The better team?

Hold off on that conclusion that the Phillies are better than the Rays just because they're winning the World Series.

By King Kaufman
Published October 27, 2008 4:45PM (EDT)

Over in the letters threads the people are talking about these first four games of the World Series, and some writers are declaring that the Philadelphia Phillies, winners of three games, have shown that they're the better team than the Tampa Bay Rays.

"The Phillies have proved themselves better than Tampa Bay in every respect," writes Mike LeP, "starting pitching, relief pitching, fielding, timely hitting, etc. If the Phils hadn't stranded so many runners in Game 2 this series could've been a 4-0 sweep."

"Look, the Phillies are clearly the better team," adds misterchops. "Even with all the missed opportunities and blown calls, the Phils have contained the Rays."

I don't mean to set up a straw man with a few letters in reply to one column, though. It's a pretty common argument: Look at the scoreboard. Team A won the series, so they're objectively the better team.

But even though the evidence Mike LeP and misterchops cite is accurate, the conclusion that the Phillies are a better team than the Rays because they've won three out of four games, even if the Phillies have dominated those four games, is a very shaky one. The same will be true if the Phillies win in five games.

The Washington Nationals won three of the first four games they played against the Phillies this year. The Phillies finished 32 and a half games ahead of the Nats and beat them 12 out of 18 times on the year. Were the Nationals better after those first four games?

The New York Mets won four of the first five games they played against the Phillies this year, and 11 out of 18 over Philadelphia overall. Were the Mets better than the Phillies this year? Phillies fans?

And let's not forget that the Rays won three out of the first four over the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, and they didn't look much like the better team following Game 6, with the series tied 3-3. Were they definitively the better team after Game 7?

A short series doesn't tell us much of anything about which team is better. All it tells us is which team won the series. The rules say the team that wins the World Series is the champion. That doesn't make them the best team, though sometimes the team that wins the Series is the best one in baseball.

And don't get me wrong. The Phillies might be better than the Rays, might have been the best team in baseball in 2008. I'm not saying they're not or they weren't. I don't really know and there aren't any conclusive ways to figure it out. I'm just saying that winning the World Series wouldn't make any of it so. It wouldn't even make them better than the Rays, necessarily.

It would just make them champions, which is plenty.

King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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