Nowlin: The perils of peaking too early in the quest for the pennant

From SABR member Bill Nowlin at The National Pastime Museum on September 20, 2016:

With World War II over, all the ballplayers who had been in military service (and who were able) returned to their various teams. For the 1946 Boston Red Sox, that meant players such as Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, and Tex Hughson, to name a few. After four years of war, fans were ready for baseball without battle news dominating the front pages.

The Red Sox got off to a great start, the best in franchise history. Other teams have had great starts. It would be tough to top the 1984 Tigers, who were 35–5 after their first 40 games; they’d won their first nine games. There were two teams with 13–0 starts, the 1982 Braves and the 1987 Brewers. It depends where you draw the line as to what team could claim the very best start ever; drawing the line is an arbitrary proposition. But for the sake of this article, let’s draw it at two dozen games.

The 1946 Boston Red Sox were 21–3. There are three teams that started 20–4, but no team since 1900 has begun the season with a better record than the ’46 Sox’s 21–3 (.875). By the time they’d reached the two dozen mark, Boston was 5½ games ahead of the second-place team, the New York Yankees.

The Sox won their first five games but then lost three of the next four—nothing that a 15-game winning streak couldn’t fix. Their 6–3 record jumped to the 21–3 mark. They’d never been anywhere but first place. In June, there was a stretch where they lost seven of eight, but they’d built up such a lead that even after those losses, they were still ahead of anyone else by 6½ games.

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Originally published: September 20, 2016. Last Updated: September 20, 2016.