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First at the Break
2004-08-03 12:53
by Mike Carminati

Rules for Staying Young:
  • Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.

  • If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.

  • Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.

  • Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society -- the social ramble ain't restful.

  • Avoid running at all times.

  • And don't look back -- something might be gaining on you.

  • —Satchel Paige's Maybe I'll Pitch Forever

    When I was a kid being in first at the All-Star break was tantamount to winning the pennant or so we were told. Teams were said to be striving for an edge heading into the break, thereby almost guaranteeing them a spot in the postseason. It was gospel.

    Well, that's not so today. Here we are a scant three weeks after the All-Star game and already all but one playoff spot in the American League has changed hands. Of the eight teams with claims to playoff spots at the break, only three are still in possession of them (the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cardinals). Well, I guess there are four since the Rangers lost the AL West lead but now are in possession of the wild card lead.

    In the AL, the Rangers led the A's by two games and the Angels by 2-1/2 at the break. Today, the A's, with their typical second-half surge, are in first by 1-1/2 games over the Rangers with the Angels still at 2-1/2 back.

    The White Sox owned a scant half-game lead at the break over the Twins. Today, the Twins lead the Sox by five full games.

    The Red Sox ended the first half seven games behind the Yankees in the AL East, but they had a one game lead over the A's in the wild card race with the Angels and Twins 1-1/2 games behind. Today, the wild card is the rangers to lose with the Red Sox one-half game back, the Angels one game back and the White Sox 3-1/2 back.

    In the NL, the Phils were one game up on the Braves at the break (with the Marlins 1.5 and the Mets 2 back). In just three weeks, they are already 5-1/2 game behind Atlanta.

    At the break, the Giants owned a one-game lead in the wild card race over the Cubs, with the Padres and Reds 1-1/2 back, Brewers 2-1/2 back, and Braves three back. Today, the Padres lead by one game over the Cubs, with the Giants two back. There are seven other clubs that are between five and eight and one-half games back in the NL wild card race.

    And there's reason to believe that a few of the playoff spots won't change hands before the end of the season. The Yankes (9 game-lead) and Cardinals (10.5) appear set barring an impersonation of the '64 Phils. The Braves and Twins have leads of at least five games and have second-place teams headed in the wrong direction. The two western divisions and both wild cards should be interesting down the stretch.

    It also makes me wonder when, if ever, the "first at the break" adage actually rang true. It seemed to be self-evidently true when I was a kid. However, I've never studied nor have I seen a study on it. (If anyone knows were I can get that data, I'd love to conduct that one.)

    One thing leads me to believe that it was at least a bit more accurate in the old days, that we didn't have to monkey around with any silly old inter-league games back then (boy, I sound like Joe Morgan). Now, we get rid of those games in the first half, but maybe that leads to less accuracy in the division leaders at the break (more randomness in inter-league games and fewer games with division rivals). One interesting study would be to determine if inter-league record accurately reflects a team's overall record. But that's for another day or at least another article.

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