By going 20-8 in September — which included an 11-game winning streak as part of a season-ending 13-1 stretch — the Rockies forced a Game 163 against the Padres.
The Rockies won Game 163 at home against the Padres, which propelled them into the World Series after putting together back-to-back postseason sweeps, sweeping the Phillies in three and the Diamondbacks in four.
For the most part, being hot in September doesn’t transfer over into being great in September. The New York Times did some research and concluded that the hottest teams don’t necessarily carry their momentum into the postseason. You can read their full findings here.
Using Baseball-Reference’s play index’s Sept./Oct. winning percentage, it’s notable that of the 10 hottest finishes, only one team (2011 Rangers) made the World Series. Three teams (2001 Athletics, 2000 Athletics, 1995 Yankees) lost in the first round, while five teams (2001 Mariners, 2002 Cardinals, 2004 Astros, 2010 Phillies, 2011 Tigers) were eliminated in the League Championship Series.
Also on the list of early postseason flameouts was the 2013 Indians, which hosted the American League Wild Card game in 2013, but lost to the Rays, who won three games in three days in three different cities to reach the ALDS.
The Cubs have had four teams make the playoffs since the format expanded to include 10 teams in 1994. Of those teams, only the 2003 Cubs won a postseason series.
As fate would have it, the 2003 Cubs were the hottest of the bunch. They went 19-8 (.704 winning percentage) down the stretch. They were 6-4 in their last 10 games and 13-7 over their last 20. The team’s best players in that stretch were its pitchers. Specifically, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
Prior posted a 1.8 fWAR in six September starts, going 5-1 with a 2.27 ERA/2.07 FIP/2.48 xFIP in 43.2 innings of work. He posted some outstanding peripheral stats to lead the way in September including a 32.3 K%, 6.5 BB% and 87.6 LOB%. In short, if you were lucky enough not reach base, odds are you weren’t crossing the plate.
Wood was equally dominant, pitching 3-1 in five starts (36 innings). Wood posted a 1.00 ERA/2.73 FIP/3.34 xFIP en route to accumulating 1.2 fWAR. He wasn’t too far off Prior’s path with regard to some of the advanced stats. Wood owned a 31.8 K% and 94.2 LOB% in the season’s final month.
The 2008 Cubs are considered the coldest of this quartet, going 12-12 down the stretch. They were 12-8 in their last 20 games, but only 5-5 in their last 10. Their best player was Ted Lilly, who didn’t even get a chance to start a postseason game as the Cubs were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS.
But Lilly was superb in September. He went 4-1 in five starts, posting a 3.30 ERA/3.30 FIP and 3.88 xFIP as he went on to have a team-best 0.9 fWAR that month.
The team’s best hitter was Aramis Ramirez, who posted a 0.7 fWAR as he slashed .342/.386/.566 with a .408 wOBA and 143 wRC+ in September.
However, those numbers pale in comparison to what Alfonso Soriano did as he helped carry the Cubs into the playoffs by capturing to the 2007 National League Central crown.
Soriano slashed .320/.354/.754 with a .456 wOBA and 173 wRC+ as his 2.2 fWAR was not just the best on the team, but the best in all of baseball.
Teammate Derrek Lee wasn’t too far behind, posting a 1.2 fWAR that month as he posted a slashline of .365/.431/.652 with a .462 wOBA and 176 wRC+ which ranked 11th and 13th in MLB in that month.
The third member of the Cubs to post a 1.0 fWAR that month was Ramirez, whose 1.1 fWAR came after he slashed .287/.363/.594 in September.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, they couldn’t take their 17-12 September mark and turn it into October success as the team was swept out of the playoffs by the Diamondbacks in three games.
The 1998 Cubs had the worst 10-game and 20-game stretch to end the season, despite posting a 13-11 record prior to winning Game 163 against the Giants.
Those Cubs were 4-6 in their last 10 and 9-11 in their last 20 leading up to their Game 163 showdown against the Giants. Gary Gaetti was the most productive Cubs hitter, posting a 1.1 fWAR as he hit .326 with a .609 slugging percentage and .425 wOBA. Sammy Sosa capped off his MVP season with a .282/.357/.612 slash line, 148 wRC+ and a 1.0 fWAR.
The team’s most valuable pitcher that month might have been Terry Mulholland, who pitched in 11 games (four starts, seven relief appearances) and went 2-0 with a 3.44 ERA and 2.64 FIP as he posted a 1.0 fWAR that month.
So, what does this mean for these Cubs? Not much, considering there are no holdovers on this team who played on any previous Cubs postseason squad.
But it should serve as a reminder that regular season-ending success has no correlation to thriving in the postseason.
All things considered, October might as well be one month-long dice roll.
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