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Thursday, August 15, 2013
Three Strikes: Those streaking Dodgers


STRIKE ONE -- DODGEBALL DEPT.

Do the Dodgers ever lose? Seriously.

They've lost only eight times in eight weeks. They've gained 17 games in the standings in eight weeks. They've gone from 12 games under .500 to 20 games over .500 in eight weeks.

There's a word for that, you know:

Impossible.

Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig has a .500 on-base percentage in 13 games played in August, 12 of which the Dodgers have won.

Well, just about. So let's take a look at how impossible (or close) it really is:

• They're 40-8 in their past 48 games. That's 40 and 8. Amazing. They're the first team to run off a 40-8 streak (or better) at any point in any season since Stan Musial's 1942 Cardinals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That was 71 years ago, friends.

• And these Dodgers and those Cardinals are the only National League teams to rip off a streak like this in the past 100 seasons. And yeah, I said 100. Fred Merkle's 1913 Giants were the last to do it before those two.

• And other than that group, the only teams in the past 100 seasons that had a 40-8 stretch (or better) in either league were Jimmie Foxx's legendary 1931 Philadelphia A's and three great Yankees teams that made it look way too easy -- by doing it three times in four years (in 1938, '39 and '41). So take away those Yankees, one of the all-time superteams, and this is a feat duplicated four times in the past 100 seasons. Incredible.

• Now let's remember something truly mind-boggling: These Dodgers were 12 games under .500 before all this started -- 72 games into the season. And now they're 20 over. How crazy is that?

I asked Elias to determine the most games over .500 any team has ever finished after being 12 games under .500 (or worse) that late in a season. And the answer is 14 -- by Wilver D. Stargell's 1974 Pirates (88-74). That team was actually 12 under as late as its 86th game before getting its act together.

But now digest this: That's the only team in history that ever finished even more than eight games over .500 after having a record that bad that late. And these Dodgers are now 20 over. Holy schmoly.

• Another thing to keep in mind: Even as late as the All-Star break, the Dodgers' record was only 47-47. Since then, they're a ridiculous 23-3. So that puts them in line to make yet more history.

According to Elias, the best post-break winning percentage ever, by a team that was at or below .500 at the break, was .684 -- by Dizzy Trout's 1944 Tigers (52-24 in the second half, 36-42 in the first half). Of course, these Dodgers (.885) are blowing that percentage away by a mere 201 points at the moment.

Now obviously, they won't keep that up. But to set that record for second-half winning percentage, this team has to go a mere 24-18 (.571) the rest of the way. You've gotta like its chances.

• All right, here's another one: The Dodgers are 20 games over .500 since the break after not even having a winning record when they reached the break. So what's the record for something like that (best record after the break by a team that was .500 or worse before it)? Elias says it's 28 over -- by that 1944 Tigers team and Johnny Mize's 1940 Cardinals (27-40 in the first half, 57-29 in the second). The Dodgers need to go 26-16 to break that one. I'll take the over.

• And finally, how tough is it to make up 17 games in your division in under 50 games? Well, you sure don't see it much. Last team to do it: Fred McGriff's 1995 Braves, who headed into July four games behind the Phillies and found themselves 13 games up after games of Aug. 10 -- a mere 37 games later.

You know where that Braves team wound up that October. We're about to find out where this Dodgers team winds up. But why, at this point, would you put anything past this juggernaut?

STRIKE TWO -- FIRST REFUSAL DEPT.

Cubs coach David Bell had a tremendous observation about his second baseman, Darwin Barney, the other day:

Darwin Barney
Darwin Barney has committed the fewest errors (four) among all National League second basemen who qualify this season.

"He refuses to make errors," is the way Bell put it.

Hmmm, you might be thinking. How does that work? He just refuses to make errors? Why hasn't Starling Marte tried that?

Well, not making errors wouldn't seem to be that simple. But in Barney's case, he's not kidding -- and it's an offer the Cubs, well, can't refuse.

He had a 141-game errorless streak last year, tied for the longest by a second baseman in history. He then followed that act with a 71-game errorless streak to start this season. So I asked Elias how many other second basemen have ever had errorless streaks that long in back-to-back years. And the answer is …

Nobody.

In fact, just two second basemen have ever had two different streaks that long (71 or longer) in their careers -- Brandon Phillips, in 2012 (84) and 2008 (78), and Freddy Sanchez, in 2010 (81) and 2008 (82).

What about that other Cubs second baseman (Ryne Sandberg) so famous for his errorless streakage, you ask? Well, Sandberg had five streaks of 50 or more games without an error and nine streaks of 40 or more games, but only one streak of 71 or longer (a then-record 123-gamer in 1989-90).

So he may have been a Hall of Famer. But when it came to the right of first refusal, he was no Darwin Barney.

STRIKE THREE -- PARTNERSHIP DEPT.

Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins haven't played together longer than Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. But they're about to do something even more historic.

The Phillies just signed Utley to a contract that means he and Rollins are all but guaranteed to spend their 12th season together as double-play partners next year. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of years of 6-4-3s.

So how many DP combinations in the history of the National League have played together in even part of 12 consecutive seasons? I asked Elias to look into that, too.

Their answer: Not a one.

Elias did find a few other duos who played at least one game together at those spots in 11 seasons -- Sandberg and Shawon Dunston for the Cubs of the '80s and '90s, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers for the turn-of-the-century Cubs, Larry Doyle and Art Fletcher for the Giants of that same era, and Bobby Lowe and Herman Long for the 19th-century Boston Beaneaters.

But 12 in a row? If Utley and Rollins play even one game together next year, that would be an all-time National League record.

And the only DP combination in history that would rank ahead of them? That would be you-know-who -- Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell, who spent 19 seasons turning two in Detroit.

Now that's a record that may never be broken. But if you've left Tinker and Evers in the rear-view mirror, you've still done something totally remarkable.