Friday, August 11, 2006

Weak Regular Season Record Doesn't Eliminate NL West, Wild Card Winners From World Series Hopes

When Major League Baseball split, like an amoeba, into four divisions in 1969, critics warned that the best-of-five LCS format would enable a team from a weaker division to best its opponent in the playoffs and "sneak" into the World Series. For the first several years, in both leagues, those fears were moot: there were mostly sweeps in the LCS, and all by the favored teams.

In fact, when the Tigers pushed the Oakland A's to the five-game limit in 1972, it was the first ALCS that lasted longer than the three-game minimum.

But in 1973, the New York Mets finally proved the critics right.

Scuffling along in the depths of the NL East for most of the season, the Mets, as late as August 28, were 60-70 and in last place. They were only 6 1/2 games behind, but there were five teams ahead of them.

Then, Yogi Berra's boys finished 22-9 and won the division -- with an 82-79 record.

Nobody gave them much of a chance against the mighty Cincinnati Reds, who won 99 games. Yet the Mets were not only competitive, they beat Sparky Anderson's troops to qualify for the World Series. The Mets' feistiness and season were both encapsulated by Bud Harrelson's fight with Pete Rose at second base in one of the games at New York.

The Oakland A's were defending world champs in '73. They, too, seemed invincible -- too much, again, for the 82-79 Mets. No matter. The Mets put up a whale of a struggle before succumbing to the A's in seven games.

In 2006, the National League West winner is unlikely to win 90 games, and might struggle to hit 85. The Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Padres are tied for the division lead at 58-56. The wild card winner in the NL might have a record similar to the 1973 Mets. Currently, the Reds lead the wild card race with a 59-56 record -- not one to make anyone shake in their boots.

Ironically, the team with the best record in the NL is ... the New York Mets.

So if they think a trip to the World Series will be a walk in the ballpark, they'd better think again.

Just ask the Cincinnati Reds of 1973.

1 comment:

Ozz said...

No doubt about it. It seems like over the last few seasons, more often than not, a Wild Card team has won it all. Last year's White Sox, of course, would be an obvious exception to that. Anything can happen in a short series.