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The importance (or lack thereof) of momentum heading into the playoffs

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Should we be worried about a bad week before the playoffs?

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Red Sox have been playing some really bad baseball over the last few days since returning home at the beginning of the week. The pitching has been horrendous for the last full turn through the rotation, and while the offense has shown some signs of life it hasn’t been nearly enough to pick up the pitching most nights. As a result, they’ve lost three of their last four and generally speaking are not playing the kind of baseball that will inspire a whole lot of confidence heading into the postseason.

Of course, they are also coming off a dominant stretch of baseball right before this rough run. That’s how baseball goes, with ebbs and flows throughout the year. Despite this recent downturn, the Red Sox are still almost a mortal lock to win the division and get to the ALDS. Conventional wisdom, at least in terms of how I’ve always thought of things, is that momentum doesn’t really matter a whole hell of a lot heading into the postseason. That seems even more true for division winners in today’s game with the wildcard, as teams get a full three days off before having to play in their first postseason game, and many teams are resting players before that point anyway. That would seem to be a whole lot of layoff time for teams to have to carry momentum. All of that being said, it’s just something I’ve assumed and never really looked into. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at how the teams who have made the last ten World Series have fared both in the last ten games of the regular season as well as the month of September.

There are a few things that stand out here. For one, most teams were slightly above .500 over the last ten games of their season and were a little better than that over the month as a whole. This makes sense, considering we are talking about good teams all the way through. On the whole, over any ten game sample of the season you are likely to find this level of team was somewhere around 6-4 or 7-3. There are a few examples of some teams that would have been seen as “limping into the playoffs” that turned it around in October and made a run to the pennant or even the championship. The 2014 Giants and the 2009 Phillies are the worst teams on this list, for what it’s worth.

As for the Red Sox, well, they still have three more games to finish off their final ten but at this point they are 4-3 in their last seven. So, even if they lose out they’d finish their final ten games with a 4-6 record, the same record as those championship winning Giants or those pennant winning Phillies. Meanwhile, if they lost out they would finish with a 16-12 record for the final month of the year. Again, this is fairly similar to a lot of teams on this list. The most analogous run to Boston’s would probably be the 2015 Mets, who finished 5-5 and with a 16-11 record and also suffered through a five-game losing streak before winning the final game of the regular season. As you can imagine, Mets fans weren’t thrilled with their play as the season ended but they still managed to turn it on in the postseason.

Now, obviously things aren’t as simple as looking at records and saying that the Red Sox had a similar record so things will be okay. Their health is a real issue right now, as is the fact that their pitching looks legitimately exhausted. It’s entirely possible that they really are looking at a sweep in the ALDS. That being said, this post was more to show that hope is far from lost. Teams have turned it on from more dire positions before and there’s no reason it can’t happen again. The Red Sox just need to clinch the division and then utilize that rest period to the best of their abilities before Game One. From there, anything can happen.