The conventional thinking about baseball is that with a 162-game season, an early-season stumble isn’t reason for despair. Nor should fans of a team that gets out of the gate with a blistering sprint count on a playoff berth as a given.
The kind of start the Tampa Bay Rays enjoyed by winning their first 13 games and tying a post-1900 record for a season-starting winning streak should have their fans optimistic, even without legal, regulated Florida sports betting apps to use. But the history of fast starts shows some mixed results.
As of Monday afternoon, uber-baseball statistics website Fangraphs projects the Rays’ chances of making the playoffs at 92.3%, following the most recent weekend play and with Tampa Bay sitting at 14-2 atop the AL East. But more details on that later.
Past Teams With 13-0 Starts
In considering the historical perspective, the teams the Rays tied for the longest winning streak to start the season in the modern era are the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers and the 1982 Atlanta Braves.
When the ’87 Brewers had their fast start, they were in the American League East and they failed to make the playoffs. That was in part because they spoiled a great April by losing 12 in a row in May.
Meanwhile, the ’82 Braves won the NL West but were swept in the National League Championship Series by the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 1981 Oakland Athletics won their first 11 games (17-1 in the first 18) and had a 64-45 record in split season. The A’s won the divisional postseason series but were crushed by the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
Before the Modera Era’s Playoff Expansion
In an era when the baseball postseason essentially meant league pennant winners playing in the World Series (prior to 1969), Brooklyn in 1955, Pittsburgh in 1962 and Cleveland in 1966 all won their first 10 games.
The ‘55 Dodgers went on to win the World Series against the Yankees with both rosters loaded with future Hall of Famers. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh and Cleveland failed to make the World Series.
In the playoff era, meaning 1969 and after, three teams won nine to start the season. Cincinnati (1990) and Detroit (1984) won the World Series, but Kansas City (2003) failed to make the playoffs at all.
Among teams starting 9-0 in the pre-playoff era, the St. Louis Browns rode the early winning streak to their only World Series in 1944 but lost to the Cardinals, while the 1918 New York Giants and 1940 Brooklyn Dodgers failed to make the Series.
So, what does any of this mean for Tampa Bay? For starters, more teams qualify for the baseball postseason than was the case with some other teams with hot starts. With 12 teams making the MLB playoffs — six each from the National League and American League — Tampa Bay’s chances of being in the postseason are extremely good.
Fangraphs projections keep a running tally on what it calculates are each MLB team’s chances of making the playoffs and winning the World Series as well as winning its division and even earning a bye.
Who Is Postseason Favorite With Fangraphs?
After that dominant 13-0 start, Tampa Bay lost two of three to the Blue Jays in Toronto. Still, at 14-2, Tampa Bay has a 92.3% chance of making the playoff, according to Fangraphs. The Rays’ chances of winning the World Series were at 10.3%. Part of what goes into the calculation are not only projected full-season win and loss totals but also strength of schedule. The Rays play in the tough AL East.
As glowing as this season’s prospects are projected for to be for Tampa Bay, the Atlanta Braves look even better. At 12-4 after play on April 16, the Braves were projected at 96.5% to make the playoffs and 16.8% to win the World Series. A possible difference is that the Rays’ remaining schedule figures to be more difficult than the Braves’ opponents.
Two other teams are projected with chances at 80% or better to make the playoffs — the Yankees (84.7%), who are an AL East rival of Tampa Bay, and the San Diego Padres (80.9%).
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