The 2006 World Series Champions, your 83-79 St. Louis Cardinals! Give `em a hand, ladies and gentlemen. And a couple starting pitchers, a better set-up man, and a bottom of the order that can hit, because they could really use it. Don't get me wrong: Any team with a former winner and current candidate for the Cy Young award, and a perennial good candidate for the MVP award, has something going for it. But why did the Cardinals, of all teams, win the whole kit `n caboodle? (Or if you like animals, kitten caboodle. Or poodle.)
I remember last year, looking at several possible factors that could help to predict the World Series winner. As I recall, "deep bullpen" correlated highest while several others, such as "hot going into October" and "best defense," simply did not predict success as much as you would tend to believe. So much for "deep bullpen," as any team that intentionally trots Braden Looper out as its set-up man does not have a deep bullpen.
So just how could we have seen it coming that the St. Louis Cardinals, barely a .500 team, with a thin rotation, thinner bullpen, and an 8-game losing streak in late September, a team that barely made the playoffs at all, could be the last team standing? If you were to use 2006 to figure out a good predictive model for post-season success, I think you would have to settle on a factor that has nothing directly to do with the quality of the rotation, the bullpen, the lineup, the defense, or the manager.
What did the ALCS Tigers and the World Series Cardinals have going for them that the ALCS A's, and the World Series Tigers had going against them? The A's made the colossal blunder of taking care of the Twins quickly, only to be forced to sit around and cool off. Harden and Haren wound up pitching on very long rest, the hitters' swings were hardly in peak rhythm, and the overall product was flat. Meanwhile, as the Tigers were dominating the A's in the minimum 4 games, the Cardinals had the good sense to string out their NLCS to the full 7 games, turning right around to begin the World Series without time to think, cool off, or get the rotation off of its normal routine--in fact it was so bad that St. Louis was forced to pitch Anthony Reyes in Game 1, and Reyes didn't even have time to reflect on how mediocre he had been for the past four months. In contrast, the Tigers, who could do no wrong against Oakland, put a product out on the World Series stage that was arguably flatter than the cardboard cut-outs who paraded as A's in the ALCS.
Friends don't let friends sweep series while the next opponent plays on. Rest baaaaaaaaaad. Routine gooooooooood.