September heat can keep clubs warm in October
A look at the past 10 World Series winners and how they fared in the final month
The clichés about sprints and marathons and starts and finishes might be tired, but so are baseball players at the end of 162-game schedules over six months, which followed six weeks of Spring Training.
So are the fans, but they're exhausted because they've been enjoying pulse-heightening drama every night.
In other words, it really is about how you close out a season, and now that we're in the final three weeks, it's time to look at who might be the best at doing just that.
The reason is clear: We've seen in the past that the winners of the World Series are not always the teams with the most talent. Baseball is played on grass and dirt and the occasional artificial surface, not paper. Having everything hunky dory with your lineup and your pitching when October rolls around is usually pretty important.
How important? Let's take a look over the past 10 years at World Series-winning clubs and how they fared in September, and, in some cases, a three-game series that had the regular-season schedule overflowing into October.
2012 San Francisco Giants: Manager Brucy Bochy's gang proved the hottest-team-wins-it-all theory right off the bat. The Giants had their best month of the season in September/October, going 19-8. They pitched to a 3.62 ERA, which wasn't their best month on the mound, but they hit the ball better than they had all year, putting up a .288/.343/.437 line that was the best of the season in each category.
They also hit a season-high 22 homers in those final 30 games, and National League MVP Buster Posey continued a scorching second half, hitting .364 with five homers and 21 RBIs in his last 29 games.
2011 St. Louis Cardinals: This team might offer the best example in recent memory of a hot team on the rise at the right time. They entered September trailing their division by 8 1/2 games but went 18-8 for their best month of the season by far, finishing 90-72 to win the Wild Card. They fought off four elimination games in October, found themselves within one strike of losing the World Series -- twice -- and, of course, won one of the more unlikely titles ever.
"It was overwhelming," manager Tony La Russa said in the aftermath of it all. "We were on the edge game after game after game. You might lose one, but as it got closer, elimination games, the character on this club is off the charts. And we are more talented I think than some people realize, especially as we got healthy. But you play with that urgency, it's a little scary at times and it takes a lot out of you, but it's really fun to compete that way."
2010 San Francisco Giants: Fans of this Giants team, which popularized long black beards and winning big games by way of "torture," watched the club roll through September/October with a 19-10 mark that was second only to the team's 20-8 July.
The key was their pitching, which began to assert the dominance that would see it carry the day in October. Over the final month of play, Giants pitchers posted a combined 1.91 ERA, almost a full run better than their previous best month's mark (2.75 in March/April), and struck out 259 batters in 259 1/3 innings, easily their best ratio.
2009 New York Yankees: The 2009 Yankees were so good that their 20-11 September/October was merely their third-best month of the year. The Bronx Bombers went 21-7 that August and 18-9 that July. That's what happens when you win 103 games, but at least there was no late let-up.
2008 Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies picked the best month of the year to shine the brightest, going 17-8 (.680 winning percentage) in September for their best month. Philadelphia had a small lead in the NL East that was not relinquished and carried over into October.
2007 Boston Red Sox: Three years after their first World Series title since 1918, the Sox seemed to have had things figured out. They went 16-11 (.593) in September/October for their third-best month of the season and won the American League East.
How did they do it? By bashing the ball, with their highest monthly OPS (.837) and home run total (34) in the final 30 days of the season.
2006 St. Louis Cardinals: And here's the first example of how not to draw it up. La Russa's 2006 group had its second-worst month of the season, going 12-17 in September/October while hitting a season-low .240 that month. But St. Louis still won the NL Central, with a record of 83-78, and found its form in the postseason.
2005 Chicago White Sox: The White Sox got off to a great start in 2005, and by the time they were going 19-12 in September/October for their third-best month of the year, they were noticing a trend that would carry through 11 postseason wins and only one loss and the franchise's first World Series title since 1917: fantastic pitching.
White Sox pitchers had their second-lowest ERA (3.41) in the final month, which was followed by a 2.55 postseason ERA and .202 batting average against in those 12 playoff games.
2004 Boston Red Sox: The team that would eventually storm back from an 0-3 deficit in the AL Championship Series to stun the Yankees and waltz into a World Series sweep over the Cardinals was cruising toward the Wild Card in the final month of '04, and the 21-11 record it put up in September/October was its third-best of the season.
2003 Florida Marlins: The '03 Marlins had found themselves with a new manager (Jack McKeon), a 20-year-old midseason callup named Miguel Cabrera, and a filthy young pitching staff that included Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano and Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis. September was their second-best month of the season at 18-8 and helped pave the way for a Beckett-led World Series win over the Yankees.
So what gives for 2013?
Entering Thursday, the division-leading club with the best record this month is Boston at 8-2, followed by Oakland and St. Louis at 7-3. The Kansas City Royals, who have climbed to within two games of an AL Wild Card berth, are 8-3. The Cleveland Indians are 6-4 and the Cincinnati Reds are 7-4.
Keep an eye on these teams. See how they finish out the month.
Then again, as we've seen year in and year out, September is far, far, far from over.