MLB Playoffs: ALDS Preview

After two fantastic Wild Card Games, League Division Series play begins this afternoon in the MLB Postseason.  The American League is up first, with a pair of series openers in Arlington and Cleveland.  National League Division Series matchups will start tomorrow, so stay tuned for a preview of those matchups as well.

Toronto Blue Jays (89-73 AL Wild Card Game winner) vs. Texas Rangers (95-67, AL West champion)
(Game 1:  Thursday, 4:38 pm ET, TBS)

This series, a rematch of last year’s contentious ALDS matchup won in five games by Toronto, matches two strong lineups against each other.  The Rangers were fourth in the AL in runs, and the Blue Jays fifth, and both teams are also among the top five in the AL in home runs.  Texas is led by Adrian Beltre (.300 BA, 32 HR, 104 RBI) and midseason acquisition Carlos Beltran (.295 BA, 29 HR, 93 RBI), two of the five players with 81 or more RBI.

Toronto counters with Wild Card game hero Edwin Encarnacion (.263 BA, 42 HR, 127 RBI) and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson (.284 BA, 37 HR, 99 RBI).  The Rangers do have a better team batting average at .262, compared to .248 for the Blue Jays.

Overall team ERA favors Toronto (3.78) over Texas (4.37), but both sides have some solid pitching in the rotation, with Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.32 ERA) leading Texas in Game 1, and Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48 ERA) getting the Game 1 nod for Toronto over Cy Young contender Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00 ERA).  The experience factor favors Texas pitching, and neither bullpen has a great ERA, with Toronto at 4.11 and Texas at 4.40.

There are definitely some similarities between these two teams, and last year’s series went the distance, including a classic Game 5 at the SkyDome.  This time around, with Toronto on an emotional high after their Wild Card Game win, I think Texas, with the slightly better team, will get down to business and get revenge on the Blue Jays.

Prediction:  The Rangers will win the series, 3-1.

Boston Red Sox (93-69, AL East champion) vs. Cleveland Indians (94-67, AL Central champion)
(Game 1:  Thursday, 8:08 pm ET, TBS)

These two franchises met four times in the postseason between 1995-2007.  After the Red Sox won the season series, 4-2, this series matches two “even teams,” but two teams who aren’t necessarily even in every facet of the game.  Boston has a great offense, with good pitching sufficient to support the offense.  Cleveland has a strong pitching staff, with the sufficient offense to support that.

The Red Sox offense leads the AL in runs, hits, and batting average, and features five players with 87 or more RBI, and three with 111 or more in David Ortiz (.315 BA, 38 HR, 127 RBI), Mookie Betts (.318 BA, 31 HR, 113 RBI), and Hanley Ramirez (.286 BA, 30 HR, 111 RBI).  The Sox have five starters hitting at .290 or better (well within the categorical trend of teams that normally do well in the playoffs), and their .282 team batting average is 20 points higher than the Indians (.262).

On the mound, the Red Sox team ERA is 4.00, but 3.50 since the All-Star Break.  Starter Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.15 ERA) has had a breakout year, while David Price (17-9, 3.99 ERA) pitched very well down the stretch (8-2, 3.24 since July 28), and the bullpen (3.56 ERA) is anchored by one of the game’s best closers in Craig Kimbrel (31/33 saves, 3.40 ERA).

The Indians pitching staff is led by Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA), the 2014 AL Cy Young winner who is one of the favorites for that award this season.  A very strong bullpen is led by closer Cody Allen (32/35 saves, 2.51 ERA), and setup men Dan Otero (5-1, 1.53 ERA), Bryan Shaw (25 holds, 3.24 ERA), and Andrew Miller (for the season with NYY/CLE combined: 12 saves, 25 holds, 1.45 ERA).  This relief corps collectively has a very good 3.45 ERA, the best among AL playoff teams.

The Indians offense is nothing historic, but is solid, led by former Red Sox 1B Mike Napoli (.239 BA, 34 HR, 101 RBI).  Two great young players, Francisco Lindor (.301 BA, 15 HR, 78 RBI) and Jose Ramirez (.312 BA, 11 HR, 76 RBI), hit ahead of and set the stage for Napoli.

The Boston offense against the Cleveland pitching and the Cleveland offense against the Boston pitching is each an even matchup, making this an even series.  More often than not in these kinds of series, the team with the better pitching staff is the one that prevails.  Add to that Cleveland’s home-field advantage, plus their better win percentage in one-run games (.571 for Cleveland, .455 for Boston), and the Indians will narrowly find a way to win the series.

Prediction:  The Indians will win the series, 3-2.

World Series Recap: Royals Take the Crown for the First Time Since 1985

Kansas City Royals def. New York Mets, 4-1
Game 1:  Kansas City 5, New York 4 (14 innings)
Game 2:  Kansas City 7, New York 1
Game 3:  New York 9, Kansas City 3
Game 4:  Kansas City 5, New York 3
Game 5:  Kansas City 7, New York 2 (12 innings)

For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are baseball’s champion, winning the title in a five-game series that was much less one-sided than the 4-1 result would indicate.

All four Royals wins in the Series were after Kansas City trailed, and all featured late-inning heroics which have come to be expected from the team, as they came up clutch for the entire postseason.

Starting Point:  A Classic Opener and a One-Way Sequel
In the opener in Kansas City, the Mets took a 4-3 lead in the eighth when Wilmer Flores scored on an error by Eric Hosmer.  Alex Gordon tied it in the ninth with a solo homer, and after five excruciating extra innings, Hosmer went from goat to hero when his sacrifice fly won it for the Royals in the 14th.  The game was the longest opener in World Series history, and included a little bit of everything, including a leadoff inside-the-park home run by the Royals’ Alcides Escobar, and a power outage in the television production truck that caused a blackout of the game’s broadcast.  In Game Two, after the Mets led 1-0 halfway through, the Royals took a 4-1 lead with consecutive RBI singles by Escobar, Hosmer (2 RBI), and Mike Moustakas.  In this contest, their late-inning magic wasn’t to take a lead, but instead to put it away, as three runs scored on the eighth, with one each on an RBI double by Alex Gordon, a sacrifice fly by Paulo Orlando, and a triple by Escobar, making it 7-1, and sending the Series to the Big Apple with the Royals up 2-0.

Turning Point:  The Mets Defense
After the Mets won Game 3 by scoring nearly as many runs in that game (9) as they did in the rest of the Series combined (10), and David Wright starring with 4 RBI, they went into Game 4 looking to even the Series at 2-2.  Instead, New York ended up down 3-1 and a game away from elimination.  In the eighth inning, with the Mets up 3-2, an error by NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy allowed Ben Zobrist to score, tying the game.  Ensuing RBI singles by Moustakas and Salvador Perez gave Kansas City a 5-3 lead, and the Royals got within a win of the title when Lucas Duda lined into a game-ending double play as Yoenis Cespedes was caught wandering too far off first base.

In Game 5, Curtis Granderson’s first inning homer and Lucas Duda’s sixth inning sacrifice fly gave the Mets a 2-0 lead through eight innings.  Starter Matt Harvey went out for the ninth after talking his way back into the game, but allowed a walk and an RBI double by Hosmer, and was pulled with a 2-1 lead.  With one out, Perez grounded out to Wright, the third baseman, but when Wright threw to first, Hosmer, who was on third, broke for the plate.  Hosmer would have clearly been out with a good throw, which would have been the final out of the game, but Duda rushed the throw home and threw it away wildly, allowing Hosmer to tie the game, 2-2.  Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who had relieved Harvey, became the first player to blow three saves in one World Series, although this one wasn’t the most fair blown save, as he didn’t allow a hit.

Ending Point:  A Big 12th Inning for the Champs
As Game 5 continued into extra innings, neither team posed a strong threat to score through the 10th and 11th.  In the 12th, after Perez singled to lead off the inning, pinch runner Jarrod Dyson stole second, and advanced to third on Gordon’s groundout.  Christian Colon, in his first at-bat of the postseason, singled to left to score Dyson, and the Royals led for the first time in the game, 3-2.  After another Murphy error on a fielder’s choice, Colon scored on an Escobar RBI double, before, two batters later, Lorenzo Cain’s three-RBI double cleared the bases and gave the Royals a 7-2 lead.  Closer Wade Davis, who allowed just eight runs all season, and none in the postseason, got three outs, and the Royals were World Series champions.

The Royals title provides a happy ending to a long stretch for this franchise after its last title in 1985.  There were no playoff appearances, and only seven winning records, from 1986-2013, and while the drought ended last year with the team reaching the postseason as a Wild Card team, and winning eight straight to reach the World Series, it ended in heartbreak, with the tying run stranded at third base in the ninth inning of Game 7.

This year, the Royals led the AL Central nearly wire-to-wire, as they were on a mission to win one more game than last year–the clinching game of the World Series–and won a division title for the first time in 30 years.  This team with such an aptitude for coming from behind to win close games in the postseason used its skills in doing so to avoid elimination in a classic series against the Astros, before beating the Blue Jays in six games to reach the Fall Classic again, and winning the world title in five games over New York.

Therefore, while a lot of things can be said about this Royals team, one thing is for sure about both the team and its fan base:  they have unquestionably earned a title they’ve waited an entire generation for–World Series champion.

World Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals

111th World Series:  New York Mets (NL Champion) vs. Kansas City Royals (AL Champion)
Game 1:  Tuesday in Kansas City
Game 2:  Wednesday in Kansas City
Game 3:  Friday in New York
Game 4:  Saturday in New York
Game 5:  Sunday in New York (if nec)
Game 6:  November 3 in Kansas City (if nec)
Game 7:  November 4 in Kansas City (if nec)
All games are at 8:07 pm ET on FOX

This year’s World Series is a bit of a throwback, as the Fall Classic is between two teams trying to win their first title since the mid-1980’s, with the Royals trying to win their first since 1985, and the Mets trying to win their first since 1986.  Both franchises are in their second World Series since then, with the Mets losing to the Yankees in 2000, and the Royals losing in seven games to the Giants just last year.

At the same time, this World Series has a very modern feel, as it is the first World Series ever between two expansion franchises, after the Mets were founded in 1962, and the Royals in 1969.  In addition, both teams are made up of fairly young rosters (particularly the Mets), adding to the contemporary feel, as the game continues to get younger.

By the accounts of most this series is very even and should be very close, although these teams got here two different ways.  The Mets started 49-48, before catching fire on their way to the NL East title, and sweeping the Cubs in the NLCS.  The Royals led their division for 164 days, and never trailed by more than one game, but played a closer, six-game ALCS.  Here’s a breakdown of who will have the advantage:

Starting Pitching:
The Royals had the worst starting ERA of all 10 postseason teams (4.34), although they did pitch very well in the ALCS.  However, the Mets have baseball’s best young rotation, and will send Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71 ERA) to the mound in Game 1, followed by Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54), Noah Snydergaard (9-7, 3.24), and Steven Matz (4-0, 2.27).  Collectively the Mets rotation posted a 2.16 ERA in the four games of the NLCS against a good Cubs lineup.
Advantage:  Mets

Bullpen:
The Mets have a very solid relief unit, sporting a 3.48 relief ERA, led by Jeurys Familia (43 saves, 1.85 ERA).  However, they are matched up against a relief corps for Kansas City that has a 2.72 ERA, the second best in baseball, but one I will call the best bullpen in the game.  Wade Davis (17 saves, 0.94 ERA) showed his value as the leader of this ‘pen with a strong ALCS performance.
Advantage:  Royals

Lineup:
Both of these teams have been hitting well during the postseason, with the Mets averaging 4.8 runs per game in the playoffs, and the Royals averaging 5.7 per contest, and scoring 38 runs in the six games of the ALCS.  In the regular season, the Royals had a team batting average 25 points better than the Mets (.269 to .244), and although the Mets’ average is a bit misleading, as they were much better offensively in the second half (.257, after a .233 first half average), there is still an edge for the Royals, even when they can’t use the DH in the games under NL rules in New York.
Advantage:  Royals (barely)

Atmosphere:
On one hand, the Royals fans experienced the World Series last year, while Mets fans haven’t since 2000, and on the other hand, the Royals have four of the seven games at home.  But both teams are looking for their first title in at or near 30 years, and Royals fans are hungry to go one step further than last year’s loss in Game 7 of the Fall Classic, and won’t be content with just another AL title.
Advantage:  even

Experience:
The Royals experienced the World Series last year, but that’s not solely why I’m giving them the advantage here.  Kansas City has trailed in four of their seven postseason wins this year, taking the lead in the seventh or later in three of those wins, in addition to their clutch hitting to take an eighth inning lead in Game 6 of the ALCS (although they never trailed that game).  Two of the Mets wins in the NLDS were comeback wins, although they were down earlier in the game, and they never trailed a game against the Cubs in the NLCS.  The Royals seem more equipped to win the close games in this series, because they’ve done it throughout this postseason.
Advantage:  Royals

Managers:
Yes, Ned Yost was here with the Royals a year ago, and Terry Collins is in his first postseason, let alone his first World Series, but both of these managers have done superbly with young teams in leading them to get better each year, culminating with the two meeting in the World Series.  Giving an edge to one or the other is both unreasonable and unfair.
Advantage:  even

While the Royals have the advantage in three of these six criteria, and the Mets only do in one, with two even, this series is more even then that would indicate.  However, the Royals have been dominant all year, and although this pick is very close, they look more primed to win the series, and trends show they fit the mold of a champion better than the Mets.  That being said, because of how strong both teams are, I think this series will go the distance.

The Royals will win the series, four games to three.

ALCS Recap: Royals def. Blue Jays

Kansas City Royals 4, Toronto Blue Jays 2
Game 1:  Kansas City 5, Toronto 0
Game 2:  Kansas City 6, Toronto 3
Game 3:  Toronto 11, Kansas City 8
Game 4:  Kansas City 14, Toronto 2
Game 5:  Toronto 7, Kansas City 1
Game 6:  Kansas City 4, Toronto 3

After ending a 29-year playoff drought a season ago by advancing to the World Series, and losing it in seven games to the Giants, the Royals have booked their return trip to the Fall Classic, eliminating World Series favorite Toronto in the process in a six-game series.  The Royals are the first team to repeat as AL Champions since the 2010-11 Texas Rangers, and will face the NL Champion New York Mets in the World Series.

Starting Point:  Kansas City Domination in First Two Games
The series started with both teams coming off the emotional highs of winning their Division Series matchups in winner-take-all fifth games against Texas and Houston, and in Game 1 Kansas City picked up right where they had left off, while Toronto appeared to have a slight hangover.  The Royals scored two in the third, on RBI hits by Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, and another in the fourth on a Salvador Perez solo homer.  That was all starter Edinson Volquez needed, as he went six shutout innings, allowing just two hits, before turning it over to the game’s best bullpen, with Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales adding to the lead with RBI in the eighth.  Game 2 looked different for six innings, as the Blue Jays led 3-0 on a third inning RBI double by Ryan Goins and an Edwin Encarnacion RBI single and Troy Tulowitzski RBI double in the sixth.  But Blue Jays starter David Price came unraveled in the seventh, and suddenly it was 5-3 Royals after RBI by Hosmer, Morales, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Alex Rios, and the excellent Royals bullpen didn’t need any more help, although they got some in the eighth from Moustakas with another RBI, as the Royals won 6-3 to take a 2-0 series lead.

Turning Point: 14 Royals Runs in Game 4
The Royals took their momentum from the ninth inning of Game 3, when they turned an 11-4 deficit into a more respectable 11-8 loss which made it a 2-1 series, into Game 4, roughing up Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey for four runs in the first, with the biggest blow coming from a Ben Zobrist two-run homer, and an add-on run in the second, courtesy of a Rios long ball, giving the Royals a quick 5-0 lead.  Toronto scored a pair in the third on a Josh Donaldson ground rule double and a Jose Bautista RBI groundout, before Kansas City blew it open with four in the seventh, three in the eighth, and two in the ninth.  The 14-2 win meant the Royals were up 3-1, and within a game of the World Series.

Ending Point:  Lorenzo Cain’s Baserunning and Wade Davis’s Pitching
The series finally produced a classic game in Game 6 in Kansas City.  The Royals took an early 2-0 lead on homers by Zobrist in the first and Moustakas in the second, before Bautista countered with a long ball in the fourth to make it 2-1.  The Royals increased their lead to 3-1 on a seventh inning RBI single by Rios, before Bautista homered again, this time hitting a two-run shot, to tie the score at 3-3 in the top of the eighth.  Closer Wade Davis got the Royals out of the inning with no further damage, but then a 45-minute rain delay halted the game before the bottom of the eighth.  Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna came in after the delay in the bottom of the eighth, walking Cain to start the inning.  On an ensuing Eric Hosmer single down the right field line, Cain scored from first, a rare feat of baserunning excellence, giving the Royals a 4-3 lead.  Osuna eventually got a double play to escape the inning.  Despite the delay, and having not thrown a pitch in over an hour, Davis returned to the mound for the ninth, and at first didn’t look quite as sharp, as Russell Martin singled to center and, after pinch-runner Dalton Pompey stole second and third, walking Kevin Pillar to put both the tying and go-ahead runs on base with no one out.  Davis then turned the switch back to his normal, 0.94 ERA self, striking out Dioner Navarro and Ben Revere, before getting possible AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to third to end the game.  Like last year, a groundout to Moustakas was the final out of the ALCS, clinching a World Series berth for the Royals.

The Royals won the fourth American League championship in their franchise history, with previous titles in 1980, 1985, and 2014, and advance to play the Mets in the first ever World Series between two expansion teams, beginning Tuesday in Kansas City.

ALCS Preview: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Kansas City Royals

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Kansas City Royals
Game 1: Friday, 8:00 pm ET in Toronto, FOX
Game 2: Saturday, 4:00 pm ET in Toronto, FS1
Game 3: Monday, 8:00 pm ET in Kansas City, FS1
Game 4: Tuesday, 3:30 pm ET in Kansas City, FS1
Game 5: Wednesday, 3:30 pm ET in Kansas City, FS1 (if nec)
Game 6: October 23, 7:30 pm ET in Toronto, FS1 (if nec)
Game 7: October 24, 8:00 pm ET in Toronto, FS1 (if nec)

While this year’s American League Championship Series matchup wasn’t necessarily predicted by many at the start of the year, it does put the two best teams in the American League up against each other.  Toronto is in the ALCS for the first time since 1993, the year when they last won the World Series, while Kansas City won the ALCS last year to advance to the World Series.

Starting pitching:
The Royals have the worst rotation ERA among the entire postseason field, much less the four teams left, at 4.34, while the Blue Jays have two aces:  Marcus Stroman (4-0, 1.67 ERA) and David Price (9-1, 2.30 ERA)
Advantage: Blue Jays

Bullpen:
The Royals boast a 2.72 ERA, the best in the American League, and are led by Wade Davis (17 saves, 0.94 ERA).  While Toronto’s unit is solid, led by young guns Roberto Osuna (20 saves, 2.58 ERA) and Aaron Sanchez (3.22 ERA), there’s really no comparison.
Advantage: Royals

Lineup:
The Royals have a knack for clutch hitting, dating back to last year’s postseason, and continuing through their ALDS win over Houston.  But the Blue Jays rank first in the AL in runs (891) and home runs (232), and second in batting average (.269).
Advantage: Blue Jays

Atmosphere:
The Royals do have home field advantage, and had an excellent home crowd in the ALDS, but nothing compares to the passion the Toronto fan base showed (both positive and negative) in the Blue Jays series against Texas.
Advantage: Blue Jays

Experience:
The Royals won the ALCS last year, sweeping the Baltimore Orioles, on their way to a seven-game World Series loss, and came back from a 2-1 series deficit to defeat the Astros.  While the Blue Jays showed excellent poise in coming from 2-0 down to beat the Rangers, Kansas City has been here before.
Advantage: Blue Jays

Managers:
Ned Yost has done an excellent job with the Royals, as they have improved every year under his helm, culminating with an AL pennant last year and the best record in the AL in this year’s regular season.  John Gibbons is an AL Manager of the Year contender after taking the Blue Jays to their first playoff appearance since 1993, even after starting 23-30 and 50-51.
Advantage: even

This series is what a League Championship Series should be: two excellent teams, strong in most or all facets of the game, fighting for the right to play in the World Series.  Both teams are wholly deserving of a shot at a title, but only one can advance, and Toronto is ever-so-slightly better in a very level, balanced matchup.

The Blue Jays will win the series, four games to three.

ALDS Recap: Blue Jays, Royals Advance

Toronto Blue Jays def. Texas Rangers, 3-2
Game 1: Texas 5, Toronto 3
Game 2: Texas 6, Toronto 4, 14 innings
Game 3: Toronto 5, Texas 1
Game 4: Toronto 8, Texas 4
Game 5: Toronto 6, Texas 3

Starting Point:  The Blue Jays .171 average in Games 1-2
The Blue Jays entered the playoffs as World Series favorites, and were picked on this blog to sweep the Rangers.  However, a team that had been such an offensive juggernaut all season struggled offensively in their first two games at home.  The bottom third of the Texas order led to a 5-3 Game 1 win, as the Blue Jays were held to six hits.  In Game 2, the two-through-five hitters in the Blue Jays order were a combined 2-for-22, as the Blue Jays were held scoreless for the final nine innings of a 14 inning marathon, as Texas won 6-4.

Turning Point:  The Blue Jays’ .309 average in Games 3-4
Facing elimination in Game 3, the Blue Jays took a 5-0 lead through six innings, with the big blow coming in the form of a three-run homer by Troy Tulowitzki in the sixth, as the Blue Jays won 5-1.  In Game 4, early homers by Josh Donaldson, Chris Collabello, and Kevin Pillar helped the Blue Jays to a 7-0 lead, and they cruised to an 8-4 win, using ace David Price in relief to ensure a Game 5.

Ending Point:  Three 7th inning errors by the Rangers in Game 5
Game 5 was a crazy back-and-forth game, with too many twists and turns for me to describe in a paragraph (although you can read a recap here).  After a 2-2 tie through six innings, and a 3-2 Texas lead after a controversial run in the top of the seventh, the Rangers defense began the bottom of the seventh with three straight errors, with two of them by shortstop Elvis Andrus, becoming the first team in history to make three errors in an inning in a winner-take-all postseason game.  An additional mistake, although it wasn’t an error, was made by second baseman Rougned Odor, as he misjudged a floater off Donaldson’s bat, which tied the game.  The next batter, Jose Bautista, hit a long three-run homer to give the Blue Jays a 6-3 lead they would not relinquish.  The homer got a lot of attention in the game’s aftermath, and rightfully so, but Bautista would have never been at the plate in the inning if the Rangers had made the defensive plays they normally make.  With the three straight wins, the Blue Jays became the third team to win a Division Series after losing the first two games at home (2001 Yankees, 2012 Giants).

Kansas City Royals def. Houston Astros, 3-2
Game 1: Houston 5, Kansas City 2
Game 2: Kansas City 5, Houston 4
Game 3: Houston 4, Kansas City 2
Game 4: Kansas City 9, Houston 6
Game 5: Kansas City 7, Houston 2

Starting Point:  The Astros’ 2-1 series lead
Houston won the opener, despite two homers by Kansas City’s Kendrys Morales, on the strength of an early 3-0 lead, and two late solo homers by George Springer and Colby Rasmus to seal a 5-2 win.  Early in Game 2, Rasmus had an RBI double and a homer, and Springer had an RBI single, leading the Astros to a 4-1 lead.  The Royals fought back with small ball, scoring runs on a double play, an Eric Hosmer RBI single, a Salvador Perez RBI walk, and a Ben Zobrist RBI single to win 5-4.  In Game 3, Kansas City led early after a Lorenzo Cain solo homer, but Houston took a 2-1 lead on a Jason Castro 2-RBI single, extending the lead on an RBI single by Carlos Gomez and a solo homer by Chris Carter, enough for probable Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel to win 4-2, giving the Astros a 2-1 series lead.

Turning Point:  The Royals’ epic Game 4 comeback
Although a Perez homer gave the Royals an early 2-0 lead in Game 4, and a Gomez solo shot cut the gap to 2-1, Carlos Correa practically single-handedly led the Astros to the brink of advancing, with homers in the third and seventh, and an RBI double in the fifth, totaling four RBI.  Rasmus’s third homer of the series gave Houston a 6-2 lead with six outs to get to advance, but the Royals had other plans.  After consecutive singles by Alex Rios, Alcides Escobar, Zobrist, Cain, and Hosmer, then a fielder’s choice by Morales, suddenly the game was tied, 6-6.  An Alex Gordon groundout later in the inning scored Hosmer, and the Royals led 7-6 in front of a stunned Houston crowd, which had been ready to celebrate.  A two-run homer by Hosmer in the ninth increased the lead to 9-6, and the Royals had forced a winner-take-all Game 5 at home.

Ending Point:  Kendrys Morales’ dagger in Game 5
Luis Valbuena hit a two-run homer in the second inning of the deciding game, giving Houston a 2-0 lead, but from that point it was all Royals.  Johnny Cueto allowed just two baserunners–Valbuena and Evan Gattis, who scored on Valbuena’s homer–all game, in eight innings of work.  Hosmer’s RBI single cut the Royals’ gap to 2-1 in the fourth, and Rios’ 2-RBI double gave the Royals a 3-2 lead, before Rios scored on a sacrifice fly by Zobrist, making it 4-2.  That score left the Astros within reach, however, in the eighth inning.  With Escobar and Rios on the base paths in the bottom of the eighth, Morales gave Houston the dagger with a three-run homer, giving the Royals a 7-2 lead.  The Astros led in all five games, but the Royals came back to win three of the five to win the series and advance to the ALCS.

Trends of a World Series Champion

As the MLB Playoffs get underway, people are quick to make their pick on who they think will win the World Series in about four weeks.  To a certain extent, these picks are fairly arbitrary, as anyone can pick who they think is the best team with the best chance to win out of a field of worthy candidates (this is the playoffs after all).

I’m going to take a different approach.  I’m going to look to the past, and take a statistical look at the last 20 World Series champions, since the Wild Card era began in 1995.  I actually looked into 27 different statistical categories, but I’ve narrowed it down to 10 which are among the most important in determining which teams are cut out to make a deep postseason run and win the World Series.  Let’s see how the eight teams in the Division Series round of the postseason compare to the last 20 world champions.

Team Batting Average
Trend: .250 or better
Every one of the last 20 World Series winners have had an average of .250 or better, with the last 19 each hitting .255 or better, with the 1995 Braves hitting .250.  Naturally, it’s very helpful to be able to hit consistently in the playoffs, when you go against some very good pitching.  You don’t necessarily have to hit .288 like the 1996 and 1998 Yankees each did, but the higher the average the better.
Within the trend: Blue Jays (.269), Royals (.269), Rangers (.257), Cardinals (.253), Dodgers (.250), Astros (.250)
Outside the trend: Mets (.244), Cubs (.244)

Number of Starters Hitting .290 or better
Trend: two or more
Outside of the 2005 White Sox, when Scott Podsednik hit .290 on the number and was the only starter at that mark or better, every team to win the World Series since 1995 has had multiple starters hitting .290 or better for the season.  This stat identifies a team has multiple players capable of consistently hitting well, who can be relied on to get the big hit when necessary.  On some world champions this is most of the team, like the 1998 Yankees with seven of them, but most teams who win it all have two or three of these players.
Within the trend: Royals (Cain, Hosmer, Morales), Dodgers (Kendrick, Ethier, Turner), Blue Jays (Revere, Donaldson)
Outside the trend: Cardinals (Piscotty), Rangers (Fielder), Astros (Altuve), Mets (none), Cubs (none)

Team ERA
Trend: 4.00 or better
This measures a team’s overall pitching performance for the entire season, and is relevant because everyone knows how important pitching can be in the postseason.  While there have been six World Series winners with an ERA above 4.00 in the last 20 years, the last was the 2009 Yankees, and with the game’s overall trend towards good pitching in the last few years, there is a correlation that the ERA of the championship team is going down.  The last five champions have had an ERA of 3.78 or lower, something all of the trend-fitting teams can also say except for one.
Within the trend: Cardinals (2.94), Cubs (3.36), Mets (3.43), Dodgers (3.49), Astros (3.57), Royals (3.73), Blue Jays (3.80)
Outside the trend: Rangers (4.24)

Starters ERA
Trend: 4.25 or better
Starting pitching in particular is important in the playoffs, as we saw last year as the Giants rode ace Madison Bumgarner to the title. 15 of the last 20 World Series champs have been within this trend, so there are certainly outliers, although in the last five years, every team to win the World Series had a starting ERA of 3.84 or better.  The four champions before that all had a starting ERA of 4.21 or worse, inflating the number for this trend a little bit, but all of the teams who fit the trend in this year’s playoffs are under 4.00.
Within the trend: Cardinals (2.99), Dodgers (3.29), Cubs (3.36), Mets (3.44), Astros (3.71), Blue Jays (3.96)
Outside the trend: Rangers (4.32), Royals (4.34)

Bullpen ERA
Trend: 3.92 or better
Finishing games is so important in October, and 14 of the last 17 World Series champions have had a relief ERA of 3.92 or better, including each of the last eight, with the last 20 averaging a .  While everyone allows some runs in relief over the course of a season, to win the World Series, ideally a team wouldn’t allow any.
Within the trend: Royals (2.72), Cardinals (2.82), Astros (3.27), Cubs (3.38), Mets (3.48), Blue Jays (3.50)
Outside the trend: Dodgers (3.93), Rangers (4.12)

Home Winning Percentage
Trend: .550 or better
Each of the last 20 World Series winners have had a home winning percentage of .550 or better, with 12 of them at over .600.  In the postseason, the home crowd can be a big ally to a team’s success, so protecting homefield is important.
Within the trend: Cardinals (.679), Dodgers (.679), Blue Jays (.654), Astros (.654), Royals (.630), Mets (.605), Cubs (.605)
Outside the trend: Rangers (.531)

Away Winning Percentage
Trend: .520 or better
While winning at home is important, winning on the road is just as important, particularly for the lower-seeded teams in the postseason who will be playing more games on the road.  Last year, the Royals and Giants were both very stellar on the road on their way to the World Series out of the Wild Card round.  A team who plays well on the road shows they are able to block out the distractions and focus simply on the game.  17 of the last 20 world champions have been within the trend, and while the other three all actually had losing road records, the last eight champions have all had a .531 road winning percentage or better.
Within the trend: Cubs (.593), Cardinals (.556), Rangers (.556), Royals (.543)
Outside the trend: Mets (.506), Blue Jays (.494), Dodgers (.450), Astros (.407)

Winning Percentage after September 1
Trend: .500 or better
As simple as it sounds, teams want to be playing well late in the regular season as they head into the postseason.  Some teams have to win a lot of September games to make the playoffs, while others are cruising to a division title, but they still need to play well to carry momentum into October, as 17 of the last 20 World Series winners have been .500 or better after September 1, with six of the last seven coming down the stretch at .640 or better.
Within the trend: Cubs (.719), Rangers (.625), Blue Jays (.613), Mets (.548), Dodgers (.538)
Outside the trend: Cardinals (.484), Royals (.469), Astros (.433)

Winning Percentage in one-run games
Trend: .500 or better
It is important to be able to win close games in the postseason, as low scoring, one-run games are very common in October.  While there have been five teams to be under .500 in one-run games and still win the World Series since 1995, the only team to do is since 2007 was the Giants last year (.450).
Within the trend: Cubs (.618), Cardinals (.582), Royals (.575), Rangers (.551), Mets (.510)
Outside the trend: Dodgers (.447), Astros (.420), Blue Jays (.349)

Baseball-Reference.com Simple Rating System
Trend: 0.2 or better
The Simple Rating System (SRS), compiled by baseball-reference.com, is a measure to indicate how many runs per game a team is better or worse than the average team, by combining run differential with strength of schedule.  From 1995-2005, 10 of the 11 world champions had an SRS of 0.5 or better, but in recent years the World Series-winning SRS hasn’t been as strong, with three of the last four coming in at 0.2 or worse.
Within the trend: Royals (1.6), Astros (0.9), Blue Jays (0.7), Cardinals (0.5), Rangers (0.4), Cubs (0.2)
Outside the trend: Dodgers (0.1), Mets (0.0)

Out of 10 criteria, none of the eight remaining postseason teams fit all 10, or even nine of the 10.   In the American League, the Royals and Blue Jays each fit eight criteria, while the Astros hit six, and the Rangers hit five.  In the National League, the Cardinals and Cubs each fit eight, while the Dodgers and Mets fit 6.

That being said, in the American League playoffs, by this formula, the Royals and Blue Jays would advance to the ALCS.  As I said earlier, I actually looked into 27 statistical categories in all, and when I tried to break this tie by using the trend in all 27, both fit 25 of the criteria.  The Blue Jays were better, however, in 15 of the 27 criteria, with the Royals better in 10, and the teams tying in two, making the Blue Jays the AL favorites according to these figures.

In the National League, the Cardinals and Cubs are the two best equipped for a deep run, but they play each other in the NLDS, and both fit eight of the 10 criteria.  Out of all 27, the Cardinals fit 20 and the Cubs fit 19, giving St. Louis the slight advantage.  The Mets and Dodgers also tied by fitting six of the 10 criteria, but out of all 27 categories, the Dodgers fit the trend in 17, and the Mets in 15.  This would point to a Cardinals-Dodgers NLCS for the second time in three years, marking the third straight year they would meet in the playoffs, and this formula also points to the Cardinals eliminating the Dodgers for the third straight year.

Therefore, the trends suggest a “Battle of the Birds” in the World Series between the Blue Jays and Cardinals.  Both fit eight of the initial 10 criteria, but in the complete list of 27 categories, Toronto fits the trend in 25, and St. Louis fits 20.  If this holds true, the Blue Jays would win the World Series for the first time since 1993.

In a different way, the Blue Jays have been a “trendy” pick to win it all.  But by this criteria, they fit all the trends of a World Champion as well.

 

Here is how many out of all 27 categories each playoff team was “within the trend”:
Blue Jays- 25
Royals- 25
Cardinals- 20
Cubs- 19
Dodgers- 17
Rangers- 17
Astros- 16
Mets- 15