Column: Foltynewicz and Duvall, in minors this summer, save Braves postseason in October

During the dog days of summer, Mike Foltynewicz woke up 43 mornings as a minor leaguer, as recently as Aug. 5. Adam Duvall spent 136 days in the minors, as recently as Sept. 5.

But come October, on a hot Georgia night that felt like those same dog days of summer, Mike Foltynewicz and Adam Duvall may have saved the Atlanta Braves’ postseason.

The pair of former All-Stars played to their full capability Friday night, leading the Braves to a crucial 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals to even the NL Division Series at one game each.

Foltynewicz pitched seven shutout innings, allowing three hits. When Duvall pinch-hit for Foltynewicz in the bottom of the seventh, he hit a two-run home run to stretch a 1-0 lead to 3-0, giving the Braves some huge insurance runs.

With the win, the Braves avoided the ominous fate of a 2-0 series deficit in the best-of-5 series ahead of the next two games in St. Louis.

Foltynewicz entered the season as the Braves’ top starting pitcher, but his season was delayed by injury, then plagued by ineffectiveness. On June 22, with a 6.37 ERA after 11 starts, he was optioned to AAA Gwinnett less than a year removed from his 2018 All-Star appearance.

The right-hander worked on both the execution of his pitches and the harnessing of his emotions, both of which were part of the early-season problems, and on Aug. 5 he was recalled to the major leagues after a successful run of starts.

In the 10 starts since his recall, Foltynewicz regained his 2018 form, pitching to a 2.65 ERA; the Braves won each of the first nine of those starts.

In Friday’s game, he made arguably the best start of his career, becoming the first Braves starter to throw seven or more shutout innings in a playoff game since Tom Glavine in the 2001 NLDS. In doing so, he outdueled the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty, the NL Pitcher of the Month in both August and September, all on the heels of a poor performance in last year’s playoff-series loss to the Dodgers.

“(It’s) pretty special,” Foltynewicz said. “(I) keep talking about it, the kind of year I had, just for the Braves to have trust in me. And I kind of proved what I went down to work on that I’m still the pitcher that I was last year.”

Foltynewicz was so strong that some fans at SunTrust Park booed when Duvall pinch-hit for Foltynewicz in the seventh inning. With two out in the inning, Braves manager Brian Snitker was trying to give his team the best chance to add on some runs, especially considering that Foltynewicz is a light hitter even by a pitcher’s standards. The trade-off was that Foltynewicz was out of the game at 81 pitches.

But Snitker had pushed the right button — Duvall’s home run gave the Braves some much-needed breathing room as the game was turned over to a bullpen which had struggled the night before in Game 1.

Duvall, a 2016 All-Star while with the Cincinnati Reds, had seasons of 33 and 31 home runs in 2016 and 2017, but struggled mightily at the plate after being traded to Atlanta in mid-2018. He hit .132 with no home runs in 53 at-bats, and was left off last year’s playoff roster.

Entering 2019, the Braves were hopeful that Duvall could regain his own form, but simply didn’t have a roster spot for him out of spring training. So he began his age-30 season at Gwinnett, waiting for an opportunity, and all he did was hit: 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in 101 games.

That opportunity did eventually open when the Braves experienced some injuries, and Duvall hit five home runs in the first six games after he was promoted back to the big leagues. He totaled 15 extra-base hits in 41 games, and this time around earned a playoff-roster spot as a right-handed-hitting reserve.

“This guy’s a former All-Star, he’s getting Gold Glove votes … last year didn’t go the way he wanted it to,” Snitker said. “Out of Spring Training, we optioned him down and he went down and hit I don’t know how many homers, and stayed the course and worked. I have so much respect for a guy like that.”

Duvall earned a hit and a walk in Game 1, then Friday did what he does best: hit a Flaherty fastball 423 feet to center field, landing in a raucous red-draped crowd.

After Foltynewicz went deep on the mound and Duvall went deep at the plate, the last six outs were earned by pitchers with noteworthy routes to Game 2 in their own right — Max Fried won 17 games as a starter, second most in the NL, but is being utilized as a reliever in the postseason; Mark Melancon was 12-for-12 in saves in the regular season but blew the save in Game 1, only to find redemption in Game 2 — and the Braves had evened the series.

Who could’ve known, in the 100-degree heat of Lawrenceville, Ga. during some mundane Gwinnett Stripers game in July, that the two most integral players in the Braves’ first 2019 playoff win would come from that team and not the more acclaimed one 30 miles away in Atlanta?

As disappointing as Game 1 was for the Braves — and as much as they could be leading the series 2-0 — Friday’s must-win was won and the team’s postseason aspirations were, at least for now, saved.

All because a couple of guys who were playing in front of a couple thousand people in July got the job done in October on the postseason’s grand stage.

Fans Week Roundtable, Part II: Sports Heroes and Hysteria

In Part I of my Stiles on Sports Fans Week roundtable discussion with Justin Kenley (Cardinals, Panthers, North Carolina fan), Ryan Pittman (Cubs, Packers, South Carolina fan) and Garrett Black (Clemson fan), we discussed both exciting wins and heartbreaking losses they’ve experienced as fans.

In Part II, I asked more about their fan experiences, including who they admire on the field and the crazy things they’ve done and seen as a fan.

 

SOS:  Who is your favorite player, and why?

Justin:  For the Panthers it’s hard, but I’ve got to say Luke (Kuechly).  And not even just from that fandom perspective; I just love how he brings it every single play.  The dude is everywhere.  And I guess that’s something that, as a fan, you appreciate a guy going all out.

For the Tar Heels, it’s hard man.  I love me some Marcus Paige, though.  I just love his story.  Kind of a guy that not a lot of people knew, coming out (of high school), and “is he really going to be that good,” and to carry the team the last two years the way he did, that was just, I love Marcus Paige.

And Cardinals, good gosh, if this was six years ago, I would’ve said (Albert) Pujols, without even a wink, definitely.  I don’t know, man, I like so many of them, for different reasons.  There’s very few guys that we’ve had in the last few years that I said, “man, I just don’t like that person.”  If I had to say my top ones, I love Molina (Yadier Molina), because I was a catcher, and I think he’s just amazing at what he does.  I love the way Carp (Matt Carpenter) plays, I love the way Waino (Adam Wainwright) pitches, and then… it’s hard to narrow that one down.

Ryan:  There are three.  Jason Grilli is probably my favorite player of all time.  I met him when I was 10 years old at a baseball camp in Toledo.  He actually taught me how to bunt.  He’s a relief pitcher, and he was a nobody then, and I guess he’s kind of a nobody now, but he’s had some times where he’s been closer with the Pirates, he’s been closer with the Braves, and the occasional game saved for the Blue Jays now.

I met him 12 years ago when he was nobody, and I’ve watched him ascend throughout the major leagues, and he’s almost 40 now and still pitching.  It’s kind of cool to be like, hey, I’ve got his autograph right there.  It’s kind of cool.

Another is Omar Infante.  I just watched him growing up, and he played the same position I did, and he played for the Mud Hens in Toledo.  He played shortstop, then moved to second base; I played shortstop, then moved to second base.  And it was kind of cool.

Carlos Pena is also on that list.  There was one time I called him over to sign his baseball card, and they asked everyone to stand for the national anthem.  He’s holding my pen and my baseball card, and he says “Hold on,” and puts it on the railing, turns to put his hand over his heart for the national anthem, then he grabs the card, signs it, and then runs over to first base to play.  He went from me to first base to start the game, and it was just really cool.

And then he went on the next year, two years later, to hit 40-something home runs for those same Rays that I described earlier, the ’08 Rays, and he became a huge power hitter, and I still remembered that fond memory as a kid.  Kind of changed the way I think about professional athletes.

Garrett:  I’m gonna have to go with Hunter Renfrow.  Not only did he catch the winning touchdown, but he’s got the story and the character to go behind it, and it’s just great to see a former walk-on catch a touchdown and then be vainly tackled by three future draft prospects.

 

SOS:  Who is a “role player” you’ve always liked, and why?

Justin:  Easily Skip Schumaker.  Just a guy that comes, and didn’t matter where he was playing, he was going to bring it, every day.

I’ll never forget in 2013, we went to St. Louis for my graduation present, and the Dodgers were playing, and it was the first time Skip had come back to St. Louis after he got let go, and man, Skip Schumaker, who a lot of people wouldn’t know his name, he got a standing ovation from like 40,000 people in Busch Stadium, and it was awesome.  It was just really, really cool.

If you know the Cardinals, you appreciate what he did.  Because he could play second base, right field, pinch hit.  You knew he was going to do something.

Ryan:  I’ve always been a fan of utility players in baseball.  Currently Ben Zobrist fits that, and I guess there are so many now.  It used to be a lot more rare.

Guys like Martin Prado, who’d play every infield position and every outfield position, and I appreciate that, they might not have a set position that they’re best at, but their bat is valuable enough and their leadership is valuable enough their team can’t take them out.  So they might not have an everyday spot, but they play everyday.

Garrett:  I really have to appreciate Cole Stoudt.  Can we call a backup quarterback a role player?  Because he was never gonna be the guy.

I mean, he was a starting guy, but the expectation was never to win a championship with Cole Stoudt.  But I think he provided leadership to keep the team together, in the Tajh (Boyd) to Deshaun (Watson) handoff, and got hurt just in time for Deshaun to come.  But I think the kind of leadership he provided for the team, in that transition year between Tajh and Deshaun truly taking over, kind of kept that team together.

SOS:  That’s interesting, because that’s not necessarily a popular opinion in Clemson fan circles.

Garrett:  Here’s the thing:  at any other school that wasn’t swimming in quarterback prospects, like Clemson has been lately, Cole Stoudt could’ve started.  I mean, he wasn’t great, and to be fair we kind of got spoiled with Tajh, so we kind of expected we’d get that kind of production, and to be fair we got better later on, but we should’ve known it was going to get worse before it got better.

 

SOS:  Besides your favorite teams’ known archrivals, who is one team you can’t stand?

Justin:  I really don’t like the Reds, but I feel like that falls in that rivalry a little bit.  There’s a couple of NFL teams I don’t like.  Really, the AFC North.  The Ravens, the Bengals, and (my fiance) Courtney would kill me because Courtney is a Bengals fan, but just, the way they play just irks me.  There’s not one team—I hate the Patriots, obviously, but I feel like everybody hates the Patriots, so I feel like that doesn’t really count.

I will say in basketball, I really don’t like Kentucky.  Kentucky just, I love beating Kentucky.  I don’t mind the whole one-and-done movement to an extent, but I kind of hate the way they’ve done it, and I just, I don’t really like Kentucky.

Ryan:  Typically because of fantasy sports, I don’t hate any team, because I need their players.  That’s tricky.

I don’t like the Mets.  I really don’t like the Royals either.   I feel kind of bad saying it, but like the kind of players they had that have now since passed who were frustrating to watch, you know, Yordano Ventura was just annoying… rest in peace.  He was trying to cause fights, and they seemed to be getting into fights with other teams because they didn’t think they were getting the respect they deserved, and I was like, “come on, play the game, earn the respect,” and that was really frustrating recently.  But yeah, the Mets.  The Mets just always beat my team, knocked us out.

Garrett:  Everyone hates Alabama, but we just beat them so I don’t have as much hatred in my heart anymore.  I’m probably going to have to go with Florida State next, although that’s a division rivalry.  It’s hard to hate Pitt (laughs).

I loved beating Ohio State (in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl).  That felt good.  Because everyone was telling us how Urban Meyer’s like the best coach ever, and to be fair, he’s a great coach, but it feels good to topple the big guys.

 

SOS:  Who is one team you wish you had been alive to watch or old enough to remember?

Justin:  I would have loved to seen, and I don’t have a pinpoint year, but I would’ve loved to have seen Stan Musial play for the Cardinals.  Just because he meant so much to my grandpa; I mean, that was my grandpa’s dude.

Ryan:  Actually there’s two.  The Yankees, back when they were with Babe Ruth, and Joe DiMaggio, and those Yankee greats, I’d love to see one of those Yankee teams play.  And then, more recently, but still before me, was the Big Red Machine.  Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan

SOS: Pete Rose

Ryan:  Yeah, I’d love to go back and watch them, because they were a dominant team, but they weren’t in a big city.  They were small market Reds winning games, pretty cool.

Garrett:  ’81 (Clemson), obviously.  That was the other golden era.

 

SOS:  Do you have any strange superstitions when your favorite teams play?

Justin:  If I go to one game, and what I wear works, I wear the same thing again.

Two years ago in the (NFL) playoffs, the first day we went it wasn’t that cold, so I wore my Luke Kuechly jersey, and just a hat or whatever, but then the next game it was really cold, it got colder, and I didn’t care, I just wore the same thing.  We won in this last time, I’ll win in it again.

I’ve never been like a crazy superstitious kind of guy.  I will always, though, if I’m watching my team play, I’m going to wear something of that team.  I will do that, even if it’s just sitting on the couch.

Ryan:  Sometimes, in a game that really matters, in football or baseball playoffs, something like that, if my team is struggling, say, two-thirds of the way through the game, and I’m not wearing any gear of that team, I’ll go track down a Cubs hat or a jersey or a Packers t-shirt, just to see if (it helps), just supporting.  Never the opposite, though.  If I’m wearing gear and they lose, I don’t take it off, but sometimes you’ll get halfway through a game and go, “oh shoot, I’m not supporting my team,” so you do whatever you can to make them get back in business.

Garrett:  I have a mechanical tiger that plays Tiger Rag.  He used to dance, but the wheels broke.  Every time we score any points, I always click his paw and make him play the Tiger Rag song, and while this probably has more to do with Dabo (Swinney) and Deshaun (Watson), it has only been wrong, like, three times in the last four seasons.

SOS:  What do you mean, “it’s only been wrong”?

Garrett:  Like, whenever I hit the button every time when we play, we always win.  Again, that probably has more to do with the players, but I like to think I’m contributing.

 

SOS:  What is a crazy or unique experience you’ve had while watching a game?

Justin:  I remember, it was so funny, because my dad is not a guy to like freak out on TV.  At the game, he’ll freak out and stuff, and yell, but on TV he just doesn’t.  And I vividly remember when Marcus Paige hit that shot (to tie the game) against Villanova last year, the shot that no one will ever remember except Carolina fans, my dad jumped off the couch and just screamed his head off, and was pumped.

And I remember, it was just so funny, because obviously I was caught up in the moment, freaking out, but it was just funny to me, because I was like, “my dad never gets this into it in a game.”

The Seahawks game two years ago in the playoffs (was crazy).  We made that huge run, 15-1, divisional playoffs, and I kid you not, the upper deck where we were sitting at, we did not sit down for the entirety of that game.

Like, we were up at first half, at kickoff, when they came out of the tunnel, and then we sat down at halftime, and then when the clock hit zero we left.  And it was just crazy.  Because like, I’ve been at games where you stand a lot, but just the way that season was rolling, and the electricity in the air, you didn’t want to sit down, and so that was pretty crazy.

I about hit Courtney in the face this year, when Luke Maye hit that shot against Kentucky.  I really did.  I was punching the air, I was going nuts.

I will say, I am really weird about, like—regular season, and I can just sit on my couch and chill, but like, if it’s the playoffs, I bring a chair, and I sit probably as close as me and you to the TV, and I’m in it.  I’m in it.  Because it’s every pitch.

Ryan:  I was at Wrigley Field in 2003 when Barry Bonds, in batting practice, hit a baseball over Sheffield, through a window across the street, and that video’s kind of gone popular now, a cool “I didn’t do it,” you know, that was pretty funny though, just to—I don’t think he even noticed that it was out there, and it was like “did he just…?”  Yeah, he just hit one across the street, through a window.  That stands out.

I seem to have been to a lot of games where Top 10 plays happen on SportsCenter.  You were at one where Andrelton Simmons made that sick play against the Mets that we didn’t see because people (standing in the aisle) blocked us.

SOS:  I kind of saw it.  You were a little more blocked.  The best play I’ve ever seen live.

Ryan:  It’s kind of cool, you see it in person and then the next day it’s #1 on SportsCenter.  I was at a Hawks and 76ers game and a dunk made #1 on SportsCenter, and I was sitting right there watching it.  That’s pretty sweet.

Garrett:  The year of the “Kick Six” in the Iron Bowl, we were sitting in a beach house, and the Iron Bowl was taking a little long to finish that year, so we had the Iron Bowl going on here (on one TV), and the Clemson-(South) Carolina game going on here (on another TV).

And I would much rather see us win and Alabama win—I don’t like Alabama, but I’d rather–I’d trade an Alabama win for a Clemson win, if that makes sense—but I was incredibly ecstatic watching, what’s his name, Chris Davis run that kick, that (missed) field goal back for a touchdown, but then my joy quickly turned into despair when Tajh Boyd proceeded to throw like six interceptions.

 

Tomorrow, Fans Week continues with a look at some of the crazy things I’ve ever heard and seen from fans at sporting events. 

Fans Week Roundtable, Part I: Gratifying Wins and Gut-Wrenching Losses

Most of us aren’t members of any team or coaching staff in any pro or college sport, but there is one position we all hold:  fan.

This week, Stiles on Sports will glimpse at the admiration for our favorite teams and players, the exciting wins, and the heartbreaking close calls that are all a part of fanhood.

Welcome to Fans Week.

To start, I talked to three friends (and fellow recent graduates of Anderson University) who are as big of sports fans as I am in a roundtable discussion about their experiences as a fan.

All three have had one or more teams they pull for win championships in recent years, and all have had agonizing near misses too.

Justin Kenley is a St. Louis Cardinals, Carolina Panthers and North Carolina Tar Heels fan.

Ryan Pittman pulls for the Chicago Cubs, Green Bay Packers and South Carolina Gamecocks.

Garrett Black is a Clemson Tigers football fan.  While he only has one team he is a diehard fan of, following that team has been a roller coaster ride over the last few years.

Our conversations covered the full gauntlet of fanhood:  Part I of this two-part roundtable includes discussion on joyous championship occasions and agonizing losses.

 

SOS:  What is your best win as a fan?

Justin:  It’s got to be Game 6 (of the World Series) in 2011.

It was on a Thursday night, and I had a cross country meet Friday morning, and I had to run at 7:30, so we had to be at the meet at 6:15.  Our coach was the kind of guy that you’re in bed by 9:00 on those nights, and I was like, “nah, I can’t go to sleep.”

I was sitting on the edge of our ottoman, and my mom and dad were in there, and I remember thinking we were really done.  And when David Freese hit that triple, I lost my stinking mind.  I just went crazy.  And then, obviously, the next inning, Josh Hamilton hits a home run (for Texas), and then Lance Berkman ties it up again, and then obviously the home run in the 11th.

Honestly, the home run in the 11th, I didn’t freak out nearly as bad as I did for the triple and the single, because it was just the moment, with two strikes, down to your last pitch, but yeah, it’s got to be that.  Game 7 was kind of a letdown too–well, not for me, but as a game.

Ryan:  Probably South Carolina baseball in, I think it would’ve been 2011, they played UConn in the Super Regional, and it was at Carolina Stadium, and I was actually able to go, and I was there when they clinched it to go to Omaha.

As a fan, actually being there for that, seeing the celebration–you know, you watch other teams win on TV and stuff, but actually being there and watching them make the dogpile in the middle, that’s a priceless moment.

And obviously, my greatest sports thing as a fan ever was when the Cubs won the World Series last year.  I’ve never been happier in my life.  I was watching a team that I thought never could win win, and that was pretty spectacular too.

SOS:  Garrett, as a Clemson fan I guess yours is pretty obvious.

Garrett:  Well, let me tell you about a game that happened this past January… (laugh)

SOS:  What was that like as a fan?

Garrett:  I lost my mind.  My younger brother actually took a video of my reaction.  I go in and out of the frame multiple times because I spent the next 30 seconds to a minute just kind of screaming and running around the room.

 

SOS:  What is your worst loss as a fan?

Justin:  I’ve gotta go with the Super Bowl loss…not to the Patriots but to the Broncos.  Villanova (beating North Carolina in 2016) sucked, but just growing up in Charlotte, and loving the Panthers, and just to see the electricity that that team was bringing to Charlotte, and to be on such a roll, and then to just fall short, that hurt.

I was awful mad that night.  Because I had to drive back two-and-a-half hours from my home, because we had a Super Bowl party, and that was not a fun ride back.  Because I still think, and call me a biased fan, but I still think if we play them 10 times, we win seven of them.  I really do think that, especially that year, and they just didn’t play good, so that sucked.  Villanova’s up there, but that one really sucked.

Ryan:  I’ve got to go back to the Packers when they were playing the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.

They had the huge lead in the fourth quarter (19-7), and the Seahawks got a miraculous touchdown with like, what was it, 30 seconds or a minute left, and then freaking, was it… Bostick, Brandon Bostick, decided not to block, decided to be a hero and field the onside kick, and he ended up becoming the villain, and the Packers lost that game, which I thought was a game they should have easily won, and been in the Super Bowl that year.  And that was painful.

Garrett:  I’m probably going to have to go with the Orange Bowl loss (to West Virginia in 2012, 70-33).  Just, I remember me and my dad watching it, and I think we were down two or three scores, and we’re like, okay, now’s the time to buckle down and get with it, and I think we allowed another two touchdowns within—I mean, West Virginia was scoring all over the place that game.  So we just turned the TV off, and we didn’t speak for the rest of the night.  It was tough.

 

SOS:  What non-playoff win stands out in your memory?

Justin:  Two years ago, we were playing the Cubs in the regular season, and it was just one of those frustrating nights, the ball didn’t seem to bounce our way, nothing really happened, and then the ninth inning with two outs, Jhonny Peralta hits a line drive over the left-center field wall in Wrigley Field.

And it was just awesome to see Wrigley Field so pumped and excited, and then the air was let out of that place.  And I think if I remember correctly, they went on to win it in the 10th.  Which, it’s kind of funny that that’s a baseball game, because one out of 162, but that one stuck out in my mind.

Another one I remember… I was at Bank of America Stadium the year before we made the big run, and we went 12-4, and it was when we played the Saints, in the monsoon game.  And literally, I was up in the upper deck and couldn’t even see the field, because the rain was so bad.  It was that bad.  But that kind of like Cam (Newton)’s emergence, leading us to a division title and stuff, and that game sealed the NFC South for us.  That was awesome.

Ryan:  This is going to be a little off the grid…

SOS: That’s the point of the question.

Ryan: I think it was two or three years ago, South Carolina basketball was in the SEC Tournament as like a 13-seed, and all of a sudden they won a couple of games and made it to the quarterfinals and lost there.  It wasn’t a great season, but those two wins, I think were against Auburn and another crappy team in the SEC, but it was like—in my opinion those wins were big, because I was like, “hey look, we’re winning in the tournament.” It was symbolic to the fact that it was going to get better.  So at the time, obviously, it’s not a huge deal when a 13-seed beats a 12-seed, or something like that, it’s not a big deal…

SOS: But the next day beat a 5-seed, I think.  I want to say it was Arkansas.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s like wow, here we are, it’s a game that didn’t really matter but it gave me hope as a fan.

Garrett:  When Deshaun (Watson) snapped the losing streak against (South) Carolina, and he was playing on, what, a torn ACL, and it was a home game, in fairness, but five losses in a rivalry that heated, in a row, that was like being able to breathe air again.

 

SOS:  What non-playoff loss stands out, or “still stings”?

Justin:  Any time we lose to Duke, I hate it.  I almost treat the Duke games like playoff games.  And obviously there’s playoff losses that sting, but just regular season games—there’s always a game that where like, “man, we had that.”

I also hated when (the Panthers) lost to Atlanta, when we went 15-1.  That really stung.  Because I really thought, “we’re going to go undefeated this year.”  Only two games away from doing it, and then to win in the fashion we did in Week 17, it would’ve been nice to have won in Week 16.

Ryan:  This is going to go way back.  Wow, it must have been ’03 or ’04.  The Cubs were playing the Brewers at Miller Park.  Craig Counsell hit a leadoff home run, and the Brewers won the game 1-0.

I watched that entire game as a 10-year old, like, come on, come on, let’s get a run, like, can we score a run, because the pitching was great, and that game still stands out, because, like, the first inning home run, you can get so much time to come back, you’ve still got 24 outs to work with, and…. no.  That loss stands out.  It didn’t affect anything, but that’s a non-championship, non-playoff loss that stands out.

Garrett:  The one that’s freshest on my mind is the loss to Pitt this year, because we were the better football team, we were at home, we should’ve won that game.

But we were kind of resting on how good we were supposed to be, and not actually playing to our full potential, and I think had we won that game we wouldn’t have won the national championship.

 

SOS:  Who is one team that didn’t win a championship that you are particularly fond of?

Justin:  I loved the 2013 Cardinals.  I thought that team was loaded.  I still think we were the best team that year.  I loved our bullpen, going seventh, eighth and ninth, with (Kevin) Seagrist, (Carlos) Martinez and (Trevor) Rosenthal; I was like, “man, you get us in the seventh inning with the lead, it’s ballgame.”

I loved that team, and I hate that—I feel like it was one of those things that we just didn’t play well in the World Series, and it happens.  I loved that team, and obviously the Panthers two years ago.  That was a fun team to watch.  Cam (Newton) doing Cam things that we’d never seen before, that was a lot of fun.

But that Cardinal team was good, man.  I remember going into the World Series, and obviously, 2011 was different, because we snuck in to the Wild Card and just got hot at the right time, but 2013 I was like, “man, this is the best team I’ve seen us put together in a while.”  So just, it just kind of sucked to lose it, because I felt like we were so good, but that happens, man—sports.

SOS: Yeah, to win a World Series you’ve got to play well for a whole month.  You have an off week, you’re done.

Justin: It happens.

Ryan:  Does it have to be a team that’s my favorite team?

SOS: Not necessarily.

Ryan:  Because, there’s a handful of those teams that I just… I think the Tampa Bay Rays, back in 2008, when they made the World Series.  It was with their low-payroll, low-everything, no really big superstars, but they found a way to win games, and it was kind of cool to watch that small market team that hadn’t been in the league that long just kind of come out of nowhere with guys that were fun to watch and just enjoying the game.  That’s probably my favorite non-championship team.

I could say the 2015 Cubs, too, (once the rebuilding team was respectable), but there wasn’t that connection yet with those players.  It was still bits and pieces, and like it wasn’t quite there yet.  It was all magical anyway, we shouldn’t have even been in the playoffs that year.

Garrett:  I’d have to give it to the ’15 Tigers, the ones that lost the championship game.  They’re the ones that kind of finally shed the underperforming label, because we could’ve won the ACC as many times as we wanted to and that would always just be “all you can do is win the ACC.”

I remember, like in the 24 hours after we lost that game (to Alabama), I saw probably three or four different think pieces on how much respect people had for Clemson after that game.  It just was like the perception of who Clemson was and what we could accomplish kind of just changed overnight after that game.

 

Tomorrow in Part II, our roundtable will discuss the panelists’ favorite players to watch, who they wish they could’ve watched, and crazy things they’ve done and seen as a fan.

 

Column: A sentimental Sunday of baseball

On Sundays in October, the focus in the sports world is typically on the NFL.  NASCAR in The Chase, its version of playoffs, and today is also the final day of the Ryder Cup.

But even with everything else going on, today is baseball’s day, as it will be one of the most historic days of regular season play in the game’s history.

The final day of the regular season is often frantic as the final playoff spots are up for grabs, and this year is no different.  While each division race has already been decided, both the NL and AL Wild Card races are coming down to the final day.  In the NL Wild Card race, the Giants lead the Cardinals by one game for the final spot (the Mets clinched their spot Saturday), while in the AL Wild Card, the Orioles and Blue Jays currently hold the spots, but the Tigers can make it interesting with a win on Sunday (Detroit also has a potential makeup game on Monday, and needs help from Baltimore and/or Toronto).  To learn what would happen in the event of a three-way tie (which is a very real possibility), click here.

All games are scheduled for 3 p.m. ET, so the games with postseason implications will all play out at the same time (L.A. Dodgers at San Francisco, Pittsburgh at St. Louis, Baltimore at N.Y. Yankees, Toronto at Boston, Detroit at Atlanta).

But in addition to the jostling for playoff berths and positioning, there will be three farewells within the game taking place this afternoon.

David Ortiz

David Ortiz will be playing his final regular season game, as his Boston Red Sox host the Toronto Blue Jays.  In over 2,400 games, the 10-time All-Star is a career .286 hitter, and has hit 541 home runs, which is 17th all-time.  He has won three World Series titles in 14 seasons with the Red Sox, including winning World Series MVP in 2013, after playing his first six seasons with the Minnesota Twins.

Big Papi has had an exceptional final season, with 38 HR and 127 RBI, while leading the league in doubles (48), slugging percentage (.625), and OPS (1.027).  This strong season has left Ortiz as a contender for his first MVP award, as he could become the first player to win an MVP in his final season, and would be the oldest MVP in history (40). Ortiz has led the Red Sox to an AL East Division title in 2016, and his farewell will continue into the postseason, beginning Thursday against the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS.

Other players who have already announced their retirement after the season include Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira and Cubs C David Ross, although Ross’s Cubs will continue into the postseason after the regular season ends.

Vin Scully

Sunday also marks the final game of the incomparable career of legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.  Scully will make his final broadcast this afternoon when the Dodgers take on the Giants in San Francisco.

Scully already had one fantastic farewell at his final home game at Dodger Stadium last Sunday, calling Charlie Culbertson’s walkoff homer to clinch the NL West Division title for the Dodgers, before the team played a beautiful recording of Scully singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” for Dodger fans after the game.  While the Dodgers are headed for an NLDS matchup with the Washington Nationals, Scully will not be working any playoff games.

Scully’s final game is the 88-year old’s 10,640th game with the Dodgers over his 67 years with the team, since starting in the 1950 season when the team was still in Brooklyn.  The game will be the 1,216th game Scully has called in the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, one of the most heated in the game, and Scully has covered 975 Dodgers players.

Baseball’s greatest storyteller has captivated audiences since the days of Jackie Robinson with his grand and elegant style, one that will never be duplicated.

Turner Field

Lastly, I will be in attendance for the final game at Turner Field in Atlanta, as the Braves bid farewell to “The Ted” before moving into SunTrust Park in northern Atlanta in 2017.

Turner Field was built as Centennial Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, then retro-fitted and downsized into a baseball stadium for the Braves, who played across the street at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium from 1966-96.  The Braves beat the Cubs, 5-4, in the first game at Turner Field on April 4, 1997.

In 20 seasons at Turner Field, the Braves have won 10 division titles (including the final eight of the team’s record 14 consecutive from 1991-2005), and appeared in 12 postseasons.  Turner Field has hosted 39 playoff games, including two games in the 1999 World Series, and the first ever National League Wild Card Game in 2012, which was the final game in the career of sure-fire future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones.

Turner Field also hosted the 2000 MLB All-Star Game and was site of Diamondbacks LHP Randy Johnson’s 2004 perfect game and manager Bobby Cox’s 2000th win later that year, as well as Braves RHP John Smoltz’s 3000th strikeout in 2008.

Sunday’s final game at Turner Field is against the Detroit Tigers who, as previously mentioned, are fighting for their postseason lives.  There will be a pregame ceremony featuring Braves alumni who played at Turner Field, and a ceremonial first pitch, and a postgame ceremony that will include a ceremonial final pitch and the transfer of home plate to SunTrust Park.  Braves ace pitcher Julio Teheran will be facing Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the finale.

This day is not a normal final day of the regular season in Major League Baseball.  Instead, it is a historic and sentimental Sunday, as one of the games most popular players, its greatest broadcaster, and the home ballpark of its longest continuously operated franchise all bid farewell.

 

 

MLB Races

AL Wild Card
1. Toronto 88-73, 0 games ahead (at Boston)
2. Baltimore 88-73 (at N.Y. Yankees)
3. Detroit 86-74, 1.5 games back (at Atlanta)

NL Wild Card
1. N.Y. Mets 87-74, 1 game ahead (at Philadelphia)
2. San Francisco 86-75 (vs. L.A. Dodgers)
3. St. Louis 85-76, 1 game back (vs. Pittsburgh)

NLDS Recap: Cubs, Mets Advance

Chicago Cubs def. St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1
Game 1:  St. Louis 4, Chicago 0
Game 2:  Chicago 6, St. Louis 3
Game 3:  Chicago 8, St. Louis 6
Game 4:  Chicago 6, St. Louis 4

Starting Point:  Cubs’ 5-run Inning in Game 2
After St. Louis won Game 1 4-0 on the strength of John Lackey’s pitching performance, and eighth inning homers by Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham to put it away, the Cubs used a big second inning to take Game 2.  Matt Carpenter had led off the game with a homer for the Cardinals, before the Cubs countered by playing small ball.  Austin Jackson and Miguel Montero both scored on bunts, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead, before Kyle Hendricks scored on an infield hit.  Jorge Soler ended the small ball stretch by hitting a two-run homer, making it 5-1.  The Cubs scored an additional run on a Montero RBI groundout in the third, and the Cardinals never really threatened to come back, scoring only on fifth inning solo homers by Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk, as the Cubs tied the series with a 6-3 win.

Turning Point:  Cubs’ Record-Setting Six-Homer Game 3
Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, the likely Cy Young winner in the National League, wasn’t as sharp as he had been in nearly all of his recent starts, including the NL Wild Card Game shutout over Pittsburgh.  Arrieta allowed four Cardinal runs, with two in the fourth on a Jhonny Peralta RBI double and a Pham RBI groundout, and two more in the sixth on a Jason Heyward two-run homer.  The story for the Cubs, however, was the offense.  Chicago hit a postseason record six home runs, with one each by Kyle Schwarber (2nd inning, gave Cubs 1-0 lead), Starlin Castro (4th inning, tied score 2-2), Kris Bryant (5th inning, two-run homer, gave Cubs 4-2 lead), Anthony Rizzo (5th inning, extended Cubs lead to 5-2), Soler (6th inning, extended Cubs lead to 7-4), and Dexter Fowler (8th inning, extended Cubs lead to 8-4).  Piscotty homered in the ninth for St. Louis to cut the gap to 8-6, but the Cubs were a win away from clinching the series.

Ending Point:  Young Cubs Stars Use Long Ball Again in Game 4
After the Cubs exclusive use of the home run to score runs in Game 3, they nearly used the long ball exclusively in Game 4.  After Piscotty hit a two-run first inning homer to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead, Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel helped himself with an RBI single in the second to cut the gap to 2-1.  After that, the Cubs only scored runs with home runs.  Javier Baez hit a three-run shot in the second to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead.  After the Cardinals tied the game in the sixth on an RBI double by Tony Cruz and an RBI single by Brandon Moss, in the bottom half of the inning Anthony Rizzo broke the tie with a solo homer, giving the Cubs a 5-4 lead.  In the seventh, Schwarber gave the Cubs some insurance with a high, long homer that landed on top of the scoreboard in right field, and when the Cubs got six more outs, the 6-4 victory was theirs.  The win marked the first time ever that the Cubs clinched a postseason series at Wrigley Field, and advanced the Cubs to the NLCS for the first time since 2003.

 

New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Game 1:  New York 3, Los Angeles 1
Game 2:  Los Angeles 5, New York 2
Game 3:  New York 13, Los Angeles 7
Game 4:  Los Angeles 3, New York 1
Game 5:  New York 3, Los Angeles 2

Starting Point:  Chase Utley’s Controversial Slide in Game 2
After seven scoreless innings by starter Jacob deGrom led to a 3-1 win for the Mets in Game 1, the Mets were ahead 2-1 in the seventh inning of Game 2.  With the Dodgers batting in that inning, on a ground ball to second by Howie Kendrick, which Daniel Murphy flipped to shortstop Ruben Tejada, Chase Utley made an unusually hard slide into Tejada.  Hard slides are common to try to break up a possible double play, but Utley didn’t even start sliding until he was past the base, and hit Tejada’s plant leg.  Tejada broke his leg, but the play also hurt in the course of the game, as a review determined that Tejada never touched second base, making Utley safe (he never touched the base either, but because he was ruled out on the field before he got to the base, by technicality he didn’t have to).  There is a rule which would make a baserunner out if his slide is, in the judgement of the umpires, thought to have malicious intent, but the umpires did not rule that to be the case here.  On the fielder’s choice, Kike Hernandez scored, tying the score 2-2, and on the next play, Utley and Kendrick scored, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead, before Gonzalez scored on a Turner double to make it 5-2, a score that would eventually be the final.  The slide by Utley was definitely the turning point of the game, and was a big spot in the series, as emotions were high from that point on, particularly on the Mets side.

Turning Point:  The Mets’ Offensive Explosion in Game 3
After three Dodger runs scored in the second inning of Game 3 in New York, the Mets responded in a big way.  An RBI single by Travis d’Arnaud and a 3-RBI double by Curtis Granderson gave the Mets a 4-3 second inning lead.  d’Arnaud homered in the third, increasing the lead to 6-3.  In the fourth, an RBI single by Murphy made it 7-3, before a monster three-run homer by Yoenis Cespedes made it 10-3.  In the seventh, after a sacrifice fly by Michael Conforto, and a 2-RBI double by Granderson, the Mets led 13-4, with a late homer by Howie Kendrick of the Dodgers making the score 13-7.  The 13 runs scored by the Mets set a franchise postseason record.  The game was even more dominated by the Mets than that six-run margin would indicate, and they headed to Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead.

Ending Point:  deGrom’s Gutsy Game 5 Performance
Clayton Kershaw’s one-run outing in Game 4 for the Dodgers got the series back to the West Coast for a decisive Game 5.  While the Mets were led offensively in Game 5 by Daniel Murphy, who was a triple short of the first cycle in postseason history, the game’s real star was Jacob deGrom.  It was not deGrom’s best performance by any means, but the right-hander showed the world he can grind.  After RBI singles in the first by Jacob Turner and Andre Ethier gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead (Murphy’s RBI double in the top half accounted for the Mets run), deGrom did not allow another run, despite spending most of the night in jams.  57 of deGrom’s 105 pitches were with a runner in scoring position, but he was able to keep the Dodgers from scoring for the last five innings of his six inning outing, giving his team an excellent chance to win.  d’Arnaud’s RBI sacrifice fly tied the score at 2-2 in the fourth, and Murphy homered off NL Cy Young contender Zack Grienke in the sixth, before Mets starter Noah Snydergaard pitched a perfect inning in his first major league relief appearance, and closer Jeurys Familia finishing off the Dodgers with a six-out save, advancing the Mets to the NLCS, for the first time since 2006, against the Cubs (Game 1 is in New York on Saturday).

NLDS Preview

National League Division Series play begins today, and there are some similarities between the teams still alive in the NL to the ones still fighting in the AL.  With the exception of the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the World Series in 2006 and 2011, the other three NL playoff teams are trying to end long championship droughts.  The Dodgers last won the World Series in 1988, the Mets in 1986, and the Cubs are trying to end their much-publicized 107 year dry spell since 1908.

Chicago Cubs vs St. Louis Cardinals
Game 1: Friday, 6:30 pm ET in St. Louis, TBS
Game 2: Saturday, 5:30 pm ET in St. Louis, TBS
Game 3: Monday, TBD in Chicago, TBS
Game 4: Tuesday, TBD in Chicago, TBS
Game 5: Thursday, 4:30 pm ET in St. Louis, TBS

One of baseball’s greatest rivalries meets for the first time in the postseason after 2,224 regular season meetings.  These two teams won 100 (Cardinals) and 97 (Cubs) games during the regular season, making this an excellent matchup, particularly to be so early in the postseason.  Both of these teams do a lot of things well, so any small advantage in the breakdown of the series could make a huge difference in its outcome.  The Cardinals won the regular season series 11-8.

Starting pitching:
The Cubs have a very solid rotation ERA of 3.36, led by NL Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA), who pitched a complete game shutout in the NL Wild Card Game.  Chicago would be favored in this stat in most series.  However, the Cardinals have an exceptional 2.99 rotation ERA.  Their four postseason starters have all had very strong years (John Lackey, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn).
Advantage: Cardinals

Bullpen:
These two bullpens are both very good.  The Cardinals technically have the statistical advantage, with a 2.82 ERA against the Cubs 3.38 mark, and have MLB saves leader Trevor Rosenthal (2.10 ERA, 48 saves).  However, the Cubs have two pitchers on the series roster with significant MLB closing experience, plus setup man Pedro Strop with “closer stuff.” I don’t see either bullpen giving away any games in this series.
Advantage: even

Lineup:
While the Cardinals did have injury issues this season, it’s a bit concerning that there isn’t a clear offensive leader of this team, with their highest average for a starter coming from rookie Stephen Piscotty (.305), and their highest RBI total coming in at 84 (Matt Carpenter).  St. Louis ranked just 11th in the NL in runs scored (647).  The Cardinals have a better average than the Cubs (.253 for St. Louis, .244 for Chicago), but the Cubs have out-homered the Cardinals 171-137, have a higher OPS (.719 for Chicago, .716 for St. Louis), and were sixth in runs scored (689).
Advantage: Cubs

Atmosphere:
St. Louis has the so-called “best fans in baseball”, and Chicago has the intimate feel of Wrigley Field and a hungry fan base eager for some postseason success.  Throw the rivalry on top of that, and both cities will be absolutely electric.
Advantage: even

Experience:
The Cubs have a very young roster, but are led by players like Jon Lester and David Ross with a good level of playoff experience.  The Cardinals, however, have been to at least the NLCS every postseason since 2011, playing in 11 different postseason rounds the last four years, winning eight of them.  A majority of the Cardinals roster has stayed the same over much of that span.
Advantage: Cardinals

Managers:
Mike Matheny is in his fourth year as Cardinals manager, and his first three have resulted in NLCS trips, with one NL title.  Joe Maddon has improved the Cubs by 24 wins in his first year in Chicago, after consistently winning with a low payroll in Tampa Bay, including an AL pennant in 2008.  Both are NL Manager of the Year contenders.
Advantage: even

The Cubs have practically become America’s team, as everyone is rooting for the “lovable losers” to make a deep run, as they try to reach their first World Series since 1945.  This series should be wiildly entertaining, and should be very even, but with the Cardinals pitching and their experience in the postseason, I give them the ever-so-slight edge.

The Cardinals will win the series, three games to two.

 

New York Mets vs Los Angeles Dodgers
Game 1: Friday, 9:30 pm ET in Los Angeles, TBS
Game 2: Saturday, 9:00 pm ET in Los Angeles, TBS
Game 3: Monday, TBD in New York, TBS
Game 4: Tuesday, 8:00 pm ET in New York, TBS
Game 5: Thursday, 8:00 pm ET in Los Angeles, TBS

The Mets and Dodgers are both looking to end a long title drought, although the Dodgers are in the postseason for the third straight year, while the Mets are in it for the first time since 2006.  These two teams met in the 1988 NLCS, the year the Dodgers won their last title.  The Mets won four out of the seven regular season meetings.

Starting Pitching:
The Mets have one of the best young rotations in baseball, with four starters of 27 or younger on the postseason roster, plus 42-year old Bartolo Colon.  The Dodgers, however, have two of the best three starters in the NL, if not all of baseball, in Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13 ERA) and Zack Grienke (19-3, 1.66 ERA).  That one-two punch is by far the best in the game.
Advantage: Dodgers (barely)

Bullpen:
The Dodgers have had to rebuild their bullpen quite a bit this season due to various circumstances, not the least of which is injuries, and it shows in a 3.93 ERA which is the second worst among remaining NL playoff teams.  The Mets started the year with a good bullpen, and added on through acquisitions, and it shows as well with a 3.48 mark.
Advantage: Mets

Lineup:
Both offenses have had spurts of excellence, but are middle of the pack statistically.  The Mets offense exploded in the second half after the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, but their .244 average for the season overall ranked 13th in the NL.  The Dodgers average isn’t much better at .250, ranking 10th, but they are second in the NL in OPS (.739) and first in home runs (187).
Advantage: Dodgers

Atmosphere:
The Dodgers have consistently had a good atmosphere the last two postseasons at home, even though the team hasn’t made it as deep as the fans might have hoped, being eliminated by the Cardinals both years.  Mets fans, however, have waited nine years for this series, since losing Game Seven of the NLCS to the Cardinals, meaning Citi Field should be electric, although three of the five games will be out west.
Advantage: Mets (barely)

Experience:
The Dodgers have been in the playoffs the last two years, although those aren’t necessarily good memories for those players who are still on the roster.  Many of the Mets are making their playoff debuts, but some, like Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Clippard, among others, have plenty of recent playoff experience through other clubs.  The Dodgers have the edge, but the Mets aren’t completely raw.
Advantage: Dodgers (barely)

Managers:
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has led his team to three straight postseason berths, although he only has one series win to show for it.  Mets skipper Terry Collins has finally managed his way to the playoffs in his fifth season in New York and 11th overall, and is likely a candidate for NL Manager of the Year after winning a division many thought no one but Washington could win.
Advantage: even

Like the Cubs-Cardinals series, this one should see a lot of good pitching and should be very even, and very entertaining to watch.  The Dodgers, however, are just slightly better equipped to win the games necessary to win the series.

The Dodgers will win the series, three games to two.

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