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A Playoff Update

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Since the hot April, the Rays are 25-20. That's a .556 winning percentage, or 90 over a full season. That's exactly what the expectation was entering this year. Boston is playing at a 108 win pace since the end of April, which is just unsustainable. They're good and anyone who wrote them off after a sub-.500 April was foolish, but they aren't that good. New York has played at a 97 win pace.

We knew it would be close. We knew it would likely be a dogfight between Boston and the Rays to make the playoffs. It's been a very nice run and the reality of winning the division isn't beyond this team. There are some changes that need to be made, but not as reactions to the recent 10-15 stretch. The quote that really covers the bases on this rough patch comes from the pilot of the Phillies, Charlie Manuel. You see, the Phillies had been already shutout seven times this season when asked if he thought that was a possibility entering the year. His response: "In this game there's a whole lot of crap possible."

That's it. Manuel is right. Lots of things can and do happen. Carl Sagan once called human beings significance junkies. He's right too. Living in the moment with baseball means trying to read into every slump or streak as a larger sign; doing that will drive you insane. Over a seven game stretch in late April/early May the Rays pitching staff combined for 65 innings, 10 earned runs, 52 strikeouts, and 21 walks (as well as one home run). Over the last seven games the Rays pitching staff has combined for 61 innings, 34 earned runs, 63 strikeouts, and 25 walks (with nine home runs).

You know what? The difference in those two spans is almost entirely luck driven. Whether it be ball in play luck (the first week saw 37 hits, the second saw 68), scheduling luck (playing Kansas City, Seattle, and Oakland is preferable to playing Florida and Atlanta), or just plain ol' home run luck. What I've pointed out are the extremes on either margin. And in this game, those extreme performances are usually heavily influenced by luck.

So, should you worry about going 10-15 over the last 25? No. Don't panic. Don't write the playoffs off. After all, you didn't secure playoff tickets when the Rays started 18-7, did you? Because that 72% win rate was just as unsustainable as this 40% win rate.  Baseball Prospectus simulates the season daily and projects that it takes 95 wins on average to win the wild card. Playing .556 ball gets us to 93.

We're right where we expected to be thanks to a streak hotter than a solar flare and a slump colder than an eclipse. The only problem is the psychology associated with the order.