Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Is That Lead Large Enough?

Fans are still about three weeks away from calculating magic numbers, but scoreboard watching is in full effect. The non-waiver trading deadline passed and teams are considering potential September call-ups when rosters expand. Teams are starting to separate themselves from each other in their respective divisions, but no team is running away with division titles yet. So, I have to question what is a comfortable lead?

I've always viewed a 6-game lead over a second place team as comfortable. As of Sunday morning, only one team holds a lead of 6 games or better in the six divisions. Currently, the Philadelphia Phillies hold a 7 1/2-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. In the National League Central, the Milwaukee Brewers lead the St. Louis Cardinals by five games. The National League West leaders, the Arizona Diamondbacks hold a 2-game lead over the San Francisco Giants. In the American League East, the Boston Red Sox have a 1-game lead over the New York Yankees. In the American League Central, three teams are in contention. The Detroit Tigers have a 3-game lead over the Cleveland Indians, and a 5-game lead over the Chicago White Sox. In the American League West, the Texas Rangers have a 3-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

But, sometimes a large lead isn't enough. Just ask the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs of the 1960s.

In 1964, Gene Mauch managed the Phillies to a 6 1/2 game lead with only 12 games remaining. The Phillies proceeded to drop their next 10 games, seven of which were played at home. They finished in a second place tie with the Cincinnati Reds. Both teams finished the season one game behind the National League pennant winners, the St. Louis Cardinals. Back then, only two teams advanced to the postseason, the American League and National League pennant winners. Sorry, no wild cards back then. The Cardinals would go on to defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Of course, there's the story of the 1969 Chicago Cubs. After a no-hitter by Ken Holtzman on August 19, the Cubs held a lead of 8 1/2 games over the St. Louis Cardinals, and a 9 1/2 game lead over the New York Mets. The Cubs managed to lose eight consecutive games between September 3 and September 11. During that losing streak, they dropped games against the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Mets. At the same time, the Mets strung together a 7-game winning streak. Despite finishing the season with 92 wins, the Cubs finished eight games behind the New York Mets in the newly formed National League East Division. That October, the Mets would win their franchise's first World Series title.

Even a recent example exists, too.

In 2007, the Colorado Rockies won the National League wild card en route to the franchise's first World Series. In order to win the wild card, the Rockies won 21 of their final 22 games in the regular season. On September 1, the Rockies were in fourth place in the National League West and trailed the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks by six games.

Anyone who has participated to any extent in a sport is familiar with the term "choke" - it even happens to professional athletes. Also, I am sure most people have heard the sayings about never giving up, no matter what the odds.
stheinz   Sunday, August 14, 2011
I can't agree more.
Bill Pearch   Sunday, August 14, 2011
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