A couple of days removed from the Baltimore Orioles’ abrupt exit from the 2012 postseason, and I’m sure many fans are still rolling over in their heads what might have been. And I can guarantee you that many players are still thinking the same thing, and will be for quite some time. A couple of weeks ago I heard Rick Dempsey say on MASN that when the O’s lost in the ALCS when he was playing it was worse than losing in the World Series because you still had to watch other teams. At least if you lose in the World Series there’s no more baseball, however the Orioles are now having to watch New York (who of course beat them), Detroit, St. Louis, and San Francisco continue on in the postseason while they wonder what could have been.
We hear a lot about postseason experience, and how much it means. I’ll be honest; I had forgotten that over the course of the past 15 years! In theory a playoff game is nothing more than a baseball game, right? There are still nine innings, three outs for each team in each inning, and three strikes is still a strikeout…all of that is true. However as we saw last week at Camden Yards, postseason games take on a totally different atmosphere and a totally different feel. I think that there is a certain ebb and flow to playing in the postseason, and that’s something that’s true only in baseball. In the NFL, NBA, and NHL I think that the crowd plays a much bigger part of the game in general than it does at your run-of-the-mill baseball game. However everything’s turned up a notch in the postseason, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue that crowd noise can’t affect a visiting pitcher the way it does a visiting quarterback in football.
So did the lack of playoff experience do in the Orioles? Adam Jones went 2-for-26 in the postseason, Chris Davis 5-for-24, and Matt Wieters 4-for-24. I noticed that Oriole fans were all over Jones throughout most of the Orioles’ time in the playoffs for his struggles at the plate. I said this during the regular season, and I’ll say it again; players go through slumps. Jones and company picked a bad time to do that for sure. But were they blinded by the bright lights of the MLB playoffs whereas the likes of Derek Jeter and Raul Ibanez were not since they had been there before?
I think that’s certainly a possibility. And for the record, unlike some people who demand answers as to why or how this could happen if someone like Jones is good enough to get the contract he got this year, I don’t begrudge any player to whom this might have happened. How having said that if the Orioles go to the playoffs for the next three or four years I would expect this to cease being an issue. The flip side of this is that there were several playoff-tested players that ended up having just as poor of a time as the newbies. Mark Reynolds had been in the playoffs previous with Arizona, but he only went 3-for-22 in the postseason. And on New York’s side the struggles of Alex Rodriguez were well documented, however Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher didn’t do much either.
I think it just matters the person and the circumstance. The pitchers in these games (including the Wild Card game in Texas) were about as tough as they get. That being said, don’t the pitchers get nerves also in playoff games? Again, I think it just matters the person. None of us can know what any of this is like because we’ve never competed at that level. I think in some circumstances you could argue that the pressure got to certain players. There was a Chris Davis strikeout in game four against New York where he swung at three consecutive pitches in the dirt to strike out, Jim Johnson obviously cracked a bit (which was something we had rarely if ever seen out of him), and Adam Jones could never get anything going.
Again, I think that Orioles fans should take that for what it’s worth, and accept it. Jones hasn’t suddenly turned into an inconsistent player as a result of these struggles. What he was is someone who had never played in the postseason, and probably wasn’t prepared for the pressure that came with it. Remember that the Orioles wouldn’t have been there without any one of those guys. You only get playoff experience by playing in playoff games, so they couldn’t have thought that they wouldn’t be just a bit star struck. That’s not to say that they should just let that go and move on; they should recognize that this was a good experience, and never forget it so they’re ready next time. The last thing any of these guys wants to turn into is the Marty Schottenheimer of baseball in that they buckled under pressure and couldn’t win the big one!