Do you know what's really hard to do in this modern baseball era? String together three consecutive outstanding playoff series in the same postseason. How do we know this? Because, of the 260 men who have made it to the World Series since 1995 and registered at least 10 plate appearances in the same season's LDS, LCS and World Series, only a very small percentage have been lights out all the way across the board. Some have had two outstanding series, leading to impressive cumulative totals, but have done so with one average or substandard series thrown into the mix.
Let's take current toast of the town Marco Scutaro as a for instance. Everyone is busy with the worshipping right now, but most have already forgotten that Scutaro's OPS in the LDS was just .427. So, even if he has an outstanding World Series, the ship has already sailed on his having three great series.
Today we're going to look at the group of players who had excellent performances in the LDS and LCS and then went flat in the World Series. For our purposes, we're going to rely on OPS since it's a quick and dirty way to figure out what a good or bad series looks like. The benchmarks are 1.000 and .600, although they can be stretched a bit either way to make a point. Yes, it is possible to have what would appear to be a bad series, but deliver a key hit or two that will make people forget you actually went 3-for-19 and yes, these are very small sample sizes, but it's the postseason, so that's the point.
Why did the Rays bow out against the Phillies in just five games? A lot of it had to do with placing three players on this list. Between them they managed one extra base hit. For his part, Longoria posted the fifth-lowest single-series OPS of the three-division era.
Those who watched Curtis Granderson struggle in the 2012 playoffs were perhaps reminded of his fall off the table six years ago. After punishing the Yankees and A's in the first two rounds, he went just 2-for-21 in the World Series. He struck out just three times in 37 plate appearances in the first two series, but seven times in 21 trips against the Cardinals. After reaching base in more than half his plate appearances in the LDS and LCS, the great balance of nature caught up to Placido Polanco in the World Series. He took the collar in 17 at bats. He did draw a walk and get hit by a pitch, though, so he avoided tying Ronnie Belliard - his opposite number at second base on the Cardinals who went 0-for-12 in the series - for the lowest single-series OPS of the era. With these two providing next to nothing (and Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez taking offensive powders as well), the Tigers went away after five games.
Bernie Williams, 1996 Yankees (LDS: 1.567, LCS: 1.531, WS: .551)
After a fantastic LDS and a superb LCS in which he dismantled the Rangers and O's to the tune of 5 home runs, 11 runs scored and driven in plus 9 walks, Williams had the opportunity to set the standard for three-series postseason excellence very nearly at the outset of its existence. Instead, he went 0-for-7 in the first two games of the World Series as his team got clobbered by the Braves, 12-1 and 4-0. In Game 3, he broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning with a two-run homer in the eighth inning. As the Yankees won the next three games to close out the Series, he was going 2-for-12. He did drive in the final run in the Yankees' 3-2 clincher in Game 6, however.
Nelson Cruz, 2010 Rangers (LDS: 1.350, LCS: 1.235, WS: .650)
Cruz had 10 extra base hits in the first two series (five homers, five doubles). In the Series he was 3-for-18 when he connected for a solo home run in his penultimate at bat before striking out as the last Rangers batter. The next year he put together the two most diverse consecutive postseason series of the six-division era. In the LDS, he was held to one single in 15 at bats. His mates got past the Rays without his help, though, setting the stage for his staggering six-homer, 13-RBI performance against the Tigers in the LCS. He jumped from an OPS of .133 to 1.713.
There aren't really any players who can join this list - not that we would wish it on anybody anyway. Pablo Sandoval would be the closest with an .890 in the LDS and a .941 in the LCS. We'd prefer the first two series to be in excess of 1.000, but if he goes 3-for-24 in the coming week, then he'd probably qualify.
This next group of players are those who had subpar LDS and LCS performances only to explode big time in the World Series.
Paul O'Neill, 2000 Yankees (LDS: .549, LCS: .523, WS: 1.335)
O'Neill was famously demonstrative when things did not go well for him, so you can imagine the unpleasantness when he posted a .513 OPS in the 1998 World Series, followed that up with .583, .604 and .494 in the three 1999 postseason series and then went .549 and .523 in the ALDS and ALCS of 2000. Six straight subpar series in which he managed only two extra base hits got him dropped to seventh in the batting order after he had been the number-three man all season. He did have a big two-run single in the ALCS clincher in 2000 and things perked up from there. In the World Series, he trotted out a .474/.545/.789 line that helped sink the Mets in just five games. He had two three-hit games and hit two doubles and two triples and a big decrease in angry outbursts.
Scott Rolen, 2006 Cardinals (LDS: .348, LCS: .619, WS: 1.213)
Rolen had gone hitless in both the 2004 LDS and World Series (sandwiched around a great LCS) then followed that up with just one hit in the first round of the 2006 playoffs against Los Angeles. Things perked up a bit in the LCS versus the Mets, as he reached base eight times in 24 trips to the plate. He continued the improvement against the Tigers, homering and throwing up a line of .421/.476/.737.
He had a nondescript opening round against the Giants, but drove in four of the Marlins' five runs in Game 1 of the LCS with a bases loaded double and a groundout. It would be his only hit of the series, however. Things went better against the Indians. He hit three home runs and drove in nine.
Tony Gwynn, 1998 Padres (LDS: .533, LCS: .528, WS: 1.217)
Playing in his first World Series in 14 years after subpar performances in both the LDS and LCS, Gwynn did what he could to stem the juggernaut that was the '98 Yankees, but to no avail. He had seven singles and a homer in his 16 at bats and, in a microcosm of his career, did not strike out. Not even Joe DiMaggio ever did that - although Joe Sewell did in 1932.
There are three players who can join this list in 2012 and it's a much nicer gesture for them to do it than it is to root for someone to make our first list. They are:
Prince Fielder, Tigers (LDS: .561, LCS: .551)
Andy Dirks, Tigers (LDS: .647, LCS: .541)
Hunter Pence, Giants (LDS: .400, LCS: .528)