Athletics manager Bob Melvin is very fond of pointing out how many games are in a baseball season after a rough loss which, to me, indicates that those early season games that the Athletics lost simply don’t count but count they do and now the Athletics would love to have a few of those early games back in their favor.
The baseball season can be split into three periods:
This Is Why We Play 162
Opening Day – June 30
These are the games that a team would love to win but losses don’t count because,”This is why we play 162.” The Athletics, in this period, were 51-31 with a five game lead in the AL West but they also had four losses at the hands of opposing walk-offs. With the bullpen in Oakland as strong as it is, the Athletics shouldn’t lose in walk-offs and half of the losses in that manner were against the greatest of division foes, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. If the Athletics would have closed these four games in the way they were expected to (this bullpen was supposed to be lights out, remember?) they’d be sitting at 55-27 at the end of this period.
There’s Still Plenty of Baseball Left
July 1 – August 20
These are the games that start to carry more weight and each loss stings a little bit more. The tone of the managers turns from, “it ain’t no thing, this is why we play 162,” to “panic? No, I’m not panicked. There is still plenty of baseball left. We can overcome!” Panic starts to set in, ever so slightly, because at this point in the season it becomes more difficult to overcome a five game deficit and games versus division rivals carry a lot more weight.
In this period, the Oakland Athletics of Oakland were 23-21 with no losses at the hands of walk-offs but lost six of those games by one run. With the highest run differential in baseball and one of the most powerful offenses in the game, the Athletics should not be losing one run games. If even half of these losses were wins, this period would be 26-18 and worry would not be setting in among Athletics fans.
These Are Do or Die
August 21 – Season Finale
The last week of August is when baseball managers and commentators change their tone completely. Gone are the days of “plenty of baseball” and here are the days of “this was a game we needed to win.” Losses in this period are the first losses a manager will acknowledge as bad for the team. Unless you’re the 2012 Athletics, a huge deficit in this period almost guarantees that your team is done in September.
The Athletics entered this period at 75-52 and are 3-2 so far but they already have one loss, 8/26 in Houston, that probably should have been a W and that loss hurts most of all because these are the final games of the season. These are the do-or-die games. This is the make it or break it period.
Now, these end of the season losses wouldn’t hurt quite so much if those early season losses we passed off were actually wins. Instead of going into the final period at 75-52, the Athletics could be entering at 81-45 (which is still three wins below their Pythagorean Expectation) and have a dominating lead over every team in baseball.
More weight should be given to early season losses. The team is fresh, healthy and is truly thinking about today’s game in those first few weeks. By the time the last period gets here every team is tired, beat up, injured and thinking about their standings and post season plans. Why, then, do we dismiss losses when the team should be dominating and scorn losses when the team should be expected to be slumping a little bit?
In 2013, Athletics fans dismissed early season losses as “part of baseball” but missed the best record in baseball by one game. One game would have prevented the team from playing Detroit in the ALDS. One game. If 2014 comes down to one game, every single loss in the first two periods of the season will suddenly become the most important losses of the year.
The moral of my rant: Worry earlier so you can worry less later.