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Thinking Outside the Batter's Box: Hottest teams succeed in postseason

Thinking Outside The Batter’s Box is a blog about baseball published every week.

Thinking Outside The Batter's Box is a blog about baseball published every week.
Thinking Outside The Batter’s Box is a blog about baseball published every week.

by Jacob Gurvis
September. The pennant chase. Playoff berths. The last month of the regular season in baseball is exciting. Every game matters when teams are fighting for playoff spots. One win or loss can change everything for a team, or an entire division. Then after September comes to an end and the Postseason begins, all records and regular season details are thrown out the window. Sure, it may be bold to say that the regular season doesn’t matter when in the playoffs. Don’t believe me? Look at the World Series.
With the Kansas City Royals (89-73) facing the San Francisco Giants (88-74), not only are two wild card teams in the World Series, but this is also the first Fall Classic ever with two under-90-win teams. This is not a complaint. I think this series has been very exciting. But it just goes to show that when teams are battling in the postseason, it doesn’t matter who the best teams are, it matters who plays the best for the month of October.
If you look at the teams that made the playoffs this season, we have the 96-win Orioles, the 90-win Tigers, the 98-win Angels, the 96-win Nationals, the 90-win Cardinals, and the 94-win Dodgers. Now if you intend to tell me that both the Royals and Giants are better than all of those teams, I would have to call you crazy.
Sure, both teams are solid, but they surely don’t have the star power of any other team. Imagine a World Series with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu facing off against David Price, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander. Kershaw vs. Miguel Cabrera. That would be fantastic. Baseball’s best hitter against baseball’s best pitcher. Now, I don’t mean to detract from what Giants ace Madison Bumgarner has done this postseason, because he has been incredible. But Bumgarner vs. Alex Gordon just doesn’t have that same exciting ring to it.
The Angels, Tigers, Nationals, Orioles, and Dodgers are all better teams on paper than either team in the World Series. But when it came to the playoffs, the Royals and Giants have been the two hottest teams. They have played the best baseball all month, and that’s why they are the last two teams standing, even though not many people expected it. The Royals won their first eight postseason games, winning the Wild Card game, and sweeping the ALDS and ALCS. The Giants have won the championship every two years (2010, 2012, and let’s face it, they’ll probably win this year too). They don’t always have the best lineup or pitching. But when it comes to the pressure-filled situations where it counts, they have that extra something that makes them a perennial playoff team.
In 2014, the Royals had the fewest homers in the game, with only 95. They were the only team to hit under 100 home runs. The Giants had the second-fewest stolen bases in baseball, and the Royals had the most. The Royals had the fewest walks, but also the fewest strikeouts in baseball. So neither team was bad. But neither team was incredible either.
My point isn’t to rash on the Giants or Royals. They’re good teams, and the World Series has been exciting. But it just goes to show that what happens during the regular season doesn’t always matter. The team with the best players and most superstars doesn’t always win. It’s not about talent, it’s about who plays the best in a very short, but very important window. And that’s why small-market teams like the Athletics and Royals aren’t at a disadvantage.
I am not saying that the regular season is pointless. I love watching baseball as much as possible, and do not think the season is too long or monotonous. But after the excitement of the pennant chase and getting into the playoffs, all expectations and regular season trends can be discounted. Because while it’s not a total crapshoot, you can’t really predict who will do well. The 2013 Red Sox were very good all season. They weren’t necessarily the best team on paper, but during the playoffs, they were playing near-perfect baseball, and were unstoppable, much like the two teams in this year’s World Series.
By no means is this trend a bad thing. It gives teams an opportunity to start over in a sense, if they finished the regular season poorly (like this year’s A’s). And it makes the playoffs less predictable. When the New England Patriots make the playoffs every year, everyone assumes they will automatically make it to the AFC Championship. In baseball, that assumption cannot be made, because teams surprise us every year. And that what makes the MLB playoffs so special. The unpredictability, the passion, the excitement. Call me a biased baseball fan, but it’s like nothing else in sports.

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