Getting Yu Darvish is nice, but there are no guarantees

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We recapped the winners and losers of the trade deadline last night. A lot of writers do that. It’s a fun exercise and we’ve found that readers like that kind of instant analysis. We’re under no illusions, however, that such things are predictive.

Not everyone is:

Nightengale may say that this was a case of an overzealous headline writer, but there are enough comments in the article itself to suggest that he thinks — or at least wants his readers to think — that the Dodgers picking up Darvish guarantees a World Series victory. He has a passage that talks about “when the Dodgers pop the bubbly after winning this year’s World Series.” Not if. Whether that’s an actual prediction or mere excitement in the service of hyping an article on Nightengale’s part, he seems to believe that the Darvish pickup will have a big impact come October.

It very well might. Assuming that Clayton Kershaw comes back at full strength I think it’d be reasonable for one to bet on the Dodgers. But it’d just be a bet, with all of the uncertainty that entails. As I wrote on Friday, it’s rare for the team with the best record in baseball to win it all. The playoffs are just so unpredictable due to their small sample of games.

It’s worth noting too that it’s not terribly common for the team that makes the biggest splash at the trade deadline to win it all either. Indeed, if we look back at some of the biggest trade deadline deals you see a lot of unfulfilled promise. Mostly because a big deal does not a promise make:

  • The Cubs getting Rick Sutcliffe in 1984 and the Tigers pickup of Doyle Alexander in 1987 was huge for each team — and each player was fantastic down the stretch — but a 92-win Padres team and an 85-win Twins team knocked each of those would-be juggernauts out in the league championship series;
  • The 2000 Arizona Diamondbacks were in first place in the NL West for most of the first half and went out to pick up Curt Schilling at the deadline to team with Randy Johnson. While that worked marvelously the following year, the 2000 Dbacks went 29-33 after the trade and finished in third;
  • The 1997 St. Louis Cardinals were intermittently competitive in a weak NL Central, even sitting in first place for a few days in the first half, when they picked up Mark McGwire at the deadline. Big Mac hit 24 homers in 51 games for St. Louis after the deal but the Cards faded badly, finishing 11 games behind an 84-win division-winning Astros team;
  • The 2010 Phillies picked up Roy Oswalt to match with Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. That was nifty and the Phillies won another NL East crown, but they lost to the Giants in the NLCS;
  • The 2008 Dodgers, like the 1997 Cardinals, found themselves in a weak division. They struggled a good bit in the first half before completing a blockbuster deal for Manny Ramirez. Mannywood took Los Angeles by storm, hitting .396 with 17 homers, 53 RBIs and a 1.232 OPS in 53 games to help the Dodgers edge the D-backs in the NL West. Which was great. Then they lost in NLCS to the Phillies;
  • Perhaps the team most comparable to the 2017 Dodgers is the 1998 Astros. They were already likely playoff bound, reaching first place on May 2 and never falling out of it, when they picked up Randy Johnson at the deadline. Johnson famously broke off a 10-1 run, posting a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts while striking out 116 batters in 84 innings and helping Houston reach the playoffs with 102 wins. The Padres beat ’em in the NLDS three games to one and Johnson — a rental, just like Yu Darvish — left via free agency.

Beyond those, when you think about all of the teams which entered the playoffs with killer two, three or four-headed monsters in their rotation like the Dodgers are presumed to have this year, you’re reminded that even a handful of aces provides no guarantees.

  • The 1971 Orioles had four 20-game winners in Jim Palmer, Mike Cueller, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson and got beat by the Pirates;
  • The Braves of the 1990s featured multiple Cy Young winners year after year after year and won it all only once;
  • The 2011 Phillies did one better than the 2010 crew that picked up Oswalt at the deadline — they had Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt and Cliff Lee, but they still lost;
  • The 2014 Tigers headed into the playoffs with a rotation of four past and future Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Price and Rick Porcello . . . and got knocked out by the Orioles in the ALDS;
  • Heck, the Dodgers of just two years ago had a 1-2 punch of Kershaw and an otherworldly Zack Greinke and lost in the division series themselves.

There are countless examples like this. Teams which, on paper, appeared to be unstoppable but which were ultimately stopped. Stopped either by underachievement, injury, bad luck, bad play or the seeming tyranny of a short playoff season which cares little for how well a team is built for the long regular season.

In other words, it’s baseball. It can’t be predicted like that. It’s definitely not fair. It was never meant to be. As the man once said: it’s designed to break your heart.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.