What Have We Learned From the MLB Wild Card Games? – BaseballFriday, October 9, 2015 20:00
Lessons learned from the 2015 MLB Playoffs Wild Card Games.
What Have We Learned From the MLB Wild Card Games?
The 2015 Major League Baseball postseason is officially underway, and we’ve already seen a couple of remarkable games. First, the two American League Wild Card teams – the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros – faced off in Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Then we watched the unlucky Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, either of whom would have taken the division crown in any division but their own, face off in a single-elimination Wild Card game of their own. Each team did its best, but only the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs will be playing in the Divisional Round. So what did we learn from the triumph of Houston and Chicago, and what can we conclude from New York and Pittsburgh’s respective demises?
An ace is essential in the postseason
Okay, so maybe this isn’t new information – teams and fans have become increasingly aware of the value of an ace pitcher in the postseason for a few years now. But it’s still worth noting that, for yet another year, we’ve seen that a single elite pitcher can protect his team from elimination in the Wild Card round. Last year, Madison Bumgarner carried a relatively weak San Francisco team (sorry, Giants fans, but it’s true) past a solid Pirates team and all the way to a World Series championship. This year, the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta silenced the Pirates in Pittsburgh while American League Cy Young favorite Dallas Keuchel made things easy for the Astros in Yankee Stadium. The Pirates’ Gerrit Cole is a great pitcher, but he couldn’t quite hang with the elites this year; the Yankees, with all due respect to Masahiro Tanaka, don’t really have an ace at all. Not having a guy the caliber of Arrieta or Keuchel (or Kershaw, Bumgarner, DeGrom, etc.) really cost the losing Wild Card teams.
Momentum is overrated
The Houston Astros backed into the playoffs this year – there’s no other way to put it. It was only a couple of months ago that the Astros were sitting pretty on top of the American League West; instead, they crashed to earth and needed things to go their way on the last day of the season to avoid a one-game playoff for the Wild Card. But regular season blues don’t always carry into the playoffs – for that matter, neither do regular season hot streaks. And with Keuchel on the mound keeping the Yankees hitters in fits, Houston’s playoff squad found their footing and earned a huge win to stay alive.
It makes sense that momentum wouldn’t be a huge deal in the playoffs. The roster changes when the playoffs start (from the 40-man roster that started in September back down to a 25-man postseason roster), so it’s almost fair to say this isn’t the same team that was so recently slumping. Plus, aces like Keuchel are paid to end losing streaks and start winning ones.
The Wild Card system is very unfair
We’re looking at you, Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates accumulated 98 wins this year, the most of any team not named the St. Louis Cardinals. All the teams left in the playoffs besides the Cards are, arguably, worse than the Pirates. But baseball’s long-standing divisions and relatively recent addition of the second Wild Card have created a system under which teams like the Pirates are punished merely for being in the same division as the year’s best team. The Cubs won 97 games, which is also more than any team outside of the NL Central. The National League Wild Card was a single-elimination game between the second and third-best teams in baseball, and that’s insane.
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