Saturday, July 16, 2011

With baseball's Texas Rangers on a winning streak that reached nine games last night (including shutouts in the last three contests), Gary Collard sent a message to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) listserve discussion group, noting the weak opposition faced by Texas in recent weeks:

"The Rangers ended the pre-All Star break portion of their schedule by playing 16 of 19 games against last place teams. I think this is probably a record, since you would pretty much have to have two interleague series against your 'designated rival' to hope to match it (6 divisions is likely a must as well)."

The reference to a designated rival, in this case, describes the Rangers' six games against the Houston Astros (last place in the National League Central) on June 20-22 and 28-30, as a special geographic match-up during interleague play. Other last-place teams played by Texas include Florida (NL East, July 1-3), Baltimore (American League East; July 4-6), and Oakland (AL West, July 7-10). Also, the Seattle Mariners, against whom the Rangers have won the first two games of a current four-game series, are only slightly better than last in the AL West. The Rangers' last loss came in the finale of the Florida series.

Tom Ruane followed Collard's SABR message with one of his own. Because divisional play didn't begin until 1969 (prior to that, there only would have been two last place teams at a given time, one each in the AL and NL), Ruane used a different approach, focusing on opponents with poor records. One of Ruane's findings was that four times since 1900 has a team played 19 straight games against teams with winning percentages below .400. The most recent such team was the San Francisco Giants, who did so from May 21 to June 10, 2004, going 13-6.

My curiosity piqued, I decided to look up the Giants' streak myself. During the stretch, San Francisco played two games against the then-Montreal Expos (whose winning percentage was around .333 at the time); seven against the Arizona Diamondbacks (who peaked around .38 during these games); seven against the Colorado Rockies (who peaked around .39); and three against the Tampa Bay Rays (around .39).

Last January, I found a basketball analogue to the current Texas Rangers' situation, namely how a 19-out-of-20 winning stretch by the Miami Heat involved very few games against the NBA's best teams.

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