How Did Nationals and Dodgers Get Knocked Out?
So far it’s been an exciting and interesting postseason. I have to say, though, I’m surprised that both the Nationals and Dodgers are sitting home, as they seemed to me to be the best two teams in the NL — on paper.
Maybe there are advanced stats that disagree with my thought that Los Angeles and Washington were the cream of the National League. But gee whiz, the Dodgers appeared to fit in with their Hollywood digs — a star-studded cast. Even the often unpredictable and occasionally disinterested Hanley Ramirez stepped up his game when the postseason began (maybe he was reminded he was playing for a big winter payday?), and, Matt Kemp was once again Matt Kemp in the final weeks of the season (1.047 OPS in September), and Carl Crawford was perhaps the best he’s ever been heading into the playoffs (.473 OBP and 1.187 OPS in September!). With those three surrounded by the likes of Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, and Dee Gordon, and led on the mound by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the NLDS should’ve been a slam-dunk.
What the heck happened?
Similarly, how in the world did the Nats lose to the Wild Card Giants? Again, when you look at the two clubs on paper, it seemed like no contest — the Nats should’ve swept. The usually pitching-rich Giants were not looking marvelous, other than Madison Bumgarner. Then former Met Yusmeiro Petit comes out of nowhere and Brandon Crawford turns into the 1969 postseason version of Al Weis and next thing you know, the Nats are sent home for the winter.
I look at both the Dodgers and the Nationals and think, “what could they have done, who could they have added to better prepare for the NLDS?” I’m at a loss. MAYBE the Dodgers could have added another bullpen arm, so that Kershaw and Greinke didn’t have to feel like they needed to go 8 innings every time out? What could Washington have improved going into the postseason? I can’t think of one position player, bench player, or pitcher I would’ve switched out from that team. For pete’s sake, Ryan Zimmerman was relegated to pinch-hitting and he wasn’t missed!
But to me, that’s what makes baseball so beautiful — you never know what’s going to happen on any given day. If there’s a stud on the mound, a college team can beat a MLB club. In a short series, a lesser team can get hot and take games from champions. A team full of sluggers can be hoodwinked by a team that scraps and executes. The littlest things can turn into the biggest things. David can beat Goliath. No matter how many stats are analyzed, they can’t necessarily predict what will happen over the course of a week — weathermen are more reliable.
Along the same lines, for the first time in many years, I’m watching the playoff games played by the teams in the Adulterated League. Why? The Orioles. A team of no-names that ran away with the AL East and swept the previous class of the AL, the Detroit Tigers. And they did this despite losing star catcher Matt Wieters early in the season and star infielder Manny Machado halfway through. And despite big free-agent signing Ubaldo Jimenez being a complete bust. And they keep rolling without slugger Chris Davis. How did the Orioles do it? Smoke and mirrors?
No. They execute. They’re fundamentally sound. Everyone “buys in” to the goal. Manager Buck Showalter instituted a winning program in 2010. There wasn’t a “rebuilding.” There wasn’t any talk about payroll flexibility nor fiscal responsibility. There wasn’t an expectation of losing seasons while they got their s*it together. There wasn’t any yakkety-yak about building from within nor over-hype of prospects to placate the fan base. Rather, Buck Showalter joined Baltimore and changed the focus of the organization. It was not unlike Vince Lombardi’s influence on the Green Bay Packers way back when — winning was the goal, and winning isn’t an outcome, it’s a process, it’s a habit. Yes, the Orioles had one rough year in 2011 while making the conversion from whatever was happening before to winning. Now, though, they’re a juggernaut, despite a cast of characters that changes every year, every month, and every week. Parts are interchangeable because everyone knows the goal, knows what they need to do, and are put into situations in which they can succeed. Pitchers make pitches, fielders execute, batters put the ball in play. It’s baseball at its simplest, much like we witnessed in Atlanta during the Bobby Cox years.
I’m sure someone will want to point out one stat or another that explains why the Orioles are so good this year. Maybe it has something to do with Nelson Cruz being a beast. I’m not terribly interested in paper-based arguments, mainly because I believe that the on-paper, measurable, individual results may not have just “happened,” but because those individuals were put into optimal situations, were properly motivated, and well-handled (these are all things that successful business managers do). How did Yusmeiro Petit come out of nowhere? Were the Orioles really “lucky” to have received great performances from Steven Pearce, Cruz, and, most recently, Delmon Young? Why do so many has-beens rekindle their careers when they put on pinstripes? I sincerely believe it has something to do with the environment, the attitude, and the process. I have to believe that, otherwise baseball becomes a soulless, black and white form of entertainment.
OK, I’ve gone off someplace far away from Flushing — my apologies.
What’s your thought on what’s happening thus far in the postseason? Are you enjoying it?
Sound off in the comments.