The MLB divisional round wrapped up after a week-plus of blowouts, nail-biters, comebacks, choke jobs, missed challenges, mold, pitching changes, so many mound visits, and everything in between. The focus switches to the LCS now, but four teams just saw six months of baseball end in a week or less. They deserve some consideration before we forget about them:
The Indians were a juggernaut that lost to another juggernaut
You have to feel a little bad for what the Cleveland Indians have been through the last two postseasons. They forfeited a 3-1 lead in the World Series and lost a closely contested series in extra-innings of game 7, which is pretty much as late as you can hang on and lose in baseball. Then, they came into the 2017 playoffs as the best team in baseball (apologies to the Dodgers), took a 2-0 lead on the New York Yankees, and lost again. Expand your scope, and it’s the latest in almost 70 years of baseball indignities.
Cleveland got an unbelievably difficult draw for the Division Series. We wrote before about how difficult the path through the American League was going to be, but we wrote it from the perspective of the route the Yankees would have to take. A treacherous trek was guaranteed for anyone who had to play them, too. The Yankees are the rare LDS opponent of a top-seed with a top-2 run differential of their own. Their offense did well enough even with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez scuffling; their starters ate up innings that their bullpen was very capable of taking care of; they neutralized the heart of Cleveland’s lineup. Plainly, the Indians got beat by a great team. It’s no consolation—this was, after all, the best team that also had an all-time great rotation—but the pieces are still all there to be right back in the thick of it next season. Maybe they’ll get some luck from the draw, too.
The Red Sox got rolled by the best offense in baseball
From a purely on-field perspective, John Farrell probably didn’t deserve to be fired. Boston’s peripherals suggested they were the worst of the remaining AL teams, though worst is extremely relative, especially this season. They matched up against the Houston Astros and their marquee offense. All things considered, it could have been worse.
Jose Altuve was better than he’s been in an MVP year. Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, George Springer, Evan Gattis, Carlos Beltran, you name it, everyone hit. A .333/.402/.974 (OPS) slash line for Houston’s offense over four games sums it up. Chris Sale lost twice—once as a starter, once as a reliever—and overall, Boston just wasn’t as good as Houston across the board. Though they made the series interesting when it came back to New England, Houston was so much better, it would’ve been odd had this one gone the distance.
The Diamondbacks are better than this
Over in the National League, doubts about the Los Angeles Dodgers were quelled for at least a round. They beat a strong Arizona Diamondbacks team who handled them surprisingly well during the regular season.
But Arizona would not have been my sweep candidate at the start of the LDS round. Effectively Wild’s Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan recently argued that, of the surprise teams in 2017, the Diamondbacks had the most convincing look of a legitimate contender with staying power. Their offense is productive with or without J.D. Martinez—though he helps—while their starting pitching ranked second as a unit in fWAR. It won’t be easy, but the Diamondbacks have what it takes to come right back to October. A better showing is in their near future.
What if the Nationals just never get there?
Stephen Strasburg finally got more than one playoff appearance in, and he was impeccable twice. And Michael Taylor put in work in games 4 and 5. But that’s about it for the good. Since drafting Strasburg in 2010, Washington has been to the playoffs four times, three times in the last four seasons, and always as a division winner. They have yet to get out of the NLDS. They’ve been one of the two best teams by run differential in every one of those seasons but this one. They’ve been the best team in the NL during the regular season two of those times.
This is a tough one to rationalize. It’s a difficult one to pick out solace from. Washington plays in an easy division, though pieces are coming together across the NL east to change that up soon. Still, they have the roster to put themselves in the playoffs every year. At what point do they do something with that golden ticket?Next post: Projecting Baseball Like a Meteorologist (Part 1)
Previous post: A Damn Shame: Lamenting the Head-First Slide