Friday, September 26, 2014
Which brings me to the language question: the use of the word "clinch." The proper use of it is to denote that a team has mathematically guaranteed a certain position while there are still games left to play in the season. So the LA Dodgers have "clinched" the NL West division championship, even though they are playing 3 more games. Basically to "clinch" means that they could lose all those games, and still win the division.
These days however, it's becoming common for writers to use "clinch" when they mean "win." This happens even on ESPN, which is usually pretty careful with language (they actually refer to "fewer points" rather than "less points.") But a team that wins 3 games of a 5 game postseason series, or 4 of a 7 game series, doesn't "clinch." They win--and as soon as a team wins 3 games in a 5 game series, that series is over, they don't play any more games. So it makes no sense to say they "clinch." I've seen "clinch" used to refer to even one game.
Why does this matter? The current National League situation tells you. Both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals have "clinched" a playoff spot. They could lose their last three games and still play in the postseason. But that's the minimum of what they've accomplished. One of those two teams is going to be the NL Central division winner (right now St. Louis is ahead by 1 game.) But nobody has yet "clinched" that position.
In this case the language describes something that's pretty important to these teams. The difference between winning the division and winning a Wild Card position is the difference between playing a three- of- five game series to advance, or playing one game to advance. For the Wild Card teams the fate of an entire season rests on the outcome of a single game, and in the majors, in a single game anything can happen.
The Giants have clinched a Wild Card spot. But they have no idea who they will be playing, or even where they will play. Those are to be determined by the outcomes of games this weekend--their three with San Diego at home, the Pirates three at Cincinnati, and the Cardinals three at Arizona. It's a classic case of clinching without yet winning.
So keep the damn word and use it correctly, sportswriters. (And for my fellow fanatics, I'm keeping up with the action over at American Dash.)