COMMENTARY | On July 1, we're halfway into the baseball season, give or take, depending on which team we ask. Some teams have played a couple more than half of their games and others have played a couple fewer than half.
The Los Angeles Angels certainly didn't expect to be situated where they are, 39-43, nine games down in the American League West, 7 1/2 down for the second wild card, and needing six straight wins on the road just now to get that close. But a lot of baseball remains and a lot can still happen.
Can the Angels still make it into the playoffs?
We've seen stranger things, neither long ago nor far away. Through June 30 last year, the Oakland Athletics were 37-42, 13 games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West. Then, the A's played the game about as well as it could be played for the next three months, going 57-26. The Rangers did their part to help. After beating the A's on Sept. 24, they were 91-62, five games up with nine to play. But the Rangers lost seven of their last nine and the A's won eight of their last nine. The last three for each team came against each other in Oakland. The A's won all three and captured the AL West at 94-68.
So, precedent says it's not impossible for the Angels to post a miracle, and it would be a miracle, just as it was a miracle last year for the Athletics. Watching the A's this season, of course, we're less inclined to say their 2012 pennant drive really was so miraculous. They're 48-35, entering July 1 with one of the AL's best records. But even that pace is nine games behind their pace from last July 1 to the end of last season.
Last year's AL wild card teams, Texas and the Baltimore Orioles, each won 93 games. Right now, Baltimore lines up as the second wild card with a pace for 92 wins. So, we can target 92 or 93 wins as the requirement for winning a wild card. Being safe, we'll call it 93. To reach 93 wins, the Angels need to go 54-26. They would have to win just more than two-thirds of their remaining games.
How often does that happen? How often does a team in the major leagues win two-thirds of its games on either side of July 1?
Not very often lately. Before Oakland last year, the most recent team to do it was the New York Yankees in 2009. The Yankees were 59-26 after June 30, finishing with 103 wins and capturing the AL East by eight games. Then, they beat the Minnesota Twins in the divisional round and the Angels for the AL pennant before downing the Philadelphia Phillies in a six-game World Series.
The Yankees also did it in 2007, going 56-28 (.667) after June 30 and cruising into the wild card spot. In 2006, the Detroit Tigers were 55-25 (.688) after June 30, easily earning the wild card before advancing to the World Series. In 2005, the Chicago White Sox were 53-24 (.688) before July 1. They went on to win the World Series. In 2004, the St. Louis Cardinals were 59-25 (.702) from July 1 forward before losing the World Series to the Boston Red Sox.
That's the last 10 years. Figure 30 teams, each plays two half-seasons per year, then ten years of that, and we have 600 trials. Add in the 30 first halves from this year, and we have five teams winning two-thirds of their games in either half of a season out of 630 half-seasons since the end of 2002. That's a one-in-126 shot. Less than a one percent chance, by the propensities established across baseball in the last 10-plus seasons.
Then again, on the plus side, we can say that, on average, somebody is doing it every two years.
So, while it's inaccurate to say that the Angels can't do it, it's also desperate to say that they can.
We see a lot to like right now in the Angels. They went on the road last week and swept the Detroit Tigers, who have made two straight trips to the AL Championship Series. Then, they swept the Houston Astros three straight on the road, taking down a nemesis that had beaten them in seven of 10 previous meetings. Josh Hamilton had a nice road trip -- nine-for-21 (.429) with a 1.090 OPS and some nice plays in right field. Joe Blanton has three straight quality starts, and six in his last seven. The Angels could be gathering momentum.
There's a lot to like. But there's one element to thoroughly dislike: the sheer unlikelihood that any team can win at the clip that the Angels need during the second half of their season.
Bill Peterson has covered and written about Major League Baseball for more than 30 years in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Texas and Los Angeles, where he now lives and writes a baseball blog, Big Leagues in Los Angeles. He is a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Angels