Courtesy of Jim Feist
Baseball is a game of stats and streaks. The Blue Jays started 12-15 at the end of April before getting it together, surging into first place with a powerhouse offense. Kansas City was stuck in fourth place at the end of May before making a June surge and put some heat on the Tigers. No one paid much attention to the Miami Marlins at the end of April, rebuilding while sitting in last place. Now they are winding down a first half within striking distance of a Wild Card and first place in the NL East.
Remember the high payroll Dodgers a year ago? They stumbled out of the gate, sitting in last place after two full months of play, rumors of changes and firings abounding. By September they were running away with the division. Two years ago the Yankees started 0-3 and 21-21 with all kinds of problems with pitching, before turning things around and winning the division.
In recent campaigns the Tigers started the season losing 7 straight games, despite being favored in the first five. In 2009 the Florida Marlins started 11-1 before going in a massive funk, not even coming close to the postseason.
There will be all kinds of streaks over the course of a 162-game season: Consecutive shutout innings thrown by pitchers, a batter hitting safely in X number of games, or consecutive saves by a closer. Two years ago R.A. Dickey of the Mets was dazzling NL hitters with his 37-year old knuckler, including back-to-back one-hitters during a 20-6 campaign. The next year? Traded to Toronto and went 14-13 with an ERA over four in the rugged AL East.
Speaking of Toronto pitching, how about Mark Buehrle? A modest 12-10 record last year on the downside of a career going 13-13 in 2012 and 2010. But now at age 35, he?s turned the clock back 10 years and is having a magnificent season.
You will see 10-game win streaks, 10-game losing streaks, pitchers ripping off 7-straight wins, teams losing 4-straight one-run games. All these add to the excitement and interest in the game.
From a betting perspective, streaks need to be approached with a careful eye and a cautious head. Playing against "the law of averages" is no way to wager. For example, some bettors think, "This team has won nine in a row, therefore it is time to bet against them, as they are due for a losing streak." This doesn't work in the world of eleven-to-ten.
A little perspective: two years ago the Giants were 46-40, losing 7 of 9 heading into the All-Star break. Do you need to be reminded how they did in October? Three years ago this week the Cardinals were 41-38 after dropping their third in a row. They won the whole thing in October. Four years ago at this time the Giants lost 7 straight games and 13 of 18. They didn't look like postseason material while sitting at 40-39, but put it all together down the stretch for a World Series title.
A decade ago the Boston Red Sox played close to .500 baseball much of the season from May through mid-August. Starting on August 16, the Sox won six in a row. If you supported the law of averages, you might conclude that the Sox would be due for several losses and bet against them. In fact, they did lose, 3-0 to Toronto ending that streak ? only to then go on a ten-game win streak. When that streak ended, they won nine of the next 12 games. The "anticipated" losing streak never arrived. Simply put, the law of averages can't predict what is going to happen the next game, or the next ten games.
Some teams can slip out of a funk that had gone on for months, as the 2004 Red Sox did, and begin to play very well, while others do not. In fact, that is the point -- there are almost always tangible reasons why a team goes on hot or cold streaks, more so than the law of averages.
Defending NL champion St. Louis has had offensive problems, on a recent 8-1-2 run under the total, as well as 16-5-1 under at home against lefties. Washington is similar, with plenty of pitching but a lack of offense. The Nationals are 19-7-1 under the total in their own division.
Sometimes injuries can play a role, especially if an ace pitcher is out, and other times teams go into a collective hitting or pitching slump, like the 2011 Red Sox in September.
Think about the talented 2007 NY Mets. They ended the year 5-12, blowing the division lead to the Phillies. If you had bet on them the last week with the reasoning, "They're too good to keep playing this bad," you would have lost your shirt when they went 1-6 against the Nationals and Marlins, two of the worst teams in baseball.
At the start of the 1988 season the Baltimore Orioles lost their first 21 games. Sports bettors playing the law of averages hoping the Orioles "were due to win" blew out their betting bankrolls before May 1st. Overall, it is better to ride a hot team or continue to bet against a cold team, than to rely on the law of averages and bet the other way.
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