Hotter than hot: Which of these six streaking teams will keep it up?
Forget Alex Rodriguez and Alex Rios. Lost in the Biogenesis noise and the buildup — and letdown — surrounding the July 31 trade deadline is that several teams are riding hot streaks, some of which have had more impact than others regarding the playoff picture. What follows is a quick look at four teams on active winning streaks of five or more games (three of seven or more) and two others clubs that have been rolling through their respective leagues for the last six weeks. Before these teams cool off, it’s worth appreciating what they’ve done and sizing up where they’re headed. They are presented in order of longest sustained hot stretch:
Los Angeles Dodgers (58-49)
Streak: 28-7 since June 21 (outscored opponents 170-110), 11-2 since the All-Star break (outscored opponents 65-38)
On June 21, the Dodgers lost their ninth game out of 12 to fall to 30-42, a season-worst 12 games below .500. To that point, they had been outscored by 51 runs, their .417 winning percentage exactly matched their Pythagorean winning percentage, and the momentum they had gained from the early June recall of Yasiel Puig and the return of Hanley Ramirez from the disabled list appeared to have been squandered. Asked during one of my weekly radio hits if they still had a chance at the playoffs, I said no, their season was dead and buried.
Ahem. Since that point, the Dodgers have played .800 baseball (.689 Pythagorean), with separate winning streaks of five and six games and a 9-1 start to the second half. In doing so, they’ve climbed from last place to first place in the NL West, turning a 9 1/2-game division deficit into a 3 1/2-game lead. Ramirez (367/.417/.676 with nine homers and 29 RBIs in 151 PA) and Puig (.323/.385/.511 with five homers and 12 walks in 148 PA) have led the way even with the latter cooling off from his first few weeks in the majors; the two have collected big hit after big hit to revive L.A.’s moribund offense.
Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw has delivered a 1.47 ERA and 50 strikeouts against just three walks in seven starts, Zack Greinke has put up a 2.73 ERA in eight starts, and the bullpen’s big four– closer Kenley Jansen, righty Ronald Belisario and lefties Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell — have delivered a 1.06 ERA while allowing just one homer in 59 2/3 innings. The Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds now have the Dodgers at 89.0 percent, up 15.8 percentage points over the last week.
Tampa Bay Rays (64-44)
Streak: 26-7 since June 22 (outscored opponents 142-85)
Kansas City Royals (54-51)
Streak: 9-0 since July 22 (outscored opponents 42-16), 11-2 since the All-Star break (outscored opponents 52-34)
During the All-Star break, when the Royals were 43-49 and the possibility of trading Ervin Santana was gaining steam, general manager Dayton Moore sounded out of touch with reality when he suggested, “[T]here’s no reason this team can’t go on a run where you win 15 of 20.” After all, his team hasn’t gone on a stretch where they’ve won 15 of 20 since 2003, the only season since 1994 in which Kansas City finished with a winning record, and three years before he took over as general manager.
Since then, the Royals have rolled, splitting a four-game series with the Tigers and taking three out of four from the Orioles (both in Kansas City) and then sweeping the White Sox and Twins on the road. Their current nine-game winning streak is the franchise’s longest since 1994. Since the break, their starting pitching has delivered a 2.30 ERA with 11 quality starts in 13 games, including all nine during the streak. The last time any starter gave up more than two runs was back on July 22, when Wade Davis surrendered four in 2 2/3 innings; that was also the only time in the second half that any Kansas City starter has gone less than six innings.
The offense hasn’t entirely turned around, but Mike Moustakas is hitting .325/.391/.625 in 46 plate appearances in the second half after an abysmal .215/.271/.327 showing in the first half.
While Moore had come around to the possibility of trading Santana as the break drew near, it didn’t sound as though he ever got a serious offer. Meanwhile, the Royals were one of the few teams to pull off a July 31 deal; they sent High-A righty Kyle Smith, a 2011 fourth-round pick, to the Astros for outfielder Justin Maxwell, a spare part who might make a decent platoon partner for rightfielder David Lough given his career .253/.370/.455 hitter in 303 PA against lefties.
Alas, the streak hasn’t gained Kansas City much ground in the AL Central, because the teams above it are on rolls as well. On the heels of a 2-7 skid, the Royals were eight games out of first place when they started the nine-game streak, and they’re now 6 1/2 out. They’ve helped themselves considerably in the wild-card race, trimming a 10-game deficit to 4 1/2 games, but even so, the Baseball Prospectus odds give them just a 2.8 percent chance of making the playoffs — up just 1.6 percentage points from a week ago — and a 1.5 percent chance of reaching the Division Series.
Cleveland Indians (60-48)
Streak: 8-0 since July 23 (outscored opponents 50-21)
The Indians have been on something of a rollercoaster this year, but they would appear to be enjoying the ride. An 18-4 stretch from April 28 through May 20 pushed them into first place in the AL Central, and as of May 23, they were 27-19, having beaten the Red Sox in manager Terry Francona’s Fenway Park homecoming. From there they lost 16 of 20, a reminder of their fast fades in recent years, but they immediately offset that nosedive with a 15-5 run that again briefly unseated the Tigers atop the division.
Since then, Cleveland is 15-10, including its current eight-game streak, which includes a road win over the Mariners, and then sweeps at home against the Rangers (three games) and White Sox (four games). While they’ve only gained a game and a half in the division race, the Indians have gone from 4 1/2 back in the wild-card race to half a game ahead of the Orioles and Rangers for the second spot. It’s not as though they’re doing it with smoke and mirrors; their +56 run differential is fifth in the league, just as their record is. The BP odds put them with a 48.1 percent chance at the playoffs — up 23.3 percentage points from a week ago — and a 30.6 percent chance at reaching the Division Series.
While newcomers Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Michael Bourn have been somewhat underwhelming, Jason Kipnis has emerged as a star, and Ryan Raburn has wielded a potent bat off the bench. Meanwhile, a rotation that looked shaky at the outset of the year ranks 10th in the league in ERA 4.11, but all five current starters — a group that includes a much-improved Ubaldo Jimenez and a back-from-the-dead Scott Kazmir — have ERAs of 4.17 or lower; the unit is in a virtual tie for third in strikeout rate (8.0). Some rotation insurance at the deadline might have been nice, but as it was, all the team did was pick up lefty Marc Rzepczynski, who has struggled this year.
Atlanta Braves (64-45)
Streak: 7-0 since July 24 (outscored opponents 40-14)
The Braves have held first place in the NL East for every day of the season except one (April 4, when they were 2-1), but after bolting out to a 12-1 start, they had gone a very middling 45-44 before kicking off their current streak with home sweeps of the Cardinals (three games) and Rockies (four games). Fortunately for them, the other four teams in the division are all below .500, and during the streak, they’ve expanded their lead from 8 1/2 games to 11 1/2. Atlanta’s BP odds are now at 99.6 percent, up 6.2 percentage points from a week ago.
Detroit Tigers (61-45)
Streak: 5-0 since July 24 (outscored opponents 40-7), 9-1 since July 20 (outscored opponents 67-22)
Despite charges by the Indians and Royals, the Tigers haven’t exactly rolled over. In fact, dating back to July 20, they’ve increased their AL Central lead by half a game, to a full two games over Cleveland. They’ve done this despite only sporadic contributions from Miguel Cabrera. The reigning AL MVP is battling a sore left hip flexor and has played in just five of the team’s last 10 games, departing early in four, and accumulated just 16 plate appearances and four hits, two of them homers.
Meanwhile, Justin Verlander has been the weak link in Detroit’s rotation, surrendering 13 runs in 11 2/3 innings over his last two starts while the rest of the unit has allowed just nine in 60 innings, with more than one run allowed in only one game during that span.
As it stands, the BP odds put the Tigers with a 94.4 percent chance at making the playoffs — up 2.2 percentage points from a week ago despite their streaking competition — and a 90.1 percent chance of reaching the Division Series, the highest in the entire league.