With streak over, will bad karma bite Tribe?
Baseball is not built for 22-game winning streaks. Not anymore. Such things are as unnatural as plastic surgery. A team that looks so tight for so long has to bow to gravity sooner or later. Right?
A team that wins 22 games in a row has to be messing with the baseball gods. Sooner or later, Old Hoss Radbourn is going to get up in the big bullpen in the sky and throw a lightning bolt. Right?
You win 22 in a row and you start thinking like a Buddhist, that life is pain as well as pleasure, and the pain is coming. There has to be a karmic reckoning. Right?
The Los Angeles Dodgers went 25-5 from July 20 through Aug. 5. They had a 21-game lead in the National League West. They proceeded to lose 16 of their next 17 games. It was inevitable. Right?
Not necessarily. Let us set the baseball gods aside for a moment. Here is a question directed to Bill James, the Copernicus of the stats-centered baseball world, whose billjamesonline.com is
One “ajmilner” asks: Of the seven longest winning streaks in baseball history (that is, 20-plus wins in a row), five began after August 1st. It’s a ridiculously tiny sample size, I know, but might there be a correlation?
Bill James answers:
winning percentage has a huge impact in the probability of a long winning streak. A .600 team is TWICE as likely to have a 20-game winning streak as a .580 team.
Here is my reading: The Cleveland Indians, whose 22-game winning streak was snapped with a 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Friday night, are a very good (.615) baseball team. What they did — assemble the longest recorded winning streak (without a tie) in 140 years (plus or minus) of professional baseball — is exceedingly and
increasingly rare. Yet, it is not necessarily a statistical aberration in the grand scope of things.
The Dodgers were not happy about losing 16 of 17, but the skid might have had more to do with pitching than market correction.
You wake up with a 21-game lead in the third week of August, you start thinking about October, and managing innings. Dodgers starters Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Kenta Maeda have been pitching on five days rest since the AllStar break.
The Chicago Cubs, among other champions, have taught us that a well-rested, threestud rotation can carry a team into November.
Cleveland’s streak essentially clinched a playoff spot and, perhaps, home-field advantage through the AL championship series. The Indians have 13 games remaining, and you can bet that manager Terry Francona will shepherd his team with a pure focus on October.
Among all the crazy stats that came out of the streak, the following may be the most notable: Francona used 18 pitchers over the 22 games; six players had at least 10 RBI and five more had at least five RBI; and 17 players had an extra-base hit. The spread of those numbers is a natural hedge against implosion.
It is natural for Clevelanders to gird for loss, or to see rain as a harbinger of pending tragedy. The Indians are a fine ballclub, as their streak attests. Let us see yet how it is managed down the stretch.