'Momentum' doesn't necessarily correlate to postseason performance
Does whether or not a team is "hot" heading into the postseason correlate to how said team will play in the postseason? Nope. It doesn't.
The 2014 major-league season has concluded, and of the 10 playoff teams, we could definitely pick out a few that are "hot" and "cold." Some teams (Angels) dialed it back last week in prepartion for the playoffs, some (Athletics) sputtered in and some (Nationals, Dodgers) were outstanding leading right up to the finale.
We might hear someone pass along a lovely cliché about some of the playoff teams like "they're playing well just at the right time" or "they have no momentum heading into the playoffs," but does this even matter? Let's take a look.
Here are the past 10 postseasons and how each playoff team fared heading into the playoffs. We'll see if there's a correlation.
2004: The Red Sox went 21-11 in the season's final month, closing with wins in seven of their final nine games. They would win the World Series, but remember, they were a stolen base and single from being swept in the ALCS by the Yankees.
The Cardinals went just 13-13 in their final 26 games, losing five of the final seven. They would make the World Series.
The Astros, though, were an incredible 36-8 down the stretch, winning nine of their final 10 games. They would be bounced by St. Louis in the NLCS.
The Angels won seven of their final nine, but were swept by the Red Sox in the ALDS. The Twins were 19-12 in the final month of the season and lost 3-1 to the Yankees in the ALDS. The Yankees had won four of their final six.
The losing NLDS teams each entered the playoffs going well, with the Braves having won seven of their last nine and the Dodgers going 7-4 to close it out.
2005: The White Sox won eight of their final 10, including five straight to close the season. They would then go an incredible 11-1 in the postseason to win the World Series. They weren't the hottest team heading into the playoffs, though. The Angels won 14 of their final 16 games, but the White Sox beat them in five games in the ALCS.
The Red Sox won eight of their final 12, but were swept by the White Sox in the ALDS round. The Yankees won 16 of their final 21, but were bounced by the Angels in five games in the ALDS.
Over on the NL side, the Astros won 13 of their final 18 games and made the World Series. The Cardinals (5-7) and Braves (7-12) sputtered into the postseason while the Padres won five of their final six games. The Cardinals would sweep the Padres before losing to the Astros in the NLCS while the Astros took care of the Braves in four games.
2006: Here's a nice illustration of how little momentum can mean. The Cardinals went 12-17 in the season's final month. They lost nine of their final 12 games, but went on to win the World Series. In the NLDS round, the Cardinals beat a Padres team that had gone 27-12 since mid-August and closed the season with nine wins in 11 games.
The Tigers, meanwhile, also had a bad final month (12-16) and lost five straight to conclude the season. They would also advance to the World Series. They beat the Yankees in the ALDS, following an 18-12 final month for New York.
In the other ALDS series, the Twins followed up a 19-11 final month by being swept at the hands of the A's, who had lost six of their final nine games.
In the NLDS round, the Mets rode a four-game winning streak into the postseason, though they had lost seven of eight just before that. They swept the Dodgers, who had won nine of their previous 10 games.
2007: On the flip-side, if you wanted to argue momentum, the Colorado Rockies will help your cause. Well, until the World Series.
Those Red Sox won six of their final nine games, so they had some "momentum" themselves. The hottest AL team, though, was probably the Indians, who went 31-12 down the stretch. They took out the Yankees in the ALDS, who were also hot entering the postseason (19-8 final month, winning 10 of their final 14). On the other hand, the Angels won just three of their final nine games and were swept by Boston.
Over in the NL, the Phillies entered the postseason pretty hot themselves, winning 13 of 17 games. The Cubs won 13 of their final 20. Each was swept in the first round. The D-Backs, meanwhile, lost five of their final seven games before sweeping the Cubs.
2008: The Phillies once again closed the season strong and this time around, they won it all. They were 13-3 down the stretch and won the World Series in five games. Their opponent, the Rays, was actually just 13-14 in the final month, though Tampa did win nine of its final 14.
The Cubs had the best record in the NL, but were 12-12 in the final month. They did win 11 of their final 17, but were swept in the NLDS by the Dodgers. Those Dodgers went just 7-7 in their final 14 games and lost three of four before the playoffs. The Phillies' NLDS opponent, meanwhile, was the Brewers, who won six of their final seven regular-season games.
Over in the AL side, the Angels entered the postseason playing real well, having won 15 of 21 games. They would lose to the Red Sox in four in the ALDS. Before losing to the Rays in four games in the ALDS, the White Sox won their final three games, though they were only 12-15 in the final month.
2009: The Yankees rode a final month of 20-11 with wins in eight of their final 11 games to a World Series title. Their opponent, Philadelphia, actually wasn't too hot heading into the playoffs, though, losing eight of 13 games.
The Angels were pretty hot themselves, winning seven of their final eight and then sweeping the Red Sox in the ALDS before losing to the Yankees in six in the ALCS.
The Twins were the hottest team, though. They won 17 of their final 21 games, but then were swept by the Yankees in the ALDS.
On the NL side, the Cardinals stumbled into the postseason with losses in 14 of their final 21 games. They were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS, though the Dodgers were hardly hot themselves, having lost six of their final nine games.
The Phillies' first-round opponent, the Rockies, had a 20-11 final month, but were little trouble for Philly.
2010: The Giants won their first San Francisco championship. They did finish the regular season well, too, winning nine of 13 games. Their World Series opponent, though, was far opposite of hot entering the playoffs. The Rangers won just one of their final five series in the regular season before beating the Rays in the ALDS and Yankees in the ALCS.
The Rays lost five of eight games and the Yankees lost eight of their final 11, so both entered "cold." The Yankees swept the Twins, though the Twins had lost eight of their final 10. So, basically, the entire AL playoff field was entering the postseason not playing well.
On the NL side, the Phillies had gone 23-7 in the final month, winning 19 of their final 24 games. They swept the Reds -- who had won five of their final seven -- before losing in six to the Giants in the NLCS. The Braves won four of their final six games, but were bounced in four games in the NLDS by the Giants.
2011: The Cardinals won a dramatic World Series to follow a 16-5 close to the regular season. They would upset the top-seeded Phillies in the NLDS. Those Phillies won four straight to close the regular season, but before that had lost eight in a row.
The Cardinals' World Series opponent was the Rangers, who closed the season winning 14 of 16 games. They would top the Tigers in the ALCS, who closed the season pretty hot themselves, going 20-6 in the final month. Detroit beat the Yankees in the ALDS after the Yankees closed the regular season winning six of their final 11 games. The Rangers' ALDS opponent was those miracle Rays, who passed the Red Sox in the final minutes of the last regular-season night. They entered the postseason on a five-game winning streak.
On the NL side, the Brewers won 11 of their final 15 games before advancing to the NLCS. They beat the Diamondbacks, who had won seven of their final 10 games, in the NLDS.
2012: The Giants won 15 of their final 21 games and rode that to a World Series championship, though they did lose three of their final five in the regular season.
The Tigers won eight of their final 10, riding that to a World Series appearance. They may not have been the hottest AL team, though. The A's won eight of their final nine, but lost in the ALDS to the Tigers in five games.
The Cardinals won the wild-card game over the Braves, who had won eight of their final 11 games. The Cardinals won 12 of their final 16, though. St. Louis would then top Washington in the NLDS. The Nationals went just 9-10 in their final 19 games. In the other NLDS, the Giants topped the Reds, who had lost three of their final five games.
Over in the AL, the Rangers lost seven of their final nine games before losing to the Orioles in the wild-card game. Those O's won five of their final seven. They lost to the Yankees, who had won seven of their final 11 games, in the ALDS.
2013: The NL wild-card game will give the "momentum" people an example. The Reds entered having lost five straight while the Pirates had won five of six. The Pirates won.
On the AL side, both teams were pretty hot. The Rays had won nine of 11 while the Indians won 15 of 17, including 10 straight.
The World Series champion Red Sox actually won just five of their final 11 games, but then they never played a game where they faced elimination in the postseason. Their Fall Classic opponent, the Cardinals, won 10 of their final 12 games.
The Red Sox beat the Tigers in the ALCS. Those same Tigers had lost five of their final seven games. They beat the A's in the ALDS round after the A's lost three of their final five games. The A's were 19-8 in September, though.
Over in the NL, the Braves won seven of their final 11 games while the Dodgers closed the season 9-15. The Dodgers would win the NLDS in four games.
So there you have it. Is there any way to possibly say that momentum matters heading into the postseason? I would say no. I don't see anything above to suggest it means much and the bet is that if we go throughout the entire history of MLB, we would end up with similar data. Sometimes momentum does help teams, sometimes it doesn't. So there's no predictive value.
That is, we can't sit here and judge which teams are going to play well in the 2014 postseason based upon how they finished the regular season.
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