How did playoff clubs fare vs. .500-plus teams?

October 4th, 2018

The MLB postseason field is down to eight -- the Division Series matchups are set in both leagues, and all that's left is for the very best teams in baseball to duke it out head-to-head until one wins the World Series.

The competition is as strong as it gets across the board, from juggernaut teams like the Red Sox, Astros and Yankees, to those that emerged from the gauntlet of down-to-the-wire division races and tiebreaker games in the National League, the Brewers and Dodgers.

So it makes sense, as the Division Series begins, to look back at how these final contenders did in the regular season against that same type of strong competition. Here's how all eight remaining playoff teams fared against opponents who were .500 or better this year.

2018 playoff teams ranked by record vs. opponents .500 or better

  1. Yankees: 41-30 (.577 winning percentage). MLB rank: 1

  2. Dodgers: 51-38 (.573). MLB rank: 2

  3. Red Sox: 41-33 (.554). MLB rank: 3

  4. Rockies: 48-44 (.522). MLB rank: 5

  5. Astros: 41-38 (.519). MLB rank: 6

  6. Brewers: 49-46 (.516). MLB rank: 7 (tie)

  7. Braves: 38-40 (.487). MLB rank: 10

  8. Indians: 23-31 (.426). MLB rank: 17

    The Yankees and Red Sox, who both won 100-plus games in the American League East -- and are about to write the latest chapter in their longstanding rivalry when they face off in the ALDS -- were two of the best teams against the best competition.

    Ditto for the Dodgers in the NL -- and in their NLDS matchup they're about to face the Braves, who actually had a losing record this season against teams that were .500 or better. Atlanta wasn't the worst team in this playoff field against strong competition, though.

    That was the Indians, who cruised to the AL Central title as the only winning team in the division -- Cleveland was just 23-31 against .500-plus teams, ranking in the bottom half of MLB. And the Tribe is about to face one of the toughest of tough competitors in the 103-win Astros, who are trying to defend last year's World Series title.

    But just because a team was stronger against good teams in the regular season, it doesn't make them an instant favorite to win the World Series. Last season, for example, the Astros were 18-15 against opponents who were .500 better -- a fine record, to be sure, but only third-best among the playoff field. On the other hand, the best two regular-season teams against .500-plus opponents, the Indians and Nationals, both lost in the Division Series.

    2017 playoff teams ranked by record vs. opponents .500 or better

  9. Indians: 27-22 (.551 winning percentage). MLB rank: 1 -- Lost ALDS

  10. Nationals: 23-19 (.548). MLB rank: 2 -- Lost NLDS

  11. Astros: 18-15 (.545). MLB rank: 3 -- Won World Series

  12. Yankees: 26-22 (.542). MLB rank: 4 -- Lost ALCS

  13. Red Sox: 27-23 (.540). MLB rank: 5 -- Lost ALDS

  14. D-backs: 39-35 (.527). MLB rank: 6 -- Lost NLDS

  15. Dodgers: 36-33 (.522). MLB rank: 7 -- Lost World Series

  16. Rockies: 37-35 (.514). MLB rank: 8 -- Lost NL Wild Card Game

  17. Cubs: 35-35 (.500). MLB rank: 9 -- Lost NLCS

  18. Twins: 20-31 (.392). MLB rank: 20 -- Lost AL Wild Card Game

    Out of the nine postseason series last year, the team that was better against .500-plus opponents won six times. The two main "upsets" were the Cubs beating the Nationals in the NLDS, and the Yankees beating the Indians in the ALDS. The 2017 Astros had a better record against .500-plus teams than all three of the opponents they defeated on their way to their championship -- the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers.

    The Twins, meanwhile, who were by far the worst playoff team last year against strong regular-season competition, lost in their postseason opener, the AL Wild Card Game against the Yankees. Does that bode poorly for this year's Indians? The Tribe, after all, went from the best playoff team against .500-plus opponents last year to the worst this year, and their 23-31 record against those opponents is close to the 2017 Twins' 20-31 mark. Will their relatively easy road to the playoffs through a weak division cost them?

    Not necessarily. While that 23-31 record is concerning, there have been 12 teams that won the World Series despite having a losing record in the regular season against teams .500 or better. The most recent example: the 2014 Giants, who went 27-31 against .500-plus opponents.

    World Series champions with losing records against teams .500 or better

  19. 2010 Giants: 33-41 (.446 winning percentage)

  20. 2006 Cardinals: 21-26 (.447)

  21. 1908 Cubs: 30-36 (.455)

  22. 2014 Giants: 27-31 (.466)

  23. 1973 A's: 34-38 (.472)

  24. 2002 Angels: 38-42 (.475)

  25. 1920 Indians: 21-23 (.477)

  26. 2008 Phillies: 43-46 (.483)

  27. 1926 Cardinals: 32-34 (.485)

    10 (tie). 2001 D-backs: 42-43 (.494)

    10 (tie). 2000 Yankees: 42-43 (.494)

    10 (tie). 1993 Blue Jays: 43-44 (.494)

    The 2018 Indians would, in fact, have the lowest winning percentage against .500-plus teams of any World Series champion if they do go on to win the Fall Classic. But there's a first time for everything.