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World Series preview: Royals-Giants isn't a battle of baseball's best

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The World Series isn't necessarily about finding the best, though. It's about crowning a champion.

SB Nation 2014 MLB Bracket

It is an objective fact that the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, the competitors in this year's World Series, are good at baseball. They are good teams! This is obvious, and I shouldn't need to say it, but I don't want this to turn into a debate about whether I think the Royals and Giants suck or not. I don't. I think they've had good seasons because they are very skilled at hitting, throwing, and especially catching the ball.

I am also not saying that I don't like them. I do. They are fun teams to watch. Sure, the Giants have been in the World Series a lot, but Madison Bumgarner is fantastic and I don't know a person alive who doesn't enjoy the concept of Hunter Pence. Such people, if they truly do exist, are without joy in their lives and deserve our pity. Meanwhile, Royals fans have suffered so much over the years that you just want them to be happy for a little longer. God knows they've earned it. So, no, I am not writing this article because I hate the Royals or the Giants.

Are we all on the same page? Good.

The Royals and the Giants aren't actually all that great of World Series participants from a historical perspective. In fact, this is the first World Series in 110 tries (other than the strike-shortened 1981 and the World War I shortened 1918) where neither World Series team won at least 90 games. We've come close in the past. The 1997 World Series, for instance, pitted the 86-win Indians against the 92-win Marlins, and the 2010 World Series was fought between the 92-win Giants and the 90-win Rangers, but this represents a new "low."

I don't mean "low" like it's a bad thing. While having the Yankees or Red Sox, or even the Orioles or Tigers, in the World Series would probably be better for ratings, restoring the Royals franchise to health and letting them have their October fun is almost certainly better for the game in the long run, creating a new generation of fans in Kansas City that will continue to support the team and the sport through the next lean period.

Royals celebrate
Photo credit: Dilip Vishwanat

This is simply a function of the Wild Card era, and not just the Wild Card era, but an era in which two extra wild card teams make the postseason. It's a price we have to be willing to pay to get clubs like the Royals into the World Series. Regardless of who wins and who loses in this series, neither the Royals nor the Giants will actually be the "best team in baseball." That's not what the World Series is anymore, if it ever was. We understand now that there is too much randomness and too many variables to declare the winner anything more than the champion -- any fanbase would happily accept that designation each year.

Was the best team in baseball the Nationals, or the Angels? The Tigers or the Dodgers? At this point, that's a better question for mathematicians. There are 162 games of regular season data for each team to figure that out. Yes, those 162 games build to this moment, but once the playoffs start, baseball becomes a fundamentally different animal. The stakes are higher, the rosters are hyper-specialized. Billy Beane's shit may not work in the postseason, but the postseason's shit doesn't tend to fly in the regular season. Teams can't sprint for 162 games, but they can sprint now with the finish line in sight.

Ultimately, for our purposes, it doesn't matter who is the best. The World Series has come to mean both less and more. Teams survive a tougher field to get there to be crowned baseball's champion, but we are left with muddier waters in terms of figuring out who the "best" is. Ostensibly, this is what we asked for when we baseball expanded beyond 26 teams, and hey, it's not so bad. Like most things in life, it's a trade off. That doesn't mean that the dog pile on the middle of the field will be any less exciting, nor the champagne in the clubhouse taste any less sweet -- just different. This is shaping up to be a fantastic series, even if in the end it "only" tells us who the 2014 world champion is.