MLB Playoff Picture: Why Momentum Matters Most

Jack ButlerContributor IIISeptember 23, 2011

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 21:  Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves strikes out  against thes Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on September 21, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

The MLB Playoff picture has taken on a new twist over the past few weeks.  At the start of September, it seemed like all eight playoff spots were set in stone.  Well, struggling Wild Card leaders in both leagues have set up an interesting final week of the season.  Will the Red Sox and Atlanta Braves get back into the playoffs?  And does it really matter?

Baseball's a funny game.  You play a 162-game regular season, spanning six months.  Then three weeks in October determines who wins it all.  A lot happens in 162 games—it's like a roller coaster ride.  Even the best teams have to deal with some sort of adversity, whether that's injuries, off-the-field issues, etc. 

Every hitter goes through slumps and every pitcher has bad outings.  The teams that end up winning World Series titles tend to be the teams that catch fire at the right time.  Sometimes that means managing the team accordingly over the final few weeks, and sometimes that means battling through a late-season pennant race.

Well with six games remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Red Sox and Braves both seem to be spiraling out of control.  Say both teams are able to survive these final few games.  Both the Sox and the Braves are in the playoffs.  Will anybody pick them to make it to the World Series?  Do the Red Sox and their one somewhat reliable starting pitcher stand a chance against the Detroit Tigers or the Texas Rangers?  Can the Braves magically turn it around and beat the Milwaukee Brewers or Arizona Diamondbacks? 

While I think the Braves would have an easier time, I can't see either team putting up a legitimate fight. 

Look at the other side of this situation.  Say the Tampa Bay Rays overtake the Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals pass the Braves.  The Rays don't seem to have an explosive lineup, but their starting pitching has been outstanding.  The Cardinals are a complete team, and I could see them giving the Philadelphia Phillies some trouble.  Not to mention, that these teams would draw more attention.  I think the majority of casual baseball fans would rather see a red-hot team in the playoffs.

We've seen teams ride the momentum train to the top.  The '07 Colorado Rockies won 21 of their final 22 games, and made it to the World Series before falling to a stacked Red Sox team.  The Red Sox won a World Series in '04, mainly because of the momentum they built up in the ALCS.

All I'm saying is that considering their recent play, the Red Sox and Braves would be as close to automatic outs in the playoffs as you can get.  The Rays and Cardinals in the playoffs would create more exciting and intriguing playoff matchups.  Each team needs to overcome a two-game deficit with only six games remaining. 

In baseball, however, anything is possible.