Sunday, August 25, 2013

(Losing Amidst) Hot Streaks

After losing Sunday night, the Dodgers are 46-12 (.793) since June 21. No matter how great the team, or how hot a team is for any given period of time, it is very very difficult to go for very long without suffering back-to-back losses.  This Baseball Historical Insight looks at the extent to which the teams with some of the most dramatic drives to overcome big pennant-race deficits were able to avoid consecutive losses. 

(Losing Amidst) Hot Streaks

My previous post noted that four major league teams that went at least two months without back-to-back losses were all historically great teams at the beginning or in the middle of dynastic runs.  This begs the question about teams that had historically notable stretch drives to come from far behind to win the pennant or division title: what was the longest stretch any of them went without back-to-back losses?

In their dramatic drive to overtake the defending NL champion Brooklyn Dodgers, the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals came closest to not losing twice in a row for two months when time ran out on them.  After losing back-to-back games on August 1 and 2 to fall nine back of Brooklyn, the Cardinals finished the season with a 45-10 (.818) run, no two losses consecutive, to beat out the Dodgers, 106 wins to 104.  Their streak included winning five of six games they played against Brooklyn in the final two months of the season, and a 21-4 record for the month of September.  The season ended, however, on September 27, meaning the Cardinals' streak ran exactly eight weeks--just four days officially shy of two months from August 2.  Of course, throw in their winning four of five against the Yankees in the World Series, which ended October 5, and the 1942 Cardinals did indeed go more than two months without consecutive losses.

In MLB's last true pennant race (because there was no wild card to fall back on), the 1993 Atlanta Braves went 39-11 (.780) in their last 50 games to erase San Francisco's 9-1/2 game lead on August 8 and win the NL West on the last day of the season, 104 wins to 103.  The Braves lost back-to-back games only once in that stretch--on August 19 and 20--after they had given fair warning to the Giants that they intended to make a race of it by winning nine straight to kickstart their drive.  In the remaining six weeks-plus two days of the regular season after August 20, the Braves did not lose consecutive games again . . . until losing Games 4, 5 and 6 to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS, denying them a third consecutive appearance in the Fall Classic.

The 1914 Boston "Miracle" Braves, who famously went 68-19 (.782) to win the pennant by 10-1/2 games after trailing the New York Giants by 15 on July 4, lost twice in a row twice during that stretch.  Their first two-game losing streak was at the hands of the Cardinals, then in third place, on July 14 and 15, which left the Braves still in last place and now 11-1/2 games out.  Boston did not lose consecutive games again for six weeks, with a 27-6 record enabling them to leapfrog six other teams and tie the Giants at the top of the NL heap before back-to-back defeats on August 26 and 27 dropped the Braves a game-and-a-half back.  This proved only a very temporary setback as the Braves finished the remaining six weeks going 34-8 without consecutive defeats to decisively win the National League pennant.  And then they swept the much-superior Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.

The 1935 Chicago Cubs also went six weeks without two losses in a row as they surged from third place, 3-1/2 games behind the Giants, after a double-header loss in Brooklyn on August 14 to win the pennant by four games over second-place St. Louis.  This was the Cubs team that won 21 straight games in September to overtake both the Cardinals and Giants before losing their final two games of the season on September 28 and 29.  Their winning streak included four straight against the Giants in their third-to-last series of the season to finish off New York, and three straight in St. Louis in their last series of the season to end the Cardinals' hopes.  After going 23-3 (.885) in September, the Cubs went only 2-4 in the month of October, losing the World Series to Detroit.

The 1951 New York Giants' famous 39-8 (.830) drive that began with them 13-1/2 games behind the Dodgers on August 11 and culminated in Bobby Thomson's epic walk-off home run included back-to-back losses on September 11 and 13, meaning the longest they went without losing two in a row was exactly one month.  Until losing Games 4, 5, and 6--and the World Series--to the Yankees, that two-game losing streak in September was the longest the 1951 Giants endured after August 11.  In winning 53 of their remaining 74 games (.716) to demolish the Boston Red Sox' 14-game lead on July 17, the 1978 Yankees had four two-game losing streaks and one three-game losing streak.  The longest they went without losing back-to-back games was one month, between August 22 and September 22.  And in trailing the Chicago Cubs by 10 games on August 13, the 1969 New York Mets finished the season going 38-11 (.776) to win the first-ever NL East title by eight games, but their 11 losses included two in a row on August 31 and September 1 and three straight on September 19 (a double-header) and 20.

Meanwhile, back in the here and now, the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers are in the midst of one of the greatest performance stretches by any team in history.  Since being dead last in the NL West on June 21, 9-1/2 games out of first and 12 games below .500, the Dodgers had opened up a 10-1/2 game lead in their division by winning the opening game of their just-concluded three-game series with the Red Sox during which they lost as many as two in a row only once in more than two months--on the 18th and 19th of August.  Their 46-10 (.821) record between June 22 and August 23 is the best by any team for that many games since the 1998 Yankees, on their way to 114 victories, won 46 of 56 games (which included two two-game losing streaks) after starting the season 0-3.  The Dodgers began their drive too late in the season to think of winning that many games, but they have a chance to make this one of the greatest comeback stories ever written in baseball history, rivaling that of the 1914 "Miracle" Braves coming from 15 back on July 4 to win the pennant by 10-1/2.  

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