We’ve all had to make that choice of riding a streak out or jumping off the bandwagon. It’s the age-old question: if you flip ten straight heads, is the next one more likely to be a heads or tails? One person is going to say that tail is due, but the next person will almost certainly stick with the “hot coin.” But both people are wrong. Unless this coin is double-sided, each flip is completely independent and has a 50-50 chance of landing on heads or tails.
While sports aren’t as simple as a flip of a coin, you can apply the same principles to streaks and slides. But do streaks and slides even exist?
Let’s take for example perennial slow starter Mark Teixeira. At the start of this season, most people saw him as a .300 hitter. After the first month of the season, he was hitting .136. Going forward, there were three realistic trains of thought as to how he would finish the year:
1) He was projected to hit .300, so he will hit .330 the rest of the way and finish the year right on schedule.
2) He will hit .300 the rest of the way and finish around .280.
3) This just isn’t his year; he’ll hit .260 the rest of the year and finish around .230.
Which is the right answer? Clearly, he wasn’t going to continue hitting just .136 on the year, but there is no definitive answer (although the second choice seems most realistic). Tex actually ended the year hitting just .256; he hit his career average of .285 the rest of the way. So what does this mean? Streaks are a bit overrated, and eventually everything evens out.
Take a look at the two players most often labeled as “playoff clutch”: Derek Jeter and David Ortiz.
Derek Jeter career regular season (.314 AVG, .385 OBP, .452 SLG)
Derek Jeter career post season (.312, .381, .475)
David Ortiz career regular season (.281, .376, .543)
David Ortiz career post season (.283, .388, .520)
Notice anything different? Probably not. Both players’ numbers are shockingly similar from April until November. Again, streaks and slides do exist, but they are largely overblown, as each at-bat is a separate match up.
So the next time you hear an announcer say that Player X is on a fill-in-the-blank hit streak, take it with a grain of salt. Player X isn’t seeing the ball any better, he’s not wearing special goggles or using a corked bat. He’s just the same hitter who may be facing easier pitching, or feeling more confident.
In the end, everything will even out. When the Padres won 10 of 11 in August, it took them a matter of days before tailing off into a ten game losing streak. Nobody in baseball wins over 90 percent of the time; everything will eventually even out
New York Yankees (4) at Texas Rangers (3)
Are these the most polar opposite teams in postseason play? The Rangers just won their first playoff series while they Yankees have won a mere 27 championships and countless series victories. It’s the grumpy old grandpa and the over-excited youngster. This one should be interesting.
Of course, the Yankees would luck out again. First, they won the Wild Card, but then were matched up against the always-over-matched Twins. Then, the Rays and Rangers took their series to five games, having to pitch their aces in the last game. The Yankees now get to sit at home and wait, not having to face Cliff Lee until Game 3.
How important is Cliff Lee to this series? New York was willing to give up prized prospect and hitting machine Jesus Montero to prevent this situation from happening. They were willing to give up a future cheap middle-of-the-order bat to have Cliff Lee one year earlier. This man is a special pitcher.
With Cliff Lee slated to pitch Game 3 and either Game 6 or 7 (depending on if the Rangers trail 3-2 when they return to Arlington), the Rangers will start in a huge hole. As good as C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis have been this year, they aren’t trustworthy in big games. Only being able to pitch Cliff Lee twice in the latter half of the series could very likely cost them the series.
The Yankees will be listed as the underdogs (Texas has home field advantage), but they are clear favorites to punch their ticket to the Fall Classic. They have a stacked lineup filled with All-Stars, rising stars, and former stars. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. They are the model of a consistent offense.
In the playoffs, the best pitching will win. The Yankees have the big name guys whose talents may be a bit overstated while the Rangers have Cliff Lee plus no-name pitchers. So it will all come down to consistency in the end.
The importance of Cliff Lee cannot be overstated. Every time he toes the rubber, you know he’ll go 9 innings strong. This man may be the best playoff pitcher in decades. It’s just too bad for the Rangers that he can’t win games 1, 4, and 7 for them.
The Yankees’ pitching is in just as interesting of a situation as the Rangers’. CC Sabathia is great in the regular season; he is durable, he strikes out batters, and he is a driving force for his club. But for some reason, you can’t count on him in October. His ERA is 4.41 in the postseason with a 1.49 WHIP. Phil Hughes started off the year great with a 2.70 ERA until the summer began, only to end the year with a 4.88 ERA with a 4.66 home ERA. Andy Pettitte is all-time great in the playoffs, but he’s been banged up the entire back end of the season.
If the Rangers are going to win this series, they’ll need to split at home, as weird as that sounds. Unfortunately, with C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis going, that will be a challenge. Cliff Lee’s Game 3 start will almost certainly be a win, but Tommy Hunter’s Game 4 start will be anything but inspiring.
In the end, the Yankees have too much hitting and experience not to win this series. I don’t really love their pitching, but after Cliff Lee, the Rangers have next to nothing. I see the Yankees taking both in Texas before taking down the Rangers in 5.
San Francisco Giants (2) at Philadelphia Phillies (1)
Where the ALCS is a matchup of great hitting teams, the NLCS is a matchup of supreme pitching teams. Halladay. Lincecum. Oswalt. Cain. Hamels. Especially when the teams travel west, this series will be lower scoring than a World Cup match.
Philadelphia is without a doubt the best team left in the postseason. If you can beat them when Doc Halladay is pitching, you have to go up against Roy Oswalt the next day. If you can manage to beat Oswalt, you have to take down Cole Hamels the next day. And if you can win those three games, you must be the National League All-Star team.
San Francisco doesn’t have too bad of a rotation, either. Tim Lincecum has been up-and-down this season, but after a horrific August, he picked up his game for a fantastic September. Jonathan Sanchez, like Lincecum, has been very boom or bust. In 17 of his 34 starts, he allowed one or no runs, but in twelve other starts, he allowed three or more runs. Matt Cain represents the most consistent of their top three starters; he’ll give up a few runs, but he will go seven or eight innings strong.
Philadelphia has a distinct edge in pitching, but an even bigger one on the hitting side. With three 30-homer hitters along with two speedy veterans, the Phillies have a complete lineup. As for the Giants, they have Buster Posey, Kung Fu Panda, and a bunch of 30-year olds. Doc, Oswalt, and Hamels aren’t going to be easily shaken up by the Vottos, Howards, and Fielders of baseball world, so don’t expect Pat the Bat, Jose Guillen, and Juan Uribe to put the Fear of God into Philly.
Like I said for the Reds, if a team is going to beat the Phillies, they need to score early to get to the Phillies’ bullpen as soon as possible. Once the Phillies’ starters get into a groove, you are not going to score. If you can see four innings of Chad Durbin, Danys Baez, and Jose Contreras, you have a much better chance of winning. Unfortunately, as long as Burrell and Guillen are getting serious playing time, I don’t see that happening.
The Phillies, plain and simple, just out-class the Giants. They are better in every phase of the game and they have home field advantage. They have quality. They have quantity. They have what it takes to win.
A sweep would be very hard for Philly, and I don’t see that happening. Philadelphia will take this one in 5, and they are my pick to bring home the hardware later this month.
What does “clutch” mean?
Can you come through when it matters most? If you are the last line of defense, will you keep the fort up?