I have been among those espousing the “it’s still early” rationale as the Mariners continue to sputter out of the gate. I’m not pushing the panic button, but I’m pushing the “seriously concerned” button.
Here’s some numbers that show that April records do matter. A bad April doesn’t doom a team to failure. But the trends aren’t promising.
I’ll give a shout out to Jayson Stark of ESPN, who crunched these numbers a couple of years ago. I’ve updated them to include the past two seasons:
–Since 1982, just 11 out of 168 playoff teams finished April more than three games under .500. (However, one of those occurrences was last year, when the Rockies finished April with an 8-12 record and rebounded to win the National League’s wild card).
–Just one team since 1953 – the 1979 Pirates – won the World Series after being more than three games under .500 through April
–Of the 138 teams that finished in first place over the last 25 full seasons, 106 of them (77 percent) were no worse than 2 1/2 games out of first place by the end of April. But again, there are some counter examples from last year. At the end of April, 2009, the Angels (at 9-12) were 3 1/2 games out of first (behind the first-place Mariners), and the Twins (at 11-11) were three games behind, ahem, Kansas City. Both the Angels and Twins wound up winning their divisions. And in 2008, the Dodgers, at 14-13, ended April 5 1/2 games behind the hot-starting Diamondbacks and won the division.
–Most ominously of all, in the wild-card era (from 1995 on), just 22 of 120 playoff teams (18 percent) were under .500, even by one game, at the end of April. Two of those were last year – the Angels and Rockies.
But Stark’s research also showed some hopeful notes, seeming to indicate that overcoming bad Aprils has been happening more often in recent years. He pointed out that the 2007 Rockies and Yankees, the 2006 Twins and Padres and the 2005 Yankees and Astros all made the playoffs even though they headed into May more than three games under .500. Now add the 2009 Rockies to that list. Only four teams had done that in the previous 22 full seasons combined.
He also pointed out that over the first six years of the wild-card era, no team won the wild card when it finished April more than three games out of the wild-card race. But six teams did that in a seven-year span from 2001-07, and Colorado again last year.
Remember, it’s only April 13. The Mariners still have 15 games left in April, counting tonight’s against Oakland.
But when April is over, it will officially stop being early. Maybe even before that.