Having barely beaten the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the Division Series, the Washington Nationals continued their improbable postseason run by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals to earn their first trip to the World Series. They’ll have had five days off by the time the World Series starts, which begs the question: would they have been better off letting the Cards win a game or two?
The five most recent teams who swept their LCS went on to lose the World Series. Cause and effect? Coincidence? Let’s take a look.
The 2015 New York Mets
The 2015 Daniel Murphys — I mean New York Mets — swept the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS. Murphy hit .529 with four home runs (one in each game), a double, and six RBI, and was an easy choice for the series MVP. Like this year’s Nats, the Mets beat the Dodgers in a thrilling five-game NLDS. After sweeping the Cubs, they had a six-day layoff before meeting the Kansas City Royals, who beat the Mets in five games.
The Royals were in their second consecutive World Series and, unlike the Mets, were favored to win each of their postseason series (although Houston nearly upset them in the ALDS). They had picked up several half-season rentals (Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist being the most notable) and were simply a better team than the Mets. The pre-Series layoff probably didn’t matter.
The 2014 Kansas City Royals
Speaking of the Royals, the 2014 team made the playoffs for the first time in 29 years as a wild card team. After beating the Oakland Athletics in a thrilling wild card game, they swept both the Los Angeles Angels and the Baltimore Orioles before sitting on their hands for five days.
They lost an exhilarating seven-game World Series to Madison Bumgarner … er, the San Francisco Giants in only the second World Series ever played between two wild card teams. The Royals had a 2-1 lead going into Game 4 and were ninety feet away from tying Game 7 in the ninth inning. The layoff was irrelevant.
The 2012 Detroit Tigers
The 2012 Detroit Tigers had a five-day layoff after sweeping the New York Yankees in the ALCS. They then ran smack into a Giants team that was boiling hot after coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Cardinals in the NLCS.
Pitching for the first time in eight days, then-reigning AL Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander pitched poorly, allowing five runs in four innings, including two of Pablo Sandoval’s three home runs, and the Tigers never really recovered.
Unlike the 2014 Royals and 2015 Mets, these Tigers may have indeed suffered due to the layoff. On paper they were the Giants’ equal — perhaps even their superior, with Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Max Scherzer to supplement Verlander, then generally considered the best pitcher in the game. In baseball, as with relationships, timing is everything.
The 2007 Colorado Rockies
The 2007 Colorado Rockies weren’t even supposed to be there. In fourth place on September 16, they won fourteen of their final fifteen games. Their run forced a one-game playoff with the San Diego Padres, which they won on a walk-off sacrifice fly in which it’s still not clear whether or not Matt Holliday touched home plate.
Colorado then swept the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies, who had Chase Utley, 2006 MVP Ryan Howard, and 2007 MVP Jimmy Rollins in their primes. They then swept the Arizona Diamondbacks before having an unacceptable eight (8!) days off before the World Series. [MLB has since adjusted its postseason schedule so that this never happens again.]
This is the example everybody likes to point to as proof that a long layoff ruins a team for the World Series, and that may be true, but in this case I think they simply got beaten by a better team. The Boston Red Sox had star rookies Jacoby Ellsbury and Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia to go along with David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell in his best season. And the Rockies’ pitching simply couldn’t measure up to Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, a young Jon Lester, and a still-effective Curt Schilling in his last hurrah.
The 2006 Detroit Tigers
The 2006 Tigers (yes, the Tigers again) had six days off after sweeping the Oakland Athletics before their World Series showdown with the Cardinals, who had beaten the Mets in an absolutely gripping NLCS only two days earlier. The Cardinals were universally regarded as the underdogs versus the Tigers. They had clinched a weak division with only 83 wins during the regular season and then beaten the favored Padres and Mets. I believe that, as they would again six years later, the Tigers did indeed suffer due to the long layoff and lost to an inferior team in the World Series.
Where does Washington Stack Up?
As I said up at the top, Washington will have rested for five days when the World Series starts. The two teams who had five-day layoffs before were the 2012 Tigers and the 2014 Royals, both of whom lost to the Giants. One team got swept while the other came tantalizingly close to winning the whole thing. Hmm. Nothing to be learned there.
The 2006 Tigers and 2015 Mets had six days of rest and both lost their World Series in five games.
The Rockies’ situation was ridiculous and shouldn’t even be considered for comparison. So where does that leave our dear Nationals?
Both teams live(d) and die(d) by their pitching, with two hitters — Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes for the Mets, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto for the Nats — doing most of the heavy lifting. Both the Astros and Yankees have explosive offenses, so the Nats are likely to be the underdog no matter which 100-win team they face. Then again, they’ve been the underdog for most of this season and they’re still here. What’s one more series?
*As a diehard Yankee fan it pains me to say this, but the idea of a Game 7 matchup of former teammates and future Hall of Famers Verlander and Scherzer is so exciting it’s almost arousing.*
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