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Baseball Failure in August

The Baltimore Sun had a long story today about how suckingly terrible the Orioles have been in Augusts and Septembers of recent vintage. Now, I've been known to spend hours and hours compiling mostly meaningless statistics (see: preseason NFL scoring trends), but when I do this I'm joking, and anyhow, I'm a blogger, not a real journalist. But this was a real, serious story, suggesting that this was a legitimate trend with explicable causes:

Maybe it's because of the traditionally difficult late-season schedule. Maybe the interminable length of the baseball season eventually catches up with a perpetually thin roster. Or maybe it's that there hasn't been anything to play for in a decade. But since 1997, when the Orioles last had meaningful games in August and September, the team has been dreadful as its seasons have waned.

There were more explanations offered: a move to player examination instead of pure competition, a more lax mindset among players who know they've been eliminated from the pennant race, the toughness of the AL East, a lack of pitching and defense, etc.

The obvious complaint with this "trend" is that 2007's Orioles team has little in common, at least roster-wise, with the 1998 version, suggesting that this year's suckiness might be for a completely different reason than 1998's suckiness. But putting that aside, I sort of wonder exactly how powerful August and September success is.

Like, if it mattered that much, you'd have expected last year's World Series teams to have shined in those latter months. The Tigers were 25-32, the worst mark of the four AL playoff teams. The Cardinals were also 25-32, the worst mark of the four NL playoff teams. The best playoff team down the stretch was the 38-19 Dodgers, who didn't win a postseason game.

Or maybe you'd instead have expected middling teams that closed the 2006 season strong to have carried that momentum into 2007. The second-best AL team last September was the Blue Jays (18-10), who this year have regained their rightful spot, in third place, around .500. Among the hotter NL teams down the stretch last fall was Houston (33-24), which has been disappointing at best this year.

If that's not the point, maybe you'd instead expect the teams that crapped out down the stretch to have carried their struggles into this year. The AL's best team as of this writing, the Red Sox, were 23-35 from August on last year. The NL's tied-for-best team as of this writing, the D-Backs, were 22-35 from August on last year.

So, taking just one season, I don't see where August/September records mean anything different than overall records. And in point of fact, the Orioles' August-Sept winning percentage in this nine-year span that so concerns the Sun (.424) is not all that different from, say, the Orioles' overall winning percentage in the last six seasons (.436). And while their worst month in this span was a September (of '02), their second-worst was a July (of '01).

Being neither a statistician nor a baseball expert nor a serious journalist, my explanation for the team's shockingly dismal history in recent Augusts and Septembers is as follows: the Orioles have been an all-around bad team. Ta da!

By Dan Steinberg  |  August 28, 2007; 5:19 PM ET
Categories:  MLB , Orioles  
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