of opponents’ fourth and fifth starters or a weak bullpen. It will beat up on bad teams, especially later in the season. It will rely on superior depth, something that doesn’t matter as much in a short series.

“The playoffs are completely different,” Mussina said. “You don’t face back-of-the-rotation guys, and the teams you play have good bullpens – or they wouldn’t still be playing. Every team you’re playing is good, and a lot of the time, the teams that just sneak in have to be hot.”

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Mussina is one of the smartest people I know in sports, and his explanation certainly makes it easier to understand why the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles – all of whom won at least 100 games during the 2023 regular season – were a combined 1-9 in this year’s playoffs,and why the 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks and the 90-win Texas Rangers, neither of whom won their division, will play in the World Series beginning Friday night.

There has been a good deal of moaning and groaning about this matchup, about how TV ratings will suffer (they will) without the glamour teams. There also has been a good deal of speculation about whether the top two teams in each league sitting for five days because of first-round byes contributed to their demise.

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Oh, please.

Teams with inferior regular season records sometimes win in the postseason – in all sports. In 1973, the 82-win New York Mets beat the 99-win Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series. In the 1990 World Series, the 103-win Oakland A’s were swept by the 91-win Reds. Sixteen years later, the 83-win St. Louis Cardinals beat the 97-win Mets and then the 95-win Detroit Tigers to win the World Series.

There are examples in every other sport. The 2012 Los Angeles Kings sneaked into the playoffs as the eighth and last seed in the Western Conference and went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Florida Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup finals as a No. 8 seed last spring, and the Miami Heat made it to the NBA Finals from the same slot.

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The New York Giants twice won the Super Bowls – after the 2007 and 2011 seasons – with fewer than 11 regular season wins, including their victory over the 18-0 New England Patriots in early 2008.

Villanova famously won the 1985 NCAA men’s basketball tournament as the No. 8 seed in the Southeast Region after barely getting into the 64-team field. Last season, 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson beat top-seeded Purdue in the tournament’s first round, five years after No. 16 seed UMBC beat top-seeded Virginia by 20 points.

Those feats are rare, but they do happen, and they are always good for the sport. If not for upsets, why would we watch?

Mussina’s theory holds true in virtually every sport but especially in baseball because the postseason is an entirely different affair. The Dodgers have won the NL West 10 times in 11 seasons, and yet they have won one World Series in that span – and that came in the truncated 60-game covid season of 2020. The Braves had a dominant run from 1991 to 2005, winning 14 straight division titles (there was no postseason in 1994), but those teams are most remembered for winning just one World Series.

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It isn’t just underdog teams that emerge in October. The hero of the 1978 World Series was New York Yankees backup second baseman Brian Doyle, forced into the lineup by an injury to Willie Randolph. Kansas City Royals shortstop Buddy Biancalana became a national celebrity in 1985 after David Letterman made fun of his name – and then invited him on the show after Biancalana hit .278 and had several key hits in the Royals’ World Series victory.

Throw in Joe Namath stunning the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Why do most people still consider that the most important game in NFL history? Because no one expected it to happen.

Which brings us back to the Rangers and the Diamondbacks. Both won seven-game league championship series – winning games 6 and 7 on the road. That had nothing to do with byes.

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Can a bye be a disadvantage? Sure. So can having a future Hall of Famer such as Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw starting a series by getting just one out in Game 1 of a best-of-five series.

Max Scherzer has a career ERA of 3.15 and has won 214 games in the regular season, nearly two-thirds of his starts. In the playoffs, he is 7-8 with a 3.86 ERA. Kershaw’s numbers are nothing short of astonishing. He has won 210 games – nearly 70 percent of his starts – and pitched to a regular season ERA of 2.48. In the postseason, he is a middling 13-13 with an ERA of 4.49. Barry Bonds hit .298 with a .607 slugging percentage in the regular season – and .245 with a .503 slugging percentage in the postseason. The playoffs, as Mussina said, are completely different.

So as you tune in for the next week to watch either the Diamondbacks claim their second World Series in 26 seasons or the Rangers (formerly the Washington Senators) win their first in 63 years of existence, remember to enjoy yourself. It’s the World Series – and a really cool one at that.

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