Posted August 15, 2013

Scorching-hot Dodgers equal best stretch of wild-card era with eye on more

Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles is now 37-8 over the past 45 games and swept the Rays over the weekend. (Adam Davis/Icon SMI)

The matchup between the majors’ two hottest teams over the past seven weeks wasn’t even all that close. Over the weekend, the Dodgers swept the Rays in a three-game set at Chavez Ravine and outscored them 20-8. And before Monday night’s win over the Mets, Los Angeles was 20-3 since the All-Star break and 37-8 since June 21, when it hit rock bottom at 30-42.

That last streak is worth a closer look, because in the annals of baseball history, only a small handful of teams have ever matched or surpassed it. The last time a team went 37-8 over a 45-game stretch — an admittedly arbitrary swatch of the season — was in 2005, when the A’s did so from June 18 through August 7, though as hot as they were, they nonetheless missed out on the postseason with an 88-74 finish. Equaling that mark but faring better in terms of at least reaching the postseason were the 2001 A’s, who did so from August 2 through September 26 (or August 3 through September 27) and won the AL wild card with a 102-60 record. Matching that mark but going onto greater glory were the 1998 Yankees, who did so from April 5 to May 29 en route to setting an AL record with 114 wins and winning the World Series.

The last time a team surpassed that by going 38-7 was in 1951, when the Giants (then based in New York) overcame a 13-game deficit on the Brooklyn Dodgers to force a best-of-three playoff for the pennant which it won with Bobby Thomson’s famous Shot Heard ‘Round the World. As a matter of fact, that streak began on Aug. 12, 1951, 62 years ago today (Monday).

Here’s a quick look at the teams that managed a record as good or better than this year’s Dodgers over a 45-game stretch. Note that I’m discarding ties from the results:

Team Year W L
Chicago Cubs 1906 41 4
Philadelphia A’s 1914 39 6
New York Yankees 1941 39 6
New York Giants 1936 38 7
St. Louis Cardinals 1942 38 7
New York Giants 1951 38 7
Pittsburgh Pirates 1909 37 8
New York Yankees 1928 37 8
New York Yankees 1939 37 8
Brooklyn Dodgers 1953 37 8
Cleveland Indians 1954 37 8
Kansas City Royals 1977 37 8
New York Yankees 1998 37 8
Oakland A’s 2001 37 8
Oakland A’s 2005 37 8
Los Angeles Dodgers 2013 37 8

The 1906 Cubs, who went 116-36 to set a still-standing National League record for wins and a still-standing major league record for winning percentage at .763, had the best 45-game stretch in the Modern Era (1901-present). In fact, they had a handful of overlapping 41-4 stretches within that season, the first of which ran from July 26 through Sept. 14 (games 92-136) and the last of which lasted from Aug. 8 through Sept. 24 (games 103-147). They closed the year on a 39-6 run, but nonetheless lost the World Series to the cross-town White Sox, the so-called “Hitless Wonders,” in six games.

Two other teams have managed a 39-6 run, the 1914 Philadelphia A’s and the 1941 Yankees. The A’s used that streak to win the AL pennant with a 99-53 record but they lost to the “Miracle” 1914 Boston Braves, who themselves had a 36-9 run (with one tie) to overcome what was once a 15-game deficit in the standings. The 1941 Yankees’ streak, which ran from June 7 through July 26 (and June 8 through July 27) overlapped with Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game hitting streak (May 15 through July 16). Those Yankees won 101 games and defeated the Dodgers in the World Series.

Of the 38-7 teams, the first was the 1936 Giants, from July 15 through Sept. 1; when the streak began, they had lost nine out of 10 to fall to fifth place, 10 1/2 back in the standings, but their hot play carried them into first place. They won 92 games and the pennant but fell to the Yankees in the World Series — the same fate that befell the 1951 team. The 1942 Cardinals, who were led by rookie Stan Musial and who unlike the competition managed not to lose key players to World War II service, had a few overlapping stretches of 38-7. The last of which closed out St. Louis’ season (Aug. 13 through Sept. 27), enabling the Redbirds to recover from a 10-game deficit and edge the Dodgers by two games en route to a world championship.

Besides the current Dodgers, every team but one that pulled off a stretch of at least 37-8 went on to win their league’s pennant if not the World Series. That lone exception was the 1977 Royals, the first team to do so during the division play era; they won 102 games and ran away with the AL West flag but lost to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The 1998 Yankees, the first team to pull off the feat in the wild-card era, had to beat the Rangers in the Division Series and the Indians in the ALCS before sweeping the Padres in the World Series.

All of which suggests that at the very least, the Dodgers are playoff-bound, a likelihood underscored by their current 7 1/2 game lead in the NL West on the second-place Diamondbacks and their 98.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds. Their road is made easier by the fact that they have one of the league’s easiest schedules from here on out, with an average opponent record of 55-61 according to the Baseball-Reference Expanded Standings; that equals the remaining opponents of the Nationals, but is two games better than those of the Braves. Of Los Angeles’ remaining 45 games, the only teams it faces with records above .500 are the Red Sox (three games at home), Reds (three on the road) and Diamondbacks (three at home, four on the road).

That relatively easy schedule kicks off with three games hosting the Mets in L.A. followed by three against the Phillies in Philadelphia, giving the Dodgers a shot at some distinctive marks over a (still-arbitrary) 50-game stretch. The best record over a 50-game period is 45-5 by the aforementioned 1906 Cubs. The Dodgers can’t catch that, though if they won 15 in a row they would equal Chicago’s 52-8 record over a 60-game stretch. They can’t match the 1912 Giants’ 43-7 stretch, either, but if they won their next five games, they could equal the 42-8 runs of the 1941 Yankees and 1942 Cardinals, laying partial claim to the hottest 50-game stretch of the past century.

At 41-9, L.A. would match the 1909 Pirates, 1913 New York Giants, 1931 Philadelphia A’s, 1939 and 1998 Yankees, 1946 Red Sox, 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers and 1975 Reds; that would give it partial claim to the best such stretch of the division-play era. If they go 40-10, the Dodgers would equal the 1951 and 1954 Indians, 1977 Royals and 2001 Mariners — the last the best 50-game run of this millennium.

Team Year W L
Chicago Cubs 1906 45 5
New York Giants 1912 43 7
New York Yankees 1941 42 8
St. Louis Cardinals 1942 42 8
Pittsburgh Pirates 1909 41 9
New York Giants 1913 41 9
Philadelphia A’s 1931 41 9
New York Yankees 1939 41 9
Boston Red Sox 1946 41 9
Brooklyn Dodgers 1953 41 9
Cincinnati Reds 1975 41 9
New York Yankees 1998 41 9
Cleveland Indians 1951 40 10
Cleveland Indians 1954 40 10
Kansas City Royals 1977 40 10
Seattle Mariners 2001 40 10

Of the 16 teams with at least 40 wins over a 50-game stretch, only the 1951 Indians failed to qualify for the postseason, while 13 reached the World Series and six — the 1909 Pirates; 1939, ’41 and ’98 Yankees; 1942 Cardinals and 1975 Reds — won the championship.

Any of those “best of” distinctions would be nice for Los Angeles to share, but they’re secondary to reaching the playoffs and furthering the Dodgers’ shot at a championship. As those 2001 Mariners — who won an AL-record 116 games but failed to win the pennant — can attest, merely being footnotes in such a context is a bittersweet reminder of what they didn’t win, rather than what they did.

5 comments
Joe92
Joe92

The Giants run in 1951 doesn't count because they were cheating by stealing signs. The Cheat of Coogan's Bluff was just that.

dinohealth
dinohealth

Great story, Jay!  I love baseball stories that focus on historic, stat-based, accomplishments.  Would love to see one done on Miggy Cabrera's current historic quest to become a back-to-back Triple Crown winner, AND, back-to-back, MVP!  How close, I wonder, have players over the years come to that? 

Oregonguy
Oregonguy

Best team unlimited wealth can buy. If they sign Cano, does that mean they win and baseball is over forever?

The_Sports_Dude
The_Sports_Dude

The Dodgers have been doing it without Matt Kemp for almost all this stretch, plus stretches without Hanley Ramirez.  They're getting solid and timely contributions from their bench, and the pitching has been consistently strong.  Of course, reason says that they can't stay hot for the rest of the season, but they haven't even played a handful of games with their ideal lineup going into the season, so it begs to reason that we haven't even seen the best this squad has to offer yet.