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Playoff deception: What's real and what only looks real?

Only one of the four division series will go the distance, but it has been one of the best division rounds I can remember.

The Giants and Cubs played three one-run games, with Games 3 and 4 qualifying as classics on some level, with the tense and beautifully played 13-inning Game 3 and the improbable Cubs comeback in Game 4. The Dodgers and Nationals have played two one-run games and a third that was one run until the ninth inning. After winning the AL wild-card game in extra innings, the Blue Jays also wrapped up the ALDS in exciting, walk-off fashion. The Indians swept the Red Sox, but two of those wins were nail-biting, one-run victories.

What have we learned so far? Or, what had we thought we learned, only to find out we were wrong once again?

The Cubs beat the Giants and their even-year mystique.

I hated this “story” more than any other baseball story since I first started watching Julio Cruz and Bruce Bochte. The 2010, 2012 and 2014 Giants teams didn't have many similarities other than the presence of Buster Posey, Bruce Bochy and a few of the relievers. Yet we had to hear about this even-year nonsense nonstop since spring training.

Anyway, if the Giants were to upset the Cubs, it was going to be because of some magical “they know how to win” formula whose potion only works every other season. Admittedly, late into Game 4 there were some brief moments when my mind wandered into voodoo land and I thought this may be true. Then we saw the Achilles' heel of the Giants step up at exactly the wrong time. No playoff team since 1969 had more blown saves (at any point in a game) than the Giants did in 2016. They’d lost nine games they led heading into the ninth inning. They led the Cubs 5-2, and only three times in postseason history had a team lost a game when leading by three runs in the ninth. Now it’s four, as the Cubs move on, and now we can spend the next 10 days (at least) hearing about that damn goat.

The Blue Jays steamrolled the AL’s best team in three games.

The Rangers had the AL’s best record, but were they really the league’s best team? Their 95-67 record was built on an amazing 36-11 mark in one-run games, the best one-run winning percentage in history. But one-run record isn’t a good predictor of playoff success (let alone doing the same thing the following season), and the club’s meager plus-8 run differential was perhaps the better signal as to the team’s actual strength. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, finished at plus-93.

One thing Rangers fans have pointed out is that the bullpen struggled early in the season, leading to some blowout defeats and a misleading run differential. But since the beginning of July, the Rangers had been outscored by 47 runs. Cole Hamels, who had a high LOB percentage in the first half, struggled a bit down the stretch once that rate normalized. He didn’t pitch well in his ALDS start. Colby Lewis hadn’t pitched well since coming off the DL. In other words, there were indicators here that favored the Blue Jays.

There was no way the Indians could beat the Red Sox with a depleted rotation.

One columnist had declared the Indians dead after Carlos Carrasco was injured late in the season and joined Danny Salazar on the DL. How could they beat the high-powered Red Sox, the best offensive team in the majors?

Simple. Terry Francona turned to the Ned Yost strategy: Get to your bullpen as soon as possible. He pulled Trevor Bauer with two outs in the fifth inning in Game 1. He pulled Josh Tomlin after five-plus innings and 68 pitches in Game 3. Now, it helped that the Indians led in both games -- Boston’s starters were terrible -- but the bigger point is you can win without dominant starting pitching. Kansas City’s starters had a 4.97 ERA in the postseason in 2015 and averaged just 5⅔ innings per start. San Francisco’s starters in 2014, in the 11 games Madison Bumgarner didn’t start, had a 5.59 ERA and averaged just 4.4 innings per start.

The next round might not be quite as easy, as you get just two off days out of a possible nine days to play seven games as opposed to two off days out of seven to play five games, but the Indians have a pretty deep pen -- it’s not just Andrew Miller -- and they actually match up better with the right-handed-heavy Blue Jays lineup (Miller is the only lefty).

The Dodgers need Clayton Kershaw to have a huge postseason.

Well, they’ve won his two starts even though he has allowed eight runs in 11⅔ innings. Now, the Dodgers did go 17-4 in games he started, which means they were just seven games over .500 when he didn’t start. On the other hand, when he didn’t pitch from June 27 until Sept. 9, the Dodgers went 38-24 and from eight games behind to five games up.

So they can win with him and they can win without him. Look, if they can find a way to survive Game 5, they’ll likely need Kershaw to win a low-scoring game at some point, but it seems clear they don’t need him to carry them a la Bumgarner and the Giants in 2014. This is a deep team that pounds right-handed pitching (watch out, Max Scherzer), and it has a good bullpen, although it has had a couple of shaky performances so far.

Playoff baseball will rip your heart out, make you fall in love with obscure heroes and have you jumping off your couch and scaring the crap out of your dog.

Well, yes, this is true. And we still have two rounds to go.