My 3 Biggest Takeaways from the MLB Postseason thus far.
Well, not sure when I expected to be writing something about the Orioles season ending, but I can tell you I didn't have it via domination in a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers. A 101 win season, gone in 3 games. I know Rays fans share my pain. I know Dodgers fans share it, and I know Braves fans are feeling a similar way as of this morning. It's what makes baseball so great. The fact that anybody can win on any given day.
The Orioles ran into a buzzsaw, and the Dodgers couldn't pitch, and the Phillies own the Braves in October it seems. I wanted to give you all, the people, an honest recap of some of the most interesting things on my mind as I've watched the games unfold this past week.
1. The mixed reviews on the playoff format is fascinating.
If you follow baseball at all, I'm sure you've heard the debate about the postseason format. It's truly an interesting case study. The new format has been in place for the last 2 seasons. While some say it is too small of a sample size (which is fair), it's worth looking at the effects of the format on the postseason. I did some of the math, calculating the win % for the top 2 seeds in each league the last 2 years, and the numbers kind of surprised me frankly. It's easy to see this year, that the teams with the 3 best records (Orioles, Dodgers, and Braves) have gone 1-9 in the playoffs. It's no secret that the MLB Playoffs are drastically different than the 162 game season they play from March until September. But it really goes to show how different the game is and how different it is played in the month of October.
The Houston Astros have been to 7 straight ALCS'. That is an unbelievable statistic that goes to show the dominance of the Astros over the last decade. Say what you will about their cheating scandal, we are years and years behind it and they continue to dominate using different new players year after year. If you are a baseball fan, you have to give them credit where credit is due. When it comes to the Postseason, nobody plays better more often than the Houston Astros. Dusty Baker always has his guys prepared for the biggest moments, something that young teams like the O's and Twins lack.
Now delving into the format specific numbers a little further, Seeds 1 and 2 in this playoff format have a win percentage of .476 (20-22). These are teams with the 2 best records in their respective conferences during the regular season, and that comes with a week long bye between games. It's worth noting that that is the longest such break between games for teams all season, from late February to October the only other break is the All-Star Break, which is a 3 or 4 day break in game action.
It goes without saying; if you want to win in the playoffs, play better. A week off should benefit each team. But for a game with so much rhythm and day-to-day action, a week off has shown the tendency to get these teams cold. We just saw it in the Braves series, they had the most prolific offense all season, and scored a grand total of 8 runs over 4 games against Philly (and 5 of those came in the Game 2 comeback win at Truist Park). Now, major credit to the Philly pitching staff, but the best offense scoring an average of 2 runs a game? It's not everything, but everything is something.
In an even more alarming look at the statistics, when you remove Houston from the playoff records under the new format, Seeds 1 and 2 in the playoffs have a combined winning percentage of .240 (6-19). 6 wins in 25 games for the best teams in each league. How? What? As a baseball fan, that just doesn't make any sense. Houston clearly has it figured out, as was mentioned in an earlier paragraph, but when removing them from the equation it is clear that Houston has something that the other top seeds don't. Experience? Sure. Poise? Maybe. Really, who knows? Only time will tell.
The solution is simple: Play Better. The Orioles were outmatched, the Dodgers weren't built for a deep playoff run, and Atlanta looked like the inferior team all series. The format is not the problem and it is not a valid excuse. However, the statistics on win/loss record for teams with the byes is certainly interesting. That's the only intention of this portion of the article.
2. Starting Pitching is King in the Playoffs
There's a clear denominator from the teams that have advanced and those that haven't: Starting Pitching. The Orioles and Dodgers each got swept, and aside from Kyle Bradish's decent outing in Game 1 of the ALDS, the longest outing by any Dodgers or Orioles pitcher was 2.2 innings. Dean Kremer struggled, Grayson Rodgriguez struggled, Clayton Kershaw struggled, Bobby Miller & Lance Lynn both struggled. The Rays struggled with pitching, the Twins couldn't hold down the Astros, etc. If you lost in the Wild Card or Division Series, it was likely because of a lack of starting pitching.
On the flip side, if you won in the Division Series or Wild Card series, it was likely because you got effective pitching. Yes, the Rangers lineup is red-hot, but Nathan Eovaldi dealt in Game 3. Yes, the Astros can hit, but Jose Urquidy was nails in Game 4 for the Astros, stifling the Twins. Ranger Suarez was great in Game 4 for the Phillies, not to mention the great outings from himself, Zach Wheeler, and Aaron Nola in Games 1, 2, and 3.
The figure shown is the top 5 teams in playoff era. Not a coincidence 4 of these 5 teams are the ones still alive in the playoffs.
*Also worth noting, the top 3 teams in Playoff ERA all played against teams with a week off prior to their games in the Division Series*
If you want to win in the playoffs, you have to pitch. It's that simple. You can never get enough pitching, end of story.
The biased O's fan in me would love to see the team go add a veteran starter or two with some playoff experience. The O's walked 11 hitters in Game 2 of the ALDS, and you're simply not going to win many games - if any at all- with that formula. Especially against high-powered offenses, you just can't do that. Clayton Kershaw recorded a single out on 6 Earned Runs in Game 1 against the D-Backs, and that can't happen either. Runs are much harder to come by in the postseason, and you can't spot the opposing team a myriad of runs if you want to maintain chances to win.
3. Experience Matters
It was clear that the bright lights were too much for the Orioles. Their pitching reflected just that in each game of the series. The Twins also looked like they'd also bit off more than they could chew, with how the Astros seemed to just have a leg up on them the entire time. The Dodgers pitching staff consisted of Playoff-weary Clayton Kershaw, and several rookies. Against a red-hot D-backs team that was hungry to win, those rookies simply weren't build to hold up. These environments are so drastically different from what they are in the regular season, and the magnitude just can't be replicated in simulated games/practices.
The Phillies knew going into Atlanta that they had what it took to beat them. They did it a year ago. Even with the Braves regular season record against Philly (8-5), the Phillies held nothing back going into Atlanta, because they knew they could do it. And honestly, they dominated most of that series. The Braves looked like themselves only in the final 3 innings of Game 2, and looked like the inferior team the rest of the series.
The Rangers don't have much playoff experience as a franchise, but they've added so many pieces that do. Nathan Eovaldi, Corey Seagar, Marcus Semien, Aroldis Chapman, Will Smith, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, were all brought in, to name a few. These guys each bring a plethora of playoff expertise (and while deGrom or Scherzer may not have played, their presence and advice certainly helps). And clearly, they outmatched the Orioles in just about every facet of the game.
Now to the Astros. They didn't have a great regular season, but they have certainly made their presence felt here in the Playoffs. It is also why I'm tempted to lean Houston in the best of 7 ALCS, because of their experience and home-field advantage. I'm confident that the Rangers will put up a fight, but it will be tough to win a series having to play at Minute Maid 4 times against a team that no moment is too big for. Regardless, I could not be more excited to watch.