Context and Perspective

Throughout the ups and downs of the season — and the ups and downs of the individual games within that season — it’s easy to lose the big picture. As the Red Sox struggled earlier this month, losing ground at an alarming pace to the suddenly resurgent Yankees, the fear was that the Sox were recreating the disastrous 2006 campaign (or worse: the disastrous 1978 one), in which everything was going so well — until it wasn’t.

The fact is, however, that 10 games before the end of the season’s first half, the Red Sox have yet to go through a really serious (i.e., three weeks or more) slump. In fact, they’ve been remarkably consistent, particularly when compared to other teams and previous Sox pennant winners.

Over the last 25 games, the Red Sox have played .600 baseball. They’re 15-10 since May 25. It’s a return to that level after being 14-11 and 13-12 over the many different 25-game stretches you could pick out between May 11 and June 19. Still, with 13-12 being the worst they’ve been over any given stretch, that means the Sox have yet to play break-even ball over a 25-game or longer stretch this season.

No team in baseball this season has had a better 25-game stretch than the Red Sox did between April and May, when they went 19-6. Likewise, none of the other top teams in baseball have done as well as the Red Sox in their worst 25-game stretches this season. The Angels went 12-13 between April and May, the Tigers 11-14 between May and June, the Indians 12-13 between May and June, the Brewers 8-17 mostly in May, the Padres 12-13 between April and May. The Mets are 9-16 in their last 25; the Braves just got off a 9-16 skid and are 10 for their last 15. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks and A’s all have gone either 12-13 or 11-14 for a stretch. The Yankees were 10-15 in several 25-game stretches between early May and early June. Without checking every team, it’s safe to say the Sox are the only team in baseball who have yet to fall below .500 for at least 15 percent of the season.

Let’s see how that compares historically. The best Red Sox team, by both wins and winning percentage, was the 1912 club, which finished the season 105-47, powered by the superstar outfield of Harry Hooper, Duffy Lewis and Tris Speaker and the rubber arm of Hall of Famer Smoky Joe Wood. Clearly, the June Swoon wasn’t yet in effect in 1912 — the Sox went 21-4 starting June 6. This team had amazing consistency, going 15-10 in its two worst stretches, in April-May and in September-October. That may actually be the best "worst" stretch by any team in baseball history.

The 1915 club was almost as good, winning 101 games and the franchise’s fourth AL pennant and third World Series championship. Joe Wood was joined by Babe Ruth, Ernie Shore and Dutch Leonard — one of baseball’s all-time great rotations. All that pitching couldn’t keep the club from getting off to a sluggish start — just 12-13 in its first 25 games. As May ended, the Sox were barely above .500 (17-15), and they were five games behind the White Sox in the American League. They played .700 baseball the rest of the way.

The only other 100-win club in Red Sox history is the 1946 pennant winner of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, Boo Ferriss and Tex Hughson. The team won 104 games, yet slumped from mid-June to mid-July, going just 11-14 during that span. At the end of play June 11, the Red Sox were 41-9, an amazing .820 clip and already 10 games in front of the Yankees (sound familiar?). After suffering a loss July 6, the club was 52-23, its winning percentage down to "just" .693, and its lead over New York only six games.

Only two other Sox teams have come within two games of 100 wins — and they are perhaps the franchise’s two most famous versions: 1978 and 2004. Needless to say, the 1978 Sox have by far the worst 25-game stretch you could expect from a team that finished with 99 wins. Between Aug. 22 and Sept. 16, the club went 9-16. More importantly, they posted the same record from Aug. 30 through Sept. 24. The 2004 club nearly did the exact opposite, starting sluggishly and rallying at the end of the season — waiting until the postseason to snatch victory from the jaws of the Yankees. The club was an uninspiring 11-14 over 25 games between June and July, but from Aug. 11 to Sept. 11 of that year, went 22-3, the best 25-game stretch in Red Sox history (tied with 1950).

Here’s a quick rundown of the Sox’ pennant winners (or, absent that, 95-game winners) and their best and worst 25-game records:

  • Year: Best, Worst, wins
  • 1903: 19-6, 12-13, 91
  • 1904: 19-6, 9-16, 95
  • 1912: 21-4, 15-10, 105
  • 1915: 21-4, 12-13, 101
  • 1916: 18-7, 10-15, 91
  • 1918: 19-6, 12-13, 75*
  • 1946: 21-4, 11-14, 104
  • 1948: 21-4, 8-17, 96
  • 1949: 20-5, 12-13, 96
  • 1967: 18-7, 10-15, 92
  • 1975: 20-5, 11-14, 95
  • 1977: 19-6, 11-14, 97
  • 1978: 20-5, 9-16, 99
  • 1986: 20-5, 9-16, 95
  • 1995: 21-4, 10-15, 86*
  • 2003: 17-8, 11-14, 95
  • 2004: 22-3, 11-14, 98
  • 2005: 19-6, 10-15, 95
  • 2007: 19-6, 13-12, 105 (projected)

* Shortened season

By contrast, the Red Sox of 2006 never had a 25-game stretch as good as the ’07 Sox, and their 6-19 August last season is a testament to what a truly horrible streak looks like. And really, let’s all be glad it’s not 1927 again — when the Sox went a franchise-record 2-23 between June 8 and July 4.

The lesson here appears to be two-fold: First, the Sox’ recent slump is actually very good, relatively speaking. If it’s the worst we see all season, the 2007 Red Sox will be among the historically consistent teams in baseball (even the 1998 Yankees went 11-14 between August and September, though the 2001 Mariners never did worse than 14-11 and the 1954 Indians’ worst stretch equaled the 1912 Sox’). Which brings me to Point 2: We can probably expect another one of these this season, and it’ll probably be worse than this one. At which point, we can once again be thankful for the double-digit division lead.

(Thanks to Baseball-Reference’s streak analyzer).

17 comments… add one
  • Nice post, Paul. I know I haven’t been around much, and this is going to sound an awful lot like fair-weather optimism or something of that sort…but am I the only SF who never got particularly worried during NY’s run? Like not even a little bit? Don’t get me wrong, I still watch the scoreboard and haven’t declared the season finished just yet…but I just didn’t see the Sox’ scuffling as predictive of things to come. And all the cards are pretty much in Boston’s hands.
    I’m working 3-11 right now, which is an absolutely miserable shift as far as baseball is concerned…but I’ve been ghosting since work started, occasionally trying to make time to post. I tried a few times in the middle of the streak. And on three separate occasions that I can remember, typepad decided it didn’t like what I had to say and erased pretty sizable posts, to the point where I got pissed off and just gave up.
    I was sort of surprised to see some of the panic…SF was particularly vitriolic during Schilling’s last start. Incidentally, the last time I tried to post was after Schilling’s start. Had this relatively long look at his peripheral stats all written up…then it disappeared. Tried again, same thing happened. Then I went to bed. Anyway, I basically said I thought he’d be up-and-down all season and that a DL-visit was in the near future to get him some rest; I still hold out hope that this is something like a dead arm.
    Anyway, I was going to say pretty much the same thing Paul just did…even in a slump, the Sox never really got hammered. They lost 3/4 that could have easily gone either way in Oakland, and 2/3 from the extremely underrated Rockies…that was about it. In 19 June games, 8 were decided by 2 or fewer runs. Boston went 4-4 in those 8 games. Interestingly enough…the four losses came consecutively in the start of June–the loss to NY after Paps and Oki broke our hearts, followed by the Sox’ inability to come up with a big hit against Oakland–and the four wins have come since. In April and May, Boston was 15-5 in 1 or 2-run games. I consider that 4-4 stretch something of a statistical evening-out…

    desturbd1 June 22, 2007, 1:50 am
  • Great read, Paul. I will be mildly surprised if the Sox win 105 this season, as that is a formidable total. However, the Sox team ERA positively sparkles, and once the run support (which is by track record only due to get better since the most potent hitters have yet to reach their stride, not that it has mattered) comes, it should be a walk to the pennant, and I should retract and not be so surprised if/when the team eclipses 100 wins (that’s really _hard_ to do), considering the truly excellent baseball the Sox have played for the most part.

    attackgerbil June 22, 2007, 3:06 am
  • “…but am I the only SF who never got particularly worried during NY’s run? Like not even a little bit?”
    No, you are not. In fact, I’m shocked that there were any Red Sox fans that were seriously sweating about a collapse. Those gloom-and-doomers are living in a pre-2004 world.

    redsock June 22, 2007, 10:41 am
  • I’ve always maintained it’s difficult to shake years of preconditioning just because of three glorious weeks in October. I’ll confess to being a little worried, but I’d like to think I remained confident — and still do — that the Sox will win the East.

    Paul SF June 22, 2007, 10:49 am
  • if it helps Sox fans, I’m the opposite of confident regarding the Yanks’ chances of winning the AL East.

    Nick-YF June 22, 2007, 10:55 am
  • That was a wonderful post. Thank you for taking all that time to research it.
    That said, can we still lobby to get rid of El Vacio please??

    jp-sf June 22, 2007, 11:03 am
  • Come on, it’s not ridiculous to think that a team that gave away 7 games in two weeks was just fine, that things were all peachy. They aren’t, still, though clearly the team is very, very good, and the last few days does show that emotional pendulum swings may not be the wisest thing for one’s heart, that rationalism is healthier.
    I was one who certainly had mood swings, but they weren’t irrational. We have a shortstop who has had a 500 at-bat sample size of futility. We had a centerfielder with a 400 at-bat sample size of offensive underperformance. We have a fifth starter who is totally overachieving. We have a third starter on the DL, who has gotten shellacked in recent weeks. We have a third baseman with a bad ligament in his wrist on a pace for 30 errors. And we had a division rival much healthier, with a $200M lineup hitting to their abilities, or perhaps slightly above their abilities. Nobody who was worried by the last four weeks should have to apologize for the worries raised by that stretch, myself included.
    If this sounds defensive, it’s because it is.

    SF June 22, 2007, 11:14 am
  • (Oh, and great post, Paul. Superb.)

    SF June 22, 2007, 11:15 am
  • Great work, Paul.
    -andrews

    Anonymous June 22, 2007, 11:30 am
  • Not saying anyone should apologize for being a little worried, just that I was surprised by HOW worried some people were. (And I didn’t mean to call you out SF…that was supposed to be something of a joke about how you took my role as most-negative-in-game-poster, but I erased the rest by accident in editing…heh. ;-) )
    And we do have all those problems–though Lugo’s on pace for 23 errors, by my count–but they come along with a fat 10-game lead. Manny and Ortiz are just hitting their stride (well, Manny, at least; Ortiz has had a fantastic year) and so is JD Drew, whose move to the 5-hole is an inevitability at this point. (I’d like Pedroia-Youk hitting 1-2, I don’t think Youkilis has Drew’s power. Though I am happy with things the way they are.)
    I dunno, I told myself the whole time that I would refuse to panic until the lead was cut to 4-6 games, and then only if it was something Boston could control. Like if NY goes 15-3 later on against a regular schedule and not the pile of crap they beat up in early June…not a ton Boston can do about that, the lead’s going to shrink a bit. If the Sox suddenly get pounded for a few weeks and none of the games are close…that’s when I freak out.
    Tavarez is due for a crash–for some reason I feel very bad about this Seattle series as a whole (SD is a coinflip)–but at least there are a good four guys throwing the ball real well in Pawtucket. (I haven’t totally given up on Hansack’s ability to be a long-man, and while their WHIPS concern me, Pauley and Gabbard look solid. I still don’t think Lester’s ready but he could probably contribute at a reasonable level.)

    desturbd1 June 22, 2007, 1:27 pm
  • Tavarez is due for a crash….
    I don’t know if I agree, D. Tavarez is what he is, but this starting role seems to have him very pumped, and he seems more suited to do it. I think that he knows if he makes a mistake in the second inning, it’s okay, he has time to correct it. It’s completely different from the pen, and I don’t think he was cut for that kind of pressure. He’s no ace for sure, but he has gotten better and better. It’s not like he didn’t help out the rotation last year as well, or had ten bad starts and two good ones. He’s done very well in his role, and I don’t really expect him to get much better, or much worse for that matter. He is what he is, but I don’t think he’s due for a crash. If he does, I’d be surprised. I know he’ll get lit up from time to time, or he’ll walk to many to live through it, but a “crash” isn’t something I see happening.

    Regular_Brad. June 22, 2007, 3:42 pm
  • Great read Paul, as usual. It’s a little spine-tingling to even consider that we might witness something historic with the 2007 Red Sox.
    …but am I the only SF who never got particularly worried during NY’s run? Like not even a little bit?
    No, you’re not. I’ll admit it certainly was disconcerting seeing a 14 game lead drop to 7 in the span of two weeks, but I didn’t buy into all the doom and gloom so many others did. I maintained all through it that it was a “rough path” and that soon enough it would end. The key was the pitching; if the staff had completely imploded during that last West Coast swing, then I might’ve worried, but it didn’t and the track records of the hitters indicated that the offense wouldn’t stay anemic forever. Baseball is a game of streaks, after all.
    And now that Coco’s hitting like a man possessed, things look even better. As to Lugo, well…I will do my best to remain patient.

    mouse - SF June 22, 2007, 4:02 pm
  • I was never worried during the media hyped Yankee streak. They beat up on some of the worst teams in baseball. Whoopty friggin do, we beat the Pirates who have a .400 winning % in the terrible NL. Mets haven’t won in a month, Arizona is ehh, White Sox are garbage. The second they played a real team again in Colorodo they got destroyed again. What do you think is going to happen when they have to play AL teams again? Back to sub .500 ball for the Yanks.

    Naswipp June 22, 2007, 4:35 pm
  • Arizona was 10 games over .500. Is “ehh” the word one uses when avoiding the weak part of an argument?

    Nick-YF June 22, 2007, 4:37 pm
  • It’s all perspective.
    If we led the Yanks by 3 and bumped it up to 8 games, we’d be thrilled. If it dropped from 14 to 8, we’d be annoyed.
    But we’d still have an 8 game lead at that particular date. … And now it’s 10.5!

    redsock June 22, 2007, 5:29 pm
  • the media hyped Yankee streak
    It wasn’t a media-hyped streak. It was a real, honest-to-goodness STREAK, and it knocked 7 games off a lead in no time. The Yankees showed that they are capable of being a very good team for longer stretches. That they stumbled against the Rockies isn’t evidence of the inevitability of the opposite. It was a short series against some unfamiliar pitchers. We SFs know how that works, right?

    SF June 22, 2007, 5:49 pm
  • The importance of the Yankees’ stumbling against the Rockies, in my opinion, was that the Sox were able to win two of three at the same time and essentially erase most of the gains the Yankees made during their hot streak. There’s a huge psychological boost, at least as a fan, to have weathered a once-in-a-season-type streak from the second-place team and still be in roughly the same position as before the streak began.

    Paul SF June 22, 2007, 8:11 pm

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