- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 3, 2009

Does late-season momentum mean playoff success?

In baseball, where the players play every day and the role of momentum is magnified, every playoff team wants to enter the playoffs riding the crest of a Domaine Ste. Michelle wave. But is late-season success a necessary ingredient for a fruitful October? And does a cold snap at the end of the regular season spell doom? A look at how the past 15 World Series champions fared in their final 15 games (nearly one-tenth of the season) suggests an answer.

Those teams, on average, went just 8-7. Two teams — the 2006 Cardinals and 2000 Yankees — suffered through losing streaks of six games or more (the 2000 Yankees had a six-gamer, then a seven-gamer to close the season). On the flip side, four teams had a winning streak of five or more games, and the 2001 Diamondbacks had a span in which they won eight of nine.

The most important stat, though, is the number of the past 15 Series winners who had a winning record in their last 15 games: 10. In other words, compelling evidence exists that teams finishing strongly are twice as likely to win the World Series.

By the same token, ending the season on fire is no guarantee of success. Ryan Howard and the 2007 Phillies trailed the Mets by seven games with 17 to play, then made a furious 13-4 run to pass their I-95 rivals on the final day. Momentum was all on their side, right? A three-game sweep at the hands of the Rockies in the NL Division Series proved otherwise.

Speaking of that year’s Rockies team, it is the prime example of the sheer power of a late-season run as well as how fleeting it can be. After sweeping the streaking Phillies and the NL West champion Diamondbacks, they ran smack into a Red Sox sweep. Those Red Sox, of course, had won just seven of their final 15 games. But they found their stride in the ALCS, blowing out the Indians in three straight to rally from a 3-1 hole.

But back to 2009. What do the final two weeks portend for the eight playoff entrants? As many of them struggle down the stretch, the team closing the best happens to be the team with baseball’s best record: the New York Yankees.

He said what?

“To have the president of the United States and his wife personally appear, then this should happen in the first round is awful and totally undeserving.”

— Senior Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper after Chicago was booted in the first round of voting to select the host of the 2016 Summer Games

• Jon Fogg can be reached at jfogg@washingtontimes.com.

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