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On Dominance

There is no one, single way to win in October. You can slug your way to victory (in the 2002 postseason, the Angels and Giants combined to hit 51 homers). You can perfect the small-ball game (the NL champion Astros in 2005 pulled off 18 sacrifice bunts in October). You can put together a deep, well-balanced roster full of talented players who, somehow, always seem to play their best in October (the Yankees of 1996-2000).

But the surest way remains through dominant starting pitching. Three shut-down starters, or two, or even one, can carry a team a long, long way in the postseason. It's the primary consideration I keep in mind when making postseason predictions. Last night in Boston, I saw one pitcher, Jon Lester, continue to emerge as one of those dominant types, as the Red Sox won a thrilling, classic game to advance. Chico chronicled the Rays' victory -- but I still wonder if their pitching is dominant enough.

I got three out of four in the first round (Phillies, Red Sox, Rays), and I'm kicking myself about missing the fourth (Dodgers), because in picking the Cubs to beat them I violated my own prognostication method.

The Cubs had a deep rotation -- the kind that racks up lots of wins in the regular season -- but not necessarily a dominant one, the kind that wins in October. (Interestingly, Alfonso Soriano made a similar argument after the Cubs were eliminated, saying, "We're not put together for [a short series].")

The Dodgers, on the other hand, are overlooked (at least by me) in the dominance category. I wish I had looked closer at Derek Lowe's numbers -- I would have seen that almost no one in baseball had been as dominant as him down the stretch. No. 3 starter Hiroki Kuroda was almost as good, and Chad Billingsley was as solid a No. 2 starter as any in the field of eight postseason teams.

I used to have these wonderful debates with Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz about the question of whether there is such a thing as a team that is "built for the postseason," as opposed to the regular season. His argument was that there is no difference. I've always thought there was -- and his Braves teams of the 1990s and early 2000s, consistent division champs who won only one World Series, may have been the ultimate manifestation.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as a built-for-October team? And as we begin to weigh our picks for the next round, who among our final four is built the best?

By Dave Sheinin  |  October 7, 2008; 9:25 AM ET
 
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Comments

It's not such an either/or situation -- teams respond differently depending on the circumstances. But I'd argue that the 2001 Diamondbacks are Exhibit A that it helps to have a team built for the postseason. Schilling and Johnson were the dominant difference. No way they could have played like that over the long haul, but in the postseason they were able to keep putting those guys out there and get wins.

Posted by: Andy | October 7, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

It is absolutely true that there are teams that are built for post season baseball. Dominant starters are part of it, but also exceptional defense wins. Maybe I'm saying this as a Red Sox fan, but this has been the Red Sox strategy since 2004. The reason defense is so important in the post-season is you cannot afford to give extra outs to good offenses, especially when the opposing manager is managing to win a series and not concerned about the long term.

I am sure when you discuss this with Theo Epstein, that is what he'll say. He'll point to the Nomar / Murton for Cabrera and Mientkeiwicz deal as one move he made to trade O for D. That team routinely would use Pokey and Mientk ... as defensive replacements for Millar and Bellhorn. He'll also mention that as why he thought Bay was the only reasonable repalcement for Manny. No one could make up for Manny's bat, but Bay offered a good bat glove combination. Last year's team had outstanding defense at every position except left and SS.

The swap of Bartlett for Harris, and the move of Iwamura to 2d (for Upton) is part of why the Rays are so much more solid than last year.

Posted by: PTBNL | October 7, 2008 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if it's a sprint, maybe more like asking if there's a difference between distance runners and middle-distance runners.

The Series winner has to win 11 games, and play up to 19, in about three or four weeks, and that's not counting the last few weeks of the season, scrapping to get into the playoffs in the first place. So, it's not like you can just keep running the same big guy out there on three days rest for weeks at a time, and not have his arm fall off along the way.

That said, 162 games is a lot of games, and they aren't all against good teams. You can go cold for a week, or rest your best players against weaker teams, and try things that may or may not work the first time, and be OK.

Playoffs, not so much. You win every series, or you go home, and you're usually playing against the best teams, so the margin for error on both sides is magnified. Hence the premium on defense, which includes pitching.

A built-for-October team has to be *playing* in October, first.

Posted by: ce | October 7, 2008 8:40 PM | Report abuse

maybe "margin for error is diminished" would've been better there...

Posted by: PRG | October 7, 2008 8:42 PM | Report abuse

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