Throughout the ups and downs of the season -- and the ups and downs of the individual games within that season -- it's easy to lose the big picture. As the Red Sox struggled earlier this month, losing ground at an alarming pace to the suddenly resurgent Yankees, the fear was that the Sox were recreating the disastrous 2006 campaign (or worse: the disastrous 1978 one), in which everything was going so well -- until it wasn't.
The fact is, however, that 10 games before the end of the season's first half, the Red Sox have yet to go through a really serious (i.e., three weeks or more) slump. In fact, they've been remarkably consistent, particularly when compared to other teams and previous Sox pennant winners.
Over the last 25 games, the Red Sox have played .600 baseball. They're 15-10 since May 25. It's a return to that level after being 14-11 and 13-12 over the many different 25-game stretches you could pick out between May 11 and June 19. Still, with 13-12 being the worst they've been over any given stretch, that means the Sox have yet to play break-even ball over a 25-game or longer stretch this season.
No team in baseball this season has had a better 25-game stretch than the Red Sox did between April and May, when they went 19-6. Likewise, none of the other top teams in baseball have done as well as the Red Sox in their worst 25-game stretches this season. The Angels went 12-13 between April and May, the Tigers 11-14 between May and June, the Indians 12-13 between May and June, the Brewers 8-17 mostly in May, the Padres 12-13 between April and May. The Mets are 9-16 in their last 25; the Braves just got off a 9-16 skid and are 10 for their last 15. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks and A's all have gone either 12-13 or 11-14 for a stretch. The Yankees were 10-15 in several 25-game stretches between early May and early June. Without checking every team, it's safe to say the Sox are the only team in baseball who have yet to fall below .500 for at least 15 percent of the season.
Let's see how that compares historically. The best Red Sox team, by both wins and winning percentage, was the 1912 club, which finished the season 105-47, powered by the superstar outfield of Harry Hooper, Duffy Lewis and Tris Speaker and the rubber arm of Hall of Famer Smoky Joe Wood. Clearly, the June Swoon wasn't yet in effect in 1912 -- the Sox went 21-4 starting June 6. This team had amazing consistency, going 15-10 in its two worst stretches, in April-May and in September-October. That may actually be the best "worst" stretch by any team in baseball history.
The 1915 club was almost as good, winning 101 games and the franchise's fourth AL pennant and third World Series championship. Joe Wood was joined by Babe Ruth, Ernie Shore and Dutch Leonard -- one of baseball's all-time great rotations. All that pitching couldn't keep the club from getting off to a sluggish start -- just 12-13 in its first 25 games. As May ended, the Sox were barely above .500 (17-15), and they were five games behind the White Sox in the American League. They played .700 baseball the rest of the way.
The only other 100-win club in Red Sox history is the 1946 pennant winner of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, Boo Ferriss and Tex Hughson. The team won 104 games, yet slumped from mid-June to mid-July, going just 11-14 during that span. At the end of play June 11, the Red Sox were 41-9, an amazing .820 clip and already 10 games in front of the Yankees (sound familiar?). After suffering a loss July 6, the club was 52-23, its winning percentage down to "just" .693, and its lead over New York only six games.
Only two other Sox teams have come within two games of 100 wins -- and they are perhaps the franchise's two most famous versions: 1978 and 2004. Needless to say, the 1978 Sox have by far the worst 25-game stretch you could expect from a team that finished with 99 wins. Between Aug. 22 and Sept. 16, the club went 9-16. More importantly, they posted the same record from Aug. 30 through Sept. 24. The 2004 club nearly did the exact opposite, starting sluggishly and rallying at the end of the season -- waiting until the postseason to snatch victory from the jaws of the Yankees. The club was an uninspiring 11-14 over 25 games between June and July, but from Aug. 11 to Sept. 11 of that year, went 22-3, the best 25-game stretch in Red Sox history (tied with 1950).
Here's a quick rundown of the Sox' pennant winners (or, absent that, 95-game winners) and their best and worst 25-game records:
- Year: Best, Worst, wins
- 1903: 19-6, 12-13, 91
- 1904: 19-6, 9-16, 95
- 1912: 21-4, 15-10, 105
- 1915: 21-4, 12-13, 101
- 1916: 18-7, 10-15, 91
- 1918: 19-6, 12-13, 75*
- 1946: 21-4, 11-14, 104
- 1948: 21-4, 8-17, 96
- 1949: 20-5, 12-13, 96
- 1967: 18-7, 10-15, 92
- 1975: 20-5, 11-14, 95
- 1977: 19-6, 11-14, 97
- 1978: 20-5, 9-16, 99
- 1986: 20-5, 9-16, 95
- 1995: 21-4, 10-15, 86*
- 2003: 17-8, 11-14, 95
- 2004: 22-3, 11-14, 98
- 2005: 19-6, 10-15, 95
- 2007: 19-6, 13-12, 105 (projected)
* Shortened season
By contrast, the Red Sox of 2006 never had a 25-game stretch as good as the '07 Sox, and their 6-19 August last season is a testament to what a truly horrible streak looks like. And really, let's all be glad it's not 1927 again -- when the Sox went a franchise-record 2-23 between June 8 and July 4.
The lesson here appears to be two-fold: First, the Sox' recent slump is actually very good, relatively speaking. If it's the worst we see all season, the 2007 Red Sox will be among the historically consistent teams in baseball (even the 1998 Yankees went 11-14 between August and September, though the 2001 Mariners never did worse than 14-11 and the 1954 Indians' worst stretch equaled the 1912 Sox'). Which brings me to Point 2: We can probably expect another one of these this season, and it'll probably be worse than this one. At which point, we can once again be thankful for the double-digit division lead.
(Thanks to Baseball-Reference's streak analyzer).