I had been planning on writing a season-to-date review at some point. My first thought was 20 games, but I figured that was too small a sample. Then I thought maybe it would be better after 1/5th of the season, but it seemed odd to try to split the season into quintiles, and I was swamped with work anyway. Conclusion? The quarter mark...until I realized that I'll be traveling on the day after our 40th game. So, here's a quick quarter review after the first 39 games. 40 isn't even a perfect quarter anyway.
The team currently sits atop the NL West with a record of 23-16. Better than that, though, is that we seem to deserve the distinction. According to Baseball Prospectus' Adjusted Standings, our record ought to be either 23-16 or 24-15, and they measure it three different ways - actual runs scored versus runs against, equivalent runs scored versus runs against, and adjusted equivalent runs and runs against. All of that dovetails with our actual +41 run differential so far this season.
In contrast, last season we had two decent months - May and August - in which we finished right around .500. However, in each of those months we had a negative run differential. That happens to everyone - sometimes there are a bad couple of games in there that can skew the month - so it's not necessarily a death knell, but it doesn't provide a warm and fuzzy feeling. On the other hand, we may only be 8-8 so far in May, but we have a +12 run differential for the month. I'd rather have a better record, but if we're going to be .500 over a stretch, this is the kind of short-term .500 I prefer.
Part of the reason for our internal optimism throughout the winter and spring was that in contrast with the first five months of the season, in September/October last year we went 18-11 with a run differential of +17. That +17 made the 18-11 more real, so it's great to see the team build on that through the first month and a half of this season. I'm not sure exactly when, but at some point it becomes a trend.
There are a number of other ways to evaluate this season to date that could provide either comfort or caution. The good news, again, is that most of these evaluations provide comfort. For instance, if you want to win the division, you generally need to play well within the division. After all, it accounts for 72 of the 162 games, and a win for you is a loss for someone else in the division. Last year we went 33-39 in the NL West. So far this year we're 13-10.
Another way to look at it is home/road. It's hard to win on the road, and only the best teams win consistently on the road. Really good teams - ones that win 90 or more games - typically finish at least 39-42 on the road and more often than not slightly over .500. Last year we were 33-48. This year we're 11-7.
This next one ties back to run differential. While one run games can often go either way, the best teams usually win a majority of games decided by at least five runs. This year we're just 7-7 in one-run games. We certainly hope that gets better, but I'm glad we're not 23-16 overall and 13-1 in one-run games, because that success would be completely unsustainable. On the other hand, last year we were just 10-32 in games decided by at least five runs. This year? We've already won seven, and we're 7-3 overall. In fact, we've only lost one game by more than three runs in our last 30 contests! When we lose, we don't lose by much, and we've shown the ability to win comfortably. That's a good combo.
I intended to get into our pitching (tops in the NL in ERA), our defense (second in MLB in defensive efficiency), and our hitting (um...not as good as our pitching and defense), but I'll have to address those in a later post.
The bottom line is that it appears as though we deserve our run differential, and consequently, deserve our place in the standings. That's a reassuring feeling at the almost quarter mark. The challenge now is to keep it going, because there's still a long way to go.