Earlier today, we discussed teams that had made the postseason despite enduring a 3-15 stretch at some point in their year. It was a nice way to provide a little hope amid the Tampa Bay Rays’ recent stretch, but it wasn’t the most relevant analysis. I was just biding my time until I could do the research for this piece. The Rays’ 3-15 slide began in their 71st game, and they were 10 games above .500 prior to its onset. With that in mind, I looked for teams since 1985 who had gone 4-14 or worse in a stretch that began somewhere between their 60th and 80th games and started with them at least 5 games over .500. I looked at the last such streak in each team’s season if there were more than one.
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As it turns out, 21 teams fit those criteria, most notably last year’s World Series champions, the 2014 San Francisco Giants. The other playoff teams were the 1996 Padres, 2003 Twins, and 1990 Red Sox. Four out of 21 making the playoffs isn’t a great percentage, although we also know that there was no Wild Card until 1995 (and no postseason in 1994). Overall, the 21 teams averaged a .502 winning percentage for the seasons in question and a .503 winning percentage from the end of the losing streaks onwards. If the Rays recorded a .503 winning percentage the rest of the year, they would finish 80-82. Taking out the three teams from 1994 and 1995 that didn’t have as much time to return to form, that rest-of-season mark goes up to .510.
If this is where you want to stop reading, that is fine. Overall, there is a good chance that the Tampa Bay Rays will rebound the rest of the year, but they are more likely to return to .500 than go on some kind of crazy run. However, there are a few more reasons to be optimistic based on the exact circumstances behind the Rays’ tough stretch. Firstly, they had a winning percentage of .570 before it began. Teams at that mark or above averaged a .526 mark the rest of the year (versus .490 otherwise), with only one team finishing with less than 85 wins.
That is the most optimistic we could possibly be–if we lower the minimum winning percentage pre-slump from .570 to .565, the average winning percentage for the rest of the year dips to .520 and now we have 4 of 10 teams dipping below an 83-win pace on the season as a whole (I phrase it that way because there were two 1995 teams included). At least for the Rays’ sake, their streak also started earlier–the 10 non-1994 teams whose streaks began before July 1st recorded a .524 winning percentage the remainder of the season. Even the 1994 team, the Twins, had won five games in a row when the season was halted.
I’m not going to provide any false hope–the “85 wins” stat above is misleading because I lumped the Rays in with teams that were better than them before their 4-14 or worse stretches. Those teams were good enough beforehand that even after the streaks, every team was above .500 and all but one was at least four games above. As we know, the Rays are currently 43-45. Even if they recorded a .526 winning percentage the remainder of the season, they would only go 82-80. Unless the entire division collapses, they need to be better than that.
What we can say, though, is that there is a good chance that the Tampa Bay Rays will give fans reason for excitement the remainder of the season. There will likely fall short of the postseason, but they should rebound to .500 or better and stick around in the weak AL East. They have a clear opportunity to exceed their 2014 record, and if they can heat up and exceed the average of previous teams in their position, then the playoffs could come calling as well. Even if that isn’t the probabilistically most likely outcome, it is far from impossible and there is a reason that they play the games. We can do as much analysis as we want, but at the end of the day, we never know what will happen.