Look, sports just don't make any sense. Try explaining some of our society's favorite team sports to someone who knows nothing about it and keep track of how often they give a blank stare. To try explaining baseball to a British man is like explaining Harambe memes to your great grandmother.
Case in point: golf. Golf is ultimately about using a metal club to hit a very small ball into a very small hole, repeatedly, as you walk or drive though specific carts around a meticulously-kept grass garden that yet voluntarily features giant sand pits. To score points, you try not to score points.
And golf is relatively simple! Try explaining how football, a game that features a ball that is definitely not shaped like a ball, where the primary method for moving and scoring said ball is through the use of hands and/or arms rather than the foot. Furthermore, the explanation of the 'catch' rule is utterly indescribable and is more like modern art than reasonable legislation. Or, um, go ahead and attempt to explain the existence of curling, which involves a field of ice, a target painted on said ice, brooms, big rocks with handles, and sounds more like a wizard sport from Switzerland as told by J.K. Rowling than a real life thing that you can win an Olympic medal in.
Of course, there is baseball. I don't even know where to start there. The name of the sport is named after the ball, which is in turn named after the bases, which are normally unoccupied and don't impact scoring except for one, which is termed a 'plate.' Players swing a bat made out of wood attempting to hit a ball made out of cow, thrown by a player on a small hill whose sole purpose is repeatedly throwing the ball towards the plate. Teams switch sides after three 'outs' are accrued, which can happen in various ways, such as catching a ball, tagging a player with a ball, or throwing the ball to a specific location in front of the batter three times.
There are just so many ridiculous inconsistencies and specificities. How come sometimes a runner has to be tagged and sometimes he doesn't? Why does a runner have to go back to a base to touch it before advancing? Why is it called a 'foul line' when a ball that lands on it is ruled 'fair?' What in God's green earth is a balk????
This month, the Kansas City Royals, a professional baseball team with one state in its name and another as its home, have gone totally bonkers. Dead in the water a few weeks ago, they have climbed above .500 and are in the thick of the Wild Card race. They have done this because they have played good baseball. But why are they on such a ridiculous run with the same players they've had all year? I mean, sure, we all know why this team has won lots of games recently--their bullpen has all turned into good Wade Davis at once, and multiple starters are pitching out of their minds.
But...why? How are they doing this?
The answer is boring and existentially terrifying, clearly. Baseball is unknowable and nothing is real.
Look; some things in baseball are predictable. A good pitcher will almost always beat a bad hitter if they do so with good pitch execution. A slow runner will not reach first base fast enough to prevent a double play. The Miami Marlins with Jose Fernandez will beat the Royals with Dillon Gee.
But some things will never ever be able to be predicted, and some things in baseball equates to most things. Predicting baseball is basically impossible, and it's only through very hard work by very smart people that we have some iota of an idea what's going to happen, and even sometimes not so much.
Last season, 15 ESPN 'experts' published their predictions about who would win the various playoff spots. There were ten total playoff spots, making the total number of correct answers to 150. The 'experts' picked 36 correctly. And this is a relatively simple prediction; these experts aren't predicting exact stat lines, individual breakout seasons, individual awards, or injury prognoses.
This year, ESPN doubled down and published expert predictions from 31 individuals; at ten playoff spots each, that's a total of 310 correct predictions. Now, the season is not over, and there are 40ish games left. But, if the season ended here, the panel would have correctly predicted only 118.
Some things can be predicted, sure. It's not hard to correctly predict that a super-stacked team will win a bunch of games. The Chicago Cubs this year have an absurd 13.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and are on track to win 104 games this year, and everyone knew they would be good. 27 of the 118 correct-as-of-this-moment picks from this year's expert prediction batch were from picking the Cubs for the NL Central. You don't get credit for predicting that.
You know what you do get credit for? Determining that Danny Duffy would magically become an ace this year. There was no evidence that he was going to be great as a starter. But he did, and it's phenomenal, and that doesn't make a lick of sense. Did you predict that Matt Strahm, Whit Merrifield, Brett Eibner, and Cheslor Cuthbert, four very minor prospects with a combined 19 games of Major League service time before this year, would produce a combined 3.1 WAR in 181 games this year? Don't lie. You did not.
How about this Royals team on August 5? At 51-58, the team was nowhere, with a run differential closer to -100 than 0. It was time to throw in the towel, trade whatever assets you could in August, and at lest think about what an offseason firesale would look like.
Well, the Royals decided to give us the distilled Royals Devil Magic treatment. This team, incapable of doing much of anything, then went 14-2 over their next 16 games.
There's loads that could be said about talent, luck, and some inspirational stuff about not giving up and whatnot. But, in a way, it doesn't matter. This is baseball. Baseball was, is, and always will be unknowable. We spend thousands of words and dozens of hours at Royals Review on trying to figure out and explain the Royals. Sometimes it works. And then sometimes the Royals just sort of crap on your head as they fly to ridiculous heights, again, because...of reasons.
There's been a lot of criticism tossed my way recently from very salty individuals who didn't like how I discussed Ned Yost, or the 2017 Royals chances, or Whit Merrifield and Raul Mondesi. Some of it is legit, and some of it comes from people who lack a working knowledge of baseball analysis and who also want to yell at people because it makes them feel good.
But, you know what? You're wrong. So am I, too. I'm wrong. Everybody's wrong. Baseball has a way of just screwing with people's ideas almost just for the fun of it. Through good analysis, we may just be able to move a little closer to the truth. If, of course, the truth exists and just isn't a construct by the Baseball Gods to make us feel good about ourselves.
So just sit back, relax, enjoy the ride, and be prepared to shrug off anything you're wrong about. That will be the norm. Baseball wouldn't have it any other way, and that's exactly why it's so intriguing.