For the second time, a big trade deadline push by Alex Anthopoulos has borne fruit, this time in the ultimate (if not quite as spectacular) fashion. Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler, as well as Adam Duvall acquired a couple weeks previously, proved to be the linchpins to catalyze an improbable win as Atlanta stormed to take the NL East and then through the playoffs to a World Series title.
I imagine that most Toronto Blue Jays fans are quite happy for him, and perhaps there is more karma generally in the Asterisks being vanquished even if one is ambivalent at best about the Atlanta franchise generally. But at the same time, there’s a certain bittersweet, unfairness to it.
The worst part about the baseball playoffs is that it distills a 162 game marathon of a season down to a succession of short series that too often amount to who is the hotter tesm rather than the better team. The reality is that of the 10 teams who played beyond the last day of the regular season, there was one who failed to win 90 games. And yet that team ended up winning it all.
Moreover, it’s not like that record was a product of a dogfight between very good teams for supremacy in their division; to the contrary, it was buoyed by lackluster competition with two lousy teams (Marlins and Nationals) and two at best mediocre challengers (Mets and Phillies). No one else finished with a run positive run differential, and the division was cumulatively 50 games below .500.
I’d argue the result is even more cruel and gutting for Blue Jays fans however. While AA was rebuilding his outfield on that July 30th, Shapiro and Atkins went out and upgraded just as aggressively to make a push. It’s worth comparing exactly how the two situations stood and proceeded.
Going into the deadline, Atlanta was just 51-53, five games behind the division leading Mets and a game behind the Phillies. That’s a fair bit of distance to make up, but not insurmountable especially given that the Mets had just +3 run differential (and are the Mets) compared to a much stronger +46 for the Braves. If not wide open, the path was there to not just getting into the postseason, but advancing directly to a playoff series.
By contrast, the Jays had a better record at 51-48, with an even more dominant underlying run differential at +97 despite not having played a true home game. But that left them buried 9.5 games out of the division, essentially drawing dead with two teams well ahead of them even if one collapsed.
From the deadline to the end of the season, the Braves compiled a 37-20 record on the back of a +88 run differential. The Mets collapsed, started booing their fans; the Phillies continued to tread water; and Atlanta won the division going away before running the table in October.
The Jays for their part, went 40-23 on the back of a +86 run differential, allowing them to jump all the way from fourth in the AL East to...well, fourth (making a grand total of a half game). They did make up two spots in the wild card.
So: the Jays entered the deadline as the better team, and both went 17 games above .500 the rest of the way, yet the Braves breeze into the Division series while the Jays are left on the outside entirely. Oh, and for good measure, the Jays swept the head-to-head season series 6-0.
I’m not saying the Braves were a terrible, or even mediocre team. They were a good team even before the deadline acquisitions (to some extent just offsetting critical injury losses). But the inescapable conclusion is that in any other division, the Braves would have been grappling just to get into a die-to-die wild card game. Flip the Jays and Braves, and Atlanta is probably on the outside looking in while the Jays coast to division title and who knows what else.
So, congratulations to Alex Anthopoulos. But more than a case of fortune favouring the bold, if was a case of it being better to be luckier than you are good.