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How Should We Measure Team Success in 2019?

In a sport littered with ongoing rebuilds, it's time to appreciate teams who simply tried to win.

The 2019 Houston Astros were not a failure. Neither were the Dodgers. Nor were the Twins, Yankees, Cardinals, Phillies, Cubs or even the Mets. (Believe it, Mets fans.)

None of these teams won the World Series in 2019. But in this modern climate of baseball when burn-it-to-the-ground rebuilds are encouraged and high-end free agents are invisible to all but a select few clubs, the teams that try to win deserve to be celebrated. That’s where the sport is right now.

As it relates to the Astros, it’s worth remembering the tanktastic 2011-2013 seasons that paved the way for every ongoing rebuild. That awful stretch ultimately led to a championship in 2017 and put the team on the doorstep of another title in the two years since. Now here we are celebrating the Astros among other talented teams that didn’t win it all–because too many other clubs are trying to do what the Astros did. The irony is not lost.

There were amazing moments in Houston's 117 total wins this season, and specifically the 10 October victories. There was Gerrit Cole’s 15-strikeout destruction of the Rays. There was Jose Altuve’s walk-off, pennant-winning home run against Aroldis Chapman. There were the team's three road victories in the World Series after falling behind 0-2 to the Nationals. 

Winning 107 games, winning a division title, winning the pennant: these are substantial accomplishments. Four teams lost more than 100 games and at least 10 aimlessly floated through the season with almost no hope at all. Competitiveness is to be celebrated in 2019.

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The Twins are the most prolific success story, transforming a 78-84 team in 2018 into a 101-win juggernaut in 2019 without feeling the need to tear it all down and start over.

The Phillies aggressively pushed their timeline for contention by investing more than one-third of a billion dollars last winter in free agents Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson and trading for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto. Owner John Middleton’s “stupid money” quip was a fun punching bag on Twitter as last offseason dragged on, but every fan should hope and pray their team's owner(s) want to pour those kind of resources into an attempt at winning.

Even the Mets, forever adrift in the baseball abyss with delusional ownership, a rookie GM and a manager forever on the hot seat, made bold win-now moves by acquiring Edwin Diaz, Marcus Stroman and extending Jacob deGrom. Say what you want about the Mets—there’s plenty to talk about—but they didn’t sit on their hands like most every other team last winter.

The Dodgers, Twins, A’s and Rays may be tired of losing in October, but just playing in October is better than being the Royals, Orioles, Pirates, or any number of other teams that were out of contention before Memorial Day.

Only one team can win the World Series, but every team can at least try to win 90 games, to sneak into the postseason, to create those moments that build a young fan’s eternal bond with a team. Vince Lombardi’s “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” take is passed around as gospel, but limiting the definition of success to “winning a championship” ignores so much of what makes sports fun.

A title-or-bust narrative condenses six months of ups and downs, of jump-out-of-your-seat comebacks, of slam-your-laptop-shut meltdowns into just a few weeks. Those 162 games, those walk-offs and rallies and dingers and hanging curveballs and dropped pop-ups and stolen bases and all the plays and moments that make up this great game, those are worth following and rooting for and giving a damn about. Teams that give players and fans reason to care, those are the teams to celebrate in 2019. All of them.