One millisecond can determine safe or out, a contact or not, and ultimately whether a team wins or loses. One millisecond can decide a lot in baseball and in the postseason, the pressure to win intensifies and often leads to mistakes. Nobody predicted the New York Yankees to be one win away from the World Series. In fact, SB Nation predicted the Yankees would finish 4th in the American League Eastern Division with a record of 81-81 and nowhere near the postseason.
Expectations vs reality
Gambling and baseball have some stark similarities. The main one is the rule that the house always wins and in baseball, more often than not the team that wins the World Series is one that nobody saw coming. Just like a game of blackjack, the Yankees are standing behind the table dealing the cards. Expectations can be a powerful force and for the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians, the expectations were Word Series or bust at the start of the playoffs. The expectations for the Yankees were 81-81, but instead, they won 91 games and finished two games back of the AL East crown. But how does this idea of playing with house money come into effect?
2017 Playoff examples
First, lets look at the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians. Many people picked Cleveland to win and rightfully so. Cleveland had a great pitching staff, a dominant bullpen, a prolific offense, and everyone expected them to be there. Naturally, they jumped out to a 2-0 series lead that left many looking ahead to the matchup between them and the Astros. The Yankees came back and took Games 3 and 4, forcing a winner-take-all Game 5 in Cleveland.
This is where house money comes into play. All the pressure in that game was on the Indians and starter Corey Kluber, who threw two mistakes to Didi Gregorius who put the Yankees ahead 3-0 with a pair of home runs. Later in the game, Brett Gardner’s single made the game 4-2, but a throwing error and sloppy fielding let the lead grow to 5-2 and ultimately led to a Yankees victory. The Indians were one of the best fielding teams in baseball but when it mattered most, their pitching couldn’t deliver and their defense made a crucial error. In fact, the Indians made six errors in the final two games of the ALDS that led to six unearned Yankee runs.
Manager Joe Girardi and others commented on how relaxed the team was, even in a 2-0 series hole to the Indians. Before Game 3 in the Bronx, rookie slugger Aaron Judge was blasting 80’s music and singing along to the enjoyment of others, and that relaxed feeling showed on the field. That relaxation has continued to show throughout the Cleveland series and into the Houston series, and just like this entire postseason the Yankees began in a hole, and just when everyone was counting them out they stepped up and delivered.
Playing with no expectations is something that cannot be measured. There is no statistic or sabermetric data on it, but it can ultimately mean the difference between winning and losing. I am not guaranteeing a Yankees victory over Houston because it has been known that the house loses, but more often than not the house wins and if I were a betting man, I would side with the team that has the least expectations and are playing with house money. For this postseason, that team is the New York Yankees.
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