Until the White Sox’ late six-game winning streak, fans were calling talk shows and tweeting about their lack of momentum headed into a postseason series against the Astros.
The streak was broken Sunday with a loss to the Tigers, but it enabled to Sox to climb to 16-13 from Sept. 1 through the final game. That’s in line with other American League playoff teams: the Red Sox (17-11), Astros (17-13), Rays (16-14) and Yankees (16-14).
Beyond that, momentum has been a so-so indicator of postseason success. Overall season record has been better in the multiple-wild-card era.
The Sox’ bigger causes for concern are pitcher Carlos Rodon’s health and the fact that the Rays and Astros have performed better for the season. But September doldrums haven’t pointed toward postseason failure.
The addition of a second wild card, which has made a one-game wild-card playoff necessary, started in 2012. The shortened 2020 season had many aberrations, including five wild cards per league, but Major League Baseball is back to normal this season.
In the nine seasons starting in 2012, four of the 18 World Series teams had the best record in their leagues from Sept. 1 to the end of the season. Three won the Series: The 2020 Dodgers were 17-7 down the stretch, the 2012 Giants tied the Braves at 20-10 and the 2011 Cardinals were 18-8. The Series loser was the 2019 Astros at 19-6.
Teams with the worst record from Sept. 1 onward were in the Series three times and won twice. The 2015 Royals (15-17) and 2014 Giants (13-12) won despite a lack of September success. The 2017 Dodgers (13-17) reached the Series but lost to the Astros.
Teams with the best records in their leagues claimed 10 of the 18 World Series spots. Six were Series winners: the 2013 Red Sox, 2015 Royals, 2016 Cubs, 2017 Astros, 2018 Red Sox and 2020 Dodgers. The 2013 Cardinals, 2017 Dodgers, 2019 Astros and 2020 Rays reached the Series but lost.
On another front, Chicago’s teams found themselves on opposite sides of the strikeout wars.
Sox pitchers led the AL with 1,588 strikeouts, trailing only the National League’s Brewers (1,618) and Dodgers (1,599). Sox leader Dylan Cease (226) was seventh in the majors and second in the AL to the Blue Jays’ Robbie Ray (248).
Cease struck out 12.28 batters per nine innings, second among qualifiers to the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes at 12.61. Rodon didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify, but he struck out 12.55 batters per nine innings.
On the flip side, Cubs hitters struck out more than those on any other team. Their 1,596 strikeouts were 43 more than the Marlins, the only other major-league team to crack 1,500.
The Cubs’ Ian Happ struck out 156 times, 25th in the majors. Patrick Wisdom ranked 29th at 153 in a category led by the Yankees’ Joey Gallo with 213. But with only 375 plate appearances, Wisdom struck out 40.8% of the time. Among players with 300 or more plate appearances, he was the strikeout king over the Rays’ Mike Zunino (35.2%).