Thursday, October 1, 2009

Postseason Pinstripes: The Unique Nature of the Baseball Playoffs

It can hardly be argued that the Yankees are the best team in Major League Baseball this year. Many would have argued for the Dodgers or Red Sox in the first half of the season, but the Yanks rendered those arguments moot with a dominating second half. We have a ten game lead on the Sox. Our record is eight games better than California and nine games better than the Dodgers, who play in the inferior National League.

The Yankees are the best team in baseball. Big Whoop! Baseball is a unique game. In basketball, over a 7-game series, the best team almost always wins. In football, the dominant teams usually make it to the Super Bowl and take home the trophy. I don't know about hockey - who really cares, right?

But the baseball playoffs are unique. Very seldom does the team with the best regular season record win the World Series. A Wild Card team has won several times - they couldn't win their own division in the regular season, but won it all in the playoffs. A couple of years back, St Louis stunk up the league in September and October, and squeaked into the playoffs looking horrible. They won the World Series.

There is a reason for this. Playoff basketball is essentially the same as regular season basketball, just more intense. Same with football. But the nature of baseball changes dramatically in the postseason.

The difference is starting pitching and days off. To win a lot of games in the regular season, you need to have three, four, or five starting pitchers. If you have two dominant pitchers , that is nice, but you still have to run somebody out there three times between their starts. But in the playoffs, two dominant pitchers can win it all (ie Randy Johnson and Curt Shilling on the 2001 Diamondbacks). There are enough days off that the two dominant pitchers can lead the team to victory. Smith wins game 1, Jones wins game two, then Smith wins game 5 (or 6) and Jones wins game 6 (or 7). In the opening series, you can do the same thing if you get the extended series.

In recent years, the Yankees have had a team better suited to win lots of regular season games, but have not done well in the playoffs. I hope this year will be different, of course, but you never know.

Baseball is a quirky game. In a five games series, one team can get hot while another goes cold. The Washington Nationals could beat the Yankees in a five-game series. Not likely, but it could happen.

I am more optimistic this year. The Yankees have some of the best pitchers in the AL playoffs. all the other Cy Young contestants are on teams that missed the playoffs - Halladay (Toronto), Grienke (KC - likely Cy Young), Hernandez (Seattle). CC Sabathia is as good as any of them and better than any other playoff pitcher. Pettitte and Burnett are just about as good as the other pitchers on the teams we will play.

The Yankees have been hitting consistently - we have even beaten some of the really good pitchers.

I'm optimistic about the Yankees' chances this year. We are the best team going in. I am also realistic. Baseball is a strange sport - the best regular-season team does not always win.

But this seems like a GREAT year for #27!

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