Both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers made a splash over the offseason.
Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers led his organization into a grit gambit, trading away prime talent like Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Trevor Bauer in favor of veterans like Martin Prado and Cody Ross. Meanwhile, Ned Coletti and the Dodgers resumed the spending they showed at the trade deadline last year, landing top free agent Zack Greinke and star South Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Since the start of the 2012 season, the Diamondbacks have increased their payroll, which stands at $87MM this year, by 17%. The Dodgers, who have a $215MM payroll this season, have seen a 125% increase in payroll since Opening Day of 2012.
The Diamondbacks bookended their weekend series versus the Dodgers with a pair of shutout wins, showing off their blueprint for victory: good situational hitting, starting pitching that goes deep into games, and excellent defense.
Though facing a roster that included names like Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and the injured Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke, the Diamondbacks made use of a hit-and-run to take the lead on Friday and a bottom-of-the-ninth A.J. Pollock double on Sunday to walk off the field triumphantly. They depended on fifth starter Patrick Corbin to beat one former Cy Young winner and a scuffling Trevor Cahill to beat another.
"I think we've got a pretty good ball club here," Corbin said, after outdueling Kershaw on Friday. "We may not have the big-time names like the Dodgers or the Giants, but we've got a great group of guys here who are going to go out there and fight everyday like we did today."
One team is taking the conventional, proven route to postseason success: hoard superstars and attack the free agent market like an 0-2 fastball. The other is trying to do something few teams have done before: get to the World Series without a real MVP candidate.
Just six of the last 20 teams that have competed in the World Series have done so without a player who finished in the top five of his league's MVP voting: the 2011 Rangers, the 2010 Giants, the 2008 Rays, the 2006 Tigers, the 2005 White Sox, and the 2003 Marlins. And it's worth noting that three of those six rosters included that season's Rookie of the Year -- the Giants' Buster Posey, the Tigers' Justin Verlander, and the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis.
Moreover, the 2012 World Series featured a faceoff of MVPs in Posey and Miguel Cabrera as well as the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP, Verlander. And the 2004 World Series between the Cardinals and Red Sox included five top-five MVP vote-getters.
The message of the last decade seems to be clear: it almost always takes MVP-caliber talent to make it deep in the playoffs.
It's difficult to imagine any of the 2013 Diamondbacks finishing in the top five in NL MVP voting. The highest any has finished previously is ninth, when Prado hit .307/ .350/ .459 in 2010, racking up 100 runs and 15 home runs in 599 at-bats while wearing an Atlanta uniform. And while players like Paul Goldschmidt may have the raw talent to eventually blossom into an MVP candidate, a top-five MVP finish this season seems highly unlikely.
If Towers' Diamondbacks are still playing baseball come late October, they will, indeed, be one of the anomalous few teams in recent history who have tread the path to postseason success without stardom. So far, they have six teams to serve as a prototype and one series to serve as a blueprint of such success.