2006 Cardinals: Best 83-Win Team in History?

Obviously, you don't need to look at a single stat sheet to know that, from April to September, this was not the best team in baseball. Not even close.

Eight teams in the American League alone won more games this year than the Cardinals. Five teams that didn't even make the playoffs won more games than the Cardinals. Twelve teams altogether won more games than the Cardinals. And no World Series winner in the history of the universe could ever make that claim.

But we'll ask again: Why is that a bad thing? Why did all those cities out there that weren't named Detroit and St. Louis act so appalled and disinterested by a World Series matching a wild-card team on one side and an 83-win team on another?

"Isn't this a way better story line," asked Detroit's Todd Jones, "than 'Why aren't the Yankees here?' "

So the Yankees and Mets won more regular-season games than anyone else, and neither of them made it this far. Big deal.

So only once in the 12-season wild-card era -- when the 1998 Yankees completed their swath of 125-win destruction -- has the team with the best record in baseball managed to win the World Series. Big deal.

This isn't an episode of American Baseball Idol. You can't just dial some toll-free number and vote for which teams you'd like to see in the World Series. This is how it's supposed to be -- a system where every team in the field has a chance.

It's not an indictment of baseball's playoff system. It's proof that the system works -- way better than anyone gives it credit for.

Thanks to that system, the Cardinals are baseball's seventh different champion in the last seven years. And we can't tell you how much we enjoy reporting that the NFL has never had seven champs in seven years since the invention of the Super Bowl.

Thanks to that system, you never hear people whine that October baseball is too predictable anymore. And that, friends, is the whole idea.

"When I watch the tournament in college basketball," said Detroit's Curtis Granderson, "when I see the No. 1 seed up against the No. 8 or 9 seed, no matter which team I happen to like or dislike, there's a slight bit of me that wants to see that 8-9 seed upset that 1-seed, at least for that day. Maybe the next day, everyone gets a little disappointed that No. 1 team isn't there. But what makes that tournament great is that everyone wants to see that 1-seed go down."

So why does that dynamic make the NCAA tournament the most beloved event in sports -- but the same kind of upsets in baseball are regarded as some sort of disaster? That's what we're wondering. And we're not the only ones.

"In football or college basketball when this happens, people say, 'Isn't that great?' " said commissioner Bud Selig. "But when it happens in baseball, people criticize it. When the Yankees win every year, people hate the predictability. This is the unpredictability. Well, you cannot have it both ways. And quite frankly, I prefer the unpredictability. That's what makes this game the best sport in the world. There are just so many things you can't predict."

We're the first to admit we didn't predict the scene we witnessed last night. But who cares? That scene is why they bother playing the games. The predictions are just our way of reminding you -- and us -- that baseball's foremost allure is its ability to rise above any attempts to apply logic to just about anything.

"This just goes to show you why this is the best game in the world," said David Eckstein. "This just proves again that anything's possible."

Yep, anything. Even an 83-win baseball team taking a late-night October shower in a waterfall of championship confetti.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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