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Posts Tagged ‘Division Series’

First and foremost this postseason, I hope the Minnesota Twins win it all.  If that can’t happen, all I ask for is some excitement in major league baseball’s postseason.  It’s been a long time since there’s been some serious drama for the baseball playoffs. 

My definition of a great postseason is fairly simple: a lot of series-deciding games and underdog victories.  I need plenty of division series that go to five games and championship series and World Series that reach the seventh game.  By this definition, the last good postseason was 2003.  

In the last decade of postseason play, there have been 70 series: 40 division series, 20 championship series and 10 World Series.  Only 27 percent (19) have gone to a deciding game.  It’s up to you to determine if this number is low, but to me, it’s far too low.  Why?  Because it’s October and soon I’m not going to see competitive baseball for five lonely months and I want to see as much as possible before I spend 10 minutes every morning scraping ice off my windshield while dreaming of the warm breeze running through the upper deck of Target Field. 

I’ll break down the number of deciding games in each series:
Division series – 25% (10 of 40)
Championship series – 35% (seven of 20)
World Series – 20% (two of 10). 

Only two World Series have reached a seventh game and they came in back-to-back seasons (2001 & 2002).  This is the lowest total by decade since the 1930s, when there was also only two seventh games (the highest total was six, in the 1960s).  This cannot stand.  I realize a good seven-game series has a lot to due with luck and getting two very evenly matched teams against each other.  There’s not much more to it than that.  This blog is not about solutions or reasons why baseball hasn’t had a good postseason for a while.  It’s pretty much just a baseball fan venting his frustration.  

Despite Minnesota’s first of four straight first-round exits in the 2003 playoffs, it proved to be a great October to watch baseball.  In the division series the Cubs and Braves traded wins with Chicago taking the final game thanks to the pitching of Kerry Wood.  The Oakland A’s took the first two games against the Red Sox, only to watch Boston win three straight to send them to the ALCS against the Yankees.  The Marlins / Giants series proved exciting even if it was decided in four games with Florida winning the fourth game thanks to the heroics of Ivan Rodriguez.  

The last time there was a great postseason, Kerry Wood was a good pitcher for the Cubs.

 

Then came the championship series.  On paper they look exciting with both games going to a seventh game.  In real life, they were more than exciting.  At the time, I was rooting for the Red Sox and Cubs, as was most of the nation.  The Red Sox hadn’t won their World Series they’d get the next year and spawn millions of bandwagon fans and the same can be said for Cubs fans … minus the World Series title, of course.  Boston held a 5-2 lead of the seventh game entering the eighth inning.  Some Red Sox fans will point fingers to manager Grady Little or Pedro Martinez, but I pointed straight up to Babe Ruth.  It was the last year of the curse of the Bambino as he guided the Yankees to score three eighth-inning runs followed by an eleventh inning home run by Aaron Boone to take the Yankees to the World Series.  

On the north side of Chicago, there was also a curse involved, but this one hasn’t been broken yet and has much more to do with a poorly run organization and play.  With the Cubs holding a 3-2 lead in the series and a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning, Moises Alou threw a conniption fit when he wasn’t able to make a catch on a foul ball in the stands which then caused shortstop Alex Gonzalez to drop an easy ground ball which then caused the Chicago Cubs to wet the bed and allow eight eighth-inning runs and lose 8-3.  Wood was rocked in the seventh game and Florida won to take the NL pennant.  

The World Series didn’t go seven games, but when the Yankees are involved, I also root for a quick finish.  Josh Beckett shut down New York 2-0 in the sixth game, giving the Florida Marlins their second championship.  

That was a good World Series.  The last great World Series was in 2002 when the Anaheim Angels defeated Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants four games to three.  

Seven years!  It’s been seven years since baseball fans have seen a truly great World Series and six years since there has been a good amount of drama throughout the postseason.  We’re due.  

What do I want from my postseason?  I want John Smoltz versus Jack Morris-style pitching duels.  I want underdog victories from the small-market teams as well as teams who haven’t been seen in the postseason for a long time.  I feel like a James Bond villain as I say this, but I want the Yankees eliminated!  I don’t want to see them in the championship series, let alone the World Series.  The same can be said for the Philadelphia Phillies, but not to the same extent.  I like the players on the Phillies, but they’ve been dominating the National League playoffs the last two seasons and I’d like to see someone new in the World Series.  

FOX Sports and Yankees fans are the only ones who would love to see A-Rod go deep in the postseason.

 

There are some great story lines waiting to happen, but none of them include Mariano Rivera getting the last out in another World Series.  No one thought the Reds would be better than the Cardinals, much less the rest of the division.  The Giants lineup, with exception to rookie Buster Posey (great baseball name, by the way), is from the land of misfit toys.  Baseball fans would like to remember Bobby Cox’s last postseason as a competitive one.  No one believes in the Rays, especially in Tampa Bay.  The Rangers have never won a postseason series.  The Minnesota Twins are the greatest baseball organization in the history of mankind. 

There are so many good things that can happen this postseason.  I’m hoping for all the baseball that’s possible.  The postseason will consist of between 24 and 41 games.  C’mon baseball, we won’t see you for a while … let’s make it last. 

The end of the last great postseason.

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With the importance of the World Series and the excitement of the league championship series (the Final Four of baseball), the division series often gets overlooked.  Sometimes it’s for good reason, but not always.  The division series marks the beginning of the baseball postseason and is about a month away.  It’s only a best-of-five series and many times is over in the minimum games.  But there is an excitement to the division series and is slowly developing its own history.  The World Series began in 1903.  The championship series began in 1969.  The division series is only 15 years old, having begun after the 1995 season (technically, it would have begun after the 1994 season if there hadn’t been a strike).  

Major League Baseball has just the right amount of playoffs.  There’s not too much like the NHL and NBA and there’s not too little like college football.  The NHL and NBA welcome 16 teams into its playoffs while college football only has one game to determine the national champion.  

Unfortunately, much of the division playoffs are over far too soon.  Eight teams make it to the major league playoffs; four from each league.  There’s the three division winners and one wild-card team.  The division winner with the most wins in each league plays the wild-card team, unless that team is in the same division as the team with the most wins.  In that case, the team with the most wins plays the division winner with the least wins.  

Since the division series began in 1995, there have been 60 series.  Of those 60, 25 (42%) of them have been sweeps.  Only 13 (22%) of the division series have gone to a deciding game 5.  This can be compared to baseball’s championship series, which was a best-of-five series until it was changed to best-of-seven in 1985.  From 1969 through 1984, 10 of 32 championships series (31%) went to a fifth game. 

Thanks to Jeremy Giambi's inability to slide into home plate on a close play, the A's managed to drop the fifth game of the ALDS four seasons in a row.

 

There is a lack of excitement in the first round of playoffs.  Is it because the best teams are just that good?  The team with the best record in its league has a 20-10 series record in the first round.  Among those 20 wins, the top team in each league hold a 57-6 record.  In the 10 series losses, the top team’s record is 13-33.  When the favorite team wins the division series, it does so quickly most of the time.  Yes, there are upsets, but the seeding in the playoffs seems to fit well.  

When the division series begins in early October, I’ll be hoping for as many five-game series as possible (minus the Twins).  Never has all four division series in a year gone five games.  In 2001, three series went to a deciding game 5.  That was the only time three series went that far.  Two series in each 2002 and 2003 went five games, but those were the only years more than one series went beyond four games.  

If it’s excitement baseball fans are looking for in the division series, a big thanks needs to go out to the Oakland A’s.  For four straight years (2000-2003) the A’s took their respective division series to the fifth game … and lost every one of them.  In 2001 and 2003, Oakland won the first two games and then dropped three straight. 

Although the Braves played in the division series every year from 1995 through 2005, they didn’t make things all that interesting.  Only three times did Atlanta take the series to five games and they lost all three times from 2002 through 2004.  From 1995 through 1999, the Braves dominated the division series with five series wins and a 15-2 record.  Beginning in 2000, it all fell apart for Atlanta as it would win only one series in the next six years and compile a 10-15 record.  

The Minnesota Twins would love to say it had 10 wins in the division series, but they’re far from that.  After a surprising 3-2 series win over the A’s in 2002, Minnesota has lost four straight division series and a 2-12 record.  The Twins’ last division series win was the first game of the 2004 postseason.  They have lost nine straight since then.  

The greatest division series is arguably from its first year when the Seattle Mariners defeated the Yankees on an exciting fifth game.  After losing the first two games in New York, the Mariners stormed back to win all three games in Seattle (in the first three years of the division series, the top-seeded team would play all three of its home games in the final three games, if they were necessary).  Ken Griffey Jr.’s mad dash from first to home on a double by Edgar Martinez in the bottom of the 11th inning at the Kingdome has become part of baseball legend.  The second game of that series went 15 innings where New York eventually won while the fourth game was tied 6-6 before the Mariners would score five runs in the bottom of the eighth to help Seattle to an 11-8 victory.  

Ken Griffey Jr.'s mad dash from first to home on a double by Edgar Martinez to end the 1995 ALDS with the Yankees may be the best moment in Mariners history.

 

It’s difficult to pick a best game of the division series.  There are no Major League Baseball “Best of the Division Series” DVDs or highlight shows on ESPN Classic.  The division series is largely forgotten after it’s done.  The championship series doesn’t get the hype the World Series gets, but there have been many memorable moments documented on film.  The one division series game that sticks in my mind was the fourth game of the 2003 series between the Giants and Marlins.  Florida was up 2-1 in the series after losing the opening game.  Playing in Miami, the game was tied 5-5 going into the bottom of the eighth.  Two quick outs were recorded before Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez singled.  Derek Lee was hit by a pitch, putting Pudge on second.  Miguel Cabrera lined a single to right field.  The throw home beat the runner, but Rodriguez put all of his pudge into catcher Yorvit Torrealba and knocked the ball loose allowing Lee to score as well.  

The Giants needed two runs to keep the game going in the top of the ninth and it looked like they might get both of them after pinch hitter Neifi Perez doubled and J.T. Snow singled to score the runner.  The next two Giants batters were not able to advance Snow on their outs, but Ray Durham did the hard way when he was hit by a pitch.  With the tying run on second, the go-ahead run on first and two outs, Jeffrey Hammonds stepped up for San Francisco.  His single on a line drive to left field gave the Giants a chance for revenge on Rodriguez.  The throw arrived ahead of the runner, but J.T. Snow had the same idea Pudge had a half-inning earlier – knock over the catcher and get the ball loose.  But Pudge is not known as one of the greatest catchers of his generation for nothing.  Pudge held the ball for the final out of the division series and began his celebrating laying on his back, clutching the ball and screaming at the sky while his teammates hog piled on top. 

Despite the hard hit from a charging J.T. Snow, Ivan Rodriguez did not drop the ball and helped the Marlins to an eventual World Series championship.

 

Many see the division series as a formality before the championship series.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  It’s still a do-or-die situation for every team.  So let’s root for as many five-game series as possible.  There’s not much baseball left in the year once the division series rolls around, so let’s get the most we can while we can.  The first round of the playoffs should be remembered because without winning the first round, you’ll never get to the World Series.

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