Baseball's best rarely finish on top in October


Baseball's best rarely finish on top in October

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Best in baseball? The Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants spent much of the season just trying to catch mediocre teams like the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers just to win their divisions.

Those up-and-down regular seasons are distant memories now that the Giants and Tigers have raced through the playoffs and are getting ready for Game 2 of the World Series in San Francisco on Thursday night.

The Giants trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West as late as mid-August before making a strong run to win the division and finish tied with the third-best record in the National League.

The Tigers were merely six games over .500 with three weeks left in the regular season and made the playoffs despite posting the seventh-best record in the American League.

``You know what, I think these are the best two teams and the hottest teams, too,'' Tigers reliever Jose Valverde said. ``The first two months, you see Detroit is in last place. Chicago, Cleveland, everybody's laughing. What happened now?''

For much of its history, baseball was a grueling, six-month endurance test, with only the top team in each league going to the postseason.

Now, with six divisions and four wild-card teams, it's more a matter of just getting into the tournament and getting on a roll in October.

``I think ideally you like to see the teams that have the best record end up there,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ``But as we have mentioned many times, once you get to the playoffs it does become a little bit of a crap shoot, who's playing the best at that time. You understand that. That's why wild-card teams have done well. A lot of them are fighting to get there, but they're also playing well at the right time.''

Both the Giants and Tigers got in as division winners but they were not the top teams in their leagues over the 162-game haul.

Washington finished with baseball's best record this year with 98 wins but fell in the division series to the 88-win St. Louis Cardinals, who won it all the previous year as a wild-card team. The Cardinals won a one-game playoff under the new wild-card format just to get to the divisional series.

Detroit, with 88 wins, finished behind the other four AL playoff teams, as well as the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays despite playing in the AL's weakest division. But the Tigers knocked off AL West champion Oakland in the first round and swept the New York Yankees, who had the AL's best record, in the league championship series.

``You just need to get hot like the Cardinals did last year,'' Tigers outfielder Don Kelly said. ``You have to play your best baseball at the right time. But over the course of the year you have to keep yourself there, you have to keep yourself in it. You can't get too far behind. That's what we talked about a lot as a team. We just had to stay right there because we knew we could pull it out at the end.''

No team had ever finished this low in its league and made it to the Series. The previous low was fifth, by three eventual World Series champions: Minnesota in 1987, the New York Yankees in 2000 and the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, who beat the Tigers despite winning only 83 games in the regular season.

In the 18 postseasons since the playoffs expanded in 1995, the team with the best overall record in the regular season ended up as World Series champion just three times. The Yankees did it twice, in 1998 and 2009, and Boston accomplished it as well in 2007. That one out of six rate is little better than if the champion was chosen randomly.

More common is a case like the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals, who won 105 games in the regular season but were swept by wild-card winning Boston in the World Series.

``Being on a team in St. Louis in 2004, which was a team pretty much wire to wire was a pretty dominant team, nobody felt sorry for us at any point when we didn't pull it off in the World Series,'' said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, a catcher the `04 runner-ups. ``But you take your chances, when a team rolls like that. Typically you have enough there to win it all. It's just a matter of the timing and guys taking advantage of the opportunities.''

This is not a phenomenon exclusive to baseball. The NFL and NHL playoffs have often been about determining which team is hottest come playoff time. The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in June as an eight seed, the New York Giants were a No. 4 when they beat New England in the Super Bowl in February.

That wasn't the case in baseball during the pre-playoff days. The winner of the National League faced off each fall against the winner of the American League in the World Series. The team with the best record went 38-27 in those Series from 1903 through 1968, according to STATS LLC.

The postseason turned into a bit of a crap shoot once the league broke into divisions, allowing four teams to make the playoffs. The best regular season team won in seven of those 25 seasons before wild-cards were added in 1995.

``If you're asking me, even if it's not us, I always hope that the team that's had the best year, they end up battling to win the World Series,'' Bochy said. ``But it's a great game how we have it set up.''


AP Sports Writers R.B. Fallstrom and Ronald Blum contributed to this story.

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Lamar Jackson becomes first QB to rush at least 70 yards in five straight starts

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Lamar Jackson becomes first QB to rush at least 70 yards in five straight starts

With Lamar Jackson under center for the past five games, the Ravens offense’ has relied on his legs to move the ball. The rookie quarterback has struggled at times throwing the ball, but utilizing the read options, Jackson has had no such problems making an impact. 

On Sunday against the Buccaneers, Jackson had 100 yards rushing going into the fourth quarter. With that, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for at least 70 yards in five straight starts.  The streak started with a bang in the Ravens 24-21 win over the Bengals when Jackson rushed for 119 yards  It was followed by games of 71 and 75 yards against the Raiders and Falcons and a 67-yard game in Week 14’s loss against the Chiefs. 

He knows the risks running quarterbacks face,  but winning is his No. 1 priority. 

"I’m going to put it all on the line," Jackson said in an interview with ESPN. "I want to win. I hate losing. I hate that feeling. You have to deal with it the next week. So, I want to win regardless. If it happens, it’s going to happen. I’ve been good so far.”

Coming into Week 15, the Ravens were fourth in the NFL in rushing yards. The team has rushed for at least 190 yards since Jackson took over.

At feat that hasn’t been achieved since the Steelers did it in 1976. With Jackson continuing to dazzle defenders, Baltimore will continue to maintain its dominance in the ground game. 


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It was ugly and boring, but the Redskins won a wild and important game in Jacksonville

It was ugly and boring, but the Redskins won a wild and important game in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE -- The Redskins played one of the ugliest games of the NFL season on Sunday, but they got an extremely important win, and in the end, that's all that matters. 

Across the league, offenses are getting more inventive and creating new ways to move the football through the air. That didn't happen in Jacksonville.

What did happen was a gutty performance from fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson, a great pass rush, and an opportunistic defense combined to grind out a victory. 

The team overcame some mistakes and proved they will still play for head coach Jay Gruden. There's a lot to unpack, let's dive in. 

1. Not Too Bad:

Josh Johnson played well on Sunday, finishing with 151 passing yards and completing 16 of 25 passes. He connected with Jeremy Sprinkle for a late touchdown to tie the game, and never made the kind of killer mistakes that often bury a team playing backup QBs. 

2. Beast Mode: 

The Redskins defensive front played a monster game, sacking Jags QB Cody Kessler six times. Ryan Kerrigan and Jonathan Allen each logged two sacks on Kessler, and Kerrigan moved into second place all-time on the Redskins sack list. Now with 82.5 sacks, Kerrigan trails only Dexter Manley on the Washington franchise list. The defense also limited the Jags to under 200 yards of total offense. 

3. Secret Formula:

The formula for the Redskins when they got out to a 6-3 start was fairly simple; control time of possession and win the turnover battle. That worked on Sunday. The Redskins won the clock battle and forced two turnovers from Kessler. The late interception from Fabian Moreau was a huge play for the Redskins, as it kept the Jags from a field goal attempt when the game was tied at 13 with less than five minutes remaining. Then a good drive from Johnson led to the game-winning 36-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins. 

4. The Curse Continues:

Penalties have been killing the Redskins for weeks, and Sunday's game was no different. The team finished with six penalties for 48 yards, and on a number of first down plays, flags brought the gains back. Morgan Moses added to his league-leading penalty total, a title that nobody wants. The Redskins offensive line is a mess due to injuries, playing their 10th guard of the season, but still, the pace of penalties demands attention and correction. 

5. Not so Special:

 The Redskins defense didn't give up any touchdowns, but the Redskins special teams did. Late in the first half, Maurice Harris got the mistake train rolling when he tried to field a punt with the sun directly in his eyes. Rather than just letting the ball go, Harris attempted a backward over-the-shoulder catch. It didn't work. He muffed the punt and had to retreat about 10 yards to fall on the football. From there, the offense went 3-and-out and had to punt. Then that punt got returned for a touchdown, with a remarkable missed tackle from Byron Marshall. Seriously watch this.