If the Tables Had Turned

You would like to look back over the 2007 World Series and point to one or two plays that were a turning point to a closely matched series. Instead history will show a hot team that cooled in the high mountain air waiting 8 days to meet their opponent. Their opponent on the other hand battled back from a huge deficit to win their League Championship series in a tough seven game series and with momentum on their side they were able to take advantage and win the World Series in decisive fashion. This is the second year in a row where the hot team took advantage of their counterparts who had more rest and dominated a series. It makes you stop to ponder what it takes to be a world champion.

I don’t wish to take anything away from the Boston Red Sox who through the regular season was the best team in Major League Baseball. They had the best record in the American League which was also the best win/loss record in Major League Baseball. Throughout the 162 game season they continued to prove they were the team to beat. But as the play-offs started it was the Rockies who were on a significant roll with an amazing streak of wins. The Rockies continued their hot play sweeping both play-off opponents they faced from the National League. The Red Sox on the other hand found themselves struggling mightily as the regular season was ending. There were a lot of questions of whether they could hold on and win their division let alone a play-off series. The Red Sox answered that question by sweeping the Angels in the first round of the play-offs in a fashion similar to what Colorado had done. In the ALCS the Cleveland Indians were a much tougher opponent and the Red Sox found themselves in a 3-1 deficit facing elimination. Something started to click with this team and over the next 3 games they outscored the Indians 30-5 to win the series. They went directly to the World Series with minimal time off. The momentum they caught in the ALCS carried forward and the Red Sox steamrolled the Rockies.

But what if the tables were turned? What if it were the Boston Red Sox who had swept the Cleveland Indians and had eight days to wait for their opponent? What if the Colorado Rockies had battled with the Arizona Diamondbacks over seven games and erased a deficit to win 3 games straight to make it into the World Series? (That was the most pain sentence I have ever had to write.) Is momentum a better barometer for World Series success than post season experience or regular season supremacy? Based upon the last five World Series I think you could make a case that momentum is the primary success factor for winning a world championship. By the time a team has navigated 162 season the better teams have risen to the top. Most of these teams are configured similarly with appropriate levels of pitching combined with timely hitting. While the statistics may not be completely equal I am guessing that they are within a few standard deviations of each other making it a tossup as to which team should be favored. Winning seems to foster winning and if a team can somehow get on a roll by taking a few games their confidence starts to build making them more conscious and aware of the small details that make the difference between success and failure. Last season the Detroit Tigers definitely appeared to be the stronger team. They had a better record and should have easily taken the Cardinals. Instead St. Louis got on a little roll stringing together a few wins and the result was that they won the World Series. It’s impossible to remove the streaking nature of the game from the World Series. There is no way to make the series go the same amount of time or play equal amounts of post season games. This year it happened that the team with the best record also happened to be the team with the best momentum swing leading everyone to believe they should have won. Over the course of this off season it will give me a lot of time to wonder what would have happened if the momentum tables had been turned. Would the outcome have been the same?

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