Just get there.
That should be the goal for every team in baseball when it comes to making the playoffs. Just get there, and then roll the dice and see what happens.
You’d like to think that there’s more to that. You’d like to think that having the best record, having the hottest team, having the best pitcher, adding the biggest names at the deadline, or any other factors would lead to post-season victory. You’d think that there would be a step beyond just making the playoffs that would allow a team to secure a World Series. But as we see every year, and as we’re seeing this year once again, the playoffs are just random.
It was disappointing for the Pirates when they lost to the Cubs and Jake Arrieta. It was especially disappointing when you consider they hit him harder in the sixth inning of the Wild Card game than any team hit him all year, only to see two of the hardest hit balls result in three outs. And then the frustration continued when Arrieta struggled in his next few playoff starts, including giving up four runs in five innings to the Mets, despite none of the run scoring hits topping 100 MPH.
That’s just part of the luck that’s involved in the post-season.
You’ve also got the fact that the Cubs absolutely dominated the Mets this season, winning all seven games of the regular season series. You’d think that would mean the Cubs would have an easy route to the World Series. Instead, they were swept by a team that went a combined 7-20 to the NL playoff teams this year.
That’s not even unique to this season. The Giants went 2-4 against the Pirates in the regular season last year, only to dominate the Wild Card game. They went 2-5 against the Nationals, then beat them 3-1 in the NLDS. They took 4 of 7 against the Cardinals in the regular season, but only needed five games to get four wins in the NLCS. And the Royals swept the Giants in three games during the regular season, but lost in seven to San Francisco in the World Series.
Every year at the deadline there is a belief that you can add a big piece to help your playoff run, and improve your odds of going deeper into the playoffs. That didn’t work for the Rangers, who spent big to get Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Sam “Don’t Bat Flip After Destroying My Bad Pitch” Dyson. It didn’t help the Astros when they added Scott Kazmir, Carlos Gomez, and Mike Fiers. The Blue Jays went all in on Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, and find themselves one game from elimination and needing to take two games in Kansas City this weekend to make the World Series.
Granted, the Mets made a few moves to upgrade their offense. They added Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe in one move, and Yoenis Cespedes in another move, with the latter being huge for them down the stretch. But even with all those bats, it was Daniel Murphy who exploded in the post-season and led them to the World Series. That’s the same Daniel Murphy who was worth 0.1 WAR more than Neil Walker, with a very similar offensive stat line, and a new post-season record with homers in six consecutive games.
It doesn’t get more random than that.
The Mets are the second NL team in a row to make the World Series with the worst record of all playoff teams in the NL. If they win the World Series, they would be the third NL team in the last five years to win the World Series with the lowest regular season record of all NL playoff teams. I don’t think anyone would suggest that the strategy is to be the worst of the playoff teams, but that has led to better results lately than having the best record in the playoffs.
And just like everything else here, this isn’t suggesting that there’s a strategy to follow. It’s just pointing out another case of how the playoffs are random.
A lot of my theories on building a team are centered around the idea that the playoffs are random. Don’t go all in on one year thinking it gives you a better chance than any other playoff year. Don’t sell the future pre-season to load up in the short-term. Build a team through prospects who will help in the short- and long-term, while continually improving the playoff teams that you’ve had in previous years.
The Pirates are set up well for these things. They’ve done a great job to make the playoffs three years in a row, act as buyers for five straight years, and yet avoid giving up any key part of their future for one season. They’ve got a fairly young team that just won 98 games, and they’ll be adding a lot of top prospects next year, which will only extend their “window”, if there is such a thing.
This approach hasn’t led to a World Series title yet, and it’s only led to them making the NLDS once out of three years. But they only have so much control over that outcome, as we’ve seen over the years, including this year. The goal should be making the playoffs as many times as possible. Roll the dice enough times and your number is bound to come up eventually.
**Baseball America Releases 2015 Pirates Draft Report Card. My quick thoughts on this draft: I was critical of the 2014 draft, and it hasn’t produced great results. The 2015 group hasn’t gotten off to a great start either, from a stats perspective, but I like the entire 2015 class better than the 2014 class. That’s not saying the 2014 class won’t produce prospects. They’ve got some interesting guys, from Cole Tucker to Jordan Luplow to Tyler Eppler. It’s hard to describe what’s different about the 2015 group, except to say that I think the Pirates really nailed it this year with finding guys who fit that “strong contact, plate patience, defense at a premium position, speed, and gap power but not home run power” combo. If any draft year will result in a late round sleeper, I think it could be this year, and after seeing him in Morgantown this summer, my early pick for that guy is Logan Hill.
**AFL: Meadows Triples, Frazier Reaches Base Three Times. Austin Meadows picks up his first hit of the AFL season, while Adam Frazier continues his hot season.
**Winter Leagues: Garcia Returns From Injury, Strong Outing For Heredia. Good to see that Willy Garcia wasn’t seriously hurt in a collision at the plate earlier this week.