The baseball postseason is less than one-sixth the length of the regular season, but sometimes it feels twice as long. One month passes in the regular season and you barely notice; one month in the playoffs is a lifetime. Remember when the National League Central was all anyone could talk about? Or when the Blue Jays were an unstoppable juggernaut? Or when all that mattered was the Cubs?
The postseason tells us so much -- about the game, the players, the teams and how we react to all of them. Here's a look at 10 major takeaways from the 2015 baseball postseason: What do we know now that we didn't one month ago? We were so young then. We had so much to learn.
1. We should stop assuming starting pitching trumps everything else. We make this mistake every year, and it never sticks. Maybe it's the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks that are still stuck in everyone's minds, that if you have the starting pitching edge that's the only edge that matters, even though that team had two Hall of Famers (assuming Curt Schilling eventually gets in) in their primes pitching just about everything inning, and they still almost lost. (This is why I keep picking the Dodgers to win the World Series every year.) This might have been the first World Series in which one team, the Mets, had the pitching advantage in every single game … and the Royals won in five. The Dodgers, with Cy Young winners pitching four of the five games, lost. Jake Arrieta got knocked around in his last two starts. David Price will have to answer for his October every day of contract negotiations. Pitchers, even the great ones, can get hit in the postseason. We always forget.
2. Winning the division still matters. In 2014, the two teams that escaped the Wild Card Games, San Francisco and Kansas City, reached the World Series. Not this time: The Cubs made it to the NL Championship Series, at least, but Houston was taken out by Kansas City. Since the new round was introduced in 2012, the only Wild Card teams to reach the World Series were those two in 2014. One of the reasons the Wild Card Game was introduced and formatted as it is was to make it as difficult as possible on its winner, so that securing the division title would be of paramount importance. And it worked: It's a lot harder on the play-in winner. Take away 2014, and this is all we'd be talking about every October.
3. The consensus is changing on bat flips. Sure, there were a few stray grousers, but on the whole, it wasn't easy to find people who actually thought there was anything all that terrible about Jose Bautista's bat flip.
There were some straw man arguments against all the supposed prigs scowling at Bautista's showboating, but the main takeaway was that most people -- Royals fans, teammates, national observers, pretty much everyone who wasn't a Rangers fan -- thought Bautista's staredown and bat flip were, well, actually pretty awesome. This is changing: The old guard is dying out. It's OK to physically express the enjoyment of athletic achievement again. People have come around.
4. The Cardinals-Cubs postseason rivalry is going to be one of baseball's best stories over the next half-decade. The Cubs' power wiped out an exhausted, banged-up Cardinals team in the NL Division Series, but the Cardinals are well-positioned to be excellent again next year, particularly if they can re-sign Jason Heyward. The only thing this Midwestern turf war has been missing for 100 years has been postseason import; it has it now, and surely will for years to come. The Cubs won the first battle. But this is your new mid-aughts Yankees-Red Sox. We're just getting started.
5. You only get to be the charming underdog upstart once. In 2014, the Royals were the darlings of baseball. This year, in the LCS alongside the Blue Jays, the Mets and the Cubs, they were seen as old-hat, the "new Cardinals," the team everyone was sick of watching already. This is absurd, but indicative of our attention span these days: After one season, even if you had 28 years of misery leading up to that point, we're all sick of you and onto the "new" underdog story. This year, it was the Jays, Mets and Cubs. Next year, we'll be sick of those teams.
6. Breaking postseason droughts is still the best. A corollary to the last point, but the crowds at Rogers Centre, Citi Field and Wrigley Field provided more fantastic scenes after years of tapping on the postseason window, wanting to be let back in. In 2014, it was Kansas City; in 2013, it was Pittsburgh. The fans always have a little more pep when they've been away from the madness of October for a few years. Thus, we look in 2016 to … Seattle, a franchise that hasn't reached the playoffs in 14 years and that has a fan base that's eager to explode. They take the dubious Blue Jays mantle as the team with the longest playoff drought.
7. Roger Angell is still the best. The New Yorker writer has been the best baseball writer on the planet for about 60 years, and he wrote regularly for NewYorker.com throughout the playoffs. At the age of 95, he's still pulling off lines like this one, about the Royals:
There's a collective élan to them, a bearded joy in their work, that you want to be part of. They know how hard baseball is, and -- like the Mets, for that matter; like every pro -- can hardly wait to play within its icy rules.
We usually have to wait for his 8,000-word postseason dissertation in the pages of The New Yorker every November, but this year, Angell was the best blogger who ever existed.
8. People will always assume errors happen in a vacuum. This stat really can't be repeated enough: Here are what the Royals did from the sixth inning on this postseason:
• Outscored Houston in the ALDS, 14-6.
• Outscored Toronto in the ALCS, 22-5.
• Outscored the Mets in the World Series, 21-3.
And people still saw this as a coincidence, as happenstance! When Lucas Duda made his error -- and it wasn't labeled an error, but it was an error, a terrible throw -- that allowed Eric Hosmer to score the tying run in the eventually decisive Game 5, New York papers treated it as a singular event independent of its context. Duda made a mistake; bad Duda! But the Royals did this to teams constantly all postseason. The whole Royals game plan is to be so aggressive that it causes teams to make mistakes. It is then not a coincidence that the Royals won so many games because of the mistakes of others. But it is human nature to see a mistake as its own act, a misstep caused by one's own failures rather than the result of pressure put on one by others. Thus, we call the Royals "lucky" and Duda a choker who erred in a big moment. But it is far more complicated than that.
9. If you ever make a World Series and you are not Boston or a New York team, just hope you are not playing Boston or New York or else no one will pay any attention to you. Royals fans definitely have a case to yell East Coast Bias in this series: The Mets basically turned every national baseball scribe into a Mets beat reporter. This happens when a signature, Northeast Corridor team makes the World Series and plays someone from the barren wasteland otherwise known as "the rest of the country." Everything the Royals did was seen almost exclusively through the lens of the Mets. The Royals come back and win late in Game 4? The Mets blew it! The Royals tie the game in the ninth and win the World Series? The Mets manager screwed up! So just hope your team gets someone other than Boston or a New York team in their breakthrough World Series, or otherwise no one will notice you are there.
10. The Royals and their fans can throw themselves one heck of a party. It turns out that ending 30 years in the wilderness puts one in an awfully good mood.
Let's do this again next year, shall we?