Last year, we made a point to explain in excruciating detail why the postseason wasn’t going to end well for nine of the 10 teams that made it. People hated that, but we felt like we had a public obligation to remind everyone that baseball will almost always chew your face off and make a terrible, bloodcurdling screech as it scampers away into the trees. This thing spared the Royals last year and no one else.
This year, 10 teams all think they have a shot at winning the World Series. Nine of them will have regrets and an offseason of what-ifs. Nine of them will think back to the time when they really knew it was over, whether it was the 34th pitch of an elimination game or the last pitch of a Game 7 they were about to lose. You don’t need us to tell you why it will hurt. Not like last year, when you clearly needed it.
This, then, is an exercise to deflate you in a different way. This is the most painful losing scenario for each team, carefully crafted just for you and the monsters under your bed.
Technically, the most painful losing scenario would be something like your team’s 10 best players hatching a plan to steal your dog and hiding in Argentina for a dozen years. Then you wouldn’t have a dog or much of a favorite team. That would really be painful. These are at least somewhat plausible, though.
These are the most painful ways each of the 10 postseason teams could lose.
Nationals: Managerial mistake
The 2014 Nationals finished the regular season with the best record in the National League, probably because they were the best team in the National League. But they were stopped in the NLDS by the Giants for a few reasons. First, Tim Hudson was always their Kryptonite. Second, it takes a lot of bad luck to lose three one-run games in one best-of-five series, and one of those games was an 18-inning marathon that should count twice toward that total.
Most importantly, though, Matt Williams screwed up. In Game 2, Jordan Zimmermann had allowed three hits through eight innings, all of them in the first three innings. He was perfect for his final 5⅔, before walking Joe Panik with two outs in the ninth inning, on his 100th pitch of the game. All four balls just missed. The only reason to take Zimmermann out of the game is if Andrew Miller or Mariano Rivera is behind him, ready to go.
Instead, there was Drew Storen. It didn’t work out. And for the second postseason in a row, the Nationals and their fans were left wondering what could have been.
The way you remedy that? Get an experienced manager who trusts his aces. The Nationals spent a lot of time and money on Dusty Baker, specifically for these spots. He shouldn’t blink in confusion if a situation like that comes up again.
But Baker is still prone to screwing up, just like all managers. If he does it at the worst time, though, when it’s exceedingly unlikely that the manager will cost any team a postseason series on his own, it will be extra cruel.
Red Sox: If David Price stumbles
Reminder: David Price is a great pitcher, and his postseason struggles mean exactly as much as his struggles from April 21-28, 2015. Which is to say, they don’t mean a lot. It’s possible he just can’t handle the pressure of the postseason, especially with the history-shaped monkey on his back. It’s just not probable.
Yet, the Blue Jays ended up using Price as a low-leverage reliever because they were being weird, and then his ERA was 5.40 in two ALCS starts, despite allowing fewer than one baserunner per inning, striking out 16 and walking just one. He was excellent, but the Royals made blood deals.
The Red Sox have just a ton invested in Price now, and after a noticeably slow beginning to the season, he’s been a consistent fount of seven- and eight-inning quality starts. From Aug. 12 through Sept. 22, the Red Sox won nine consecutive Price starts, winning by an average score of 9-3. He’s the pitcher they paid for. He’s the pitcher they need right now.
If he messes up at the worst possible time, that’ll be another year they’ll have to wait, wondering the whole time if there really is something wrong with him in the postseason, even as it defies all logic. More importantly, Price will get to wonder that for an entire year.
They’d both rather not.
Mets: In the NLCS or World Series, when they’ll have to think about what depth could have done
If the Mets lose the Wild Card Game to Madison Bumgarner, there will be no narrative. That they waited too long to challenge the Nationals could be one, I guess, but it’s hard to be too critical of a team that was hit harder by injuries than almost any other. They’ve lost three members of their starting rotation, as well as another starting pitcher who was supposed to provide depth. That’s the kind of rotten fortune that could make even the best rotation scramble.
Like, oh, the Mets. And if they lose in the Wild Card Game, it will sting, but that’s the risk of a one-game playoff against Madison Bumgarner.
If they lose in the NLDS to the Cubs, that will also sting. But the Cubs are really good, and it’s easy to mess up in a short series.
If they lose in the NLCS, though, where teams are rewarded for having four good starting pitchers, that’s what will sting the most. The Mets were built for a NLCS/World Series best-of-seven format where they outlasted the other teams. They could have gone Syndergaard/deGrom/Harvey/Matz with Colon as their safety valve, which would have been better than what just about any other team could have done.
Instead, there’s a strong chance that even if they get past the Giants and the Cubs, they’ll pin their hopes on Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, unless they’re expecting Syndergaard to do everything on short rest.
Don’t count them out, mind you. Both the Royals and Giants did more with less in the past two postseasons. But if it’s a lack of starting pitching depth that dooms them in a best-of-seven situation, that would be just a little crueler than other fates. That was supposed to be their strength, dammit. That was supposed to be their strength.
Rangers: A series of one-run games
Unless you use the political leanings of a geographic area as the reasoning behind your rooting interests, which is more than a little childish, there’s almost no way to root against the Rangers. Well, unless your team plays in the AL West. Or unless you follow the Blue Jays. Or ... OK, there are a few reasons, but bear with me.
The Rangers have never won. Not only that, but they had the most painful World Series loss since Buckner, and that’s an honor that they’ll probably carry with them for another two decades, at least. That’s how bad the loss was. Down to the last strike, man. Just out of the fielder’s reach. If I can still taste it ...
Now get to the players. Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran are marvels who are perennially disappointed. This is their chance. This is their best chance. I know Blue Jays fans have a thing with Rougned Odor, and that’s understandable. But Beltre, Beltran, and Yu Darvish, all together make for some watchable players and compelling stories.
Just about the only way to make the Rangers eventual crash and burn in the postseason seem even remotely amusing, then? A best-of-seven series in which the Rangers win three games by a combined score of 33-4, and lose four games by just one run. See, the Rangers finished 36-11 in one-run games, which is as remarkable as it is unsustainable. Their fans are right not to care and hope that it lasts for another month.
And expecting them to have poor luck isn’t how regression works, either. Just because they’ve won 36 hands of blackjack out of 47 doesn’t mean they’re going to lose 36 out of their next 47. They’re just a normal team with normal odds in the postseason.
But if they lose in that specific way, one of the easiest teams to root for in the postseason will get a heapin’ help of "Well, that’s what you get," even if it isn’t fair.
Orioles: Jake Arrieta
We’ve done pretty good ignoring the Jake Arrieta trade, at least around here. Sometimes another team can fix the Zoltar machine that another team leaves on the curb, and it will make them much stronger. Big whoop. The Orioles are in the postseason anyway. You know what kind of trade really stings? The kind where you give away Trea Turner, who could have been the most valuable shortstop in the history of the franchise by the end of his second year.
Jake Arrieta, though? He had problems, and the Cubs fixed them. The Orioles weren’t. Let it go.
Which everyone will pretty much do.
If the Cubs and Orioles meet in the World Series, that’s all you will read about. It’s all you will hear about. It will be such a big part of the narrative that you’ll smell about it. Jake Arrieta starting Games 1, 4, and possibly 7 against The Team That Gave Jake Arrieta Away.
Manfred: Okay, so if you win, instruct your clubhouse attendants to hand out these "2016 World Series Champions" shirts.
Manfred: And if you lose, you’ll hand out these "We had Jake Arrieta, but now all we have are these lousy T-shirts" shirts.
Duquette: Wait, no.
It wouldn’t be fair. Every team has transactions they regret. Every team thinks about the one that got away. But the Orioles have the best chance of being regret-slapped in front of the world. That seems uncomfortably unfair.
This is definitely the worst way the Orioles could lose. I mean, unless they use Ubaldo Jimenez to face Edwin Encarnacion in tie freaking game in the bottom of the 11th inning with Zach Britton never getting in the game. Because that would really stink. But that's very unlikely. And I didn't just edit this paragraph in on Tuesday night.
Giants/Dodgers: Each other
There are no words to explain just how nervous a Giants/Dodgers NLCS would make me. I suppose Yankees and Red Sox fans could talk about 2003 and especially 2004, but I’d pass out before they finished. Ever since the advent of the Wild Card, when it became feasible for two teams to meet in the postseason, this has been a permutation that has kept me up at night.
Imagine the Dodgers beating the Giants, standing at attention beside the wobbly even year, then hitting the right combination of buttons to perform a Mortal Kombat fatality on it. The even-year’s spine is held aloft for the baseball gods to see, a mockery of their plan. The Dodgers are in their first World Series since this was a commercial on TV:
And they went through their historical rivals to get there. It doesn’t get more painful for Giants fans than that.
Imagine the Giants beating the Dodgers, though. Oh, goodness, the aerosol arrogance Giants fans could spray around the room. Do you think they would use the words "even" and "year" in their heckling. What about in 2018? Do you think it would come up or nah?
The Dodgers, clearly the better team, with the best pitcher in the world in his prime, who outlasted the Giants after a long, long season, would have to watch this sad pile of luck roaches celebrate on a field in front of them, knowing they haven’t won a World Series since this was a commercial on TV:
You won’t get another chance to click it, and it’s really worth your time.
The gloating each fan base could potentially do just isn’t worth it, and almost everybody on either side would just as soon prefer to face the other team, thank you very much. The Dodgers would prefer the Cubs, one of the best teams we’ve seen in decades, over the possibility of a Giants victory. The Giants would prefer the Nationals, and it isn’t close, even if the Nationals might be the better team.
Now that you know it’s our secret fear, you can go ahead and root for it. I won’t hold it against you. But it’s coming, whether it’s this year or in the future, and I can’t stand it.
Blue Jays: Getting back to the postseason and leaving after one game
The Blue Jays spent the last 20-plus seasons on the outside looking in. They were aggressively mediocre every single season, while the Yankees and Red Sox kept winning. They were patient. Then they were impatient. They they were lulled into a sense of forced patience when Alex Anthopoulos slapped them out of it at the deadline last year, which sent them on one of the most memorable second halves on record.
They didn’t just have a postseason appearance, either. They had a moment. Jose Bautista did this:
Wait, no, wrong clip. I mean that Jose Bautista did this:
His bat still turned into a representation of humanity’s continued progression and refinement, though. And it was perfect. The Blue Jays didn’t win the World Series or pennant, no, but they got the taste back. They know what they want, and they have the experience to get there. It’s why they were confident enough to J.A. Happ and relax in the offseason. They figured they were one of the best teams in the division, if not the game, and they could build on what they did last year.
One game and out, then. That would be the cruelest. No moment, no bat flip. Just a dull 7-1 loss, or something, a game that struggles to hold your interest after the third inning. Followed by Jose Bautista and/or Edwin Encarnacion leaving and everyone else getting a year older. All of the momentum from that year, all of the expectations, gone in three hours.
It’s rough for any team to lose a must-win game, but there aren’t a lot of teams that had to wait 20 years for their chance to make the postseason, which means that Blue Jays fans are aware that it doesn’t have to happen back-to-back like this again. It doesn’t have to happen at all. It can be another two decades.
Indians/Cubs: Each other
The easiest call of them all. One team would be celebrating when it was over, an exorcism of the last 60 to 100 years, the end of a long, regional nightmare. It would be pure catharsis, the reason you’re supposed to follow sports, the highest of the highs.
And the other team would be there as Fox does that thing where they make a sad pan across the dugout, focusing on the poor players who have nothing better to do but hang around and watch, with moist eyes and heavy hearts, thinking, "That could have been us. That should have been us."
To be fair to both franchises, any possible loss will be Sisyphean and demoralizing. The boulder will roll down, crushing their feet, and they’ll sigh and trudge back to the bottom, just like every year, whether it happens in the LDS, NLCS, or World Series. If the Cubs lose in the fifth game of the NLDS? Demoralizing and bitter. If they lose in the fourth game of the NLCS? Demoralizing and bitter. They don’t need any help with being sad.
There’s something about that kinsmanship they each have with one another, though, that would make it seem like an extra betrayal. The Cubs hadn’t won in a century, but neither had the White Sox, Red Sox, or Indians. And then their compadres left. If the Indians leave them, they’ll be stuck with a bunch of teams that were just babies when Ernie Banks retired. They couldn’t possibly share in that same measure of pain and hopelessness.
The same applies to the Indians if the Cubs ditch them. It’s mutually assured destruction, only the destruction happens to just one of the parties involved. It would be extra painful, and shame on you for wanting to watch.
(Oh, my stars, how we all want to watch.)
Ten teams go in. Nine teams go out. Those nine teams will be distraught and dismayed in various ways, but hopefully none of them will feel anything like the wrath above. The regular pain will be enough, thank you.
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