Friday, September 29, 2006

The St. Louis Cardinals' 8 1/2 game lead over the Houston Astros in the National League Central with only 12 games left (after the close of play on September 19) has almost completely evaporated. The Cards' lead now is only 1/2 game, with the final weekend of play remaining -- Houston at Atlanta, and St. Louis hosting Milwaukee (game-by-game logs for the Astros and Cards).

Presumably in connection with this dramatic turnaround, CNN/SI has posted its list of the greatest Pennant Race Collapses of all-time. To refer to these occurrences purely as "collapses" tells only half the story, in my view. In many (if not most) cases, one team's collapse was accompanied by another team's getting extremely hot. In some instances, the team making the comeback only won the pennant (league or divisional) by a single game at the end or in a special play-off after the seasonal standings ended in a tie. Thus, both the collapse by one team and the hot streak by the other were necessary for the latter to win out.

From CNN/SI's list, for example, the No. 2 entry involved the following from 1993: "On July 22, the Giants led Atlanta by 10 games. The Braves went 49-16 down the stretch to win the NL West by one game..."

And the No. 8 entry, the famous 1951 showdown between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants had this storyline: "On Aug. 11, the Dodgers led the Giants by 13 1/2 games, but the Giants won 16 in a row at one point and went 37-7 overall before winning a three-game playoff, which culminated in Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World."

In 2004, on the previous incarnation of the Hot Hand website, I did a fairly extensive analysis to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1969 NL East race, in which the New York Mets overtook the Chicago Cubs (this write-up is no longer posted here, but is available from me upon request). The following graph shows that, once again, both a hot streak by one team and a cold one by the other were implicated. The Mets ultimately won the division by eight games, so in this instance, they could have gotten by with a bit less torrid of a winning stretch.

Will this year's Cardinals join the ignominious list of teams that squandered big leads and perhaps earn a special "honor" for doing it so late in the season? Stay tuned this weekend!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After Friday's (9/29) action, two games remain for Houston, while three remain for St. Louis (counting the possible make-up game vs. SF on Monday). There thus are 32 possible outcomes: I have STL > HOU in 25, STL = HOU in 6, and HOU > STL in 1. So if STL and HOU each have a p = 1/2 probability of winning each game they have left, then the prob. of an outright STL win is 25/32, that of an outright HOU win is 1/32, and that of a tied NL Central finish is 6/32.

If STL wins early Saturday afternoon, then the 16 remaining possible outcomes would have STL ahead in 15, and the two tied in 1. If STL loses early Saturday, then the 16 remaining possible outcomes would have STL ahead in 11, a tie in 4, and HOU ahead in 1.