MLB: On Debunking The Claim These Early Games “Don’t Matter” Much

MLB 2021 - A Season Of Stars

In MLB, we hear it all the time. “It’s only April; it takes time; we’ll straighten this thing out.” Oh yeah? Let’s talk again in September.

No one seems to get it, but in Major League Baseball (MLB), losses count more than wins in the standings.

In September, games lost in April cannot be atoned when the crunch hits and teams are competing for their season lives in trying to secure a spot in the postseason.

Team X that has two more losses than the team above them at that point in the season, is powerless and can only stand by wishing on a prayer that the team ahead of them will lose – while they withstand the pressure of having to win or risk losing not one – but two games in the standings if the games are played head to head as the schedule usually calls for in those final days.

MLB: One Game At A Time And What’s Lost Is Lost

In sum, a team can’t win games they’ve already lost.

So why then do we choose to look at the MLB Standings as they are today, electing to give the Oakland A’s, who are supposed to be making some noise in the AL West, a mulligan for their 1-7 record to date?

Or, how about the Marlins, who are no worse or better than they were last year when Don Mattingly‘s crew surprised everyone with an appearance in the playoffs – but today their record matches the A’s?

The Disease Affects Players And Teams

It’s the same way with individual players who routinely get off to a “slow start” but whose pedigree keeps the team and their fans on the edge of their seat – because they know a breakout is coming.

MLB: When 1 + 1 doesn't always equal 2
MLB: When 1 + 1 doesn’t always equal 2

Put it this way as an illustration. If Player X is hitting .200 after his first 250 at-bats this season, to reach his usual plateau of .300 (and assuming 600 at-bats for the season) – in his remaining 350 at-bats, he will need to scorch the league at a pace that will add 130 hits to a season total 180, and a batting average of .300.

And that means he’s going to need to finish the rest of his season batting at a .371 clip.

Similarly, let’s go back to the A’s for a minute and their “it’s only April” match against the Houston Astros, arguably their only competition in the AL West. First, here’s a look at the standings in that division.

MLB AL West Standings 4/9/21
MLB AL West Standings 4/9/21

Six games in the loss column, not a big deal – right. But let’s say the division winner will need ninety wins.

The Astros will need 84 wins to meet the mark while the A’s will need 89 wins – again not a big separation we say.

Looked at another way though, this means the Astros need to only play slightly above the .500 mark (.509), while the A’s need to finish the season at .578 just to finish in a tie with Houston.

There’s nothing that says the A’s won’t do it, but as a fan in this situation which team would you rather be rooting for?

MLB Takes All Prisoners – Now Or In September

Digging holes of any kind, as we know, are hard to recover from. Day to day, players and teams count the games one at a time. They forget that game; for example, the Mets lost in the first game of this season when Jacob deGrom left the game with a 2-0 lead after the sixth inning, only to see the Mets give the game away on a throwing error.

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The baseball vernacular kicks in then, and we hear the usual “talking points” in post-game appearances by Mets players and coaches. “Hey, everyone (Luis Guillorme) can make a mistake.”

And the beat goes on until a similar situation arises, and it’s September 26. Guillorme (suddenly) becomes a goat on New York newspapers’ back pages and is driven into exile during the offseason.

As yet another illustration, will yesterday’s miracle hit-by-pitch at-bat by Michael Conforto on a controversial “strike” call by the home plate umpire, resulting in a walk-off win for the Mets and a loss for the Marlins mean anything in September if both teams find themselves fighting for the last Wild Card spot in the National League?

All we can say is what Conforto told the media – “A win’s a win” – and yes indeed it sure is. You can decide – here’s the video.

 

MLB And The Mirror Of Our Lives

As we know, though, baseball mirrors life more closely than sometimes we would want. “Mistakes” we made yesterday often have a way of sneaking back, causing us problems and stress later.

So too, it is with teams and players as they go through a season. We like to divide a season into a first-half, followed by a second half, traditionally measured by the All-Star Game break for convenience and TV money.

Players and teams come back from the break with renewed vigor and enthusiasm as though the first half never happened. It’s a “new season,” we’ll hear them say.

For some, it will be, and maybe that hitter struggling to reach that .300 number his team is paying him handsomely for will lead his team from that point forward.

But lost in the shuffle and never to be recalled are those games in April when he conspicuously was going 0-4 with two strikeouts in games his team lost.

Caveat Emptor – Let The Buyer Beware

We tend to rationalize when it comes to the teams we root for. The A’s are better than their record shows, and the White Sox will (eventually) rebound to capture the AL Central from the Twins and Brewers – because they are supposed to.

Caveat Emptor, though – let the buyer beware of that thinking, and although MLB Standings reflect fewer games than the fingers on our hands, truth is told, and to reiterate – every game counts – no matter the month when it’s played.

Here’s What Readers Are Saying…

Every game counts…you never know which game will come back to haunt you
Obviously, if you lose the division by 2 games and you started off the season 0-6 those games count and they count as much as any other game during the season but if you’re going to panic and make major roster decisions after the first 6 games you might be a little “special”…
You can’t win a championship in April. But you can lose one…
The examples in the article are not too hard to overcome for good teams. If a team starts out 1-7 but now must play .578 ball just to get to 90 wins, that shouldn’t be a big obstacle. I’ve seen teams play. 500 for 60 games, then play .660 ball the rest of the way. Same for hitters. Some hitters will hit .360 for 50 games. Anything can happen in the smallest sample sizes within the season.
Jeff Paliwoda
There’s also a lot to be said about the kind of performance we are seeing from Buxton, Yermin, Lance Lynn, momentum/confidence is a thing that can take hold in April or October. I mean, you go in thinking “oh no, Eloy goes down, is this the start of something bad” then you see the anointed one (Andrew Vaughn) go over and look overmatched but this Panda-like 28-year-old bounce around guy gets you through until you can work with Vaughn or go get a veteran to fill that DH void, April CAN mean a lot. Like the A’s on the flip side, just because they’ve historically played well in August/September does not mean they won’t bury themselves and start wondering how they are going to replace Puk or if the Matt twins are going to hit ever again (we know they will but that creeping negativity can kill ya). And in the wild card race, the Tribe needs to see JRam go yard twice, Bieber is Bieber again, etc. to think they are still “in it” despite the Sox and Twins appearing to be the class, who knows right, Plesac gets on a roll and the line-up is not as anemic as it seems on paper, they could be there BUT they can’t go 7-16 and think they have a shot.
Frank DiRoberto
I agree – after 23 games, one-seventh of the season is over, and you have enough information to fairly evaluate a team. Not that a 7-16 team can’t turn it around (the 2017 Indians won 22 straight), but if a team is 7-16, I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence that things would dramatically change.

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Steve Contursi
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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.