How about, "Never." You might see one team with a glaring collection of talent get crushed out of nowhere during a given October. If such a thing happens to two of them, wow.
This time, there were three teams in that category, they were from the same league and they all were unable to win a postseason game. After the A's went from a 7-3 lead against the Royals through six innings of the American League Wild Card Game to a 9-8 loss in 12 innings, the Angels were swept out of the ALDS by Kansas City. In the other ALDS, the Orioles dumped the Tigers into the offseason with three straight victories.
Two words come to mind: No way.
When the regular season was more than halfway over, the A's had baseball's best record. The Angels? Well, they eventually zipped by the A's down the stretch to end the regular season with more victories than anybody. As for the Tigers, they led the Major Leagues in most dynamic-looking resumes with the last three AL Cy Young Award winners and the last three AL Most Valuable Player Award winners.
That's just for starters. Even so, the Tigers join the A's and the Angels right now as early vacationers.
Which tells us, what? It tells us two things: First, of the four major sports leagues in North America (the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball), our National Pastime is the most accomplished at producing drama in its postseason.
The baseball gods have a tendency to step out of the Iowa cornfields whenever Labor Day begins to give way to Halloween. Not only that, with its rules, its pace and its history, the game actually is built for magic teams to shock the big boys in October.
Still, there is that second reason for The Big Collapse during the last few days of the A's, the Tigers and the Angels: they all have issues. Given the size of the Angels' payroll compared to their finishes in recent years, they have more issues than the other two, but that's not saying much, especially if you're a fan of the A's and the Tigers.
Take the A's, for instance. After 90 games during the regular season, they were peerless in baseball at 57-33. They spent much of that time with their pitchers holding the best ERA in the Major Leagues and their hitters owning the highest batting average. Then came their slide toward purgatory, despite the supposedly heavenly acquisitions of starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Jon Lester.
The biggest problem for the A's was that none of those pitchers could hit, and neither could most of the non-pitchers for Oakland from mid-summer through early autumn.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Oakland's free fall at the plate began weeks before that swap of slugger Yoenis Cespedes for Lester at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. And it wasn't as if the A's didn't make the playoffs, even if it was at the last minute. And despite all of that, Oakland still was three innings shy of advancing to the ALDS with that four-run lead over the Royals during the AL Wild Card Game.
Instead, Oakland's bullpen imploded.
The Tigers know the feeling. They had the last three AL Cy Young Award winners in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price, and they had Miguel Cabrera, who captured the last two AL MVP Awards after Verlander took that honor in the 2011 season. They also had a wonderful supporting cast, with everybody from All-Star veteran Torii Hunter to potent DH Victor Martinez. But they didn't have relievers capable of keeping the Orioles from scoring a combined 12 runs during the eighth innings of Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS.
To continue that bullpen theme, the Angels also had problems with relievers, but mostly the ones for the Royals.
Let's start with a little background. Nobody in baseball scored more runs during the regular season than the Angels. For the record, the Tigers were second, and the A's were fourth. But back to Los Angeles, which entered the ALDS with all-everything outfielder Mike Trout streaking toward the league's MVP honors. Albert Pujols is familiar with that award, as he won it three times in the National League before he left the Cardinals to become the $240 million man of the Angels. Josh Hamilton is making about half as much as Pujols, but it's enough for Angels fans to expect more from their slugger than going 0-for-13 against the Royals in the ALDS.
Pujols went 2-for-12, and Trout went 1-for-12. In general, the Angels were victimized by Royals relievers who spent the ALDS allowing just one run in 12 innings. Many of those same Kansas City relievers kept the Oakland offense under control long enough to help the Royals hitters triumph in extra innings. Elsewhere, while the Tigers' bullpen wasn't doing its job, the Orioles' bullpen was. The O's lack an ace starting pitcher, but Baltimore relievers allowed the Detroit offense just three runs in the ALDS during their 12 innings on the mound.
See the message here? If you're a team with mighty credentials during the regular season and if you wish to keep from making ugly news in October, get a bullpen.