BASEBALL WILL never look the same. For the love of the dirt Billy Martin kicked, the hats Earl Weaver spun and the bases Lou Piniella threw, no longer is a call by an umpire the last word. It can be changed not by a manager's fit of pique but by modern technology.
Upon further review comes to baseball this year, courtesy of an expanded instant replay system. If looking back is the new way forward, what can the recent past tell us about who will win the World Series?
Don't look to the 2013 Red Sox. Boston was a true outlier. No team ever won the World Series with a worse record the previous season (69--93). The Sox should not be expected to win again, considering we are one season away from matching the record (1979 to '92) for most consecutive years without a repeat champion.
What we do know is that before Boston came out of nowhere, six straight Series champs came out of a very specific place: a precise window of 86 to 89 wins the year before they won it all. Think of that area as the perfect airport stopover; it's where you connect to get to the promised land.
Last season only two teams landed there: the Royals and the Nationals. Kansas City hasn't reached the postseason since 1985, the longest drought in baseball; a championship seems unlikely. Washington, though, should feel good about more than its 2013 win total. The team has most everything you look for in a World Series winner.
After underachieving for most of last season, the Nationals were the best team in baseball down the stretch (26--12). They have a solid offense, especially if their two best hitters, outfielders Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, don't miss a combined 77 games again. And they have a prime-aged rotation that not only has the best pure stuff in the league but can also be even better: Ace Stephen Strasburg is ready to throw 200 innings, and trade acquisition Doug Fister, who follows Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, is baseball's best Game 4 starter.
Washington's rotation depth makes it a formidable postseason team, with the necessary caveat that parity has more than ever made October a roll of the dice. No one knows better than the father of the "playoffs-as-crapshoot" theory, A's general manager Billy Beane. Since 1999, Beane has constructed eight 90-win teams—only the Yankees and the Red Sox have more in the AL. Yet in that time Oakland has never won a game after the first round. The A's are 14--10 in postseason games until they get to a possible clincher, when they turn into 1--12 pumpkins. The dice are bound to turn, especially for a team with a deep bullpen and another top-three offense. Oakland advances this time until it runs into the Nationals.
The last time a team from D.C. won it all, Calvin Coolidge was running for president. It's been 90 years. No major league city has waited longer, which would make a championship in Washington the most distant replay imaginable.
RED SOX over RANGERS
RAYS over RED SOX
A'S over TIGERS
A'S over RAYS
REDS over GIANTS
DODGERS over REDS
NATIONALS over CARDINALS
NATIONALS over DODGERS
NATIONALS over A'S
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY STEPHEN SKALOCKY
Photograph by PATRICK MCDERMOTT GETTY IMAGES
PROMISING CAMPAIGN Think last year's September hot streak was fun, D.C. fans? Wait until this October, when Bryce Harper and the Nationals bring home the capital's first World Series triumph in 90 years.