Friday, July 26, 2013

Dodgers, Rays Use June/July Spurts to Climb Standings

Quoting from a Fansided article: "As the sun rose on June 22, the Dodgers were 30-42, a season-worst 12 games under .500. They sat in the basement on the NL West, where they had resided for the bulk of the season, 9.5 games behind the Diamondbacks."

Within about 10 days (after play on July 2),the Dodgers had made up 7 games in the standings, going from 9.5 games back to just 2.5. Entering tonight's play, L.A. (53-48) is atop the division, leading Arizona by a half-game.

As of June 28, the Tampa Bay Rays, stood in fourth place in the AL East, 7 games behind leading Boston. Entering this evening, the Rays (60-42) are now just a half-game behind the Red Sox in the division.

To dramatize the Dodgers' and Rays' recent hot stretches, I created the following graphic, on which you can click to enlarge it. L.A. has gone 23-6 in its last 29 games (game-by-game log), whereas Tampa Bay has gone 19-3 (log). The teams' opponent in each game and the location (home/away) are shown in each little box.

On paper, the Dodgers would seem to have one of the best teams in baseball. However, that was not reflected much in the first half of the season, with shortstop Hanley Ramirez and pitcher Zack Greinke missing a lot of action due to injuries. The two are now back and Ramirez is hitting at a torrid pace (.384 batting average, 1.123 OPS [on-base average plus slugging]). As noted in the above-cited Fansided article, another star Dodger pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, has overcome an early-season slump. Finally, newcomer Yasiel Puig, though cooling off a bit, remains a potent offensive threat.

As the Dodgers were making their move in the NL West from June 22-July 2, all of their division-mates were heading in the opposite direction. Listed below are each team's record, place in the standings, streak, and past-10-games record as of July 2.

Streak Last 10
Arizona (42-41) Lost 5 2-8
Colorado (41-43) Lost 2 4-6
San Diego (40-44) Lost 4 2-8
LA Dodgers (39-43) Won 3 9-1
San Francisco (39-44) Lost 2 2-8

Though all four of the Dodgers' opponents experienced cold spells during the particular 10-day period, three of them were fairly severe (2-8). These events were not entirely independent, of course, as six of the Dodgers' wins during the stretch came against San Diego (2), San Francisco (3), and Colorado (1); mixed in was a four-game series vs. the Phillies, of which L.A. took 3.

I don't know how many previous instances there have been within a division of all or most of the teams concurrently winning or losing 80% (or more) of their last 10 games, but I suspect it's pretty rare.

According to this USA Today article on the Rays' revival, the team's improvement seems attributable to many domains (offense, pitching, defense) and players. Of particular note are the successful return of pitcher David Price and the emergence of outfielders Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings.

As some have noted, both the Dodgers and Rays have won a lot of games during their respective hot streaks against teams that are currently below .500 in the standings. The slate gets tougher for both teams. After their current series against Cincinnati, the Dodgers host the Yankees and (after a swing through Wrigley Field and the Cubs) play in St. Louis. The Rays, meanwhile, are starting a series tonight against the Yankees in the Bronx, then play a make-up game in Boston, and host the Diamondbacks. Fittingly, from August 9 through 11, the Dodgers and Rays will play each other in a three-game series at L.A.

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