One thing British sports fans have to adjust to when coming to baseball is that in an MLB season individual wins and losses aren’t celebrated or bemoaned with much emotion until we get into the final couple of weeks of September.
A great come-from-behind win or a depressing late loss certainly creates strong feelings when the final out or walk-off-run occurs, yet the next game comes along so quickly – normally the very next day – that it can, in and for the players must, be quickly forgotten.
However, winning or losing streaks are a bit different. Every streak will come to an end but it’s length can be important as the season moves on.
Whether there is a significant impact on a team of professional players from a few wins or losses is up for debate. Every day is a new day on which the worst team can, and sometimes does, beat the best, so whilst we may make assumptions that five previous consecutive losses played a part in the sixth defeat, that may just be a narrative we’re applying to a series of coincidences.
Whatever the reason for them, long streaks do have an impact because they either put wins on the board that can put future losses into perspective, or they can put you in a hole in which the hard work of several wins is clouded by the fact that the victories are only helping you to make up ground you had already lost.
The Boston Red Sox’s last sixteen games are a great case in point.
A 9-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday 14 May took them one game above .500 (20-19) and moved them to within half a game of the AL East division-leading Baltimore Orioles. When the Red Sox came off the field last Sunday after an 8-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays things were very different. Ten consecutive losses had plunged them to the bottom of the division with a 20-29 record and an eight game deficit to the revitalised Toronto Blue Jays (more on them in a moment).
The impact in the standings wasn’t the main issue. Boston still had 113 regular season games to play after that tenth defeat so there was, and still is, a lot of time to make up lost ground. What hurt the Red Sox was that they had put themselves into a position where they needed to put a series of wins on the board just to get back to where they were (one game above .500).
The reigning World Series-champs are a good way along the process of achieving this. Last night’s 7-1 victory over the Rays made it six wins in a row so they’ll go into their Sunday game with a win-loss record of 26-29; however they know they cannot be complacent. A win for Tampa Bay today followed by a 2-1 series defeat in Cleveland during the first half of next week and the benefit of those six victories would still be set within a 27-32 record that is not what they would have been hoping for from their first 59 games before the season began.
It’s an obvious point perhaps, but the aim of every team is to accept you’ll lose your share of games (the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals shared the Major League lead for wins last season with 97, so even the best still tasted defeat 65 times) but to keep the losing sequences short so that your winning periods really count.
It also depends on your expectations for the season. The Red Sox’s streakiness is all-the-more frustrating due to their rightful status as a World Series contender heading into the campaign.
For the Houston Astros, their seven-game winning streak this week (ended last night by the Baltimore Orioles) still left them bottom of the pile in the AL West, yet as a rebuilding team they can enjoy the fun of the winning run regardless of the losses that come around it. That’s particularly the case as it was driven by an incredible week from rookie George Springer who homered six times over those seven wins. Springer’s exploits will not lead Houston to a winning season in 2014, but they may well offer a glimpse to a very bright future a couple of seasons down the line.
Whilst the Astros’ recent run isn’t going to change their fortunes in 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays are a different story. They put together a five-game winning streak earlier in May and followed it up with a nine-game streak that came to an end on Thursday. With a few wins and losses in between they put together a Major-League best 21-9 win-loss record for May and launched themselves to the top of the AL East, with Edwin Encarnacion launching 16 home runs in the process.
It may be a bit much to expect the Blue Jays to put together a similar month in June, yet they look like a team that could be turning 2014 into the sort of competitive year that they were supposed to have in 2013. That’s the sort of impact that winning streaks can have.