Unfortunately for baseball fans, this postseason was arguably a little underwhelming, as only one series actually came down to the wire. Nevertheless, it was exciting to watch as both new teams and new strategies debuted on baseball’s biggest stage. Here are five things that we learned from this year’s playoffs.
1. Look for a big shakeup in the NL.
Finally, an NL postseason that wasn’t just the Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals. We had 3 new teams in the division series this year; the Brewers, Braves, and Rockies. Although Rocktober and whatever nickname you want to call the Braves’ postseason ended relatively quickly, all three teams looked like they belonged, although with several key pieces potentially leaving, the Rockies may not be returning next year. However, the Braves and Brewers are only going to get better. Both teams have money to spend on this historic free agent class, and are here to stay.
2. Cleveland’s championship window is probably over.
Cleveland fans once again faced bitter disappointment after being swept 3-0 by the Houston Astros in the ALDS. A common theme in this series for the Indians was bullpen implosion. The starting pitchers for Cleveland were able to go deep into games for the most part, even without Corey Kluber, but were unable to successfully reach the 6th and 7th innings without giving up enough runs to effectively make the game unwinnable with Cleveland’s ineffective offense and Houston’s excellent pitching. Cleveland could lose two of its better relievers this offseason as well, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller. Cleveland will also lose former MVP 3B Josh Donaldson. Cleveland will remain a good team as they still have one of the best pitching staffs in the league and stars SS Francisco Lindor and utilityman Jose Ramirez, but a team that only played well enough to win 91 games in the hilariously weak AL Central clearly isn’t cut out to win any championships, especially when it has to go through at least two teams capable of winning 100 games before it can even get to the World Series.
3. The super bullpen strategy can be effective, but is difficult to sustain.
The Super Bullpen strategy has come to prominence in recent years, it’s hard to point to one single event, but I would say that the Yankees winning the 2017 Wild Card game with their bullpen going 8.2 innings after Luis Severino was unable to get out of the first inning really highlighted the importance of having a stellar bullpen. Several teams used this strategy during the postseason, mainly the Brewers and the A’s. The A’s use of the opener and bullpen showed how it can fail. One of the disadvantages of the system is that while a team might have a lot of good relievers, it only takes one to have a bad day for the game to not go your way. Unfortunately in the A’s case, it was more than one. Another shortfall of the strategy is that because relievers are unable to go deep into games, especially after giving up runs, the A’s had to put in their star closer Blake Treinen in early, and after pitching a heavy workload he eventually fell apart and the game was blown open. The Brewers had far more success with this strategy, they used it more often than not, with starters Wade Miley, Jhoulys Chacin, and Gio Gonzalez usually not going past the fourth inning, with the exception of Chacin and on occasion Miley. They too however experienced the shortfall of the system. The more pitchers you put out there the more likely one of them is going to perform poorly, and you have to put relievers out there, though fireballers like Josh Hader and Corey Knebel can’t throw 9 innings. This strategy forces you to make risky decisions, and keeps forcing your hand in a playoff series. This is exacerbated by the length of a playoff series. Hitters can only be fooled by pitchers for so long, and by the end of a 7 game series, they tend to figure them out.
4. Starting pitching is overrated
Possessing a quality group of starters is necessary to even make it into the postseason, but as we saw this year, it is no guarantee of success. The Red Sox, with one of the weaker starting groups even with Chris Sale, breezed their way through the postseason, losing only 3 games. They did this with their overpowering offense and an unexpectedly superb performance from their bullpen. The Brewers were also able to achieve success, they swept the Rockies, who’s starters were close but definitely better in quality, and took the Dodgers to seven games, who’s starting rotation includes multiple Cy Young award winner and potential GOAT Clayton Kershaw. While starting pitching is obviously helpful, it seems that teams with strong offenses and bullpens perform better than teams who just have exceptional starters.
5. Boston did damage, and is here to stay
Winning 108 games and only losing 3 games in the postseason against 2 teams that won 100 games and another that won the NL sure sends a message to the league. Boston is young and is only going to get better. Young players like MVP (calling it) Mookie Betts are setting the world on fire, and even younger players like Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers are going to get better too. Although Boston will likely part with Craig Kimbrel this offseason, they’ll find talent elsewhere, potentially Jeurys Familia, Joakim Soria, or even Zach Britton. If they can add even more top tier starting pitching talent as well? (Pray that Kershaw doesn’t pull a Durant) Then this team could be one of the greatest of all time.