New York Times
LOS ANGELES - Baseball reveals itself slowly, a six-month process of data collection that gives well-reasoned answers about ways to win. Then the postseason begins and the fun really starts.
Because no matter what we think we know, October does not care. Those thousands of small samples that make up the regular season, viewed individually, become chaotic - all with a championship at stake.
"That's what makes baseball great," John Mozeliak said Friday as he navigated a swarm of ashen Dodgers fans on his way to the visiting clubhouse after a mind-bending NL Division Series opener. The Cardinals general manager said it could take a while to process what he had seen.
No kidding. The Dodgers and the Cardinals had just played a game started by Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright, who combined for a 2.09 ERA this season, and the final score was 10-9, Cardinals.
"There's no explanation for why that happened," Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said.
Who can explain anything this time of year? Seven aces - Kershaw, Wainwright, Jon Lester, James Shields, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg - have taken the mound without any one meeting the minimum requirements for a quality start. They have combined for a 7.30 ERA this postseason.
The Orioles took a 2-0 lead on the Tigers in their AL Division Series helped by Delmon Young's game-breaking three-run double in Game 2. This is the player whose .317 career on-base percentage and poor defense have contributed to just 2.5 wins above replacement, as calculated by baseball-reference.com, over nine seasons.
Yet Young keeps showing up in October. He has been to the postseason six years in a row with four teams. In 2012, he was MVP of the ALCS for Detroit. Last year, after an ordinary 41/2 months in Philadelphia, he rejoined the Rays and homered in their wild-card victory.
Another unlikely winner in the first week of the postseason: Ned Yost, manager of the Royals. Yost used a rookie starter, Yordano Ventura, in relief at a critical moment of the wild-card game with Oakland and promptly watched a three-run homer sail over the centerfield fence. The Royals won anyway.
Then they won twice against the Angels, each in 11 innings, even though Yost stuck to convention by refusing to use his overpowering closer, Greg Holland, in a tie game on the road. He waited for a lead to use Holland, and both times the Royals got it on a home run. Never mind they hit the majors' fewest in the regular season.
By contrast, the Angels led the majors in runs but have scored just three times in 22 innings. Mike Trout, the presumptive AL MVP, has been held without a hit.
Although there may be nothing we can count on in October, lately there is usually this: the Cardinals offense, which has helped them win six of eight postseason series since 2011.
"They're never going to give anything away," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "That's what's impressive about them: Their at-bats are a fight. Just the culture of their team that they have, even though on paper they might be overmatched by a dominant pitcher, they don't know it - or they act like they don't know it."