Fearless 2021 Postseason Predictions

ALSO: DODGERS MISS 9th STRAIGHT TITLE, END THREAT TO BRAVES STREAK

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Bill Beck worked for several teams, most recently the Miami Marlins.


Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Tampa Bay held first place in the AL East for 66 days, a franchise record . . .

Entering the final weekend, Mets starters Tylor Megill and Taijuan Walker had a combined September ERA of 7.46 . . .

Soon-to-be free agent shortstop Carlos Correa had a career best with 25 homers . . .

DJ LeMahieu’s first year under his six-year, $90 million Yankee contract was a disaster that could get worse if he needs offseason hip surgery . . .

Miami’s Sandy Alcantara got the least run support of any pitcher with 25+ starts . . .

The Phillies found after switching southpaw Ranger Suarez to their rotation . . .

Retiring Dodgers Spanish-language announcer Jaime Jarrin, who turns 86 in December, will make 2022 his last season — ending a 64-year stint with the team . . .

Giancarlo Stanton is the first Yankee since Mickey Mantle in 1954 to collect 10 RBI in a three-game series against the Red Sox . . .

The last game at the Polo Grounds, played on Sept. 18, 1963, attracted only 1,752 fans for a 5-1 win by the visiting Philadelphia Phillies over the New York Mets.

Leading Off

Pitching Usually Prevails In Playoff Scenarios

By Dan Schlossberg

The business of making baseball predictions is risky, at best, and foolish at worst. That being said, no writer would be worth his byline without at least trying.

So here goes.

With 10 teams in the playoffs instead of 16, a revenue-grabbing experiment enacted only for the Covid-shortened season of 2020, things are much easier to figure out.

Entering the final weekend, there were two undecided races: the National League West title chase between the Dodgers and Giants and the four-team American League battle for two wild-card spots.

Though the Dodgers are the defending World Champions, they have spent nearly 162 games trying to catch the Giants — but started play Friday two games behind with three left to play. Barring a miracle, they’ll have to settle for the one-and-done Wild Card game.

In the Junior Circuit, the Yankees got hot at the right time, sweeping the Red Sox in Boston and taking two of three in Toronto. All they need now is to hold their own against Tampa Bay, a team that clinched eons ago, in the Bronx.

That being said, here’s a quick look at the possibilities:

National League

Wild-Card Game: Even though Adam Wainwright is a big-game pitcher who suddenly discovered life begins at 40, the Cardinals are not as good as the deep and versatile Dodgers. L.A. has the home-field advantage, better hitting, and a rotation anchored by three Cy Young Award candidates. Edge: Dodgers

Division Series: Like the Dodgers, Milwaukee’s top three pitchers are All-Stars. The Brewers also have a better bullpen than the Braves, coupled with home-field advantage. Unless the slumping Freddie Freeman and Adam Duvall wake up, this is an easy pick. Edge: Brewers

Division Series: With no idea how San Francisco led the majors in victories, the seasoned Dodgers have to be favored over the aging Giants. Both teams have power but those L.A. starters can shut down opponents in a hurry. Edge: Dodgers

League Championship Series: In a matchup of the NL’s best pitching staffs, the experience factor will tip the scales toward Los Angeles over Milwaukee. L.A. can out-hit and out-pitch the Brewers. There’s a reason that team won more than 100 games. Edge: Dodgers

American League

Wild-Card Game: Give the Yankees home-field advantage and that raucous crowd, coupled with the short right-field wall, will help them advance over the reeling Red Sox or Blue Jays. Boston’s failure to beat the weak sisters the final week was a telling tale. Edge: Yankees

Division Series: Tampa Bay, with the most wins in the AL, held its own in the 2020 World Series and will make a strong bid to return — with the additions of young Wander Franco and old Nelson Cruz. The Rays always manage to parlay pitching, speed, and defense into a winning formula, especially at home. And how long can Giancarlo Stanton keep lighting up the league? Edge: Rays

Division Series: The battle of the league’s oldest managers, Chicago’s Tony La Russa and Houston’s Dusty Baker, creates its own story-line. Both teams have veteran talent but the Sox have been slumping. Baker, in his first title year with the Astros, may get to seek his first World Series win as a manager. Edge: Astros

League Championship Series: Teams rarely win consecutive pennants but the high-talent, low-budget Rays, baseball’s most innovative ballclub, might be an exception. Too many Astros, including Carlos Correa, will be thinking about the riches they’ll find as free agents. Edge: Rays

World Series

In a repeat of last year’s Fall Classic, the Little Engine That Could will finally prevail, giving Tampa its first world title. The Rays may be the most anonymous team in the majors but score enough runs to win, keep the ball in the park, and are determined to obliterate the hex that has prevented them from prevailing in the past. Edge: Rays

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is never known to make accurate predictions. But he’s better than the typical TV weatherman. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

14-Year Division Title Streak Still Tops For Teams

By Dan Schlossberg

The sudden surge of the San Francisco Giants has ended one of baseball’s greatest streaks.

The Los Angeles Dodgers missed their ninth consecutive National League West division title by thismuch.

Even though they topped 100 wins, the Dodgers couldn’t catch the streaking Giants, who never suffered their usual June swoon – or a collapse in any other month.

Thus the Dodgers are relegated to the NL Wild-Card game – a sudden-death affair that already includes the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals, authors of a 17-game September winning streak.

Armed with multiple Cy Young Award contenders, the Dodgers could still realize their dream of consecutive world championships – something the team has never done. But they’d have to win eight times first: once in the wild-card game, three times in the best-of-five Division Series, and four times in the best-of-seven League Championship Series.

It won’t be easy.

Though the Dodgers have won a record 24 National League pennants, they’ve won only seven world titles, taking the 2020 crown after a 32-year drought.

The primary architect of the Dodgers’ struggles was the New York Yankees, who own 40 pennants and 27 world championships. The only team to win five pennants in a row twice, the Yankees have won more than two consecutive World Series three different times. The only club to do that even once was Charley Finley’s Oakland A’s of 1972-74.

Since the 1969 advent of divisional play, the record for postseason excellence is held by the Atlanta Braves. They not only have more division crowns (21) than any other franchise but also have more consecutive first-place finishes (14). That doesn’t include the strike-interrupted season of 1994, which was never finished.

During their record run, which started with a worst-to-first effort in 1991 and ended after an exodus of free agents in 2005, the Braves won five pennants and a World Series. They also had six Cy Young Award winners (Greg Maddux 3, Tom Glavine 2, John Smoltz 1) and a Most Valuable Player (Chipper Jones). Not surprisingly, all those players are in the Hall of Fame.

John Schuerholz, general manager of the Braves’ streak, also advanced to Cooperstown. After the 2014 San Francisco Giants won their third world championship in five years, brother Jerry sent John an e.mail that read, “I know what the odds are against winning the World Series three times in five years but the odds of winning 14 consecutive division titles are far greater.”

In fact, it was the team equivalent of Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive games playing streak.

During their 14-year run, the Braves had three straight 100-win campaigns, a feat matched previously only by the 1929-31 Philadelphia Athletics, 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, and 1969-71 Baltimore Orioles. Even the mighty Yankees of the Babe Ruth era never did it.

“We heard it from our fans, we heard it from our media, and we heard it from visiting players and management people who said ‘You just can’t do that. It’s impossible in our day and age.’ We’re very proud of that.”

The 2021 Braves, who wrapped up their fourth division title Thursday night, need 10 more in a row just to tie their own record. As for the Yankees, who have an uncanny knack for winning, they reached postseason play 13 straight times from 1995-2007 but, because of the wild-card, not all were division wins.

Like Ripken’s record, the title streak is likely to stand the test of time.

Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, Here’s The Pitch, and more. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Umpire Augie Donatelli ejected two Giants in one at-bat on Aug. 23, 1952. First Bob Elliott was ejected for arguing over a called strike. Bobby Hoffman, inserted to complete the at-bat, took a called third strike, argued, and was also thrown out of the game.

The expansion Montreal Expos beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 8-7, in the first game played outside the United States, on April 14, 1969 . . .

Minnie Minoso, age 53, went 1-for-3 as designated hitter for the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 12, 1976. He thus became the oldest player to get a hit in a regulation game.

Rick Dempsey’s solo homer was the only run in a 1-0, 22-inning victory by the Dodgers over the Expos on Aug. 23, 1989.

On April 15, 1998, Shea Stadium hosted the first AL/NL doubleheader, with the Yankees topping the Angels, 6-3, in a day game and the Mets edging the Cubs, 2-1, night. The first game drew 40,743 fans, while the second drew 16,012. The Yanks had to shift their game out of the Bronx because of falling concrete at Yankee Stadium . . .

Hall of Famer Tim Raines was the first player to steal at least 70 times four years in a row . . .

Justin Verlander, then with Detroit, was victimized twice when Pablo Sandoval slammed three home runs for San Francisco in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series . . .

Hank Aaron said most of his Indianapolis Clowns teammates were good enough to play in the major leagues . . .

Warren Spahn was the only man to start All-Star Games in three different decades.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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