Have you ever heard the phrase: “The best way to win the World Series is to make the playoffs every year.” It’s a true, yet obvious statement that’s been evidently clear throughout the postseasons in the past couple years.
Let’s look at two teams, the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies, that are a great example of not-so-great regular-season teams that caught fire in October and defied the odds in this year’s edition of playoff baseball.
Lessons learned from the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies
The Padres came into the postseason very wounded and disappointing. After trading for Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Brandon Drury, and having Fernando Tatis Jr. seemingly on the cusp of returning from injury, the sky was truly the limit for this ball club. However, things really didn’t pan out as planned. Tatis Jr. was suspended for 80 games after failing a drug test, and newly acquired Bell and Soto were both severely disappointing. Soto slashed a .778 OPS with six homers, while Bell hit .192 with three homers.
Despite the team struggles, the Padres managed to secure a five seed, earning them a Wild Card matchup with the New York Mets. The Mets were coming off a 100-win season, and seemed nearly unbeatable with a one-two punch of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer.
However, the Padres proved otherwise, notching seven earned runs off of Scherzer in Game 1, handing the future Hall of Famer the worst postseason start of his career. After batting .192 in the regular season, Bell started the Game 1 home run parade with a two-run homer in the first inning.
After losing Game 2, it was up to Joe Musgrove to send the Padres to the NLDS. Musgrove had a signature outing, pitching seven scoreless innings. Musgrove was checked for “foreign grip substances” mid-game because he was pitching so well. Soto continued his postseason turnaround, going 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI.
The series win earned San Diego a matchup with the Dodgers, a team who downright bullied them in the regular season. The Padres had a horrid 5-14 record against L.A. in the regular season, and were going into the series without home field advantage.
After a brutal Game 1 loss, San Diego managed to pull the series even, notching three earned runs off future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw. In Game 3, a solo shot from Trent Grisham in front of a wild Padres crowd gave them a 2-0 lead, and that was all they needed. Blake Snell pitched another gem against the Dodgers in the playoffs, going five scoreless with six strikeouts. Josh Hader closed out the game striking out the side, looking nearly unhittable with his 100 mph fastball.
Throughout the season, the Dodgers embraced analytics. However, in Game 4, analytics were their downfall. After starting pitcher Tyler Anderson went five scoreless innings, manager Dave Roberts decided to pull Anderson and go to the bullpen. Roberts did this likely because the analytics told him to do so; his bullpen had a better chance to win him this game rather than keeping Anderson in longer. This strategy worked until Roberts brought in relievers Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia. Vesia and Almonte blew the game, with Vesia giving up a devastating two-run hit to Jake Cronenworth that gave the Padres the win and series victory.
Game 4 was a prime example of how unreliable analytics can be in playoff baseball. Ultimately, it wound up costing the Dodgers their championship hopes.
The incredible Padres run came to an end in their NLCS matchup with the Phillies, a series in which Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber were too hot for the Padres to handle. Nonetheless, it was an awesome run for San Diego, and the series victory against Los Angeles is something Padres fans will reminisce about for years to come.