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Ferguson: What a quick start means and if it's a factor

Scott Ferguson
3/22/2013 12:25:49 PM
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It's almost become a cliché in baseball to say a team has to get off to a quick start. Conversely, if you don't you're supposed to be behind the proverbial 8-ball.
 
The 1985 Detroit Tigers went 35-5 out of the gate, lead the A.L East wire-to-wire and beat San Diego in the World Series for their first Fall Classic victory since 1968. That doesn't happen very often, though, and that kind of dominance even by a great club might only happen once a generation. It's interesting to look back at what a quick start meant to certain teams and if it's a factor at all.
 
For the purposes of this article, I look at a start as two months. Baseball people generally believe it takes that long for a team to establish what it truly is.
 
The 1985 Blue Jays, under Bobby Cox, went 30-15 in April and May. The 2010 Blue Jays in their final season under Cito Gaston went 31-22 over the first two months, including 19-10 in May. But he two teams went in different directions after that. Cox's Jays went on to win the organizations first division title, while the 2010 Jays wound up with 85 victories and finished fourth in the AL East. Gaston retired after that season.
 
In 1989, under Jim Williams, the Jays went 12-24 over the first six weeks of the season and Williams was fired. Gaston, in his initial go round with the club, lead them to a 9-7 record for the remainder of May and then the Jays took off and won their second division crown. In the World Series years of 1992 and 1993, the Jays went 31-19 and 29-22, respectively, and never looked back.
 
The past two years under John Farrell, the Jays were a respectable 28-27 and 27-24 through April and May. The killer month proved to be June; they went 12-15 in 2011. Then, they went 13-14 in 2012 when the starting rotation was decimated by injuries. Back in 2010 under Gaston, they went 9-17 in June.
 
It gets really interesting when you look at the five teams that made the post-season from the American League last season and stack that up against the five teams in the American League East.
 
Through May 31, Baltimore and Tampa Bay shared first in the East at 29-22, but they were only three games up on last place Boston at 26-25, with the Blue Jays and Yankees jammed in between.
 
On that date, Texas was leading the West at 31-20 built largely on a scorching hot April 17-6. In the Central, Detroit - which went on to play San Francisco in the World Series - was only 24-27 while Oakland, which stole the West from Texas on the final week of the season, was only 22-29.
 
I suppose all this suggests is that you can afford a slower start if you're in one of the weaker divisions but I think it also shows that it is possible to come from well off the pace, no matter what kind of start your team got off to.
 
The Yankees essentially won the East last season on the strength of two great months. They went 20-7 in June and 20-11 down the stretch in September and early October. The rest of the time they were barely above .500. All of which brings us back to that other great baseball cliché "it's not a sprint , it's a marathon". So if the Blue Jays get off to a so-so start this season while the team is still jelling, there's no need to panic.
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