World Series or bust; place bets on ‘bust’
So. I just watched the Cubs lose the third of three straight losses to be swept out of the playoffs in 2008, a season that from my vantage point most of the way seemed like it had the makings of something special. This team seemed like it had the best chances of a Cub team in a long time. But they got swept out of the postseason in the first round, for the second year in a row.
I gotta be honest right now: I’m mad. I’m disappointed. This series frankly makes me want to puke. It was bullshit. It’s not just that the Cubs lost; it’s the way they lost. You watch a team play so well through most of the regular season, who had the best record in the league, and then you watch them lose to a team that was under 500 just over a month ago. And they lose so definitively, with the first two games total blowouts. And it’s maddening.
I look back at the second inning of Game 2, where the infield uncharacteristically had three errors that led to a 5-run inning, and it makes me wonder how things went so badly so quickly. Well, because it’s the Cubs, of course.
You could navel-gaze a series like this forever. I won’t do that here, because the sports writers and everyone else already has. What I will instead remark upon is the Probability Gods.
Baseball, more than any other sport, is a sport of odds. The whole game and the way it’s played is based on the chances of X happening is situation Y. It’s all about giving yourself the best chances to get on the side of the Probability Gods. In terms of offense, it’s all about doing something that will give you merely the chance of a positive result. A ground ball might go through the gap, or it might be fielded and become a routine out at first base. A line drive might just barely get over the head of the center fielder to become a double, or it might drop enough to be caught to end the 2-out rally.
And the Probability Gods are clearly against the Cubs. How else to explain things like the utter collapse of the 2003 NLCS, or the three infield errors in the second inning of this year’s Game 2 by a team that had such generally solid defense throughout the regular season? Such misfortunes are extremely improbable — much like the possibility of a sweep of the Cubs by the Dodgers seemed at the outset in general.
The Cubs played horribly in this series, but why is that? Had their game plan changed? Could the team simply not handle the pressure and collapsed? Maybe. But it seems more likely to me that the Probability Gods intervened, and turned the team most likely to win into the team most likely to choke by way of unlikely defensive errors and suddenly silent bats.
The Probability Gods hate the Cubs. That’s well documented. But it makes this swift sweep of an oh-so-promising Cubs team no easier a pill to swallow.
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