Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Can Pirates End Streak of Sub-.500 Seasons?

When last we looked in on the Pittsburgh Pirates, they had gone 17-9 in the month of July, putting them in good position to end their streak of 19 straight seasons with a losing (below .500) record. Based on the Pirates' game-by-game log, I created the following chart. It shows that, as late as August 8, Pittsburgh had 16 more wins than losses (63-47) and needed to win only slightly more than one-third of its remaining games to clinch the 82 wins necessary for a winning record. (You can click on the graphic to enlarge it.)

Since then, however, the Bucs have won only 5 games, while losing 13. I would say Pittsburgh still has a good chance to finish above .500, but now the team must win a little more than 40% of its remaining games.

Working in the Pirates' favor, they have 13 games left against the Cubs (7) and Astros (6), two of the worst teams this year. The floundering New York Mets are also on the schedule for four games.

Will the Pirates finally achieve a winning season? I have created a poll in the right-hand column, so you can let us know what you think.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Final Batch of 2012 Olympic Streaks

With yesterday's 86-50 blowout over France, the U.S. women's basketball team won its fifth straight Olympic gold medal and 41st straight game in Olympic play.

Jamaican track star Usain Bolt became, in the words of this article, "the first athlete ever to win the vaunted 100-200 sprint double in consecutive Olympics."

Finally, when the Bahamas captured the men's 4 X 400 relay, NBC track and field analyst Ato Boldon pointed out that this was the first time the U.S. men had been "beaten on the track" in this event in Olympic competition since the 1952 Helsinki (Finland) Games. If one looks at an all-time results list for this event, one finds three instances between 1952 and this year of the U.S. not winning the 4 X 400:
  • In 1972, Americans Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett, who had finished one-two in the 400-meter dash, were dismissed from the remainder of the Games for alleged disrespectful conduct during the medal ceremony. This development, along with an injury to John Smith (a one-time world record-holder in the non-metric 440-yard dash), thus incapacitated the U.S. relay foursome.
  • In 1980, there was the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
  • In 2000, the Americans won the race on the track, but "were stripped of their gold ... because of doping infractions" (link).
Technically, I would say, Boldon is correct. However, at least in 2000, the U.S. was found to have gotten an unfair performance advantage.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

More Olympic Streaks

U.S. beach volleyball players Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh today concluded their illustrious career, as the duo won the women's gold medal for the third consecutive Olympics. The pair compiled an overall 21-0 match record during these years. The format of each match is 2-out-of-3 games, and May/Walsh dropped only a single game ever (this year) during their three Olympiad.

In women's soccer, Abby Wambach has scored a goal in each of the U.S. team's five games thus far.

Monday, August 06, 2012

One Olympic Track Streak Continues, Another Falls

For the 8th straight Olympiad, Kenya has won the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase.

However, the U.S. streak of 7 straight golds in the men's 400 meters has been dashed -- even before the final of the event. That's because no American runner qualified for the final. Defending Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt pulled up in the qualifying round after re-aggravating a hamstring injury. And the other two U.S. runners just didn't run fast enough in the semi-finals to advance.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Olympic Streak Notes

With the 2012 London Summer Olympics roughly at their halfway point, here are several streak-related items:
  • Before these Games, no male swimmer had ever won the same event three times in a row. Michael Phelps has now accomplished this feat -- twice! Last Thursday, Phelps won the 200-meter individual medley, adding to his 2004 and 2008 titles in the event. Then, last night, Phelps achieved a three-peat in the 100 butterfly, an event in which he's had some close calls. As noted in this USA Today article, "Phelps finished in 51.21 to [South African Chad] le Clos' 51.44. That's a comfortable cushion. Consider this: Phelps won the 100 fly by four-hundredths of a second in Athens — and by one-hundredth in Beijing."
  • Tonight, the US men won the 400 medley relay (with Phelps swimming the butterfly leg). This makes the American men a perfect 13-for-13 in the event (excluding 1980, when the US boycotted the Moscow Games).
  • Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry fell short in her bid to win the women's 200 backstroke for the third straight Olympics. As I noted previously, two female swimmers in history have won the same event three consecutive times, Dawn Fraser (100 freestyle, 1956 through '64) and Krisztina Egerszegi (200 back, 1988 through '96).
  • Women's beach volleyball duo Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, still undefeated in their quest for a third straight gold medal, lost a game (also known as a set) for the first time ever in Olympic play. Last Wednesday, the US pair dropped the first game 17-21 against Austrian sisters Stefanie and Doris Schwaiger, but rebounded to even the match with a 21-8 rout and then prevailed in the decisive third set, 15-10.
  • In easily winning today's final of the women's tennis singles competition, Serena Williams defeated Russia's Maria Sharapova for the eighth straight time the two have faced each other (click here for list of their head-to-head matches). Sharapova is no pushover, having won a career Grand Slam and been ranked No. 1 in the world at various times.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

MLB Teams in July: The Hot, the Cold, and the Inconsistent

This past month in Major League Baseball, several teams distinguished themselves by playing either really well or really poorly. I'm sure there have been similar months in MLB history, but I can't remember any off the top of my head.

Four teams that were hot in July were the:
  • Oakland A's (19-5 for the month, including a 16-of-18 winning stretch that harked back 10 years to the "Moneyball" A's); 
  • Cincinnati Reds (19-7, including a 10-game winning streak over which longtime Reds announcer Marty Brennaman has promised to shave his head); 
  • Detroit Tigers (16-10, which included a 13-of-15 winning stretch, although the team lost 6 of its final 8 games of the month); and 
  • Pittsburgh Pirates (17-9). Pittsburgh's July play is noteworthy in that it has helped lift the Pirates to a current 60-44 record, as they seek to end a streak of 19 consecutive losing (i.e., sub-.500) seasons. The Pirates must win at least 22 of their final 58 games to ensure a winning record.
The following chart shows how these four teams fared on each of July's 31 days (there were actually only 27 days of play, due to the All-Star Break; days without games are indicated with a slash). You may click on the graphics to enlarge them.

Three teams, for lack of a better term, stunk it up in July:
  • The Houston Astros (3-24), who are in the midst of a "fire sale" to rebuild for the future;
  • New York Mets (7-18), whose 4-14 post-All Star Game stretch sunk a once-promising season; and
  • Colorado Rockies (7-17, including 4-12 after the break).

Finally, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, who are battling for first place in the National League West, each exhibited streakiness in July. Whenever one of these teams won a few games in a row, it would follow-up by losing a few straight.