“Momentum? Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.“
- Earl Weaver
The Yankees have been playing out the string for a week now, and much of the talk you read floating around the blogosphere and you hear around talk radio is about momentum. Who’s hot going into the playoffs? Who’s limping into the postseason? But does momentum really exist in baseball. The famous quote above would seem to indicate that, no, there is no such thing. Does it matter at all, that the Red Sox have lost 6 of their last 10 and been owned by the Yanks the last few series? Does it matter that Minnesota is red hot, winning 7 of 10 and reeling in the slumping Tigers by handfuls of their striped tail?
Let’s take a look at recent seasons and how teams fared going into the playoffs to find out if there is any correlation or not.
2008: Last year, the Phillies came into the postseason winning 7 of 10, stepping over the rotting corpse of the NY Mets on the way to a dominant World Series championship. Despite not having starting pitching depth throughout the long season, some hot pitchers and a healthy Hamels supplied enough support for the bats to shine forth as the rotation was trimmed down and more rest aided their talented but overused bullpen. Momentum may have played a role, but the Phils roster was also constructed in such a way as to benefit from the postseason schedule.
2007: The Red Sox were a modest 6-4 in their last 10 games of a competitive A.L. race, with all playoff teams winning 94-96 games. The hot team going into the playoffs, however, were the Colorado Rockies, going 9-1 in their last 10. Their momentum seemed to play a role as they swept their way all the way to the World Series, where the Sox booted them to the curb. The Rockies seem to be a genuine momentum case as, outside of that one run, they really never showed any other signs of greatness.
2006: Thus far, it seems as if momentum plays a pretty significant role, but the 06 Series would seem to give lie to the myth. The Cardinals headed into the playoffs losing 7 of their last 10 while their WS opponent, the Tigers, went through a similar collapse, losing their last 5 games. All the pundits declared both teams as surefire casualties of the first round. The Dodgers and Padres, meanwhile were media darlings, winning 9 and 8 of 10 respectively yet both bowed out in their initial series.
The Yankees’ own history mirrors these past few years of champions and disappointments. In 2002, the Yankees went into the postseason winning 8 of 10 and their last 5, yet flamed out against the Angels in 4 games. As great as this season has been, and as much as pundits claim the Twins, Tigers and Red Sox have no chance against the big, bad Yankees, historically, it’s just not true. This is baseball and anyone can beat anyone in a short series. Though some teams have certainly gotten hot and sustained it throughout the playoffs, the postseason is a different animal, with a different schedule and different rhythms that often negate any hot or cold streak going in. Momentum, schmomentum.