The 2022 Major League Baseball season has three days left. We’ve seen an incredible regular season and it’s entirely possible the best is yet to come (can it be way better, please, Baseball Gods?).
In looking ahead to the playoffs, one argument I’ve worked tirelessly to dispel over the years has been this notion that it matters how a team is playing late in the season. Historically speaking, there hasn’t really been a correlation between finishing hot and winning the World Series, nor is there one between being able to rest all your players and going deep into the postseason. Generally, the arguments come after the results. If a team loses in the first round, well, it was because of how they finished the regular season, whether it was hot, cold, playing to the final day or having clinched for weeks.
In an effort to get in front of it, let’s start working backward with the World Series champions and how they finished.
2021 Braves (No. 3 seed NL, 12th-best record in MLB) — Here’s your latest Hot Hand Theory poster child. The Braves had the worst record among playoff teams, but they had won 12 of their last 14 to finish 36-18 after Aug. 1. They never even faced elimination in the playoffs.
2020 Dodgers (best record in MLB) — It’s tougher to get a read with the short regular-season, no fans in ballparks and the biggest playoff field ever. They did win 10 of their final 12 before winning five straight heading to the NLCS. They had to overcome 2-0 and 3-1 deficits in the NLCS, though.
2019 Nationals (No. 4 seed NL, tied for eighth-best record in MLB) — 19-31, right? I still remembered it without having to look it up. That was the Nationals’ record at one point. They were one of the best teams after that. They won 10 of their last 11 in the regular season, but then nearly lost in the Wild Card Game. It took a furious eighth-inning rally and a misplay.
2018 Red Sox (best record in MLB) — They were in first place basically the entire season en route to a 108-win season. They clinched the AL East with nine games left in the season. They lost five of their last eight games including three of four to the Yankees to end the season. Clinched early? Check. Rough finish? Check. They took three of four from those same Yankees in the ALDS before going 8-2 in the ALCS and World Series, never coming close to an elimination game.
2017 Astros (No. 2 seed AL, third-best record in MLB) — As I tried to point out, you can find examples of pretty much any scenario. We’ve seen the Hot Hand teams who had lesser regular-season resumes. The Red Sox were the powerhouse team that finished poorly and clinched early. These Astros are a powerhouse with an early clinch (Sept. 17) that still finished hot, winning 14 of their final 17. They were still given all they could handle in both the ALCS and World Series.
2016 Cubs (best record in MLB) – Another powerhouse with an early clinch (Sept. 16), the Cubs had a good finish at 9-5-1 (the tie was just wiped off the books instead of being resumed, which is why the Cubs only have 161 official game). They fell behind 2-1 in the NLCS and 3-1 in the World Series. They won it all. The best ball they played all year was to start the season, too.
2015 Royals (No. 1 seed AL, fourth-best record in MLB) — This one depends on how you want to look at what is “hot.” The Royals won their last five games. If you went back a bit, though, they were just 13-16 after Sept. 3. I suppose the people who wanted to argue that playing well at the end matters would say the Royals rescued themselves from certain demise, as they had lost 16 of 24 before the winning streak. Of course, they were then just a few outs from being eliminated in the ALDS, as they fell behind two games to one and trailed heading into the eighth inning of Game 4, so did the “hot” really carry over?
2014 Giants (No. 5 seed NL, tied for eighth-best record in MLB) — These Giants were only 13-12 in September. The won only six of their final 15 games. They were a wild card that won only 88 games in the regular season. The Giants didn’t finish strong and they weren’t a powerhouse. They were the World Series champions.
2013 Red Sox (No. 1 seed AL, tied for best record in MLB) — Another early clinch (Sept. 20) and this time the team finished relatively cold after it. They lost four of their last seven, including their final two games, and went 5-6 in their last 11. They didn’t face elimination in the playoffs, though things started to look at little dicey in the ALCS (the home run cop!) and World Series (remember the in-dugout speech?).
2012 Giants (No. 3 seed NL, tied for fourth-best record in MLB) — There were still 10 games left after they clinched the division and the Giants went 5-5 in those games. They had won 10 of 11 through the West-clinching win, if that feels relevant. They lost the first two games of the NLDS before winning three straight on the road (remember the Buster Posey grand slam in Cincy?) and came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS before sweeping the heavily-favored Tigers in the World Series.
This should be enough. It’s the last 10 champions and we’ve got wild cards, start-to-finish powerhouses, teams finishing on fire and others sputtering. If I were writing a book, we could go back through every single World Series champion and we’d continue to see variety. I like stopping at the Giants, though, because working through that paragraph should be a perfect illustration of how you can’t predict what will happen moving forward based upon the very-recent body of work.
There isn’t a formula aside from being a good baseball team and playing well once the playoffs hit. Ignore any noise that you hear about “finishing strong” or “resting players” or “rhythm” or “routine” or anything at all when you look ahead to predict how the playoffs will unfold. It just really doesn’t matter.
Plus, generally speaking, the more playoff teams there are, the crazier things can get.
And there are more playoff teams than every season other than 2020 here in less than a week. We need to brace ourselves for a wild October that bleeds into November. Bring it on, Baseball Gods.
|This franchise has been around 139 seasons, making 35 postseason appearances. It has won 25 pennants and seven World Series. It had never before been 60 games over .500. This group just keeps raising the bar.||—||110-49|
|The last time a qualifying pitcher 39 or older posted a sub-2.00 ERA was Roger Clemens (1.87 in 2005) and before that you have to go all the way back to Bill Byrd in 1948 (1.68). Justin Verlander’s at 1.80 right now.||—||104-55|
|The struggles are safely in the rearview at this point. The Yankees have gone 18-7 since Sept. 3. Keep in mind how much tougher the entire AL East is than the NL East, hence the promotion here.||2||97-61|
|This team is better than last year, possibly by a pretty decent margin, but they’re about to find out how hard it is to repeat. If they pull it off, they’ll be the first repeat champ since the 1998-2000 Yankees.||—||100-59|
|The success or failure of this season is determined in the playoffs, not the regular season. Right? RIGHT?||2||98-61|
|Since the beginning of September, Bo Bichette has played in 30 games. He’s had multiple hits 18 times.||—||90-69|
|The Cardinals have the most NL MVPs with 17. Will they be adding an 18th this year?||—||92-67|
|Piggybacking on the intro topic above, the Hot Hand Theory didn’t work out too well with this club in 2017. They went 33-4 to close the season and then were bounced in the ALDS. Can they exorcise some demons this time around? They are hot again!||—||90-69|
|That Cal Raleigh walk-off home run to clinch a drought-breaking playoff berth was easily one of the most satisfying plays of the season.||3||87-71|
|Sure, 2020 counts, but this team is playoff bound for the first time in a “normal” season since 2006. It wasn’t the Mariners, but it still felt like a significant drought ended, you know?||1||87-72|
|Here’s a weird one, given who they’ve been for so long: The Rays lead the majors with 33 blown saves. I know it isn’t the most telling stat or anything, but it was jarring to see.||1||86-73|
|They have tried their best to give this thing away, but it seems like Saturday night with the blowout win and Brewers’ blown save turned the tide.||1||86-73|
|The playoff spot was right there for the taking, but the Brewers lost five of seven, including three of four to the Marlins. That’s just not gonna get it done.||—||84-75|
|The Orioles are the first team since the 1899 St. Louis Perfectos (not kidding!) to go .500 or better the season after losing at least 110 games.||—||82-77|
|No team has ever won at least 107 games in a season and then had a full-season losing record the next year. The closest anyone ever came? The 2019 Red Sox, who went 84-78 the year after winning 108. The Giants are desperately trying to avoid this dubious distinction, though, as they’ve won 11 of their last 13.||—||80-79|
|The degree to which they were owned by the Blue Jays this season was downright embarrassing (3-16 with a negative-70 run differential).||—||75-84|
|Through 2020, I thought it was just never going to happen with Shohei Ohtani trying to be a full-time hitter and full-fledged member of a rotation. I wasn’t alone. A lot of people thought he’d have to pick one (likely as a right fielder). He’s now through two full seasons of doing it full-on two way. Amazing.||3||73-86|
|The Cubs are 38-29 since the All-Star break. Also, they went 21-10 against the NL East this season, including 6-0 against the Phillies.||3||73-86|
|It seems like a decent-sized shakeup is in order. Surely they’ll retain Jose Abreu, though, right? He’s 35 and heading toward free agency, but it won’t feel right to ever see him in another uniform.||2||79-80|
|Remember, they finished last in 2021. Yes, behind the Tigers and Royals. This was actually a step forward, but the marathon of 162 can play games with our minds. The sequencing of their wins and losses this year just made it such a gut punch. And now they likely won’t be able to retain Carlos Correa.||2||77-82|
|It feels like a regular occurrence this year when I hype up a young Diamondbacks player, so let’s add Drey Jameson to the fray. The 34th overall pick in 2019 out of Ball State, Jameson is 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings through his first four career starts. Keep an eye on these guys through the offseason and into the spring.||2||73-86|
|There has never been a Marlins Cy Young winner. That’ll change in the middle of November this year.||2||67-92|
|For some reason, the Tigers are finishing strong. They’ve won 10 of 12 and I don’t get it. Wait, no, I’ve got it! Due to the draft lottery, there isn’t as much incentive to finish with the worst record, so the Tigers are actually playing hard. What a brilliant plan it was to implement this new system!||2||65-93|
|Remember when the Rangers got good for a quick second? For real! They went 17-10 in May and were exactly .500 when the month closed. It was a long time ago.||2||66-92|
|They have pulled it off again. The Rockies ended this season with a winning home record (41-40). That means, yes, they are the worst road team again (they are tied with the Royals right now at 25-53). It’s uncanny how different they are, year in and year out, with this split. Good ol’ Coors.||2||66-93|
|The new administration has a tough task, for sure, but building around Bobby Witt on the position side and Brady Singer on the pitching end provides for a nice starting point.||—||64-95|
|They had a chance to finish last here in The Official Power Rankings, but then swept the Reds, winning the season series 12-7.||3||60-99|
|We all should’ve known what a debacle this would be when the owner’s son made a fool of himself and essentially taunted the fans before Opening Day.||1||60-99|
|Remember the initial Juan Soto/Josh Bell trade reportedly included Eric Hosmer, but then he exercised his no-trade clause and the Padres had to pivot. They ended up sending Luke Voit to the Nats in the deal. I wonder how Voit has felt about this ever since? I mean, he’s still an MLB player and that’s pretty awesome. He’s making a ton of money in doing so, too, but deep down, there has to be animosity, right? I don’t know, I was just thinking about it in glancing at the Nationals roster and realizing I had to put something next to their name here. It is food for thought, though, for sure!||—||55-104|
|I noticed the A’s had three players in double digits in stolen bases and held out hope it would make for an interesting comment. Instead, 17 teams have three players with at least 10 steals. Three teams have five! It isn’t even interesting in the first place, either. Let this be an illustration just how desperate I have been for weekly 2022 A’s comments. I’m finally done with them. Good riddance.||2||57-102|