Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Daily Rant: Let's Not Get Ahead of Ourselves

So, we've got about eight baseball games in the books. There's been a lot of talk amongst my friends so far about how the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles are 6-2. Or how the perennial last place Pittsburgh Pirates are in second place in the NL Central. And how the World Series favorite Boston Red Sox are 1-7. Just yesterday I saw a poll on ESPN that already something like 85% of America believes the Red Sox won't make the playoffs.

I got news for you readers. Don't get your panties in a bunch about the standings yet, because 8 out of 162 is not that much. In fact, it's 4.9%. Not too big of a sample size. Which means there's still 95% of the baseball season left. That's a lot of games. We had a close knit group of friends in high school. One of them, Curry (be thankful I didn't use your actual nickname), is a huge Reds fan. Every year he would get really jacked up because the Reds were holding on at or near the top of the division. JShy (a huge Sox fan) and I would laugh, because every year around June 1st the Reds would begin their descent into the depths of the NL Central standings. JShy would win the $5 bet they make every year about who has the better record, and my Cardinals would take the Central division; EVERYBODY WINS! If only that was the case now, as the Reds seem primed for a long stay near the top of the division. Hold on a second as I grab a tissue to wipe away the tears over the death of the Cardinals dynasty.

Bringing us back on topic, the moral of the story: just because a team has a good start to the season doesn't mean that will hold up over the next 154 games. Now, those who disagree, what is that I'm hearing? You want evidence? Okay. I got your evidence right here. The following is taken after eight games the last three years.

Division Leaders - (record on that date, final record, final place in the standings).
April 13, 2010:
AL East - Toronto (6-2, 85-77, 4th place). Surprising start, not so surprising finish.
Al Central - Detroit (6-2, 81-81, 3rd place). Not that surprising, picked by many to finish in top two.
AL West - Oakland (6-3, 81-81, 2nd place). Surprising start, surprising finish above the Angels, as most picked the Angels to win the Division.
NL East - Philadelphia (6-1, 97-65, NL East Champs). Defending NLCS Champ. Not a shocker here.
NL Central - St. Louis (5-2, 86-76, 2nd place). My team always finishes near the top of the division, so no surprise. Second place: Pittsburgh (3-3, 54-102, dead last). Surpising start, typically pathetic finish.
NL West - San Francisco (6-2, 92-70, World Series Champs). And remember that they snuck into the playoffs on the season's last day or two after the Padres collapsed like a card table over the season's final two weeks.
Result: 2 out of 6 first place teams make the playoffs. 33%. Big whoop.

April 13, 2009:
AL East - Toronto (6-2, 75-87, 4th place). Second place: Baltimore (5-2, 64-98, dead last).
Al Central - Kansas City (4-3, 65-97, dead last) and Chicago (4-3, 79-83, 3rd place). Kansas City: This year's Cleveland. Sorry Tribe fans. Don't get ahead of yourselves.
AL West - Seattle (5-2, 75-87, 3rd place). Popular preseason pick to win the division; yeah, that worked out.
NL East - Florida (5-1, 87-75, 2nd place) and Atlanta (5-1, 86-76, 3rd place).
NL Central - St. Louis (6-2, 86-76, NL Central Champs). I HATE MATT HOLLIDAY. I HATE MATT HOLLIDAY. I HATE MATT HOLLIDAY.
NL West - San Diego (6-2, 75-87, 4th place).
Result: One team in 1st place make playoffs. 16.7% Two others finish with the third and fourth worst records in baseball (KC and Baltimore).

April 9, 2008:
AL East - Baltimore (6-1, 68-93, dead last). Apparently Baltimore has a tradition of hot starts, as well as a tradition of last place finishes.
Al Central - Kansas City (6-2, 75-87, 4th place). Ditto for KC.
AL West - LA Angels (6-4, 100-62, AL West Champs). Great team from start to finish. At least until the playoffs.
NL East - Florida (5-3, 84-77, 3rd place). Another ho hum season for the Fish.
NL Central - St. Louis (7-2, 86-76, 4th place). Gimme a second while I have a moment to gather my thoughts after remembering the Cards' September dive bomb after the Rick Ankiel PED use broke. Where is that guy now anyway? Bueller? Bueller?
NL West - Arizona (7-2, 82-80, 2nd place). Worst division ever, with the Dodgers winning at 84-78.
Result: One team in 1st place makes the playoffs. 16.7%.

3 Year Sample Size: 18 First place teams, 4, I REPEAT, 4, make the playoffs. For a staggering 22% clip. And of those four, the 2008 Angels and 2009 Cardinals were World Series favorites, and the 2010 Phillies were the two-time defending NLCS Champs. ONLY the 2010 San Francisco Giants could be considered a surprising team to make the playoffs after leading the division through the first eight games.

Those stats are exactly why I'm fully confident in Boston's ability to make the playoffs. Baseball wins come with a little luck, and some teams get more than others over the first week of the season. The Cardinals are 2-6, but could easily be 5-3 if Ryan Franklin wasn't an incompetent closer who can't finish a game to save his life (not to mention that atrocious goatee).

If you want a sufficient sample size, get back to me on June 1st (and given the Reds' early 2000's annual June slump, that date may be too early). By that point we'll have over 25% of the season out of the way. Then we can really start evaluating which teams are legitimate contenders, and which teams just had a little fun for the first week of the season. Until that date, just enjoy what you can Orioles and Indians fans. Because the ride's going to be over soon.

*** On another note: I lost a bet this weekend. As much as it pains me to say this, and as much as I want to punch him in the face, congratulations Michael Schwendemann on your victory over me at Crooked Tree Golf Club yesterday. It only took an 18th hole meltdown for you to beat me. But I'm still ahead in the all-time standings: 192-4. Ass. ***


  1. There were many nicknames that I'm glad that you didn't use.

    My thought before June 1 was if I didn't get jacked up then, when would I ever get excited? That's the beauty of Spring Training and early season baseball. Everyone is a contender and on an even playing field. If I were a Pirates fan and hadn't been to the playoffs in 20 years, you're damn right I'd get excited about a fast start. If you don't get excited about your team then, you'll never have a chance to. And every once in awhile, you can exceed those preseason expectations. While the wire-to-wire 1990 Reds are a great example of that, I have much stronger memories of the 1999 Reds. A fast start for Barry Larkin and a bunch of no-names at the time turned into a shocking 96 wins in the most fun I've had with a Reds team until last season. I'll remember being excited about that team for 163 games, instead of just getting excited for the pennant race. And if weren't for Al "multiple expletives" Leiter, I would've attended my first playoff game at age 12 instead of at age 23. But I digress.

    One more side note. I only lost $1 bets to JShy every year back in the day. We increased it to $5 recently, which I gladly cashed in on last year. That's about the only bet I'll make that I know my odds are against me going into the season. It's only $5 and it makes rooting against the "about to go 2-8" Sox even more fun.

    One more one more side note. A little stat to working against your confidence in the Red Sox this year would be that two of 110 teams that have started the season 0-6 have ever made the playoffs ('74 Pirates and '95 Reds). Both lost in the NLCS. Bad news for a team who wishes they could be as good as the Reds with over twice the payroll. I'm not counting them out either, but I'm going to enjoy this while I can.

  2. Steve, I'm with you on the beauty of spring training and early season, but eventually reality has to set in. And the reality is that the Red Sox are better than every other team in baseball, on paper. I'm still thinking they're going to make the playoffs, and I'm feeling another $5 bet???