How Two Astounding Spurts Have Changed the 2017 MLB Playoffs Landscape

How Two Astounding Spurts Have Changed the 2017 MLB Playoffs Landscape

Francisco Lindor (left) and Jay Bruce of the Cleveland Indians celebrate after defeating the Baltimore Orioles at Progressive Field on Sept. 10, 2017, in Cleveland.

SourceDavid Maxwell/Getty

Why you should care

Because Major League momentum is real, my friend. 

Major League Baseball clubhouses are filled with clichés, at least when swarms of microphones are present.

The 162-game season is a grind, we’re just focused on keeping this team together.

Every day, every game represents a fresh start. We can turn this thing around.

These are just two of the many accepted platitudes repeatedly hurled at hordes of reporters, but reason exists for the regurgitation of clichés in baseball. “The season truly is a grind,” says Erik Pappas, a former big league catcher with stints in Chicago and St. Louis. “Maintaining a positive mindset is as important as any physical part of the game.” But when push comes to shove, can a team’s mentality really dictate an entire season’s worth of momentum? One look at two previously unfathomable late-season streaks strongly indicates “yes.”

On Aug. 24, the odds of the Indians winning 18 straight games were 1 in 44,166. It happened.

And on Sept. 2, the odds of the Dodgers losing 10 games in a row were 1 in 130,164. This streak also happened.

In late August, the Dodgers were 91-38, just the sixth MLB team in history to win 90 games in the first 126 outings of the season. Then, as September approached, the losses began. Los Angeles, a team that was once on pace for a record-breaking season, dropped 11 games in 10 days.

Meanwhile, Cleveland totally turned its season around — not one loss from Aug. 24 to Sept. 14. The Indians rattled off a record 22-game winning streak and have won 29 of their last 31 games. At 102-60, they’re two wins short of the Dodgers for baseball’s best record and, as ESPN’s Buster Olney puts it, “clearly the team to beat.”

Right now, the Indians are in the driver’s seat, but plenty of other clubs are fine-tuned and ready to make a move.

But baseball’s grueling 162-game season means that streaks can turn at a moment’s notice, notes former Mets pitcher and current MLB on TBS analyst Ron Darling. All that matters is being on a roll when the playoffs arrive. “The playoffs are really a new season,” Darling says.

Right now, the Indians are in the driver’s seat, but plenty of other clubs are fine-tuned and ready to make a move. “The team that’s been lost in the shuffle is Washington,” Darling says, noting that Los Angeles’ huge start to the season has overshadowed its equally talented, oft-injured National League foe. Washington has had a “historic offensive year … In a weird way, they might enter the postseason as a team that could get on a roll,” he adds.

Of course, before earning a ticket to the World Series, both the Nationals and Dodgers have to go through the defending champions. The Chicago Cubs were two games under .500 at the All-Star break, battling the dreaded World Series hangover and lacking day-to-day consistency, particularly on the mound. “Last year, their top trio of starting pitchers — [Jake] Arrieta, [Jon] Lester and [Kyle] Hendricks — threw as well as any group ever,” says Darling. But Chicago went on a 46-24 streak in the second half, best in the National League. More consistency by the aforementioned pitchers, plus the addition of José Quintana, helped the Cubs clinch the NL Central. They’ll meet Washington in the first round.

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Los Angeles Dodger Kenta Maeda reacts after giving up a home run to the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 11.

Source Ezra Shaw/Getty

But momentum means zilch if it doesn’t continue in October, and, according to Darling, one team in the running for title contention can control the game at a more micro level. “The Yankees bullpen is unmatched by anyone,” Darling says.

Only two teams will ride home runs, pitching and pure luck to pennant glory. While crafty pitching could do the trick in New York, Cleveland is hoping that continued prayer to the shrine of Jobu will keep the team on track. Sometimes, momentum means whatever it takes.

Even idolizing a Hollywood effigy.

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