"Math class is tough" was the actual phrase that the 1994 Teen Talk Barbie doll uttered, but "Math is hard" will do for our purposes.
I'm crushed over the end of the Detroit Tigers' season this year. The Tigers had a seven-game lead on September 6, and the Minnesota Twins caught them on the 161st game of the season. They remained tied through the last game and had to play a 163rd game on Tuesday, which the Twins won in extra innings, 6-5. The Tigers finished second to the Twins for the third time in four years on the final day of the regular season. It's something to behold, reading fan reaction to the end of the Tigers' season. Words like "collapse" and "choke" dominate the message boards and blogs. But when it comes to actually understanding how baseball works, you have to have a basic understanding of mathematics, which most sports fans apparently don't. Math is hard.
To win a division of Major League Baseball, a team has to win more games than the other teams in the division. It doesn't matter if the games are won and lost in April or October, because they all count the same. I keep reading about how Miguel Cabrera was drunk on the morning of a big game with the White Sox during that final weekend. I don't question that his state of mind was the reason he went 0-for-11 for the series with the White Sox, but I do question that it was a big game. They're all big games. Angry fans are writing that the Tigers went 11-16 after September 6, which was the date of their biggest lead over the Twins. They fail to mention, however, that they were coming off a six-game winning streak in which they swept both the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays. When you take a look at the normal split of September/October, the Tigers were 17-16, above .500. But some people never let facts get in the way of a good story. Math is hard.
To really look at the season objectively, all we have to do is take a good look at July. In July, the Tigers went 10-14, losing no fewer than six games by scoring only one solitary run in each. In five consecutive contests, the Tigers lost by a score of 2-1 in four games. Five relievers from the bullpen lost games in that month. Not only were our starters not getting any run support, but our bullpen couldn't hold leads and we couldn't score late in games when they did get run support. One could easily argue that the season was lost more in July than October, but it would be lost on the media and angry fans. Why? Math is hard.
If the Tigers had won any one game that they lost during the season, there wouldn't even have been a one-game playoff in the Metrodome. Any one misplay gets fielded cleanly leading to a loss, or any swing and miss on a hanging curveball that a batter should have knocked out of the park for a walkoff win and the whole season could have a different complexion. It didn't come down to the last game, last series, or last anything of the season. In a 162-game regular season, any one loss turned into a win would have given the Tigers the divison title. But there are some people who just can't see past the heartbreak of that final week. Why? Because math is hard.