Jump on that streak wagon, Yankees soared into first place

Jun 26, 2012 3:00 AM

Baseball is a game of stats and streaks. The Yankees started this season 0-3 and 21-21 with all kinds of problems with pitching, but have since turned things around and soared into first place last week for the first time.

The Red Sox started last season 2-10 before making minor adjustments, got their starting staff straightened out and were the best team in baseball in mid-season before a stunning September swoon.

Four years ago the Tigers started the season losing seven straight games, despite being favored in the first five. The Angels went 14-1 UNDER the total that May when their offense was banged up. In 2009 the Florida Marlins started 11-1 before going in a massive funk, not even coming close to the postseason.

There will be all kinds of streaks over the course of a 162-game season: Consecutive shutout innings thrown by pitchers, a batter hitting safely in X number of games or consecutive saves by a closer.

R.A. Dickey of the Mets has dazzled, with a brilliant start, including back-to-back one-hitters last week. Not bad for a 37-year old knuckler! You will see 10-game win streaks, 10-game losing streaks, pitchers ripping off 7-straight wins, teams losing four straight one-run games. All these add to the excitement and interest in the game.

From a betting perspective, streaks need to be approached with a careful eye and a cautious head. Playing against “the law of averages” is no way to wager.

For example, some bettors think, “This team has won nine in a row therefore it is time to bet against them, as they are due for a losing streak.” This doesn’t work in the world of 11-to-10.

A little perspective: one year ago this week the Cardinals were 41-38 after dropping their third in a row. Do you need to be reminded how they did in October? Two years ago at this time, the Giants lost seven straight and 13 of 18. They didn’t look like postseason material while sitting at 40-39, but put it all together down the stretch for a World Series title.

In 2004, the Boston Red Sox played close to .500 much of the season from May through mid-August. Starting on August 16, the Sox won six in a row. If you supported the law of averages, you might conclude the Sox would be due for several losses and bet against them.

In fact, they did lose, 3-0 to Toronto ending that streak – only to go on a 10-game win streak. When that streak ended, they won nine of the next 12 games. The “anticipated” losing streak never arrived.

Simply put, the law of averages can’t predict what is going to happen the next game or 10.

This year’s Detroit Tigers remind many fans of the 2008 team: Both stocked with talent, but underachieving. The 2008 group never came out of it.

Some teams can slip out of a funk that has gone on for months, as the 2004 Red Sox did, and begin to play very well, while others do not. In fact, that is the point – there are almost always tangible reasons why a team goes on hot or cold streaks, more so than the law of averages.

The 2004 Red Sox had improved their defense by adding several players at the trading deadline, including SS Orlando Cabrera. It took a few weeks, but the improved defense and attitude were real and they showed it by playing winning ball on the field the rest of the season.

The 2008 Tigers started poorly because of weak defense and pitching injuries. The Angels’ 14-1 UNDER the total streak was not a fluke – the offense was decimated by injuries and the pitching staff was magnificent.

Sometimes injuries can play a role, especially if an ace pitcher is out, and other times teams go into a collective hitting or pitching slump.

Think about the talented 2007 NY Mets. They ended the year 5-12, blowing the division lead to the Phillies. If you had bet on them the last week with the reasoning, “They’re too good to keep playing this bad,” you would have lost your shirt when they went 1-6 against the Nationals and Marlins, two of the worst teams in baseball.

In 1988 the Baltimore Orioles lost their first 21 games. Sports bettors playing the law of averages hoping the Orioles “were due to win” blew out their betting bankrolls before May 1.

Overall, it is better to ride a hot team or continue to bet against a cold team, than to rely on the law of averages and bet the other way.