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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, June 18, 2001
Looking Ahead to 80 Games
Don puts Seattle’s hot streak into historical perspective.
The Seattle Mariners lost a game yesterday.
That’s big news this season. (It’s certainly more newsworthy than the overseas exploits of our accidental Prez, for example.)
Seattle’s 11-9 loss to San Diego dropped their record to 52-15, and relegated them to a tie for the best start after 67 games. For several days, the M’s had been trying to catch up with the 1912 New York Giants, who’d ridden a 16-game winning streak to the greatest start in baseball history over 65 games (54-11), but they appear doomed to fall short. With Sunday’s loss, they were caught by the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates, who were also 52-15 after 67 games.
Here’s the complete list of top 67-game starts:
That’s nice, but the headline makes mention of 80 games, doesn’t it. And so we’re now going to look ahead, craning our eyes on a more distant and difficult target.
Though some sample size mavens don’t think so, 80 games is a lot. Any team can win six out of eight?but can they do it ten times in a row? What’s the best 80-game streak ever? What’s the best start after 80 games?
Before I answer those questions, though, let’s take a look at some recent data centering around 80 games. What follows is best streak/start and worst streak/start for the years 1990-2000. This should give you a sense of the typical range of performance in 80 games, or roughly half a year:
The eagle-eyed among you will note that there’s always a team that manages to play .667 ball or better over some 80-game stretch of each season. The two best performances in the past eleven years over an 80-game in-season stretch were the ‘98 Yankees (64-16, a cool .800 WPCT) and the ‘93 Braves (58-22, straining to overhaul the Giants).
The distance between the best streak and the best start is 37 games over eleven years. Those ‘98 Yankees won 75% of their first 80 games, and were four games off their best 80-game performance of the year. That’s a little more than the average dropoff.
You might not be too surprised to discover that the 1998 Yankees are one of four teams to start a season with a 60-20 record. Since this has been something of an ongoing topic thus far in 2001, you may already have an idea as to the identity of the other teams in this select pantheon. But I will list them below anyway:
Will the Mariners be the fifth team in this exalted group? The next couple of weeks will tell the tale, of course. They have an interesting stretch coming up this week that may be pivotal in that regard?four games against the hungry, underachieving Oakland A’s, fresh off being swept by the Giants in Pac Bell Park. If ever a team was motivated to "make a statement", it’s the A’s, who were pretty much handed the AL West by just about everyone prior to the start of the 2001 campaign.
What about the best 80-game streak of all time, though? We’ve already seen that the ‘98 Yankees fashioned a 64-16 mark during their 114-win campaign. Has anyone done better than this? Has anyone else even done as well?
The answer to both of those questions, as it turns out, is "yes." There is one team that had a better 80-game streak than the ‘98 Yankees. And there are two other teams who did as well. The team that did better will be no surprise to anyone, but the two teams that did as well are quite unexpected additions to this pantheon of half-season glory:
That’s right. George Stallings’ "Miracle Braves" (that’s the Boston Braves), who went on to sweep the Philadelphia A’s in one of the great World Series upsets of all time, climbed from last place to first on a long march of unprecedented brilliance. Only those 1906 Chicago Cubs, who won 116 games, were better over an 80-game stretch.
Also approaching the half-season Valhalla: the 1944 St. Louis Cardinals, in the third of three consecutive 100+-win seasons, who brought the NL to its knees with a depth of talent that seemed endless.
As you can see, the Mariners are simply not going to make a run at the "best streak" record. They’d have to win their next thirteen games. That’s a tall order, even for a team that’s currently 52-15. We’ll be keeping track, however, and when we get to the 80-game mark?as noted, in a couple weeks from now?I’ll post a more complete list of "best eighty-game starts". We’ll see where Seattle ranks on that list when the time comes.
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