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.