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:
1910 WS https://t.co/V1CbL5ks8z
— Dan Hirsch (@DanHirsch) October 4, 2017
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 NBA.com’s John Schuhmann about year-over-year continuity for NBA teams. Here was his analysis following the Kyrie Irving trade six weeks ago:
Celtics down to just 4 returning players, though the Kings still returning a lower % of last season's minutes. Latest continuity rankings… pic.twitter.com/8RgvOXvXsX
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) August 23, 2017
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:
Looked up NFL team stats since Week 13 of the 2014 season … and it's sad pic.twitter.com/sAuj9vTBrK
— Jacob L. Rosen (@JacobLRosen) October 5, 2017
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:
- The Bosa Family—Brothers Joey and Nick, Father John—Share a Passion for Pass-Rushing [Michael Rosenberg/Sports Illustrated]
- Seattle Seahawks Eddie Lacy opens up about his public struggle with weight [Kevin Van Valkenburg/ESPN The Magazine]
- That Aaron Hernandez had CTE is devastating news for the NFL [Dan Wetzel/Yahoo Sports]
- How Football Stopped Being Fun [Kevin Clark/The Ringer]
- How Smart Coaches Are Overcoming The NFL’s Offensive Issues [Dom Cosentino/Deadspin]
- Inside the signature sneaker race for Giannis Antetokounmpo [Nick DePaula/ESPN]
- Hope floats: How 8 terrible teams from last season can exceed expectations this season [Matt Moore/CBS Sports]
- Daryl Morey Built an Elite N.B.A. Team. Now He’s Building a Musical. [Scott Cacciola/The New York Times]