Baseball’s biggest blessing: Its unpredictable nature

The baseball gods have struck again.

In a sport where a salary cap doesn’t exist, one would expect money to correlate directly with wins. But as this season has proven so far, money truly can’t buy everything. The Boston Red Sox, having the third-largest payroll in baseball, spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the likes of outfielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason.

The Rex Sox struggled out of the gate, but as the season progressed Boston built a comfortable nine game lead heading into September.

That lead evaporated quickly after Evan Longoria’s “walk-off home run”:http://backseatfan.com/2011/09/evan-longorias-walk-off-homerun/ sealed the AL East for the 29th-ranked payroll squad Tampa Bay Rays on the last day of the season. So much for Boston homer “Eric Ortiz saying”:http://www.nesn.com/2011/01/2011-red-sox-will-challenge-1927-yankees-for-title-of-greatest-team-in-major-league-history.html the 2011 Red Sox would challenge the 1927 Yankees for the greatest team in MLB history.

So even though the Red Sox had almost four times more money, the Rays still prevailed behind the strength of the best farm system in the majors. Even after losing Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and Crawford, the Rays easily replaced their lost players with young studs in the minors such as pitchers Matt Moore (first rookie in major-league history to pitch at least seven innings and allow no runs and two or fewer hits in a postseason game), Jeremy Hellickson (potential rookie of the year) and outfielder Desmond Jennings (could’ve been rookie of the year had he played all season).

The Rays are proof that sometimes possessing a potent farm system wins out against overpaying for above average players. I’m sure the Sox would love to take back the $16 million they paid John Lackey for his 6.41 ERA this season (Hellickson had a 2.95 ERA while being paid $418,000 for the season).

The New York Yankees, boasting MLB’s highest payroll, lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs to the 10th-ranked team in payroll, the Detroit Tigers.

Let’s be honest, neither team has used much home-grown talent this postseason. The only homegrown player in the Tigers’ lineup is All-Star catcher Alex Avila, and in the pitching rotation both Justin Verlander (my pick for MVP and AL Cy Young) and pitcher Rick Porcello are from Detroit’s minor leagues. And for the Yankees, well, they’re the Yankees. So let’s consider this series an exception because unlike the other three series, this matchup was between two teams that predominately acquired the majority of their rosters through free agency and trades.

The Philadelphia Phillies, owning the second-highest payroll in baseball, were the preseason and postseason favorites to win it all after acquiring one of “the greatest pitching rotations”:http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/hotstove10/columns/story?columnist=stark_jayson&id=5920160 in MLB history.

The Phillies actually fit that bill after Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee all had sub-2.80 ERAs, at least 14 wins and 194 strikeouts. You know your rotation is good when the NL Cy Young could end up being a tossup between Halladay and Lee. The team also lived up to expectations after leading all of baseball with 102 wins.

But as baseball has proven in the past, anyone can win on any given day. The Phillies, like the Yankees, succumbed to first-round defeat after a complete-game shut out by Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.

The fellow NL Central-contender Milwaukee Brewers have succeeded this year solely off their farm system. All-Stars Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks were all top draft picks, while Brewer’s ace Yovani Gallardo also emerged from Milwaukee’s minor league system. I feel bad for the Brewers because it feels like even if they do win, someone is going to leave after the season anyway. This was also the case after C.C. Sabathia had to leave in 2008 after the Brew Crew’s postseason run due to lack of funds.

This year, that player is Fielder, who even said himself that he almost definitely won’t be back next season. Cubs fans should smile at that thought. The Tigers are actually the only team left in the postseason who are ranked top 10 in baseball’s payroll. The Texas Rangers (13th), Cardinals (12th) and Milwaukee Brewers (16th) have proven that winning is not only a money game.

In baseball, winning is about fundamentals, hustle, heart and determination. The Rangers are already off to a solid start to their ALCS series, winning the first game against the Tigers 3-2.

I finally understand why baseball is considered our country’s pastime. Although these days the NFL reigns as the most-viewed sport in America, nothing represents our country better than baseball. Say what you want about baseball, that it’s boring, too long and repetitive. But one thing baseball has is the true “David vs. Goliath” matchup.

Baseball is the only major sport where true underdogs exist. The Rays, Cardinals, Rangers and Brewers have no business being in the postseason this year considering their financial situations.

Despite being against the odds, the underdogs are prevailing this season. And considering a salary cap will not be introduced anytime soon, the trend has just begun.

_Michael is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]_