Baseball, Columnists, Sports

On-Deck Circle: Who Doesn’t Love an Underdog?

It was a historic season for the Baltimore Orioles. They won 101 games to finish first in a talented division, but after taking Major League Baseball by storm, their season came crashing down in the playoffs. 

Chloe Patel | Senior Graphic Artist

The Orioles were swept last week by the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series, ending what was a promising season for a Baltimore squad powered by its young stars. 

It was a quick downfall from the top of the world to an early exit, and it came in large part because the Oriole pitching staff — a strength of the team during the regular season — failed utterly. The team had to rely on their bats to carry them, but they also failed to show up in the three-game series against the Rangers. 

While the result is a letdown for O’s fans, the team’s future is still as bright as ever. The offseason did start earlier than expected, but the three games the squad played this postseason will provide their young core with the experience necessary for deep postseason runs in the future.

While the AL East won’t get any easier — if anything, it will get even more competitive — the team has the pieces it needs to make history before long. 

On the other side of MLB, the Atlanta Braves had a playoff run almost as short as Baltimore’s. The Braves’ run, however, was marked by moments that will not soon be forgotten. 

Their four-game series against their division rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies, was headlined by Atlanta shortstop and second baseman Orlando Arcia’s words after Game 2, which came from inside Atlanta’s clubhouse. 

After Philadelphia right fielder Bryce Harper was tagged out to turn a game-ending, series-tying double play for the Braves, Arcia was heard saying, “Atta boy, Harper” in the locker room. 

Jake Mintz of Fox Sports then shared Arcia’s locker room words, providing “bulletin board” material for the Phillies and their die-hard fans. Philadelphia would win the next two games at home, clinching the series and a trip to the NL Championship Series. 

In my opinion, it was unfair of Mintz to share what Arcia said with the public. Arcia was not being interviewed, just walking around the locker room celebrating the team’s crucial victory. The words of players not being interviewed should be kept inside the locker room, not shared with the public for the opposing team to see. 

Even after allowing the Braves to tie the series, Philadelphia was able to defeat Atlanta in Games 3 and 4, ending the season of the team many thought would win their second championship in three seasons. The image that Braves fans will hold onto until the start of the 2024 season will be Arcia on the bench, facing the crowd and arguing with Phillies fans.

Two weeks ago, I made my 2023 postseason predictions. They were, to be kind, abysmal. 

I correctly predicted one out of the four Wild Card series and one of the four Division Series. I thought that the extra rest would help the four teams who got a bye to stay fresh and healthy for their series, and I was very wrong. 

The Arizona Diamondbacks swept the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Braves lost in four games and Baltimore got swept. The teams with the five best records in the MLB went a combined 1-13 in the postseason, and the Houston Astros were the only higher-seeded team to advance to their respective league’s Championship Series.

Some fans pointed to the new playoff format as the reason for so many lower-seeded teams upsetting favored teams. In my eyes, this is just an excuse providing an easy way out of blaming underperformance. Dodgers fans in particular cannot blame the postseason format in the face of their star duo in Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman hitting a combined 1-for-21 against the Diamondbacks. 

All of the arguments against the format are arguments against upsets, and underdogs taking down favorites is what makes sports so fun to watch. 

We all love it when a sixteen-seed takes down a one-seed in the first round of March Madness. Why can’t we celebrate when a lower seed takes down a juggernaut in the MLB playoffs?

There are seasons when the top seed wins every series and the team with the best regular season record wins the World Series. Then, there are seasons like this year, when only one team who had a bye to their league’s division series moves on to its Championship Series.

This year’s MLB playoffs are just another example of the unpredictability of baseball and sports as a whole. Sports would be no fun if the better team won every time, so why not embrace when the underdogs win? 

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