Welcome to playoff baseball, fellow Mets fans — it's been a while. It's been so long, in fact, that one almost forgets how impossibly fickle and unfair the playoffs are. Playoffs are to the regular season what a Twitter bot is to a human-run account: a relentless, cold-logic approximation. Every year, the playoffs chug along according to their cruel design; and every year, the playoffs end in heartbreak — save for one lucky team.
Note, if you will, the use of the word "lucky." For all the talk about matchups, odds, the best teams in the mix, etc., the team that wins the World Series will do so, in no small part, because of luck. Consider that even the very best teams do a colossal amount of losing in the regular season, or that the very best hitters fail a majority of the time, and you'll sense my meaning. Any team, good or bad, has a pretty good chance of winning any given game — heck, any series. Any team, good or bad, can enjoy a stretch of phenomenal baseball, only to throw down a clam of a month immediately thereafter. The permutations there are endless, but the fact remains: Baseball requires huge sample sizes—be it games, at-bats, or whatever—for the truth to be revealed.
In that sense, we can and should step back and admire the standings at the end of the regular season, for they truly tell the tale of Best and Worst. The playoffs, on the other hand, are a meat-grinder tournament of champions that quickly and neatly crushes dreams and elevates a single good team to an even higher height of glory.
There are ways, of course, that teams can and do mitigate the omnipresent specter of bad luck. For example, teams that build around top-flight starting pitching depth—like the Mets—are, in theory, well-equipped to dominate a series.
But MLB's playoffs are Thunderdome, and Thunderdome doesn't give a damn about your fancy little theory. In Thunderdome baseball, a couple of your guys have a couple of bad games, and the other team's guys have a couple of good games, and what would otherwise be a meaningless blip on the radar during a 162-game season is a season-ending disaster.
Despite that gruesome scenario, I tend toward optimism, and when I apply that logic to the Mets' known and potential opponents, I feel good. Kershaw and Greinke are among the best, but even the best have a crummy game from time to time. On the other hand, that's the same logic that worked against us in 2006, when an inferior Cardinals team beat our Mets in the NLCS and proceeded to win the World Series. The Mets were the best team in baseball that year, and their season shouldn't have ended that way. It didn't make any sense. It was awful. But it was—and is—Thunderdome justice. The Cardinals, barely a .500 team that year, got hot at just the right time, whereas the Mets made the unremarkable— but season-killing!—mistake of not being able to put the ball in play before three outs were recorded in one crummy little inning. That's how ridiculous this all is.
So yes, MLB's playoffs are cruel. But MLB's playoffs are wonderful, too. You know what else is wonderful? The 2015 New York Mets, who, despite the odds, and despite the vagaries and insanity of short-series baseball, are about to step into the cage, as well-suited for battle as any team. I think they're going to make us proud.