Wondering About World Series Fatigue

ATLANTA'S OZZIE ALBIES HOPES TO FIND OUT FOR HIMSELF

Pregame Pepper

If the Braves clinch the NL pennant tonight, it will be their first in 21 years. Atlanta pitching, much maligned by prognosticators, has held the powerful Dodgers to two runs over the last 15 innings of the NLCS. Was that 15-3 game an aberration?

Did you know ...

The sons of Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla and the daughter of Ryan Howard are on the same T-ball team in Atlanta , , ,

Los Angeles native Max Fried not only idolized fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw, his 2020 NLCS rival with the Dodgers, but copied his curveball . . .

Braves teammate Tyler Matzek, a durable lefthanded reliever, is thriving in the postseason after a five-year hiatus from the big leagues . . .

The Pacific Coast League changed its classification from AAA to Open in 1952, part of an effort to become a third major league.

Leading Off

World Series Fatigue Is Real And The Expanded Postseason Proves It

By Richard Heaton

Normally the race to the World Series is an intense 162-game marathon. Teams that play their best for the entirety of the six-month regular season are rewarded. But more often than not, the strain of playing an extra four to six weeks takes its toll on the players, especially those with little to no playoff experience.

Teams that win the World Series commonly falter the following season. The shortened 2020 season, which featured a 16-team bracket, was no exception.

Take a look at all the teams that have won the World Series in the last 10 years. The Giants have won three times and the Red Sox have one twice. The Cubs, Royals, Nationals, Cardinals, and Astros each won once.

That's seven different World Series winners in the last 10 years. Only three of those seven teams made it into the 16-team postseason in 2020. The Cubs and Cardinals were both eliminated in the Wild-Card round, combining to win just one game out of five. The Astros were tied for the worst record among all playoff teams, with a .483 winning percentage.

The two most recent World Series winners, the Red Sox and Nationals, fared much worse. The Red Sox finished in last place. Their .400 winning percentage was the fourth worst in the majors and their lowest since 1965. The Nationals fared slightly better but their .433 winning percentage was tied for last place.

But what caused the downhill struggle that these teams have been facing recently? Was it really just bad luck or a coincidence? Let’s take a look at the two most recent champions, the Nationals and Red Sox.

For the Nationals, look no further than Stephen Strasburg. He was a workhorse during the Nationals championship campaign in 2019. He led the National League with 209 Innings Pitched. The last time he pitched more than 200 Innings was back in 2014. His 209 IP in 2019 was a huge jump from the 130 he pitched in 2018. But then he went on to appear in six postseason games, where he added another 36.1 innings.

That added up to 245.1 total innings last year. This year he started the season on the IL, made two starts in mid-August, and went back on the IL ending his season with an injury attributed to nerves in his hand.

Look at the Red Sox: it's easy to point fingers and attribute their recent slump with the departure of Mookie Betts. Their best hitter of the decade went on to hit .292 with 26 extra-base hits this year.

But in reality, their shortcomings obviously can’t all be attributed to Betts’ departure. In fact, Betts replacement Alex Verdugo went on to hit .308 with 22 extra-base hits during his first season in Boston.

Like the Nationals and Strasburg, the Red Sox had many players who were either injured or did not perform well this season following their extended 2018 season.

For example, Chris Sale spent much of the season on the IL. The 2018 season was just his second time making the postseason and he pitched in 16.1 postseason innings, the deepest he’s ever gone in a season. He went on to perform poorly in 2019 and missed all of 2020 due to his Tommy John injury.

Some of the other champions of the last 10 years tell just as crazy a story. Look at the Giants, arguably the best postseason team of the decade, winning the World Series three times in a span of five years. They beat the Rangers in 2010, the Tigers in 2012, and the Royals in 2014.

But they always seemed to immediately fall off the radar the following season. In 2011, they finished second with 86 wins; in 2013 they finished third with 76 wins; and in 2015 they finished second with 84 wins. Those are still really good seasons but each time they won the World Series, they performed noticeably worse the following year.

They had a plethora of players who performed well or played consistently during their championship season but fell off the following year. This list includes Ryan Vogelsong, Jeremy Affeldt, Hunter Pence, Joaquín Árias, Jake Peavy, Juan Uribe, and Jonathan Sánchez.

The fact that more than half of all teams made it to the postseason this season, but many of this decade’s best teams did not proves that it’s not just a coincidence. The extended stress more than takes its toll on the teams and players and even the teams that remain this year aren’t safe.

What’s going to happen next season with the team that wins this year? All four remaining teams have recent postseason experience and the shortened season should help with fatigue, but you never know.

Richard Heaton has been writing about the Mets for five years and is working towards his Master’s Degree in Journalism. His email is richardheaton1894@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

Ozzie Albies became an All-Star after catching the first pitch at an exhibition game. Credit: Dan Schlossberg

When Ozzie Albies Caught My Pitch !!!

By Dan Schlossberg

Late in the 21-year tenure of Atlanta Braves spring training at Disney World, I arranged to sign one of my baseball books in the stands during an exhibition game.

Disney, which controlled everything on its property, was a master at executing such events, especially when it could cross-promote their theme parks, films, and characters.

Before games, between innings, it didn’t matter: something was always going on. My personal favorite was a quartet of saxophone players, outfitted in pinstriped baseball uniforms, playing Dixieland tunes that were far better than the typical musical fare blasted from the ballpark’s P.A system.

On the day of my signing, a Disney promotions staffer asked if I’d also like to throw out the first pitch.

I jumped at the chance – even though I figured that I’d probably be accompanied to the mound by Goofy or some other silly animal mascot (I’d seen too many other “first pitches”).

Tucked into the corner of the Atlanta dugout, I waited to be called onto the field. Don Sutton, the Hall of Fame pitcher then announcing for the team, gave me advice on how to throw the pitch. So did several other people.

The time came, I got the call, and Pluto – better than Goofy, I suppose – appeared as my escort.

I didn’t know if it was a man or a woman inside and didn’t really care. I was too nervous.

Since the Braves were playing the Mets that day, the park was filled with many New Yorkers, including media members I knew personally. The last thing I wanted to do was embarrass myself.

On the other hand, a pre-game appearance, which including my name on the scoreboard, might help sell books later. Any author worth his salt would agree to any degree of degradation if it meant signing and selling more copies later.

From the mound, where I had never stood before, that distance of 60 feet, 6 inches looked more like 60 miles, 6 inches.

But there was light at the end of the tunnel: the Braves sent out a then-unknown minor-league player to catch my pitch. As a rabid fan who knew the team’s farm system well, I recognized Ozzie Albies, a little infielder who came up as a shortstop but moved to second after Atlanta landed Dansby Swanson, a former first-in-the-nation draft pick, and placed him at short.

Standing on that mound, I didn’t want to throw a 22-bouncer. So I relied on my past expertise as a softball pitcher and decided to become Dan Quisenberry instead of Dan Schlossberg.

I threw underhand !!

The pitch sailed high and outside of the strike zone but Albies was there to catch it. It was the first time I ever met him but I knew he was well on his way to the big leagues.

The National League’s version of Jose Altuve, Albies has overcome his diminutive stature to become an All-Star. His blend of speed, power, and defense makes him the best second baseman in the NL at age 23. Just ask the Dodgers: a two-run Albies homer in the ninth inning of the NLCS opener Tuesday increased Atlanta’s lead from 3-1 to 5-1.

Suffice to say that my book is a lot better than my pitch, as Sutton reminded me several times since. Nobody offered me a contract – not even a minor-league tryout – and my career ended after that one pitch.

But it was great fun and a great experience, a once-in-a-lifetime gig comparable to going to Times Square on NewYear’s Eve.

I did that once too but would never want to do it again.

HERE’S THE PITCH Weekend Editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of 38 baseball books, including The New Baseball Bible: Notes, Nuggets, Lists, and Legends From Our National Pastime. The latest version, with Mike Trout on the cover, was published on March 17, 2020. Dan’s email is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Nate Colbert was 8 when he witnessed Stan Musial hit five home runs in a 1955 doubleheader at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. He said he couldn’t imagine anyone ever doing that again – but he did it himself in 1972 . . .

Both the Marlins and Rockies passed on drafting Mariano Rivera, unprotected by the Yankees in the 1992 expansion draft following surgery . . .

Future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson was once on the losing end of a no-hitter. The winning pitcher in the 1-0 game at Chase Field on June 25, 1999 was Jose Jimenez of the St. Louis Cardinals. He went 5-14 that year, when he pitched the only two complete games of his career.