Previous playoffs under the new format

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Previous playoffs under the new format

If a one-game wild card playoff existed going all the way back to 1995 -- when the wild card was introduced -- what would've changed?

For one, Boston would've made the playoffs more -- three times, to be exact. But the teams that would've benefited the most from this setup are Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all of which would've reached the post-season (or a play-in game to the post-season) four times in years they didn't have the best non-division-winning record.

And while the knee-jerk reaction to this system is that it benefits Boston and New York, had it been implemented for the past 17 seasons, both those teams would've stood to lose more than they could've gained. Here's the complete breakdown for both leagues dating back to 1995:

American League

2011: Tampa Bay (91-71) vs. Boston (90-72)
Tampa BayBoston vs. Texas
New York vs. Detroit

2010: New York (95-67) Boston (89-73)
New YorkBoston vs. Minnesota
Tampa Bay vs. Texas

2009: Boston (95-67) vs. Texas (87-75)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Los Angeles vs. Boston
If Texas wins: New York vs. Texas, Los Angeles vs. Minnesota

2008: Boston (95-67) vs. New York (89-73)
BostonNew York vs. Los Angeles
Tampa Bay vs. Chicago

2007: Detroit (88-74) vs. Seattle (88-74); DetroitSeattle vs. New York (94-68)
If Detroit wins: Boston vs. Detroit, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles
If Seattle wins: Boston vs. Seattle, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles
If New York wins: Boston vs. Los Angeles, Cleveland vs. New York

2006: Detroit (95-67) vs. Chicago (90-72)
DetroitChicago vs. New York
Minnesota vs. Oakland

2005: Boston (95-67) vs. Cleveland (93-69)
If Boston wins: White Sox vs. Boston, Los Angeles vs. New York
If Cleveland wins: White Sox vs. New York, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles

2004: Boston (98-64) vs. Oakland (91-71)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Anaheim
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Minnesota vs. Anaheim

2003: Boston (95-67) vs. Seattle (93-69)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Oakland
If Seattle wins: New York vs. Seattle, Minnesota vs. Oakland

2002: Boston (93-69) vs. Seattle (93-69), BostonSeattle vs. Anaheim (99-63)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Oakland
If Seattle wins: New York vs. Seattle, Minnesota vs. Oakland
If Anaheim wins: New York vs. Anaheim, Minnesota vs. Oakland

2001: Oakland (102-60) vs. Minnesota (85-77)
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Cleveland vs. Seattle
If Minnesota wins: New York vs. Cleveland, Minnesota vs. Seattle

2000: Seattle (91-71) vs. Cleveland (90-72)
If Seattle wins: White Sox vs. Seattle, New York vs. Oakland
If Cleveland wins: White Sox vs. New York, Oakland vs. Cleveland

1999: Boston (94-68) vs. Oakland (87-75)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Texas, Cleveland vs. Boston
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Cleveland vs. Texas

1998: Boston (92-70) vs. Toronto (88-74)
New York vs. Texas
Cleveland vs. BostonToronto

1997: New York (96-66) vs. Anaheim (84-78)
If New York wins: Baltimore vs. Cleveland, New York vs. Seattle
If Anaheim wins: Baltimore vs. Anaheim, Cleveland vs. Seattle

1996: Seattle (85-77) vs. White Sox (85-77); SeattleWhite Sox vs. Boston (85-77); SeattleWhite SoxBoston vs. Baltimore (88-74)
If the White Sox win: Cleveland vs. New York, White Sox vs. Texas
If Seattle wins: Cleveland vs. Seattle, New York vs. Texas
If Boston wins: Cleveland vs. Boston, New York vs. Texas
If Baltimore wins: Cleveland vs. Baltimore, New York vs. Texas

1995: New York (79-65) vs. California (78-67)
If California wins: Cleveland vs. California, Boston vs. Seattle
If New York wins: Cleveland vs. New York, Boston vs. Seattle

Oakland went 91-70, but we're assuming they played game 162 and won it.
Seattle went 85-76, to make things fun we're assuming they lost game 162.

National League

2011: St. Louis (90-72) vs. Atlanta (89-73)
If St. Louis wins: Philadelphia vs. St. Louis, Milwaukee vs. Arizona
If Atlanta wins: Milwaukee vs. Atlanta, Philadelphia vs. Arizona

2010: Atlanta (91-71) vs. San Diego (90-72)
If Atlanta wins: Philadelphia vs. Cincinnati, San Francisco vs. Atlanta
If San Diego wins: Philadelphia vs. San Diego, San Francisco vs. Cincinnati

2009: Colorado (92-70) vs. San Francisco (88-74)
ColoradoSan Francisco vs. Philadelphia, St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

2008: Milwaukee (90-72) vs. New York (89-73)
If Milwaukee wins: Chicago vs. Los Angeles, Philadelphia vs. Milwaukee
If New York wins: Chicago vs. New York, Philadelphia vs. Los Angeles

2007: Colorado (89-73) vs. San Diego (89-73) note: this game actually happened
Philadelphia vs. Colorado
Chicago vs. Arizona

2006: San Diego (88-74) vs. Los Angeles (88-74) For west title, loser plays WC play-in, for simplicity's sake we'll say the Padres win; Los Angeles vs. Philadelphia (85-77)
If Los Angeles wins: New York vs. Los Angeles, San Diego vs. St. Louis
If Philadelphia wins: New York vs. St. Louis, San Diego vs. Philadelphia

2005: Houston (89-73) vs. Philadelphia (88-74)
If Houston wins: St. Louis vs. San Diego, Atlanta vs. Houston
If Philadelphia wins: St. Louis vs. Philadelphia, San Diego vs. Atlanta

2004: Houston (92-70) vs. San Francisco (91-71)
If Houston wins: St. Louis vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. Houston
If San Francisco wins: St. Louis vs. San Francisco, Atlanta vs. Los Angeles

2003: Florida (91-71) vs. Houston (87-75)
If Florida wins: Chicago vs. Atlanta, San Francisco vs. Florida
If Houston wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, Chicago vs. San Francisco

2002: San Francisco (95-66) vs. Los Angeles (92-70)
San FranciscoLos Angeles vs. Atlanta
St. Louis vs. Arizona

2001: St. Louis (93-69) vs. San Francisco (90-72)
If St. Louis wins: Houston vs. Atlanta, St. Louis vs. Arizona
If San Francisco wins: Houston vs. San Francisco, Atlanta vs. Arizona

2000: New York (94-68) vs. Los Angeles (86-76)
If New York wins: St. Louis vs. Atlanta, New York vs. San Francisco
If Los Angeles wins: St. Louis vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. San Francisco

1999: New York (96-66) vs. Cincinnati (96-66) note: this game actually happened
Atlanta vs. Houston
New York vs. Arizona

1998: Chicago (89-73) vs. San Francisco (89-73) note: this game actually happened
Atlanta vs. Chicago
Houston vs. San Diego

1997: New York (88-74) vs. Los Angeles (88-74); New YorkLos Angeles vs. Florida (92-70)
If New YorkFlorida wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, San Francisco vs. New YorkFlorida
If Los Angeles wins: Atlanta vs. Los Angeles, San Francisco vs. Houston

1996: Los Angeles (90-72) vs. Montreal (88-74)
If Los Angeles wins: Atlanta vs. Los Angeles, San Diego vs. St. Louis
If Montreal wins: Atlanta vs. St. Louis, San Diego vs. Montreal

1995: Colorado (77-67) vs. Houston (76-68)
If Colorado wins: Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. Colorado
If Houston wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles

By the numbers

The top teams in the American League would've been adversely affected by this policy. Over 17 seasons, the average win disparity between the top two non-division winning teams is 5.53, with gulfs as big as 17 (2002) and 12 (1997).

But in the National League, there's not as much of a disparity. Three of these 17 hypothetical games actually took place in real life, while the average win disparity was only 2.18.

As stated earlier, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco would've stood to benefit the most from this setup. Here's how the additional playoff appearance (or appearance in a play-in game for the playoffs) list shakes out:

4: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle
3: Boston
2: Anaheim, Chicago (AL), Cleveland, Houston, Oakland, San Diego
1: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, New York (AL), New York (NL), Philadelhpia, Texas, Toronto

As for wild card winners under the old format, Boston would've stood to lose the most under the new system. The Red Sox won the wild card seven times since it was introduced in 1995, while the Yankees took it four times. In the National League, Colorado won it three times while Florida, Houston, Los Angeles and New York won it twice.

So maybe this policy isn't as tailored to the Red Sox and Yankees as much as we think. Sure, Boston could've made an additional three playoff appearances, but there also would've been seven opportunities for them to be knocked out in one game by a lesser team.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”