Saturday, October 8, 2011

ALCS/NLCS notes/oddities

By Rick Morris

^ As noted in our oddities column for the previous round (along with a few other tidbits still relevant to this round), the World Series has never failed to feature an “old-line” franchise (those who were around prior to the post-1961 expansions in the game). So 50 years of experience tell us that the Tigers and/or Cardinals must make the World Series. Interestingly, these two teams represent the only teams left in the playoffs who have met in the World Series (previously 1934, 1968 and 2006) – with one incredible exception: the NLCS matches two teams who met in the 1982 World Series! That’s right, the only time that Milwaukee previously was in the LCS, they were in the American League and they advanced to lose to St. Louis in seven games in the final round. The Brewers moved from the AL in 1998 as part of a reshuffling that included the Arizona and Tampa Bay expansion franchises. With their advancement to the NLCS, they become the final franchise in the National League to accomplish this feat.

^ About the Tigers and Cardinals having met in the World Series in 2006 … the Tigers beat the Yankees in the ALDS that year also. Just sayin’. Also, the Heat and Mavericks met in the NBA Finals that year … and also this year.

^ Speaking of which, the Brewers and Rangers have the chance to make fans in their respective home markets (Milwaukee/Green Bay and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, respectively) extremely happy, since the Packers and Mavericks won world championships earlier this year.

^ When the cities of Detroit and Dallas have clashed for a spot in a major sports championship series previously, Motown came up a winner both times, as the Red Wings beat the Stars 4-2 in both the 1998 and 2008 NHL Western Conference Finals. Both years, the Wings won the Stanley Cup. And oh yes, Wings owner Mike Ilitch also owns the Tigers.

^ We all remember the Yankees defending their pennants successfully so many times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But since the last World Series of that concentrated run in 2003, there have been six instances of a team trying to defend their pennant in an LCS (Yankees in 2004, St. Louis in 2005, Boston in 2008, Philadelphia in 2009, Yankees in 2010, Philadelphia in 2010). Only the Phillies of 2009 were successful. That fact ought to chill the confidence a bit down in Texas as they try for the repeat AL title.

^ The Cardinals just snapped a three-year string in the National League of having no wild card teams in the Championship Series. That is the longest run in either league since the LDS was instituted in 1995.

^ The Cardinals also just snapped the Phillies’ three-year streak of NLCS appearances. While quite impressive, that only matches what they did from 1976-78 and what Pittsburgh accomplished from 1990-92 and it falls way short of Atlanta from 1991-99 (excluding, of course, the 1995 strike season).

^ Speaking of those Pirates, they got Jim Leyland off to an 0-3 start in LCS series. He’s won the last two he’s been in (1997 and 2006), which is a good sign for Detroit.

^ And speaking of those Tigers, they and the Cardinals are trying to end a five-year pennant drought. The last team to successfully do so in either league was Kansas City in 1985, who had lost in the ALCS to Detroit the year before. The Tigers have had a weird habit in the LCS era of facing teams towards the back end of a run of playoff success (the aforementioned Royals and the 2006 As) or towards the front of it (the 1987 Twins). The pattern looks like it is continuing, as Texas is set up for success for years to come.

^ The Rangers are back in the LCS the year after their first appearance. While not uncommon overall, teams haven’t managed this feat for a long time. The other teams to return the year after their first appearance were Baltimore (1970), Minnesota (1970), Oakland (1972), New York Yankees (1977) and Kansas City (1977).

^ It’s common to think of the Red Sox and/or Yankees being in the ALCS every year. In fact, this is the first time since 2006 (Detroit/Oakland) that neither team has made it there and it’s only the fifth time since 1995 that neither team has been represented. But the National League, quietly, has a similar stat. Only two times since the LDS was created in 1995 (2003 and 2007) has the NLCS not featured Atlanta, St. Louis or Philadelphia. People don’t tend to think of the NL playoffs this way because Atlanta’s appearances came early in this run (1995-99, 2001), Philly’s were recent (2008-10) and St. Louis came mostly between them (1996, 2000, 2002, 2004-06, 2011).

^ How do the facts listed just above compare with pre-LDS continuity? In a very similar fashion, frankly. The ALCS featured either one or two of the following teams every year from 1969-81: Baltimore, Oakland, New York Yankees and Kansas City. As with the present NL era, the continuity seems less apparent because the As were dominant and then faded before New York and KC came up; the Orioles were strong throughout that period.

^ The NL was similar during those years, as every NLCS had two of the following in 1970, 1972 and 1974-79 (and at least one of the following from 1970-81): Cincinnati, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Plus, there were only six times from the start of the LCS in 1969 to the final playoff year before the LDS was created (1993) that did not feature at least one of these teams! The only years with none of them were 1969, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1987 and 1989. In an era in which the top teams were not aided by huge advantages in payroll, it’s an incredible tribute to these front offices to keep those teams mostly strong for a quarter-century.

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