The Washington Capitals are finally Stanley Cup champions. It’s time to make some baseball comparisons.
After 44 years of playoff disappointment, including 12 with arguably the greatest player in the game today, Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals finally broke through for the team’s first Stanley Cup on Thursday night, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.
Being from Northern Virginia, I can assure you the celebration in my house was loud.
Here at Beyond The Box Score, we already covered what the Golden Knights could mean for future MLB expansion. But, as a testament to my team, I figured that we also need some Stanley Cup Champion Capitals coverage. Nearly 24 hours later, as I’m writing this, that sentence still seems hard to fathom.
This is a baseball website, so as a tribute to the Capitals’ years of playoff failure, I wanted to go and find the Major League Baseball team most similar to those Capitals.
The process was fairly simple. I found the longest World Series droughts in the game and considered those of 30 or more years. That gave me 10 teams: the Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and New York Mets.
Then, I considered who has dealt with the most playoff heartbreaks.
The Capitals have dealt with so much heartbreak, in fact, that a 3-1 Stanley Cup Final lead meant very little to the fanbase. Sure, the Capitals were in a commanding position, but the fans were only cautiously optimistic, at best. Why? Prior to this series, the Capitals blew five of their twelve 3-1 series leads in franchise history, the most in the NHL. When up 3-1 in any series, the rest of the league is 269-23 for a .921 series winning percentage.
Defining a playoff heartbreak in baseball terms is harder because there are fewer rounds and fewer games in each round. To win the World Series, a non-Wild Card team only must win 11 games. To win the Stanley Cup, a team must win 16 games. That’s a big difference.
You may disagree with my definition of playoff heartbreak, but to keep it as quantitive as possible, I defined this fairly simply. Losing a series when up 2-0 or 2-1 in a best-of-five or losing a series when up 2-0, 3-0 or 3-1 in a best-of-seven was defined as a playoff heartbreak. For the Capitals, this has happened 10 times in their 41 completed NHL seasons prior to their Cup-winning campaign.
Granted, with eight teams making the playoffs from each conference in the NHL, it is certainly easier to have a playoff heartbreak in hockey than in baseball. Prior to this season, the Capitals had qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs 26 times, so nearly 40 percent of their franchise postseason appearances ended with a blown series lead. That is insane.
In fact, this rarely actually happens in baseball, but there is one team that stands above the rest in blowing playoff series leads.
Most of these teams haven’t had any playoff heartbreaks because they really have not had the opportunities to do it. The Indians, on the other hand, have been in at least the AL Division Series nine times since their last World Series title in 1948. They have had six playoff heartbreaks.
I cannot give the Indians the title of being the “Washington Capitals of baseball” outright, however. This is because, while it did happen a long time ago, they have captured a World Series trophy. (Two of them, in fact.) The Capitals, prior to Thursday, had never won the Stanley Cup.
This, then, makes for an interesting discussion. If I were to only consider the teams who had never won the World Series, then, incredibly, the Washington Nationals (and Montreal Expos) would be the team that gets this moniker (a real achievement, I know). But, the Nationals, too, have a caveat that I really cannot overlook. While the franchise has existed since 1969, and it is certainly not fair to erase those years of history, the team has only been in the District since 2005. Therefore, the fans here have only had to watch 13 seasons of Nationals baseball, not nearly enough for me to name them this.
That leaves me with the Texas Rangers, then. They have seven playoff appearances in their team’s 57-year history, but only once have they blown a series in a heartbreak fashion. This again makes me left wanting more; the Rangers shouldn’t be awarded the “Capitals of baseball” award with just one playoff heartbreak.
So, really, does baseball have a Washington Capitals? I’m no longer entirely sure. I’m not sure what this tells us more about — baseball’s playoff format, or just how unlucky the Capitals have been over the years. I think I’m going to go with the former because I’m still sitting high on Cloud Nine.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.