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Steiner: Momentum keys playoff races (Sept. 18)

| Monday, September 17, 2012

When it comes to the postseason, momentum is perhaps the biggest advantage a team can have.

If you’ve got momentum, there is a good chance you can ride it all the way to the championship.

Without it, you’re left in the dust of the first round, even after a season’s worth of effort.

And in no other sport is this truer than in baseball.

Although the playoff games are played in October, September decides the postseason fate that is “written in the stars.” You only need turn the clock back to 2011 to prove it.

Without a doubt, the Cardinals had momentum last season. On Aug. 24 the Cardinals were 10.5 games back in the wild card race, only to storm back in September by winning 23 of 32 games.

The Cardinals took the wild card in dramatic fashion and won the World Series, disposing of Philadelphia’s pitching staff, Milwaukee’s timely hitting and new powerhouse Texas along the way.
Rewind to 2007 and you’ll find the Rockies, who won 21 of 22 games to advance to the World Series in one of the most improbable postseason runs in baseball history.

But you don’t even have to stick with baseball to underscore the importance of momentum. The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers utilized momentum in each of the last two years to take home America’s biggest prize – the Super Bowl.
Connecticut’s basketball team won 11 straight games between the Big East and NCAA tournaments to come out on top in 2011.

In fact, momentum applies to just about every sport except the NBA, where the postseason takes longer than your sister in the shower. But of course, that’s a whole other discussion.

You could say momentum is like a wrecking ball. It swings back and forth, taking down anything in its path.  If a team is lucky enough to jump on the wrecking ball during its upswing, they can ride it through the downswing, topple what another team has built its entire season and come out on top of the heap.

And that’s the craziest aspect of momentum.

Baseball is a marathon 162-game season. Yet, the team who wins the most games closer to the playoffs enjoys one of the best chances to win it all. It doesn’t matter if your team rewrote the record book in May. If you don’t finish strong, you’re probably out of luck.

So who will be this year’s St. Louis or Colorado?

The second wild-card spot adds more intrigue and possibilities to this debate than ever before.

Without it, the National League playoff picture would be locked up tighter than Fort Knox. But with it, the Cardinals and Dodgers are stumbling towards a potential playoff spot, while the Brewers and Phillies could seize the second spot, having won 20 of 26 and 12 of 17 games, respectively. If either Milwaukee or Philadelphia sneaks into the playoffs, they could wreak some considerable havoc.

Meanwhile, almost everything in the American League is up for grabs. Three games is the biggest lead in any division, while five teams have a legitimate shot at the wild card spots. The Athletics have grabbed hold of some momentum, going 8-2 in their last ten games.

With all this chaos, now is the time for one team to saddle up on top of the playoff race, take hold of the momentum reins and ride all the way to a championship.

You just better hope it’s your horse, dark or not, that finishes first.

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.