October 18, 2010

False Champions

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It’s that special time of year again in October when baseball playoffs start heating up. With both the ALCS and NLCS looking to be intense, only two of the four teams will advance to the World Series to have a chance at that coveted championship. The better two teams should make it and eventually the team that wins should hold the title of World Series champions. But does that really always happen?Many athletes acknowledge that the regular season and the playoffs feel completely different and essentially, they pretty much are different in many sports. Particularly in baseball, the 162 game season is a long grind for many players. Although playing baseball doesn’t look too strenuous, going out and playing 162 baseball games while traveling throughout the country should tire out anyone. The best teams in baseball are often the teams that have the most depth and can get through the long haul. Injuries and slumps are part of the game and the teams that deal best often end up with the better records.These records are only good for getting into the postseason as the playoffs turn into a completely different ballgame. Take the Yankees from a year ago. They featured a five man rotation throughout most of the year with Joba Chamberlain as their fourth starter and a random pitcher they would find to try and keep them in the game for their fifth. However, once the playoffs started and after Chamberlain struggled immensely down the stretch, they switched to a three man rotation featuring their three best pitchers. This was also made possible due to a first round sweep and perfect alignment in the schedule with the off-days. In the regular season, such an idea would not work as all three starters would quickly tire. Over the whole season, they would not perform consistently and may even get injured. The postseason, though, was short enough for the team to execute this game plan and eventually win the World Series.Many sports teams understand that mentality and often go all out only in the playoffs. In the NBA, with eight teams from each conference making the playoffs, even the eighth seeded team has a chance to make it to the finals and ultimately win the championship. The Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs understood this and opted to rest their aging stars in the regular season while maintaining a record just good enough to get into the playoffs. The Celtics even made it all the way to the finals as the team put it together at just the right time. This occurs all the time in football as well, as the Colts have made it a habit of resting their starters before postseason games. Not coincidentally, these teams have all won championships within the last decade. And so teams acknowledge that the best regular season teams may not always end up being the ultimate victors in the playoffs.Momentum and timing also play a huge factor, as well. Sometimes a red-hot team can put it all together and steamroll through the playoff games. Other times, referees and umpires may get involved and favor one team or another. Players may even be removed from the game by suspensions or an injury, which could affect the outcome of the game.So in effect, the question asked above has been answered. The best team in the league does not always win the championship. The next question though is if that is necessarily a bad thing. It may seem obvious that all players play to win the championship but people don’t understand that the athletes and coaches and team owners live for that reason. It has totally dictated their lives so that strategies and certain moves are made. All of the examples above may seem unfair to some but they are all within the rules and have been adapted for the playoff world. By no means are the regular season games meaningless but to most of the sports community, winning the trophy at the end means more than being the best team in the league.

Original Author: Wankyu Lee