Absolutely nothing (say it again!)
The Rays are on a nice little run here winning the last two in the crucial series in New York, actually winning on a Friday night, and then winning again in convincing fashion last night over the Mariners. The club wakes up this morning up 1.5 games on the Yankees , with a full game lead on the Twins for the best record in the American League, and a magic number for the playoffs that sits at two. What this means is that if the Rays win today and the Red Sox lose tonight, the Rays finally clinch a playoff spot while maintaining the 1.5 game lead on the Yankees. Personally, I’d rather hold off the playoff celebration until a win against Baltimore on Monday night because that would mean the Yankees would have been swept by the Red Sox and would trail the Rays by 2.5 games with only six games left to play.
Getting back to momentum, there was an excellent piece in this month’s ESPN the Magazine by Tom Haberstroh about momentum and how little it means heading into the post-season. Yes, the Colorado Rockies won 14 of their final 15 games in the 2007 season and then swept both NL playoff series before being swept in gruesome fashion by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series but they are the exception rather than the rule. Consider this:
- Of the 20 teams that won at least eight of their final ten games since the wild card era began, only two of them won the World Series (Yankees 1998, White Sox 2005)
- Three of the seven teams that lost seven of their final ten games won the World Series.
- In 2006, the Tigers lost 15 of their final 26 and yet they won the American League.
- In 2006, the Cardinals went 12-17 in September and won both the National League and the World Series.
If that is not enough for you, check out the work done back in 2005 by Dave Studeman at The HardBall Times. Studeman went back and examined the playoff teams from 1969 to 2004 that included 184 teams and 145 different playoff series, and looked at their winning percentage for the year and their September winning percentage. He found that:
- Neither their overall record or their September record matter much
- On average, teams that qualified for the postseason had a higher September winning percentage (Rays do not)
- Overall, momentum is less important than being good.
- Momentum was king in the late 70’s yet the team with the most momentum each year during that time did not win the World Series.
While it is great the Rays are getting hot this time of year, it only means something in regards to hanging another American League East banner from the catwalks. The post-season is truly a new season and absolutely anything can happen in a short series. After all, the 1987 Minnesota Twins were 85-77 in the regular season yet won the World Series defeating a 95-67 St. Louis Cardinals team. Karma got back with the Cardinals in 2006 when they were just 83-78 in the regular season yet defeated a 95-67 Detroit Tigers club four games to one. When it comes to the baseball postseason, a team is only as hot as their last game.
The Rays’ main goal right now is to win the East and secure home field advantage as far as they go in the American League postseason. If he has to sit out the rest of the regular season to be ready for the ALDS, so be it. In the end, the top goal should be 100% health for Game 1 of the ALDS.