Consider the entire Major League Baseball universe before each season starts, the expectations of every franchise. Take the bottom-dwellers, the teams that are supposed to be bad. They'll look for signs of life. Anything positive, really. Young players breaking out, hurt players getting healthy. They won't win the World Series, and they know it. They have reasonable expectations, which makes it harder for those expectations to crush them.
Then you have the teams in the middle, the ones that have an eh-to-good shot at the postseason. They could win the World Series, or they could lose 85 games. Some of them win their division, some of them lose those 85 games. Almost all of them are disappointed by the end of the season. They're hardly inconsolable, though. They tumbled down a modest hill, not a jagged mountain, and it's relatively easy to dust themselves off and start up the hill again.
Then you have the teams at the top. The teams that need a World Series victory for the season to be a success. There's no guarantee that they'll make the postseason, but ... they'll probably make the postseason. And from there, they'll need to win 11 out of 18 possible games for the season to be a success. Their fans won't be satisfied with participatory ribbons. They've already been to the postseason, over and over again. Trophy or nothing.
Baseball is the cruelest to those teams. You don't have to shed a tear for the frontrunners. Just appreciate that it's a different kind of disappointment. Maybe shed one tear.
In football, it's entirely reasonable to expect the best team to win. The very best teams maul the merely good teams on their way to a championship. It's also reasonable to expect the same thing for basketball teams, college or pro. The biggest stars really can carry their teams to a title.
According to Wikipedia, "Hockey is a family of sports in which two teams play against each other by trying to maneuver a ball or a puck into the opponent's goal using a hockey stick." That sounds like a lot of fun, really, and I look forward to exploring it further.
In baseball, though, there are no guarantees for the best teams. Jerkishly so. You know this. You know the postseason is a trickster coyote that always wins, but there's a willful suspension of disbelief right until the trap door is sprung. Consider that there are four really, really happy teams and fan bases right now, and three of them will feel like they swallowed a full ashtray before the month is over.
Which brings us to the Dodgers, who are already there. The Dodgers are as good as the team that will win the 2015 World Series. Put them in direct competition with 162 head-to-head games, and maybe they'll win 85 or 90 of them. The Dodgers have two of the very best pitchers in the game, with a lineup that generally does good things. They have a fantastic closer and a deep bench, and they were set up well for the postseason. They just ran into Daniel Murphy.
That's a sentence that wouldn't make sense four weeks ago. It's a sentence that wouldn't make sense four hours ago. Why didn't the Dodgers win the World Series? Because of Daniel Murphy. Put any other noun in there, and it almost makes as much sense. Because of bedbugs. Because of linoleum. Because of Daniel Murphy.
The Dodgers' crime in 2015? Well, you can't throw Murphy a pitch here:
That's from Brooks Baseball, and it's from the catcher's perspective. You see that No. 3 there? Murphy hit a double off that. Drove in the first run of the game. You can't just throw DANIEL MURPHY a pitch six inches off the plate and expect to win the World Series.
Then Murphy came up in the fourth, and Greinke threw one right down the middle again.
Right down the middle of the space between the outside part of the plate and the empty batter's box. Come on, man, that's Daniel Murphy. You have to be more careful than that. Just walk him, that's what I say.
After Murphy reached first with a single on that pitch up there, Lucas Duda took a walk. Should you shift on Duda?
You should shift on Duda. He might be the most shiftable player in baseball. Except, there was a problem with that. After Duda walked, Murphy took advantage of the shift and kept running to third, which was empty. The rookie who probably hasn't played in a bunch of shifts in his very, very brief career didn't realize the gravity of the situation.
Mattingly on shift-SB coverage: "That's probably Corey there. He's on that side. Whoever's on that side."— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) October 16, 2015
The rookie, who just as easily could have hit five dingers and become an international sensation. The rookie, who was clearly the best choice to start at short, and who continued to impress throughout the postseason. We made fun of Los Angeles Times writer Steve Dilbeck for suggesting that Rollins should start over Seager because of his postseason experience. And, good gravy, look at what happened. The Dodgers literally lost the NLDS because their shortstop wasn't experienced enough.
(Among other reasons, I know. But Rollins would have covered third. You know it. Veteran savvy doesn't always have to be a smug punchline.)
In the sixth inning, Murphy got his first three pitches in the strike zone. He hit the trickiest of them for a homer.
That's ol' No. 6, a two-strike fastball at the bottom of the zone. It's probably close to the sweet spot of a left-hander like Murphy, so let's not pretend that it was the perfect pitch. But it wasn't a meatball. It was down. It could have been pounded into the earth.
Murphy fouled off the best pitch he saw on Thursday night. He took the second-best pitch he saw. He still hit for three legs of the cycle and stole a base he had no business stealing. The Dodgers will have five months to prepare for the next season and figure out how to fix what went wrong, but how do you prepare for a magical Daniel Murphy? How do you fix that?
Or here's another way to phrase that. MLB.tv isn't letting me pull up what Justin Turner did against Noah Syndergaard and his 100-mph fastball, but here's my best attempt at describing it:
Twice. Turner just missed it twice. And he gave the cameras a look after both of them. Again, MLB.tv hasn't archived the games, so this is all I can find:
Turner knew he just missed those pitches. Credit Syndergaard for throwing them so danged hard, but Turner was looking for 100 mph fastballs, and he got them. He put good swings on them. He just missed them. In the multiverse, Turner hits one of them 430 feet.
Murphy swung at pitches off the plate -- twice -- before taking advantage of a brain fart, and the Mets have a chance to win the World Series because of it.
The Dodgers pitched Greinke and Clayton Kershaw four times in a five-game series. They pitched well all four times. They still lost the series because of Daniel Murphy. Try planning for that. Try spending the offseason figuring out how to fix that.
Regardless what happens, the 2016 Dodgers will be expected to win the World Series. Everything they do from now until next October will be focused on that. It's a cruel, cruel existence, and the payoff is a Joe Shlabotnik card that's forever in someone else's pack. Don't weep for the awful teams. Weep for the teams at the top with nowhere to go but down, which is where they'll almost always end up.