Why The Angels And Cubs Lost…And Other Thoughts

The general consensus going into the playoffs was that the Angels and Cubs would be meeting in the World Series.  They were clearly the two best teams during the regular season, so why couldn’t they each win their first round series?  I am among those who are not surprised at what happened.  There are two seasons in baseball: the regular season and the postseason.  The regular season determines which teams will play in postseason, but beyond that, one has nothing to do with the other.  In Major League Baseball‘s postseason, there are no favorites and underdogs.  It is who
is playing the best baseball in October.  Simple as that. Baseball’s playoffs are largely unpredictable. 

 

Why is this?  There are two factors.  The first one is the inconsistent nature of baseball.  Out of the four major U.S. sports, baseball is the toughest sport to win on a consistent basis.  You will rarely ever see a team dominate a sport in the same way as you would in other sports.  You will never see a winning percentage in the .700’s like you would in the NBA or NFL.  This, among other things, has to do with the fact that the
most influential player on a baseball team changes each night – the pitcher.  Pitchers exert the most control over a game.  You
can have the best baseball team in the world, but if your pitcher is
struggling on any given night, you’re going to have a hard time winning
that game.  The inability to achieve consistency
in baseball also has to do with the fact that your best offensive
player is expected to fail at least 60% of the time.  This is not the case in other sports.  You can expect the Lakers‘ best offensive player, Kobe Bryant, to play at least a decent game each night but the same cannot be said for Kobe ‘s counterpart on a baseball team.  A baseball team’s best offensive weapon will occasionally come up empty and is expected to do so. 

 

The second factor is baseball’s playoff format.  Major
League Baseball has twice as many regular season games as that of the
NBA or NHL because the inconsistent nature of baseball requires a
greater sample size of games to determine the best teams.  One
would think that baseball would carry that same logic into the
postseason, but instead goes the other direction and features a
five-game series as opposed to the seven-game first round series in
basketball and hockey.  This doesn’t make sense.  So, what you have is a first-round Division Series that is, as Joe Torre put it, “a crapshoot”.  In a short series, a
weaker team has a greater chance of upsetting the better team.  A
couple of breaks that go your way, especially in the first game, and
that can be enough to swing a five-game series in your favor.  Even
the seven-game LCS and World Series rounds do not feature enough games
to accurately determine the best teams, in my opinion, but they are
certainly better than five.  (By the way, I’m not saying the Dodgers
were the weaker team.  In my opinion, the Dodgers are just as good as
the Cubs and if that is not the case, they are at least much better
than their regular-season record indicates).

 

So, Major League Baseball is partially to blame for the early elimination of the Angels and Cubs.  The rest of the blame falls on the teams themselves.  Both teams played bad baseball.  It wasn’t just a matter of winding up on the losing end of close games.  Both teams committed errors, walks, and other mistakes that they would not usually make.  Why
two very good teams would suddenly play bad baseball in the most
meaningful series of the year (up to that point), I do not know, but I
do have a theory.  When was the last time the Angels and Cubs faced pressure?  The Angels and Cubs each ran away with their divisions and clinched early.  When was the last time these guys faced must-win games?  The
Dodgers and Red Sox however, have been playing hard for the last month
or two in order to keep up with Arizona and Tampa Bay .  Both teams are accustomed to having to bring their A-games to the park each night in order to avoid falling out of the pennant race.  Last week’s Division Series was a wake-up call for the Angels and Cubs.  The Dodgers and Red Sox however, were already up.  Both the
Angels and Cubs looked uncomfortable last week.  The cakewalk they both enjoyed during the season turned into a pressure-cooker and neither team seemed to respond well to it. 

 

Other thoughts…

I do not expect the dominance that characterized the Division Series to carry over into the League Championship Series.  All four LCS teams have been playing great baseball the past few weeks and both series should be hard-fought.

While
the Dodgers and Phillies should be evenly-matched, I think the Dodgers
may have a psychological advantage.  When you start a series on the
road, you always have that knowledge that even if you lose the first
two games, you’re coming back home for three games.  You can play a
little more relaxed.  When you start a series at home, the pressure is
greater knowing that you have to play well in those two games because
you’re going out on the road for three games.  I also think that the
Dodgers will be able to concentrate better without the extra adrenalin
from playing in front of the hometown fans.  When you do come home,
you’re a little more relaxed.  This may not be an issue with veterans
as much as it is would be for younger players, who make up a sizeable
and significant portion of the Dodger team. 

I
attended Saturday night‘s game.  The stadium was electric and I will never forget that 9th inning.
The anticipation of the Dodgers’ first postseason victory since 1988 and the first Division Series win ever, was heightened with each strike that Jonathan Broxton threw.  The crowd got louder and louder with each strike, until the final one was thrown to Alfonso Soriano and the crowd erupted.  The excitement and thrills from that win made the exhausting walk across the main parking lot and up the hill to the parking lot behind the Think Blue sign, a little easier.

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