In a few hours, the Giants and the Phillies will start the third of seven games they’ll play over the course of a week and a half, three in Philly and four in San Francisco. As the authors of this blog include both Giants and Phillies fans, you might imagine that there’s been some interest in these games. It’s magnified by the fact that the Giants beat the Phillies in last year’s National League Championship Series. And that the Phillies have been the best National League team over the past nine seasons.
Since these two teams met in the playoffs last year, it’s safe to say that this series has had a playoff atmosphere. But I think there’s something more than that to it. This is a match-up between two palpably good teams, and that’s before Carlos Beltran enters the building tonight.
I was born after the first two rounds of baseball expansion, so I can’t grouse about what things were like back in the no-division eight-team leagues of yore. These days MLB has 30 teams, and while expansion isn’t responsible for the existence of terrible teams—there have always been those—I think perhaps it’s responsible for the vast array of just-plain-mediocre teams.
As a west coast fan of a National League team, I’ve always rolled my eyes at the over-coverage of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. But I can’t deny that when those two teams play, there’s a playoff atmosphere, and you’re looking at two genuinely good ballclubs. The games are often terrific because of it.
Baseball is a competitive game. It’s long been said that even the worst team wins a third of its games, and even the best team loses a third. Just about every team ever has fallen in between those extremes. Being a winner in baseball means taking two out of three more often than you take one out of three. Even the most out-of-whack match-up can really go either way. (As I write this, the Royals are beating the Red Sox. And need I remind you that the Seattle Mariners ended their 17-game losing streak by beating the New York Yankees?)
That threat of losing is there, every day, for even the very best team. But despite that, there’s an appreciable difference between the quality of an Astros-Cubs game and a match-up of teams with serious World Series aspirations. This year there are three of those teams in each league: the Phillies, Giants, and Braves in the NL and the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rangers in the AL.
My Giants have rarely been in the position of being one of those elite teams. This sudden rise in quality has given me the ability to appreciate these series against great teams. The Giants-Phillies series the past three years have been terrific. Every home win feels like vindication. Every road win feels like a narrow escape. Even the losses feel different, since it’s a lot harder to be angry about losing to a good team than, say, the Dodgers.
Yankees and Red Sox fans will realize that I’m stating the obvious here. I guess it took me longer to understand what they’ve known for years now: When two teams with serious World Series aspirations play, this great game of baseball gets even better.
[Photo: Dmitry K/Flickr]