The Nationals have earned their first-ever World Series berth after sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS. That’s the good news.
The bad news? Only one team in Major League Baseball history to sweep a seven-game League Championship Series has ever gone on to win the World Series.
After the Nationals joined the ranks of teams to sweep their opponents in an LCS, the TBS postgame broadcast crew broke down how to avoid similar pitfalls to previous teams.
Between Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson and Gary Sheffield, there were arguments made for both the benefits of rest and staying sharp. But ultimately, all three emphasized the importance of staying focused.
“You can’t simulate that type of emotion that you go through in an NLCS, nor when the world series starts,” Rollins explained. “You try to use it as rest. Mentally, you’re on. You’re thinking about execution, you’re thinking about who you may face as you’re watching the games, and gameplanning. You have to do something mentally. Physically, you’re body’s naturally going to shut down for a day or two, then you have to get on the field, get on a treadmill, start throwing and get it revved back up...usually this long of a break is the only thing that stops momentum. Hopefully that’s not the case.”
Granderson chimed in, speaking from more experience than most. The outfielder played on two of the previous eight teams to sweep an LCS, twice falling short in the Fall Classic.
“Unfortunately, I got to be on two of those teams that swept the [LCS], went to the World Series, and we couldn’t finally pick up that championship ring,” Granderson lamented. “The one recommendation I would make for a team, and I’m still trying to figure it out because I did it twice and it didn’t work out, try to keep the same schedule. If you had lost tonight, you would have been playing tomorrow. So get the boys back to the ballpark.”
There are still some opportunities to rest, even if a team doesn’t take a full week off.
“I know you want to give everybody some rest, but I think that rest is what we talked about that kind of hurts the hitters,” Martinez continued. “It helps the pitchers, but at the same time if we would have lost, we would have been back on the field, so let’s get on the field, that would have been Game 5, then there would have been a little bit of a break. Let’s take that normal break, let’s get back on the field like there would have been a Game 6, and let’s also watch that other series...all of us couldn’t find that magic key to get themselves ready for the World Series. Maybe get back on the field again tomorrow, and that could help.”
There are plenty of possible explanations. The easy narrative, as the broadcast crew alluded to, is the classic “rest vs. momentum” debate, one of the oldest, most oft-cited in sports. The Nationals, and other LCS-sweepers before them, will have entered the World Series after a long respite, getting them out of their daily routines.
On the other hand, they’ll be fully rested. And they’ll have the luxury of lining up their starting rotation exactly how they’d like it.
The most obvious explanation is a small sample size: the Nationals are only the ninth team in baseball history to sweep an LCS since the league expanded to the seven-game format in 1985. Only one team of the previous eight (Atlanta in 1995) going on to win the title sounds unlikely, but is entirely within the realm of possibility. Even that World Series was close, as all but one game between the Braves and Indians were decided by a single run.
Ultimately, Sheffield sums it up well.
“This goes back to the old saying,” the former World Series champion described. “You can’t turn it off and turn it on. That’s why you’ve always got to stay on.”
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