And when Mike Brosseau of Tampa Bay hooked up with a 100-mile fastball from Yankees near Aroldis Chapman and sent him over the fence in left field in left field, the prophecy was fulfilled. The Rays had a 2-1 lead and moments later after closing the Yankees in game ninth, a win that sent them to the American League Championship Series to face the Houston Astros.
And baseball had one more data point on a current trend that is both breathtaking and more than a little worrying – and one that is becoming more acute. Home runs have always been the most efficient way to get runs in baseball, but this postseason they are increasingly feeling like the only way.
With the Rays victory on Friday evening, the teams are 22-1 this postseason when they overtake their opponents, which equates to a gain of 0.957 percent. The only defeat had the San Diego Padres in Game 2 of their division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, when they overtook the Dodgers by one, but lost the game by three runs.
Brosseau’s homer ahead of Chapman, who finished 10th in an epic bat game, was only the sixth goal of the night for both teams, but the third homer. By the time the final was taped, the Rays and Yankees had a staggering 75.6 percent of the runs in their series – 34 out of 45 – over Homer, a record for a series of three or more games, according to Elias Sports.
And while the Yankees Rays series was kind of an outlier, it was also the ultimate distillation of the nothingness nature of today’s pitcher-hitter matchup in baseball, which became especially noticeable this postseason.
In the divisional series, 50.9 of all runs scored this postseason were settled through Homer, 43.8 percent in the regular season and 47.0 percent in the 2019 postseason. Take the Dodgers with you, despite them being this season the majors topped at Homern have only scored two of their 30 runs this postseason, and the number for that postseason is 55.9 percent.
For years the prevailing philosophy was that a small ball – one run at a time through strategies such as sacrificial bunts, hit-and-run games, and “productive” outs that move a base runner – was the path to success postseason. The theory: Against the best pitching staff in the game, the run-scoring atmosphere would be limited, which makes every single run more valuable.
But if that philosophy were ever true, it surely wouldn’t be today (despite the insistent pleas from television analysts, many of whom were stars of earlier eras), not when almost every pitcher appears to throw 98-100 mph with a devastating array of secondary pitches . It’s harder than ever to just get in touch, which is why batsmen understand that they need to maximize every bit of it.
While the runscoring performance in the postseason usually drops by about half a run and the collective OPS value of the hits drops by about 50 points, the overall home run rate remains about the same as in the regular season. But each of these homers means more in the reduced atmosphere of the runscoring.
Would you like to guess how many victims have been sacrificed so far in the 2020 postseason? Try zero.
“It’s hard to bundle hits together. The pitching is too good, ”said Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves manager after eliminating the Miami Marlins in the divisional series. “Power is [what] plays in the postseason. “
In the entire division series, the eight teams achieved a hit rate for all 18.7 bats, which roughly corresponds to the career rate of Mel Ott, Roger Maris, Miguel Cabrera and Joe DiMaggio.
The Houston Astros-Oakland A division series, played exclusively during the day at Dodger Stadium, where the ball tends to fly in warm conditions, was its own version of a home run derby.
Before that October, Dodger Stadium had seen only one postseason game with six or more homers in its 58-year history. But this week, the Astros and A’s hit or exceeded that number in three of the four games in their series that the Astros ultimately won.
“They knew to a certain extent,” said A manager Bob Melvin, “that there would never be a lead that felt too big.”
No team in history had hit up to 12 homers in a playoff series of five or fewer games, but in the Astros / A series both teams hit that many. The 24 combined homers, which covered a total of 9,862 feet, were the fourth-highest hits in a postseason streak, surpassed by just three sets of seven games. A total of 65.5 percent of all runs in this series – 36 out of 55 – were achieved on homers.
“It was just a matter of getting the ball over the fence,” said A-outfielder Mark Canha in a quote that summed up the entire 2020 postseason in the first two rounds. “And they did a little better than us.”