“My shit doesn’t work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is fucking luck.” – Billy Beane
Many fans I know object to that quote. They think that the inefficiencies Billy Beane exploited work well in the long-haul, but fail miserably in a short series. And, in their defense, Beane’s playoff run in the early 00s bears that out. However, the recent play of the Yankees and Red Sox better illustrates Beane’s point than his words do.
After rolling through the first four teams after the All-Star Break, the Yanks hit a snag, dropping three straight to the White Sox. The Yankees are obviously a good team, but hit a rough patch. It happens to the best of teams. The Red Sox also hit a bad patch, right as the Yankees were rolling. Both teams are on the same level, yet both have slumped, and slumped hard, over the course of the season.
What if those teams hit a rough patch in the beginning of October? It’s unfortunate, but it happens. The 2006 Yankees are a good example. They had a great regular season, but hit a terrible patch against Detroit in the playoffs. Hell, they even played well enough in the first game, but slumped in the final three. It happens during the regular season, and it can happen in the playoffs.
You hope your team can focus and avoid a slump when the games matter the most. The great teams, so goes the reasoning, will be able to do this. But in an age of increasing parity, rough patches hurt that much more. A team can hit a few bumps in the road over a 162-game season, but if they slump just a little during the playoffs it’s over. Even the best team in the long haul can have four bad games.
This is just something to chew on as we enter the off-day. We’d like to believe that players can elevate themselves in October, but sometimes they just can’t. I don’t think that’s necessarily a reflection of the team’s character. I think it’s in the nature of baseball’s marathon schedule.