What happened to the postseason?

By the time you read this, baseball in 2007 could be a thing of the past. At the time of writing the Sox are 3-0 and could wrap it all up Sunday evening for their second postseason sweep in four years.

The joke among baseball fans is that the reason Denver fans have christened this particular October Rocktober is not because of the Rockies’ extraordinary ascension to the World Series, but rather because the quality and closeness of play has been enough to rock all but the most ardent baseball fan to sleep. Is that a fair conclusion, or did this postseason have some oomph to it after all?

The Regular season

Let’s start before the beginning and remind ourselves of the quite astonishing events that took place in the final few weeks of September as the regular season came to its thrilling climax.

At the start of the final month of the regular season it looked as though we’d have to wait for the postseason to warm our collective baseball loins. The only division that looked as though it might go down to the wire was the NL Central, which wasn’t exactly the home of great baseball. (Aside: Some may complain about that statement but the bald facts are that the NL Central was so bad that it was 50 games below .500. The division with the next-worst record was its AL brethren a mere two games below.) The NL West also looked as though it had potential to excite, what with Arizona firmly outplaying its Pythagorean record (and therefore on the cusp of statistical regression) and the Padres in the wings ready to take advantage of any small lapse. Elsewhere everything was seemingly done and dusted. Seattle’s collapse ensured that the AL West was Anaheim-bound; the Red Sox were cruising to their first AL East since 1995; the Indians were pulling away from the Tigers in what had been a tightly contested race; and the Mets were seemingly certs to repeat in the NL East.

But then the last couple weeks of September came and with it the invisible hand of the baseball gods. As predicted, the NL Central remained exciting but uninspiring until late September, although the Cubs won comfortably in the end. However, it was in the remaining National League divisions where the main action was. The Mets went on an inexplicable losing streak, allowing the much-lambasted Phillies to catch up and eventually overtake them on the last day of the season—Baseball Prospectus worked out it was the second-largest collapse of all time! The Rockies won 14 in 15 to vault into contention in the NL West, eventually beating the Padres in a 13-inning shootout to claim the final postseason slot. If that wasn’t enough, over in the AL East the Red Sox were conspiring to throw a 15-game lead over the Yankees down the toilet, although they did hold on in the end.

The Postseason

The hectic end to the regular season heightened expectations of a glorious postseason. There was the possibility of a New York vs. Boston rematch; the Cubs were on point to slay another curse—the third in four years; the power bats and poor pitching of the Phillies and Rockies would make for some see-saw contests. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but in retrospect it could only disappoint.

The division series was probably the most non-descript since the six-division format germinated in the mid-1990s. The senior circuit was a complete rout. The Rockies swept the Phillies despite having to play the first two games at Citizens Bank Park—save a close contest in Game 3, at which point it was over, it wasn’t close. In the other NL contest the Cubs fared no better and lost in three to the Diamondbacks, which set up an all NL West LCS. The problem with best of five is that losing the first game is a real kick in the teeth. Assuming equal talent levels the team that won the opener will take about 70% of contests. If you win the second game the odds of taking the series climb to around 90%.

The AL wasn’t a coffin of excitement either. Boston swept the sorry Angels, who put up very little resistance especially after Manny rammed a three-run walk-off home run over the Green Monster. Games 1 and 3 were a story of capitulation—the Angels’ hitters could only must four runs across all three games. The Indians/Yankees bash was a little more exciting as the Yankees avoided a sweep by winning three to stay alive. Games two and four probably provided the most excitement out of any of the Division Series as the Tribe eked out victory both times. All said and done only one more game than the minimum 12 was played in the Division Series.

Would the Rockies vs. Diamondbacks and Indians vs. Red Sox provide any more intrigue? A little.

The Senior Circuit’s championship turned out to be another one-sided affair—another sweep. The experts mused that if the D-backs were to have a shot at the World Series then it was vital that Brandon Webb won Game 1. He didn’t, getting chased for five runs as the Rockies triumphed 5-1. Game 2 also went Colorado’s way as they won 3-2, though the game wasn’t as close as the score line suggests. Television ratings plunged and football fans rubbed their hands with glee at baseball’s misery.

Meanwhile the ALCS was putting on more of a show. In a rarity for the 2007 season the series went the distance, with Boston winning Game 7 to overcome a 3-1 game deficit. What superficially looks like a decent match up was surprisingly disappointing as the only semi-close game was Boston’s 4-2 defeat in Game 3. The scores from the other games read: 3-10, 13-6, 7-3, 1-7, 2-12 and 2-11—although watching Boston turn around a 3-1 deficit was compelling TV the manner of their achievement, scoring 30 while conceding only five, left a slightly sour taste; it was probably the dullest seven-game set imaginable.

And that brings us to the World Series. In Game 1 Josh Beckett, the new Mr. October, delivered another sterling performance as the Sox thrashed Colorado 13-1. We got mild excitement in Game 2 as Schilling pitched a gem to lead Boston to a 2-1 victory though the Red Sox bullpen was never really under threat. To be fair, Game 3 also had a couple of pants-wetting moments before Boston blew the game open late on to record a 10-5 win.

And so we stand on the brink of yet another sweep. Were it to be completed it would be fourth of these playoffs, which is an unenviable and unwanted record.

If the Rockies were to come back from here it would be the most astonishing story in baseball history: A ballclub fully expected to come bottom of its division as the season opened in April; one that rallied from nowhere in September to snatch a Wild Card berth at the very death of the regular season; three zip down to the best team in baseball … it ain’t going to happen. 2007 is destined to be remembered for a spectacular regular season finale and a sub-par postseason.

Bring on 2008.

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