Steve Martin used to do a bit where he would announce that he could tell the audience how to make a million dollars and pay no taxes. He’d then say: “First…you get a million dollars.” OK, so here’s how to win a World Series: First…you put together a team good enough to make it to the postseason — and then you follow these three easy steps.
1. Be versatile
Let’s say you have a style of play that wins you 90 games during the regular season. 90 games will probably put you in the playoffs, so that sounds like a pretty good deal, but remember, you also lost 72 games with that style of play. In the postseason you can’t afford to think long-term — 90 out of 162 doesn’t cut it — you have to win right now, tonight. And if you find yourself in a game that doesn’t suit your style of play, you need to be able to change that style of play or you’re going to be in trouble.
When the Toronto Blue Jays were in Kansas City in August, manager John Gibbons told me he hoped the Jays would not get in a low-scoring, one-run game with the Royals. The Jays liked to swing for the fences, not manufacture single runs, so if they got in a pitchers’ duel Gibbons thought his team would be at a disadvantage.
In the AL Wild Card Game the Jays beat the Orioles in the 11th inning when Ubaldo Jimenez gave up a three-run home run. Toronto swept Texas in the AL Division Series when the Blue Jays hit eight home runs in three games.
But when Toronto ran into the Cleveland Indians and better pitching performances, swinging for the fences didn’t work. In the four games Toronto lost, the Jays scored three runs and homered once. Three of their losses were by two runs or less, but the Blue Jays only stole two bases in the series and never got a sacrifice bunt down.
If a team finds itself in a postseason slugfest, it needs to be able to light up the scoreboard; if the same team finds itself in a pitchers’ duel, it needs to be able to manufacture runs.
2. Get hot
Big-league coaches will tell you, it’s not just who you play; it’s when you play them. Teams — and players — go through hot streaks and cold streaks, so obviously you hope you get on one of those hot streaks in the postseason.
In 2014 the Royals got hot and won eight postseason games in a row. After the Royals won the Wild Card Game against the Oakland A’s and went up 2-0 on the Angels, Los Angeles GM Jerry Dipoto told me his team had run into the “emotional juggernaut” that was the Kansas City Royals.
You don’t have to be the best team to win a World Series; you just need to be the hottest team at the right time.
3. Get lucky
During the regular season Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu and I were talking about the postseason and how thin the line was between winning and losing. For example; if you changed three plays in the 2015 postseason the Royals might not have won the World Series.
Eighth inning of ALDS Game 4: If Carlos Carrasco had not made an error on a double-play ball, the inning probably would have ended with the score 6-4 and Eric Hosmer — who hit a two-run home run in the ninth inning — would have probably never come up again. If Carrasco made the play, the Houston Astros probably would have won the series.
Seventh inning of ALCS Game 2: If Jose Bautista had not let a pop fly fall between him and Ryan Goins the Royals probably would have scored two runs in the inning, not five. If that had happened a whole bunch of what-ifs come into play: would the Royals have scored again or lost the game 3-2? And if the Toronto Blue Jays had won Game 2, how would that have changed the rest of the series?
Ninth inning of World Series Game 5: If Lucas Duda had made an accurate throw to home plate Eric Hosmer would have been out and the Mets would have won the game. That would have sent the series back to Kansas City and the two starting pitchers for Game 6 and a possible Game 7 probably would have been Johnny Cueto and Yordano Ventura. Both those guys had been inconsistent and it isn’t all that hard to imagine the Mets winning back-to-back games and taking the series.
Each of these plays should have been made, but because none of them were the Royals were able to come back and win those games.
I lied; none of this is easy
Putting together a versatile team that can bop when it needs to and steal a base when it’s necessary is easier said than done. Nobody really knows how to control getting hot which is why ballplayers are so superstitious; the length of your pants might not have anything to do with it, but you never know. And getting lucky — at least on a baseball field — is often a matter of waiting for the other team to make a mistake.
But if the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians can be versatile or get hot and/or lucky, they have a great chance at winning the 2016 World Series.