Even though the games in April and May count the same in the standings as they do in August and September, things get magnified in the final months of the Major League Baseball season because the playoff races have come into focus. 

With playoff races all over baseball—looking at the NL Central, AL Central, AL East, AL West and AL wild card if you want to find drama—teams are going to be put under a magnifying glass the size of Texas. 

Drama brings pressure, and pressure leads to the inevitable rise or fall of a team. We can pick and choose which teams will rise above it to become a playoff team, but we want a broad focus on what all these contenders, 13 by my count, can do that will help them avoid a late-season fall from grace. 

A collapse can be the result of many things. Sometimes a team is overachieving relative to its level of talent, for whatever reason, before eventually regression and reality sets in. Other times teams break down over the course of a long season, or that one big rough patch every team has during the season comes at the worst possible time. 

Regardless of why teams fade, we want to look at the ways they can avoid that fate down the stretch this season. 


Take Advantage of the Games You Are Supposed to Win

Going in order from the most obvious, we have to start with the schedule that teams are playing. Yes, you should just win all the games in front of you regardless of who you are playing. No one is going to play a game with the idea that they are going to lose. 

But the idea that you are going to go 162-0 is ridiculous. No one actually believes that. They play to win more games than everyone else, get in the playoffs and win a World Series. 

However, the easiest way to get there is not thinking that you can beat all of the best teams, but to knock around the bad teams on the schedule. 

Think back to some recent collapses that we have seen in recent years (Chicago in 2012, Boston in 2011, San Diego in 2010). Now let’s look at the record for those three teams against sub-.500 clubs. 

While none of the teams on the list were bad against teams with losing records, they weren’t taking advantage of them either. If you want to be a playoff team, you should be winning close to 60 percent of your games against teams under .500. 

Doing that will give them some slack against the good teams, allowing them to play roughly .500 in those games and still finish with a winning percentage around .550. That puts you right around 89 wins, which is enough to be in the wild-card mix and a few games out of the average division leader. 

It doesn’t matter how you do it, whether you are winning games 1-0 or 10-2, as long as you are taking care of business in the matchups you are supposed to win, everything tends to take care of itself. 


Take Risks With Young Players

One thing that gets jammed down the throats of fans is this idea that prospects are on a timetable to the big leagues. If there is a pop-up prospect making noise in Double-A or Triple-A that the parent club wasn’t expecting who can help your team down the stretch, as well as fill a weakness in the big leagues, why not take it?

For instance, right now Cleveland, currently five games back in the loss column, is playing host to Detroit in a four-game series that could put a gulf between the two teams if the Tigers sweep or win three of these games. 

Indians manager Terry Francona, clearly understanding the importance of this series, juggled his pitching rotation so that his three best starters (Corey Kluber, Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister) pitch in the series. That makes sense, as you want to go down swinging with the best you have, and Kluber pitched a gem on Monday with 7.1 shutout innings before Chris Perez imploded in the ninth inning.

But he also threw a curveball by replacing Ubaldo Jimenez, coming off a disastrous start against the lowly Marlins on Wednesday, with Danny Salazar, who made his big league debut in a spot start in July against Toronto and looked strong with seven strikeouts and just two hits allowed in six innings. 

Francona was asked about the decision and tried to be politically correct while also making a statement about what he was doing, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Some of it is competitive and it will also give us a chance to give Ubaldo a little bit of a rest. We just like the idea of seeing what this kid (Salazar) can do.”

What Francona is saying, without blatantly saying it, is that Salazar gives the Indians a better chance to win than Jimenez. 


I understand the job of a manager is a delicate balance between keeping the pieces you have in a good place mentally so they don’t lose confidence in their abilities and putting together the best 25-man roster that helps you win the most games.

But too often teams are afraid to take chances, particularly with young players, late in the season.

Think about the last hot-shot prospect who got called up because a team wanted him up. It happened with Wil Myers, but that is an extreme case because he was always going to get called up by Tampa Bay as soon as his arbitration clock could be delayed by another year. 

More often than not, a prospect doesn’t get called up unless the incumbent player gets injured or is playing so badly a team has no other choice. 

The Indians are taking a different stance with Salazar, though Jimenez could certainly fall into the latter category after giving up nine hits and five runs (two earned) against Miami last week. They have all their original starters healthy but want to put the best pitchers out there who give them the best chance to win this series. 

Taking risks is not a bad thing. Some teams have the luxury of being so good as they are that there is no need to make a big, bold move with a top prospect. But those teams are very few and far between. 


Find the Balance Between Today and The Next Two Months

This is more psychological, and therefore harder to quantify, but nonetheless important to the overall conversation of when a team takes the leap from being good enough to win to actually win. 

Just look at the team virtually everyone thought would be in the playoffs this year: the Toronto Blue Jays. They have had their share of issues on the field, for sure, and most of them revolve around starting pitching. Josh Johnson has been a disaster, R.A. Dickey has been a disappointment, Brandon Morrow still can’t stay healthy. 

But on the whole, the Blue Jays are loaded with talent and should at least be in the mix for a playoff berth with a lineup that features Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus (having an underrated season), Adam Lind, et al. 

The Blue Jays got off to a bad start, things snowballed on them and there was no way of slowing things down. They did creep back above .500 for a couple of days before the losses started piling up again. 

Now, for a team that had postseason and World Series aspirations four months ago, the Blue Jays are bringing up the rear in the AL East with a 52-60 record. 

The point being, there is a moment in every franchise’s development where you go from being hyped to actually performing up to the expectations. Some teams are able to do that quicker than others. 

After being a joke for the first 10 years of its existence, thanks in large part to an owner who had no idea what he was doing, Tampa Bay put all the pieces together in 2008 and made a run to the World Series. 

Other teams take more time, like the Cardinals of the early 2000s, who made the playoffs four times in five years from 2000-05 but didn’t win a World Series until 2006 when they snuck into the playoffs with 83 wins. 

The trick for teams this year is to find the right balance of not getting too high after winning a big game/series and staying on an even keel after losing a game/series in seemingly devastating fashion (blown save, walk-off HR, etc.).

Even with the magnifying glass putting pressure on the 13 teams in contention for a playoff spot, you still have to realize that the focus still remains on the bigger picture and not strictly what happens today. 


If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments. 

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