2018 Baseball Post-Season

Mister Tee
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Re: 2018 Baseball Post-Season

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Oct 03, 2018 2:03 pm

So, if you had the Cubs as first team to be bounced from the post-season...your predictive powers are way better than mine.

It was an absorbing game, gripping if you had a rooting interest. A danfrank kind of game, I assume -- low-scoring, no home runs, the ultimate rally built on three weakish two-out singles.

The Cubs started September with a 4 1/2 game division lead. It's harder to blow something like that than you might think -- a less than 10% proposition. So they stumbled into the playoffs, and managed only 1 run in each of its two games this week. The ESPN guys said a full 40 of their 162 games, they scored either 0 or 1 run, which is hard to believe with that line-up.

On to the A.L.

Mister Tee
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Posts: 6579
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
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2018 Baseball Post-Season

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Oct 02, 2018 5:45 pm

It required an extra day, but we finally have our post-season qualifiers in position.

We had a tale of two leagues this year. The AL was a metaphor for our income inequality-riven society. For the first time, three teams in one league won 100 games or more. This was possible largely because three teams also lost 100 (with two more losing 98 and 95). The strategy of the latter teams seems to be to follow the Astros’ method: tank disastrously for several years, rebuild on the cheap with first-round draft picks. Only problem: can that work when multiple teams are going the same route? It might be like that part of Bruce Almighty, where Carrey answers so many people’s wish to win the lottery that their prizes only amount to a few dollars. We’ll see how this plays out.

Meantime, the NL was a paradigm of parity. While one team (the revived Braves) won its division easily, four other teams ended in flat ties for the other two, occasioning yesterday’s unprecedented double-playoff. It made for an entertaining enough day, but you can’t say the stakes were too high – both losing teams knew the worst they could expect was a shot at the Wild Card game today. (Not that anyone craves the elimination nature of the Wild Card, but it sure beat being sent home yesterday.) The low intensity reminded me of Bob Costas’ argument against the Wild Card 20 years ago – he noted that the most famous call in baseball history would now be revised to “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Dodgers win the Wild Card! The Dodgers win the Wild Card!”

Invoking author’s rights, I’ll begin my overview with the American League.

The Red Sox ended with the best record in their history, and, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t understand this for most of the season, and even, really, at the end. They had a few players with clear landmark seasons (Betts, Martinez, Bogaerts, maybe Benintendi), one spectacular starter in Sales, a great closer in Kimbrel, and almost no injury issues (they lost Sale for a while toward the end, but that’s when he historically dips in quality, so it may not have meant much). However, the back-end four of their line-up were substandard, their starters beyond Sale unreliable, and their middle relief a clear vulnerability. I’m not quite sure how all that led to 108 wins – and the Pythagorean numbers suggest they over-performed by 5 games. They are where they are – best record in baseball – but I’m still wondering if they can live up to that status in post-season.

That same Pythagorean system says the Astros under-performed by 6 games – meaning, according to analytics, THEY should be viewed as baseball’s best. The Stros were hurt by a stretch where Altuve, Springer and Bregman were all DL-ed at the same time…but maybe even more by their inability to find a reliable closer. An indelible image from early season was Ken Giles punching himself in the face after giving up a three-run homer to Gary Sanchez. Giles was subsequently traded, but the team never really found a Kimbrel-like replacement. It may be they’ll repeat last year’s stratagem – having their 4th-5th starters handle bullpen chores in playoff games. And, of course, in other respects they’ll be the same team that won the Series last year, so they have to be considered a solid prospect to go all the way.

Then there’s Cleveland, which had the worst record of any of the league’s post-season qualifiers, and would have finished 17 games behind the Red Sox, but coasted to a 13-game lead in their too-often moribund division. Cleveland has some excellent players, a core rotation that could get hot at any time, and much recent post-season experience, so you can’t rule them out from going far. But the numbers say, this year, they’ve mostly been lucky.

My Yankees expected to be better than last year, and were, to the tune of 100 wins – which granted them a finish 8 games behind the Red Sox, once again subject to the whimsy of a 1-game Wild Card face-off. The team had a few these-things-happen occurrences hurt them: Sonny Gray melting down utterly, Greg Bird falling off a cliff in early August, Gary Sanchez having a (by his standard) poor year. But they were more hurt by injury: losing Jordan Montgomery to Tommy John, having Tanaka miss 5 weeks after a base-running fluke, and, most emphatically, losing Judge and Sanchez for roughly the same 45-game period in August/September (I know: I said Sanchez was having a bad year – but, even with that, he’s one of the best hitting catchers in the league, well superior to his replacements). The team went 25-20 during that absence (including the 4-game Sox sweep at Fenway that put the division away), but 75-42 the rest of the way. The team now, finally, has the full line-up they envisioned (but rarely had) for the whole year – not only Judge and Sanchez back, but super rookie tandem Gleyber Torres/Miguel Andujar (who, matched with Judge/Sanchez/Severino, account for as fine a crop of young players as the team has ever produced), and high-performing Aaron Hicks/Didi Gregorius/Giancarlo Stanton. Whether all that gets them past the Oakland A’s tomorrow night remains to be seen.

Oakland is (apologies to Eric, if he still looks in here) not comparable to last year’s Twins, who were clearly a division down in talent from the Yanks. Oakland has an excellent, power-hitting line-up (led by Khris Davis) and a great bullpen; they strongly challenged the Astros well into September, and made the Yanks fight for home field advantage in the Wild Card. They could easily win Wednesday night’s contest, and make themselves far better known to the baseball world at large.

To the National League:

I assume I wasn’t alone in expecting the rejuvenated Atlanta Braves to falter at some point in the season. They have a spectacular collection of young players, who should make them contenders for years to come, but one kept expecting their just-getting-their-bearings status to trip them up at some point. This didn’t happen because the Washington Nationals unaccountably collapsed (usually, they wait till post-season for that) and the Mets suffered enough injuries to neuter their often-stellar pitching (they certainly refuted the old saw that pitching is 75% of the game). This left only the also-green Phillies as prime competition, and those Phillies DID succumb to young-team pressure, giving the Braves a fairly easy ride of it. I guess the same caveat about youth applies to the post-season: you’d expect the Braves to fall before a more experienced team. But maybe, like the Yankees last year, they’ll surprise us.

Again in terms of what many of us expected this season: I presumed that once the Cubs (in mid-summer) and Dodgers (in September) overtook their upstart competition (Brewers and Rockies, respectively) that they’d hold on solidly to the division. But this didn’t happen: both newbie teams managed to tie their division defending rivals, and the Brewers actually managed to top the Cubs at Wrigley yesterday to take the crown, and force the Cubs into a Wild Card showdown with the Rockies.

My die-hard Cubs fan friend regales me with the same injury woes as I feed him about the Yanks, and there’s certainly truth to it. But my from-the-outside take is that the Cubs have not ever really solved their three-year-old lack-of-closer issue. In retrospect, I understand Maddon overusing Chapman in 2016 – and the organization’s willingness to trade blue-chip Gleyber Torres to get him; everyone else they’ve tried in the role has gone bust (including yesterday). The Cubs are still that dynamic line-up we saw capture the crown two years ago, and they can’t be ruled out. But they’re not having the kind of lead-in to post-season that normally prefigures success.

The Dodgers also had injury issues – ones that had them in danger of falling out of the race at certain points in mid-summer – but the talent that got to Game 7 last year finally asserted itself and won the division (albeit a day late). We’ve seen this team so many times in recent post-seasons that they don’t need a whole lot of introduction. As usual, their fate will depend on whether super-performers like Kershaw play up to their abilities.

Since I don’t spend much time watching the NL, I have to confess the Brewers are pretty much a mystery to me. I’m familiar with many of their players, but from other teams (Christian Yelich, Gio Gonzalez, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain) or from scandal (Ryan Braun steroids, Josh Hader bad tweets uncovered at the All-Star game). I look forward to watching them over at least the next week. Were they to go all the way, they’d be yet another team to finally reach the promised land after a lo-o-o-ng wait: this is their 50th season, and they’ve only ever played in one (losing) World Series. (It’d also be piquant for them to win the year after the Astros, since they’re the two teams that essentially traded leagues this decade.)

And as little as I know about the Brewers, I’m expert there compared to how even less I know about the Rockies (apart from the fact that Nolan Arenado is a frickin’ great player). Colorado, being two time zones away and playing in a notoriously ridiculous ballpark, has never really got much national attention and, except for the one Series appearance, I’ve not had much occasion to observe them. Should they prevail in the Wild Card game, I’ll have a chance to learn a lot more.

I have no particular prediction for the Wild Card games -- Well, that's not really true: I'm just too superstitious to say anything about Yanks/As. I guess I would find it unlikely a team as good as the Cubs could lose two consecutive elimination games at Wrigley.

I might hazard some guesses when we get to the actual Division Series match-ups.


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