5/6/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Early to win equals late rise? Not necessarily
Recent history shows a fast start doesn't equate to the ultimate prize
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
There's a reason they don't start printing playoff tickets or setting up postseason rotations the first week of May: The marathon has just begun, and there are miles to go before October.
Still, with every team in the Majors at or about 30 games into the season, the tone has been set. It could be one that paves a smooth road to glory, or it could present an uphill battle. Or anything in between -- no one knows yet.
Obviously, every team would rather be off to a great start in 2013 than not. But this is no time to get hung up on wins and losses and standings and games behind ... yet. The ups and downs are just beginning, with plenty of time for both.
"Anybody's goal is to be in first place at any time in the season," said manager Bob Melvin of the A's, who aren't in first place but are better off than they were a year ago. They ultimately rallied to win the American League West. "But we got off to a 12-4 start and then had a rocky period. We're playing better now.
"I think any time at this time of the year you're a few games over .500 it's not bad, as long as someone in your division isn't 20-2. We have a long way to go, but we're comfortable with where we are."
The same must be true, then, for the Red Sox, who are the only team guaranteed to get 20 wins out of the first 30 games. The Royals, now at 17-10, could do it if they extend their current four-game streak to seven, and you can count the Tigers, Cardinals and Rangers at 19 wins in their first 30 and the Rockies, Giants, Yankees and Braves at 18 among those comfortable with the way things have started, in general.
Using 30 games as a benchmark, however, it's safe to say the teams with the most early victories the last five years haven't been any sort of lock to be big winners in October. And you don't have to be out of the gates like the 1984 Tigers to take home the trophy.
The 2012 Giants, for instance, went 15-15 through 30 games last year, en route to the title. They did slightly better at 18-12 in 2010, but the 2009 Yankees weren't even over .500 yet at 14-16. The Yanks are one of eight teams among the 42 that reached the postseason the last five years to have a losing record through 30 games, the biggest hill to climb into October being the one by the 2009 Rockies at 12-18. And, by the way, the Yankees played .674 ball the rest of the way (89-43) en route to a 27th World Series title in '09.
Getting out great doesn't always work out, either. Among those teams that had the most wins in the first 30 games since 2008, none has won it all -- or even made it to the World Series: The Rangers (2012, 20 wins), Phillies ('11, 21), Rays ('10, 22) and Dodgers ('09, 21) all made the playoffs, but the Indians ('11, 21) and D-backs ('08, 21) did not.
Point is, you never know what a good start will get you, but everyone knows it's better to have a good one than a bad one.
For a team like the Red Sox, the difference is night and day between a start that was under .500 and sinking in 2012 and a start that was the best in the Majors this year.
Then again, for a team like the Angels, who are experiencing déjà vu with a bumpy start to the season after high expectations for the second straight year, the lack of a difference can be frustrating, to say the least.
The Angels had an 11-19 mark through 30 games. That represents a tick downward from their 13-17 start a year ago, so they know just how hard it can be to overcome a slow start, having run uphill all season in 2012.
"I'll tell you one thing right now, nobody's going to feel sorry for you," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We've got to go out there and play, we have to get it done even with some of the depth issues that we're facing right now, and that's our focus."
The Yankees, meanwhile, gladly will take 18 wins out of their first 30, considering so many of their All-Star performers remain sidelined with injury. It's just a start, but they'll take it.
That's definitely what can be said about the Royals, whose walk-off victory Sunday continued what has been a fine first chunk of the season after an offseason of upgrading the pitching staff.
"We just have great chemistry around here," Royals outfielder Alex Gordon said. "Everyone's going out there for the same goal, and that's to win and have fun. And that's what we're doing."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.