Momentum should be a dirty word for sports bettors. It is one of the hardest concepts in sports to become comfortable with, and one of the very easiest ways for a bettor to be led off track and bet on a team that isn’t as good as they may seem. One of the hardest times to judge momentum is heading into the major league baseball playoffs. Momentum is always a challenge in baseball, but it is especially tough heading into the playoffs. Some teams can have all sorts of momentum heading into the playoffs, while others don’t because they don’t need to since they clinched their spot early and had nothing left to play for down the stretch. Here are six things to consider when you are thinking about the role of momentum heading into the MLB playoffs:
Easy to overstate the significance – Momentum is the kind of thing that sounds like it should be really important, so it can be very easy to give it too much credit. In the playoffs, though, it would probably be more effective in the long run to entirely ignore the impact of momentum than it would be to worry about it too much. In fact, if you are spending too much time thinking about momentum heading into the playoffs then chances are very good that you are giving it too much credit in your handicapping.
What was the emotional cost of the last week of the season? – Sometimes momentum can be a bad thing for a team. Maybe the reason they were forced to play so well down the stretch was because they were fighting hard for a playoff spot. If that race for a spot was particularly intense and grueling then the team could be emotionally exhausted. If their opponents in the first round of the playoffs are coming into the playoffs well rested and recharged then being emotionally drained can be a major issue heading into the playoffs – more than enough to outweigh the impact of momentum in a lot of cases.
The longer a team had to play hard the less set up their pitching is – When a team hasn’t had to fight heading into the playoffs they have had the luxury of being able to rest their pitchers and have their rotation ready to go like they would like it to be. If they had to play right up to the end then thy haven’t been able to do that. In fact, they may have had to use up their best pitching in the last couple of games of the year just to get into the playoffs. That pitching may have been enough to earn them momentum heading into the playoffs, but it won’t be available or at its best right away once the playoffs start.
The longer they played hard, the less rusty the team is – I don’t want to give the impression that every aspect of momentum is negative. In fact, there are some aspects of having momentum in the playoffs that are a good thing. It can be hard for some teams to shift gears in a hurry. If they haven’t had to play meaningful games down the stretch and haven’t been playing hard or well as a result then they might be rusty and might struggle to play at full intensity once the playoffs start. They could fall into an early hole that could be hard to climb out of. Teams that come into the playoffs with momentum have been playing hard and have probably faced intense situations, so they are already used to playing at playoff intensity.
Who did they beat down the stretch? – When considering momentum one of the most commonly overlooked factors is who the team beat to build that momentum. If they beat some of the better teams in the league, and those teams were also playing hard, then it could be impressive. If they have largely played teams that have either given up and are waiting for the offseason or which are resting for the playoffs, though, then it’s not nearly as impressive.
Don’t outsmart yourself – Momentum is one of those factors where you can easily out-think yourself and try to get too fancy in pursuit of winners. Ultimately, though, the soundest way to approach the MLB playoffs is to focus on fundamentals and handicap the games like you would handicap any other game. How well do the teams match up? What’s the status of the pitching? Who is hitting well? What weaknesses are there in the roster? How do the managers compare? How does location factor in? You’ll have a lot more luck in the long run focusing on the basics like that than you will trying to get fancy.