Indians, WWW

Baseball’s playoffs have coin flip odds: While We’re Waiting

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Today, we arrive at the 2017 American League Division Series. To those who are unaware, I want to first highlight one big, bad fact: the Major League Baseball playoffs are mostly a crapshoot.

This season, both the favored New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks won their respective Wild Card games at home. But in the previous five seasons of the new Wild Card system, home teams were 3-7 with five shutout losses. New York’s victory was the first in the AL Wild Card game by a home team in nine innings.

Wild Card teams have a history of continued postseason success, too, dating back to the expansion of the playoffs in 1995. In the Division Series, Wild Card teams are 23-21. In the League Championship Series, Wild Card teams are 12-11. In the World Series, Wild Card teams are 6-6.

Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe had an article last month on how September records – as pushed to the extreme by the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers – end up having no correlation with playoff success. But that’s just part of a bigger picture whereas regular seasons records overall don’t mean a tremendous amount when it comes to actually succeeding in October.

So, while the Cleveland Indians are the deserving favorites in their five-game series that begins tonight against the Yankees, keep in mind that this is baseball after all. Yes, having likely Cy Young winner Corey Kluber potentially start two games is a huge boost. Yes, having last year’s playoff experience certainly doesn’t hurt. But it may all be meaningless soon if things break in just an unfortunate way in three total games.

It’s a pretty wild sport where 162 games in six months all comes down to just a fateful few matchups in October. The Wild Card game itself is a winner-take-all bloodbath for survival. But even as the series stretch out to five games or seven games, the odds don’t stretch out any more favorably for the favored teams. It’s pretty much ultimately the same as a coin flip.

The Dodgers (104), Indians (102) and Astros (101) all finished with over 100 wins this season. But it’s an astoundingly rare fact for such well-accomplished regular season teams to end up facing each other in the postseason. Dan Hirsch shared all of the times that 100-plus win teams have actually met in the playoffs:

If the Astros and Indians both win as expected in the Division Series, then we’ll see a bit of history that hasn’t taken place in a generation-plus. If the Dodgers and Indians take care of their home-field advantage and meet in the World Series, it’ll be quite the rarity of the year’s best teams actually playing on the biggest stage (And it’ll also be cause for me to gush over Dave Roberts again.).

Here are some other neat-o stats from the world of Cleveland sports:

I always enjoy reading’s John Schuhmann about year-over-year continuity for NBA teams. Here was his analysis following the Kyrie Irving trade six weeks ago:

At first glance, the Cavaliers roster might seem drastically different. But in reality, it’s pretty much just Kyrie and the entire end of the bench that’s gone. Eight of the nine top players in 2016-17 minutes return from last season, along with a giant collection of new rotation contributors.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Boston Celtics. In total, they only return four players from last season’s surprising No. 1 seed: Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart. That’s the lowest number of returning players in the league. There’s a lot of deserving hype for the Celtics, but this is also quite the extreme roster turnover.

With Sunday’s brutal loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns fell to 1-19 in Hue Jackson’s head coaching tenure, 2-29 in their last 31 franchise games and 4-37 dating back to Week 13 of the 2014 season. It’s a profound and prolonged run of abysmal football. Here’s a look at where this stands in context to the rest of the league:

The Browns have the worst offense in the league. They also have the second-worst defense in the league, only to the New Orleans Saints. It’s pretty astounding to be this bad for this long yet again.

Various sports links I’ve read recently:

  • MartyDaVille

    Yeah, I’m afraid a lot of Tribe fans just assume that we’re just going to cruise into the World Series again. We might. But we might get swept by the Yankees. And if we do exit early, the crushed expectations will lead to some bitter recriminations, particularly by fans who don’t realize how hard it is for any team to win it all.

    Crap shoot indeed. There are no guarantees, and there is no such thing as “we deserve it.”

  • Shadow_play

    I think I’m more nervous for the Indians this year than last year based on those heightened expectations. Whereas last year I was happily along for the ride, this year every post season game will be nerve racking.

  • RGB
  • scripty

    I had to go and make sure my TV gets FS1 (75 on Spectrum)

  • scripty

    Just assume they are losing the first round and then be happy for every win.

  • mgbode
  • jpftribe

    Kid won’t be home from college to make the game. Anyone interested in a pair of tix to tomorrows game? Sec 431, face value (what I paid). Must be a Tribe fan, or RGB.

    I can’t stand the thought of selling these on stubhub to a Yankees fan.

  • RGB

    I won;t be in town until 11ish.

  • CBiscuit

    Thought you might appreciate seeing this (or find it interesting) on the thoughts and prayers- Congress NRA money tie.

    (I can delete this in a bit…just wanted to pass along)

  • CBiscuit

    What a great offer! If you don’t have any better takers in the WFNY community, I’d love to buy them for my brother. Let me know.

  • jpftribe

    If he’s a tribe fan, they are yours. You can hit me



    mactruck (subtract truck)


    Send me a note so I can delete this.

  • CBiscuit

    Yep, he’s a huge fan too. Doesn’t get to go to many games…but takes the vets he works with, opening day, watches all the others on TV, etc. Super great guy. He’ll be stoked. Thanks again (and ok to delete your message and email)!

  • BenRM

    Posts like these are one of the many reasons I love WFNY.


    It’s crazy that they play 162 games as a means of making sure it’s a big enough sample size to know who’s really good. And then throw that out the window.

    It makes it all that much more amazing that the Royals were able to rebound from losing a game 7 at home and come back and win it the next fall. I also remember the Rangers getting close and losing in gut wrenching fashion. By all rights, the Tribe team should be good enough–and has been playing well enough–to wear down an opponent over five or seven games. But all it takes is one bad bounce…

    Also, WFNY Management, the Arby’s autoplay ads are officially re-damn-diculous. 0/10, would not buy Arby’s gyro.

  • Garry_Owen

    FYI, don’t think I didn’t see it. I’ve now signed you up for every newsletter, free sample, and mailing list on the interwebs, using your email address. Enjoy!

  • jpftribe


    I’m already getting spammed by RGB’s porn bots.