Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 20, 2013

The World Series No One Saw Coming

Then there were two. With ease Friday evening, and with a single decisive blow Saturday night, first the St. Louis Cardinals and then the Boston Red Sox claimed their respective League Championship Series in six games. The Cardinals scored four times in the 3rd inning off the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, with Carlos Beltran driving in the first run to continue his outstanding postseason at the plate. While rookie sensation Michael Wacha and a pair of relievers held Los Angeles to just three solitary base runners, St. Louis erased any lingering doubt about the game’s outcome with five more runs two innings later off of Kershaw and the Dodgers bullpen.

Twenty-four hours later Shane Victorino’s towering grand slam over the Green Monster at Fenway Park broke open a taut pitcher’s duel, propelling the Red Sox to a 5-2 clinching victory. It was the second slam of the series for Boston. Six days earlier, David Ortiz may well have rescued the team’s season with a bases loaded shot into the bullpen in right field. The Red Sox were four outs away from going to Detroit down two games to none when Big Papi’s blast pulled them into a 5-5 tie, in a game they would win in walk-off fashion one inning later.

While Jose Veras delivered the curveball that Victorino hammered into the night, Tigers starter Max Scherzer was responsible for two of the men on base and was charged with the loss. Thus Kershaw and Scherzer, the two likely winners of this year’s Cy Young Awards, ended their stellar seasons by losing the final game of the LCS. Yet as surprising as that may be, the real shock of the postseason is that the two cities hosting the World Series are St. Louis and Boston.

Long before the playoffs began with the NL Wild Card play-in game on October 1st, back across six months on the calendar and more than 2,400 regular season contests, in those now distant days of Spring Training, fresh and fervent hope beat in the chest of fans for all thirty franchises. That was the time, as is the case every year, when all across the land experts and analysts, pundits and media types, were called up to predict how the longest season would unfold. There are so many outlets for this considered wisdom of the Great Game’s most knowledgeable sages, that it would probably be folly to assert that no one correctly forecast a Cardinals versus Red Sox Fall Classic. But based on the predictions made by two of the most respected and widely-read outlets for baseball news, any analyst who did foresee this matchup should probably quit their day job and spend their time buying Powerball tickets.

Baseball Prospectus is the leading organizational purveyor of and its website the first source for data on sabermetric analysis of the game. Back in late March its 42 staff members offered their individual forecasts of how the season would unfold. Just one day later ESPN published the predictions of 43 experts on the six division races, Wild Card winners, and eventual World Series matchup. The ESPN lineup featured many former players and journalists whose analysis is often more traditional and less reliant on the frequently arcane modern statistics favored by the Baseball Prospectus geeks. Between the two sources fans had 85 expert opinions that certainly covered the gamut of analytical methodology.

The Cardinals, who won the Series just two years ago and appeared headed there again last October before coughing up a 3 games to 1 lead in the NLCS to the Giants, had a few supporters among the two panels. Twenty-five of the 42 Baseball Prospectus staff members picked St. Louis to make the playoffs. However 18 of the 25 predicted that they would do so as one of the two NL Wild Cards, with the certainty of only one additional game. Only 7 Prospectus staffers picked the Cards to repeat as NL Central champs, while five times as many picked the Cincinnati Reds to win the division. As for the eventual World Series winner, the overwhelming choice was Washington. The Nationals were tabbed as the last team standing by 17 of the 42 sabermetric gurus, far outpacing the Reds with 5 votes, and the Rays, Tigers, and Angels with 4 each. St. Louis was picked to win the Series by just 2 members of the Baseball Prospectus staff.

That support qualified as real love compared to the predictions from the ESPN panel. Similar to the number at Baseball Prospectus, 8 pundits chose St. Louis as the eventual NL Central champion, but among the rest of the assembled experts only 10 liked the Cardinals for one of the two Wild Card spots, so less than half the panel had St. Louis even making the playoffs. As for the World Series, ESPN’s group didn’t think there would be any games played at Busch Stadium. The sports network’s predictors had to pick both teams in the Series, not just the winner; and not a single member of the panel thought St. Louis would be the National League representative. Once again the Nats were the favorite NL choice, followed by the Braves and Dodgers.

If the consensus on the Cardinals was that they were maybe a playoff team, but not one that was going to make a deep run, the collective expert opinion on the Red Sox was that fans in Boston were in for a long year. One lonely Baseball Prospectus staffer had the Sox winning the AL East, while just three more picked Boston as a Wild Card. An equal number of the ESPN panel had Boston making the playoffs, but there all four said it would be via the Wild Card route. Even Curt Schilling, who rode in two Duck Boat parades through the streets of Boston after the 2004 and 2007 championships, didn’t think this year’s Red Sox would make the playoffs. As for the World Series, well as one can well imagine, no one on either panel had any games being played at Fenway Park. The Series games at the AL park were going to be in Detroit; or if not there then in Anaheim or St. Petersburg, Florida. Of that the experts were certain.

Of course there were no playoff games at Angels Stadium this year, nor were there any at Nationals Park. Both Tropicana Field and Turner Field have been dark since the Division Series round, and now the lights are out at Dodger Stadium and Comerica Park as well. The World Series opens Wednesday at the cramped but historic old bandbox on Yawkey Way, and will in time move on to the third St. Louis ballpark to carry the name Busch Stadium. But this is not about making fun of the so-called experts. They exercised their best judgment with the information available at the time, as they always do. Rather it is simply to remind the seasoned analysts and the numbers crunchers, what we simple fans have known all along. There is, and there always will be, a reason why they actually play the games.

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Responses

  1. We should inscribe on our gravestones, “There was a reason he played the game.”

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • I’d happily take that as an epitaph. Thanks as always.

      Michael


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