The Great AL East Panic Of 2011

  • Thursday, April 7, 2011 10:05 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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On Thursday afternoon, the Red Sox and Rays both lost and moved to 0-6. Coupled with the Astros’ win over the Reds, this left the two AL East would-be contenders as the last teams standing – in only the loss column.

Of course, everyone is debating what these slow starts mean, particularly when it comes to the Sawx, a popular World Series pick just a week ago.

In Boston, panic has gripped the streets like in no other time since the Revolutionary War. When Darnell McDonald’s baserunning blunder accounted for the final out in Thursday’s loss to the Indians, I kind of imagined Paul Revere putting the butt of his musket through the TV, mounting his horse and galloping off to warn everyone of impending doom.

Now, the logic-inclined sector of the Internet baseball-following community has mostly refrained from stocking-up-on-canned-goods-level apocalypse angst. And not just because most moms’ basements already feature a nice stash of canned goods.

Look at it at this way: The Red Sox and Rays both have played slightly less than 4 percent of their schedules. And while both teams are now clearly in a hole, the situation is really not that dire.

In terms of the division, the Yankees are four games ahead, but Boston and Tampa each get 19 head-to-head matchups included in the remaining schedule. That’s a lot of opportunities to gain ground. And then think in terms of the wildcard. If we assume teams like Baltimore, Toronto, Kansas City and Cleveland are not serious playoff contenders – a fairly safe assumption – Boston and Tampa are right in the mix. The Twins, Tigers and Athletics are all 2-4, while the Angels are 3-3.

Just out of curiosity, I went back to the start of the six-division, wildcard format and looked at the teams with the longest season-opening losing streaks each season. Here are the results, listed with the streak, the overall season record and the finish in the division.

2010: Astros, 0-8, 76-86, 4th
2009: Nationals, 0-7, 59-103, 5th
2008: Tigers, 0-7, 74-88, 5th
2007: Astros, 0-4, 73-89, 4th
2006: Pirates, 0-6, 67-95, 5th
2005: Mets, 0-5, 83-79, 3rd
2004: Mariners, 0-5, 63-99, 4th
2003: Tigers, 0-9, 43-119, 5th
2002: Tigers, 0-11, 55-106, 5th
2001: Brewers, 0-4, 68-94, 4th / Marlins, 0-4, 76-86, 4th / Royals, 0-4, 65-97, 5th
2000: Phillies, 0-3, 65-97, 5th
1999: D-backs, 0-4, 100-62, 1st
1998: Expos, 0-7, 65-97, 4th
1997: Cubs, 0-14, 68-94, 5th
1996: Red Sox, 0-5, 85-77, 3rd
1995: Reds, 0-6, 85-59, 1st

With three teams tying in 2001, that gives us a pool of 18 teams, which averaged a 6.3-game losing streak to begin the year. These clubs went on to win an average of 70.6 games (71.1 if you account for the ’95 Reds’ strike-shortened season).

Seven of the 18 finished in last place, two finished third, none second and two first.

The 1999 Diamondbacks, in the franchise’s second year of existence and coming off a 65-win campaign, started 0-4. By May 18, they were 23-17 and leading the NL West. They took the lead for good on July 24 and went on to win the division by 14 games

The 1995 season was delayed due to the strike. The Reds played their first game on April 26, lost, then lost five more in a row. They then went 12-5 to get over .500 and were leading the division for good by June 5, going on to take it by nine games.

Of course, neither of these teams were dealing with anything like the present-day AL East, but the main point holds: Hope is not lost.

Unless you lose again today. Then you’re definitely screwed.

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