One of the best things about numbers is the way they can be used to measure and interpret data in immutable ways while allowing their users to make them say any damned thing they like.
Including, “I have no earthly idea what this means.”
The best living example right now is the Los Angeles Kings, who have not had a lead during any of their last three games and yet have won them all, and have gone from convincing favorites to win the Stanley Cup to book-the-parade-and-let-Darryl-Sutter-talk-policy-to-the-President favorites.
But here in the baseball capital of the galaxy, where the Giants and Athletics are the two best teams in the sport, a mountain of numbers that say one thing and then another leave us to wonder exactly how good these good teams actually are.
And when we say “good,” what we actually mean is, “Who could screw up their Octobers, and how?”
That’s the secret little bone spur preventing Elephants’ and Giganticals’ fans from striding boldly into the postseason even though both teams still have 99 regular season games to play. The A’s are 39-24, but their run differential says they should be 45-19, and they haven’t been able to fully shed themselves of either the precocious Toronto Blue Jays or pitching-troublesome Detroit Tigers. One more fifth game against Justin Verlander could truly put the franchise around the bend – and no, not the bend in the 880 that turns Milpitas into San Jose.
And the Giants . . . well, the Dodgers are nine games back with the pure cussedness to spend that gap smaller no matter how much spending that entails. Giants fans are very much enjoying Los Angeles’ agonies, while fear-suspecting that they can’t last forever.
The point? Some irrational, non-numbers-based fear is healthy for the modern attentive fan.
Kings fans, by comparison, have already lost their minds with their team. Their team has made a mockery of the impossible, to the point where beating the Sharks after falling behind, 3-0, is probably only the fifth most remarkable thing they have done this postseason.
(If you must, having no leads at any point in the last 11 ½ periods of their season and winning three of four games is first, followed by going from 1.6 goals per game at 5x5 to 2.5 in the postseason, followed by being 7-0 in elimination games overall).
They have done this so much that most people now think they have even over their destiny skis – spotting teams so many leads and then laughing at them as though they were feathers from a down pillow that victory in all circumstances is their birthright. One suspects there is one more comeuppance in their immediate future, to be honest, and if that happens, Sutter will be among the happiest people on the planet. In his world, steel is just Styrofoam that has been tempered by the knee to the groin – it’s how he can always look like he wants to eat his own head.
As for the A’s and Giants, they have just bent logic rather than full-on savaged it. The A’s, by virtue of their absurdly high run differential of plus-130, are actually six games below what they should be doing. The Giants, conversely, are by virtue of their nonsensically lofty average (.285) and run conversion (39 percent of all runs) with runners in scoring position and two outs, are nearly a week-and-a-half better than The Bank Of Blue.
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Plus, the A’s were never slotted as the best team in the American League when the season began, and the Giants were barely credited with being .500-worthy, thus they are kicking immoderate hell out of the expectations game. People get nervous about that sort of thing.
So rather than look ahead to October, let us look ahead to the four games between the two teams starting July 7 and project lots of national media, lots of absurd local hype, and at least one good bench-emptying brawl.
I mean, what’s the point of looking forward to Manny Machado and Fernando Abad when you could gear up Madison Bumgarner and Josh Donaldson? Now THAT would be fun, as well as helpful in filling in the blanks before the start of the actual season September 1.
That’s the day A’s fans can start plotting out Justin Verlander’s starts, and Giants fans can start wondering when the Dodgers are going to make their damned move.