Major League Baseball’s regular season is over, and after 162 games per team the postseason matchups are set. Yankees-Tigers, Rangers-Rays, Cardinals-Phillies and Brewers-Diamondbacks will make this October one to remember, but this article isn’t about them…well, mostly.
The Cardinals’ and Rays’ postseason hopes came down to the final game of the season last night, when they were tied with the Braves and Red Sox, respectively. In a perfect world, these teams would have played each other for the right to advance to the playoffs (which would have happened anyway, had they remained tied after the last game), but the scheduling came down to division series. The Phillies took on the Braves, the Cardinals played the Astros, the Rays drew the Yankees, and the Red Sox traveled to play the Orioles.
Of those matchups, the Yankees and Phillies had already locked up their playoff seedings, and the Orioles and Astros were the worst teams in their leagues. My question, then, is this: How does a team in that situation, where one team has nothing to gain and their opponent has everything to lose, motivate itself? Does a manager ever think, “Well, we’re not in contention, let’s just play our bench guys and some September call-ups, maybe throw that rookie reliever out to start. Doesn’t really matter if we win.”
It’s an interesting ethical question, I think, and it showed strikingly in the different series. The Yankees went with the bench and rookie route, almost out of spite against the Red Sox. The Orioles played some of their best baseball in beating the Sox, the Phillies pulled no punches against the Braves, and the Astros played to win all series.
Would you, as a manager, essentially give up those games to your opponent? Is there an unspoken code of “play to win, even when it doesn’t matter?”
That could prevent scenes like this:
But, it would also prevent things like this: