On the Dodgers’ dominance, and the ’76 Reds

The 1976 Cincinnati Reds won all seven postseason games they played, swept the NLCS, swept the World Series, swept their way into conversation among the greatest teams ever.

They fielded a lineup with three Hall of Famers, beat two Hall of Fame pitchers (Steve Carlton and Catfish Hunter) and triggered Billy Martin’s Hall of Fame temper, which might have been the most interesting thing about a one-sided series.

Martin said the Reds hit a lot of bloopers after a 6-2 Game 3 loss — the Reds blooped three doubles and a homer among their 13 hits — insisted his team was as good as the Reds after a 7-2 Game 4 loss and blamed the sweep on the teams having five days off before the playoffs began. What the Reds were busy doing while the Yankees were idle, Billy didn’t say.

“Baseball should be run by baseball people, not by TV people,” Martin said, showing a remarkable lack of clairvoyance on the future of  his sport. Wonder what Billy would say about the Red Sox spying with an Apple watch?

The 1976 Reds ouscored the Phillies and Yankees, 41-19, outhomered them, 7-2, outran them on the bases 12 steals to 1. (Trivia: The Yankees hit one home run in the 1976 World Series, and anyone who remembers who hit it is a better Yankee fan than the high rollers on their cell phones in the box seats. Hint: he was a Yankee infielder for three seasons and hit 12 homers in a nine-year career and there’s no reason to remember him otherwise. Answer below.) 

The Reds trailed in every game of the NLCS and for just three innings of the World Series. They won two games in their last at-bat and four games by four runs or more, and after a 102-win regular season there wasn’t much question — but for Martin — who was the best team in MLB.

Since the expansion of the postseason in 1969, the Reds are the only team to have gone through the postseason undefeated. Of course, since then the playoffs have expanded twice more and even the ’76 Reds might not have gone through another round undefeated. If they did, maybe even Martin would have been impressed.

The 2017 Dodgers still have a chance, small as it is. They’ve won the first six games they’ve played and can make it seven Wednesday night with a fourth victory over the Cubs.

That would be the best start to a postseason since the 2014 Royals won their first eight games — the wild-card game, the divisional series and the ALCS. The streak and postseason didn’t end so well for the Royals: they lost Game 1 of the Series, and then Game 7, though they returned a year later, avoiding defeat in the divisional series to the Astros and beating the Mets in the Series in 5.

(Other notable postseason streaks post-1969, in no particular order: the 1970 Orioles won their first six before winning the Series in 5; the 2005 White Sox won their last eight after losing the ALCS opener, and 11 of 12 in all; the ’89 A’s won the last six and eight of nine; the ’98 Yankees won their last seven and 11 of 13; the ’99 Yankees won their last six and 11 of 12; the 2004 Red Sox won their first three and their last eight, losing three straight to the Yankees in the ALCS in between, which only enhanced the story).

Unlike the ’76 Reds, who had a catchy Big Red Machine nickname and a World Series title to defend, the ’17 Dodgers were always going to be a hard team to evaluate.

They won 91 of their first 127 games, then lost 11 in a row and 16 of 17. Teams that good normally don’t lose that many in a row (the ’76 Reds’ longest losing streak was four). They won 104 in all, but have no nickname and a recent history to overcome.

In October the Dodgers are playing again as they were earlier in the season. They swept the Diamondbacks, who beat the Dodgers six straight during that 16 of 17 diversion, and have outscored their two opponents 35-15 in six games. They’ve held the Diamondbacks and Cubs to one run in three of their last four games, and given up five runs in their last four games.

Their bullpen is unscored on in the NLCS in 10.2 innings and Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball for most of his career, has thrown 186.1 innings, the kind of workload that might avoid the postseason falls of the past. Chris Taylor, acquired last summer for since-released No. 1 pick Zach Lee, played five positions this season and homered 21 times, twice more in the NLCS. Taylor is the player now that 36-year-old Ben Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) used to be.

And the Dodgers are up 3-0 in the NLCS without injured shortstop Corey Seager, whose 5.6 WAR was second-best of the team’s regulars (Justin Turner, 5.7) during the regular season.

The ’76 Reds played the postseason at full strength, until ace Don Gullett hurt his ankle in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the Series (he left with a 5-1 lead; when he pitched again in 1977, he was a Yankee). When the Reds swept, Gullett’s injury didn’t matter. Seager is expected back for the World Series, and that will.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said their motto for 2017 would be “uncomfortable,” and down 3-0, they should be. Just to be sure, the Cubs were booed at home Tuesday. Break a 108-year-old drought one year and get booed the next. There’s gratitude for you.

  • ALCS:  Before Game 4, Astros manager A.J. Hinch said he picked Lance McCullers to start because, “He’s really good.” Hinch was right, and maybe he should have considered how good McCullers was Tuesday — six innings, two hits, two walks — before yanking him. McCullers came out after Aaron Judge homered, and it’s easy to wonder why after what happened next since Judge homers off a lot of pitchers. It’s hard to blame Hinch because McCullers had thrown 81 pitches and hasn’t topped 90 in an injury-riddled second half of the season since July 30. In fact, Tuesday was just his fifth appearance since July 30, which underscores what a risk it was to start him. The bigger issue now is that Houston has a problem, and it’s its bullpen. Chris Devenski has a lifetime .567 OPS against, but in this series he’s faced five batters, walked two, retired two and given up a triple. The Astros’ bullpen has a 6.20 ERA and .827 OPS against this postseason, which means no lead is safe once they go to it. Fortunately for the Astros, with Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander pitching Games 5 and 6, they may not need much of it, but it’s dangerous to try to win a playoff game in 2017 with an antiquated approach. Expect the Yankees to take pitches and play against the pitch count as much as the Astros. Because the sooner Keuchel’s gets to 100, it’s to the Yankees’ advantage.

(Trivia answer: The only home run hit by the Yankees in the 1976 World Series was by Jim Mason in the seventh inning of Game 3. Mason was in the game only because starting shortstop Fred Stanley had been pinch hit for. The Yankees traded for Bucky Dent before the 1977 season.)



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