Elite performances for these stars this year foreshadowed success for their clubs
By Matt Kelly
Baseball players can be among the most superstitious people throughout all of sports. If something is working, no matter what it is, a player is likely to stick with it until the luck runs dry.
But there are some omens that players and teams can't control. The 162-game schedule is filled with hot and cold streaks, but every year it seems that the top teams have a good luck charm -- a play on the field that signals that victory is in sight. Call them bellwethers, or the moment that teams seem to rally behind. Each of the contending teams has at least one bellwether this year, though only one will lead a club to a World Series title.
For the 2016 Cubs, it was fittingly the National League MVP who helped lead them to their first world championship in 108 years. Chicago went 29-5 in regular season games in which Kris Bryant hit a home run, a record surely boosted by his team-leading 12 go-ahead homers. The trend continued through the postseason, when Bryant's homers turned the tide in three crucial games for his club: An eventual 13-inning loss to the Giants in Game 3 of the NLDS (after Bryant had tied the game with a two-run blast in the ninth), and victories over the Indians in win-or-go-home Games 5 and 6 of the World Series.
So which events signaled success for this year's contenders? As the end of the season neared, the following omens had become obvious:
For most of the summer, the Dodgers had both the NL West and the Senior Circuit's best records firmly in hand. Los Angeles went 51-9 at one point to rattle off the best 60-game streak the baseball world had seen since John McGraw's New York Giants went 52-8 way back in 1912.
What was all the more amazing about the Dodgers' run was that they accomplished a portion of it without ace Clayton Kershaw, behind whom the team had gone a perfect 15-0 when he completed at least seven innings. Los Angeles also rolled off 53 consecutive victories in games in which they led at any point, and it helped to have all-world closer Kenley Jansen at the back of the bullpen. The Dodgers went 53-3 in games in which Jansen had thrown at least one pitch through the end of August, and despite a skid in early September, they remained a dominant force.
Carlos Correa boasted an MVP-caliber .320/.400/.566 slash line on July 17, when the Astros owned a 62-31 record and had gone 29-4 in games in which Correa had recorded at least two hits. Unfortunately, July 17 also marked the date in which Correa tore a ligament in his thumb -- an injury that sidelined him until September -- and the Astros scuffled to an 18-22 record from then until the end of August.
Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are superstars in their own rights, but the Cubs were nearly unstoppable when 'Bryzzo' got rolling together. Chicago went 17-3 when Bryant and Rizzo each drove in at least one run in the same game as Cubs maintained their lead in the NL Central.
Yankees rookie Aaron Judge was arguably the biggest individual story of the 2017 regular season. New York won nearly 84 percent of its games whenever team broadcaster John Sterling got to deliver his famous "All Rise" home run call for Judge. Judge's teammate, Brett Gardner, might not seem like a home run hitter, but his power had a big effect on his team -- the Bronx Bombers were 16-2 whenever Gardner cranked a longball.
Good signs abound for all those clubs. You just need to know it when you see one.
This article appears in the League Championship Series Program. To purchase a copy, visit mlbshop.com.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.