Which Road?

One can win with brilliance, dogged determination, or sheer luck.

As usual, all three methods are on display in MLB these days.

Consider the bargain basement–or, considering what some of the teams’ Injured Lists look like, maybe it’s the scratch and dent sale.

At the All-Star Break, there were five teams with records under .400: Miami, Toronto, Detroit, Kansas City, and Baltimore. (Seattle scored a Dishonorable Mention at .415 and San Francisco, at .461, was looking almost respectable.)

The picture hasn’t changed much. The bottom-dwellers list is now Toronto, Miami, Kansas City, Baltimore, and Detroit. (Kudos, though to Baltimore for the biggest improvement on the list, going from .303 to .336, putting them in a position to challenge KC for the third-worst record in baseball.) Meanwhile, Seattle has moved up to a staggering .423. That’s especially impressive when you consider that they lost eight of their first ten after the break.

And then there are the Giants, who are now sporting an honestly respectable .509 record with a legitimate shot at the Wild Card.

Which brings us back to where this post started.

The Mariners’ gain is the product of a six-game winning streak against, well, Texas and Detroit. As of today, Texas is sitting precisely at .500–not exactly the mark of a powerhouse. And, indeed, Seattle has won three of the five games the two teams have played since the break. Most of their gain, in other words, has been the result of a fortunate schedule.

Baltimore, on the other hand, has played 18 games since the break. They’ve gone nine and nine against Tampa Bay, Washington, Boston, Arizona, Anaheim, and San Diego: six teams with a combined .517 record.

That doesn’t look like luck. Sure, the truism about any team being able to beat any other team on some random day holds. But watching several of the Orioles’ games didn’t look like luck either. It looked like a team that knew it was the underdog, but was determined to make a stand. Winning half your games is usually a Pyrrhic victory, but when you start out at .303, a victory is a victory.

While Seattle has been lucky and Baltimore has been dogged, San Francisco has been, if not brilliant, at least well-polished. Fourteen and five isn’t solely luck. Yes, they’ve played the Mets and Rockies, but they’ve also played the Brewers, Cubs, Padres, and Phillies, all teams at or above .500. There’s been some determination in there: last night’s win against Philadelphia was their first after losing seven straight in Philadelphia. Most of all, though, the Giants have been succeeding with the fundamentals: well-timed hitting, good-to-excellent pitching, and acceptable fielding.

Different routes, but when it comes to wins, it’s all about the destination, not how you get there. Just ask the fans in San Francisco, Baltimore, and Seattle.

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