Considering I started my Wild Card Showdown predictions with a disclaimer that individual baseball games are nearly impossible to predict, it seems only fair that I got both games wrong, right? So it was actually nice of the Cardinals and Orioles to prove me right by proving me wrong. (Yeah, we’re going with that.) It really was a shame to see Chipper Jones’s career end amid so much controversy, though. And perhaps an even bigger shame to see this new format ushered in in such a way, as a lot of fans will be extremely critical and suspicious of it from now on, even though a blown call could’ve happened just as easily in, say, Game 5 of a five-game series, or Game 7 of a seven-game series.
Getting back to my original point, I feel I should explain what I hastily wrote yesterday (in order to get my picks in before the games started.) Baseball is different from other sports in the sense that its postseason doesn’t resemble its regular season at all. Why is this? Because out of every sport, baseball has the lowest probabilities of success.
In the NBA, the average shooting percentage is usually in the 40s, while good shooters commonly shoot in the high 50s. Given the number of shots taken in a game, if you average that out over a game, the better team is usually going to end up scoring the ball more. Furthermore, basketball relies on other predictable factors like which team has better playmakers that are able to get to the rim or make other plays happen. In football, a good quarterback will complete around 60% of his passes, and good teams will be able to physically dominate their opponents and will score dramatically more points than bad teams in individual games.
Baseball is not like this. In baseball, the greatest hitters of all time might hit .400 once in their career. It doesn’t happen often; it’s happened 13 times in the 20th century. To put that in perspective, it means they successfully get a base hit in 40% of their at-bats not counting walks, hit-by-pitches, or other situations that would cause them not to have an official at-bat. A great hitter will hit around .350 (there may be one or two of these a year), which translates to succeeding 35% of the time. The league average is usually around .260, which is 26%. You get the idea. Home runs? Even more difficult to predict. 40 is considered the baseline for an extremely good year for a home run hitter, which in a 162-game schedule means a hitter having a very good year will hit a home run in just under 25% of their games (not factoring in the fact that they may have a few multi-home run games, which will bring that percentage down further.)
The reason good teams succeed and bad teams don’t in the regular season is because over 162 games, a lot of these statistics will “average out” such that the good teams will win more games. However, a lot of success in the regular season relies on depth. The postseason is a completely different animal. Nearly any team can beat nearly any other team in a 5- or 7-game series, let alone a single game. So it is pretty common for MLB Playoff predictions to be wildly inaccurate to the point of absolute futility. So, why make them at all? Well… I don’t know, it’s just what we do.
National League Division Series
St. Louis over Washington in 4 Games
I see St. Louis winning their first two home games, Washington rallying to take their home opener, and St. Louis winning in either Game 4 or Game 5. This new 2-3 format really confuses me a great deal because it seems to cede the momentum of home field advantage to the team with the lower record. A series needs to go the full five games for the team with “home field advantage” to actually play more games at home than their opponents. Bizarre.
Cincinnati over San Francisco in 5 Games
As much fun as it would be to see the two most recent World Series winners face each other, I think Cincinnati can both out-pitch and out-hit San Francisco.
American League Division Series
New York over Baltimore in 4 Games
The Yankees have the potential to overpower just about anyone in the postseason, and Baltimore did them an enormous favor by knocking off their main competition (although the Rangers did stumble their way through the end of the regular season.)
Detroit over Oakland in 4 Games
I’m going to be honest: I really wanted to pick Oakland over New York for the ALCS just for the beautiful epilogue it would provide for Moneyball, or better yet the theatrical sequel it would give us (Moneyball 2! Tell me you’re not all-in for this!) But Detroit is an extremely top-heavy team (which is what you actually want in the postseason), which explains why they had less success in the regular season than Oakland. Then again, Oakland is a very streaky team, so maybe they’re about to go on a 2007 Colorado Rockies-like tear through the AL playoffs. I would definitely not complain.
National League Championship Series
Cincinnati over St. Louis in 6 Games
Last year, although many would disagree with me, St. Louis had the benefit of facing an inferior opponent in the NLCS. This would clearly not be the case this year, although St. Louis is more than capable of pulling another upset by simply out-muscling their opponents. (A lot of people forget that losing Albert Pujols didn’t stop the Cardinals from being the best-hitting team in the league.)
Detroit over New York in 7 Games
This may be wishful thinking, but Detroit certainly seems to have the firepower to overcome the Yankees, plus potential back-to-back Cy Young winner Justin Verlander should get a chance to pitch twice unless there’s a sweep.
Detroit over Cincinnati in 7 Games
Prince Fielder captures his first World Series just one year after Albert Pujols captures his second, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander get rings to help further validate them as the best pitcher and hitter in baseball. A lot to like here.
Too bad almost none of this will probably happen. Given the wild unpredictability of the MLB postseason, feel free to jot down the opposite of all of this.
I love October.