Wizards

Baseball's best rarely finish on top in October

201210242251822877567-p2.jpeg

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.

Quick Links

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Jodie Meeks' season...

Player: Jodie Meeks

Position: Shooting guard

Age: 30

2017-18 salary: $3.3 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.5 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 39.9 FG%, 34.3 3P%, 86.3 FT%, 49.1 eFG%, 111 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 11/29 at Sixers - 21 points, 4 rebounds, assist, steal, 5-for-11 FG, 3-for-6 3PT, 8-for-9 FT

Season review: The Wizards took a flier on Jodie Meeks last summer in what seemed at the time to be a low-risk contract with a potentially high reward, if he could stay healthy and play to his career norms. They were in obvious need of help at backup shooting guard and three-point shooting for their bench.

Meeks fell short of those expectations for a variety of reasons. Though he stayed healthy for the first time in years, he could not make shots at the clip the Wizards were hoping for. His field goal percentage was not far off from what he posted in recent years, but his three-point percentage was nowhere near the 38.8 percent he shot in his previous four seasons.

Meeks bottomed out midseason, shooting 28.9 percent from three in December and 28 percent in January. Those numbers ticked up beginning in February, but Meeks never fully gained the trust of his coaching staff. He rarely got hot enough to alter games and his best stat-lines often came in blowouts. 

There was a domino effect from Meeks' struggles, as starting shooting guard Bradley Beal had no one to spell him. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any NBA player this season.

For Meeks personally, it was a bittersweet year because staying healthy was no small feat. He had a run of bad luck and finally broke out of it this season. On the other hand, he never made the impact he felt he was capable of and that wasn't easy for a guy joining a new team and a new locker room.

Meeks' 2017-18 season was ultimately defined by more than his shooting woes. First, he expressed interest in a trade in February and did not get his wish. Then, he was suspended for allegedy using performance-enhancing drugs after the regular season ended. He was out for the playoffs and will miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season without pay as he waits out a 25-game ban.

Meeks may or may not serve that suspension as a member of the Wizards. He has a player option for next season worth $3.5 million. He has yet to inform the team of his decision, but the expectation is that he will pick it up. Given how poorly his season went and ended, it would likely be the smart move financially for him to opt in and hope for better results next season.

Potential to improve: Shooting percentage, perimeter defense, passing

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

Ian Mahinmi, C

Ty Lawson, PG

Tim Frazier, PG

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

 

CAPITALS FACEOFF PODCAST: