Does the 40-game mark matter as much as we all pretend (due to Sparky Anderson’s desire a team not be judged until then)? Maybe. Maybe not.
- Around 40 games in 2007, the 4 American League playoff teams would have been Boston, Cleveland,, Los Angeles and Detroit (wild card). The 4 National League playoff teams were the Mets, the Brewers, the Dodgers and the Padres. World Series-bound Arizona was 21-19. The playoff-bound Yankees were 17-19.
- Around 40 games in 2006, the A.L. playoff teams would have Detroit, Chicago (wildcard), Boston and Oakland/Texas. Only Detroit and Oakland made the playoff of that bunch. The eventual Central Division champion Twins were 17-24. In the N.L., the playoff teams were the Mets, Cardinals, Reds (wildcard) and Padres. That was a decent predictor, as the Cardinals had the best record in the league before falling on their face and picking themselves back up to win the World Series. The Reds missed the playoffs.
- Around 40 games in 2005, Baltimore led the A.L. East with a .667 winning rate. They missed the playoffs. The World Series champion Chicago White Sox were running away with the league at 29-12. The National League pennant winner Houston Astros, however, started out 15-24.
You can go on and on and on. You know the only conclusion you can draw from the past three years? You can’t draw a conclusion at all! Some of the season’s best teams were in first. Some weren’t. It was better to be in first than not to be, obviously. But teams that started slow rallied in each of the three years.
Every team plays every team in its league. So for Detroit, that’s 13 teams. They haven’t even faced four teams at all and have spent 45% of their time playing against teams currently in first place. While, you know, you’d expect teams who expect to be contenders would split against first-place teams (the Tigers are 5-11) any review of the Tigers should note that strength of schedule).
So, maybe we shouldn’t put too much weight on the first 40 games. You’re still getting a skewed view of things and the first 40 really aren’t a reliable predictor.