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July 14, 2004

Oh, How I Hate the All-Star Break

(Published at the Batters Box, 14 Jul 2004)

The All-Star Game is a fine event, vastly superior to the offerings of the other major professional sports. Conversely, baseball fans have plenty of sound reasons to disdain the All-Star break: no real games, soul-crushingly dull non-events like the Home Run Derby (part of the encroaching Super Bowlification of baseball), more air time for the lucid observations of John Kruk.

Unfortunately, my problem with the All-Star break is deeper and purer. My team of choice, the Texas Rangers, currently sit atop the American League West with a two-game lead over Oakland. My team of choice also has a long and squalid history of post-ASB collapses. For whatever reason, many of those collapses were partially at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays, as you’ll read below.

Texas really does play worse after the All-Star break than during the rest of the season. Here is a chart of team performance that ignores strike years and the first two years of team history when they lost to everyone, all the time:

Texas Rangers, 1974-2003
Wins
Losses
Percentage
Before the All-Star Break
1,193
1,202
.498
First 30 games After the Break
385
455
.458
Remainder of Season
630
647
.493

If not for some relatively solid post-ASB play in recent years, the numbers would tell an even grimmer tale. From 1978 through 1997, the Rangers played .506 ball before the All-Star Break and .417 ball in the thirty games afterward, often coughing up division leads and playoffs chances in the most disheartening fashion. Only once during that span, in 1990, did Texas have a winning record in their first thirty games after the break.

Is the post-ASB weakness statistically significant? Doubtful. Four percent fewer wins over a random thirty-game stretch sounds like background noise; however, playing the “statistics? card won’t win any brownie points with Ranger fans who have endured these infamous seasons:

1976

On July 6, 1976, five days after acquiring Bert Blyleven, Texas stood a season-best and franchise-best twelve games over .500, three games behind the Kansas City Royals. The Rangers proceeded to drop six straight going into the break and four more afterward. From early July through late August, Texas went 14-38 including a staggering 8-24 in games decided by one or two runs. On August 28, Texas fell to twenty games out of first with a record of 58-70.

Low Point: Scoring four runs over a five-game stretch including a ten-inning, 1-0 loss to Milwaukee.

1979

Texas had 52 wins at the All-Star break, still a team record, and aimed to overtake the 55-38 California Angels. Instead, Texas won only ten of forty after the break despite being outscored by just 27 runs. The Rangers had a Pythagorean record of 17-23 during that stretch; had they accomplished that modest task, they still would have remained only two games behind the similarly struggling Angels. Instead, Texas was 62-69, nine games out of first, and out of the division race.

Low Point: Losing a two-game series to the 29-70 Toronto Blue Jays.

1983

July 8, 1983: After three days of rest, the first-place Rangers visited the first-place Blue Jays. Toronto swept the series by scores of 8-5, 5-1, and 6-4. After that debacle, Texas dropped another 18 of 23 against tough AL East competition and fell to 49-55, six games behind the surging Chicago White Sox. Incredibly, Texas led the American League in ERA and fielding percentage but ended the season with a losing record of 77-85.

Low Point: The whole streak. An all-pitch no-hit team that season, Texas allowed 5.2 runs per game during their 5-21 collapse. Two weeks later, Texas traded their best starter, Rick Honeycutt (enjoying his career season at age 29), for Dave Stewart and $200,000.

1991

Eight years later, history repeats. After the All-Star break, the first-place Rangers again visited the first-place Blue Jays. Toronto swept the series by scores of 2-0, 6-2, and 3-2. Texas proceeded to lose 19 of 32 afterwards and found themselves nine games behind Minnesota.

Low Point: A four-game sweep at the hands of the 44-67 Baltimore Orioles.

1992

Texas entered the break at 48-42, six games behind defending World Series champion Minnesota and also behind Oakland. Admittedly, Texas probably didn’t have the guns to challenge both teams, but they removed all doubt by dropping 24 of the next 36 including eight losses by five or more runs.

Low point: Getting swept in a four-game series and outscored 19-4 by eventual division-winner Oakland.

1995

Texas bookended the All-Star break by taking three of four from both New York and Boston. With a record of 42-31, the Rangers trailed California by just one game. While California won eleven of thirteen, Texas lost twelve of thirteen and was outscored 83-41. In a two-week stretch, Texas fell from one game out of first to ten games out.

Low Point: On the last day of the tailspin, Steve Buechele, whose flashy glovework and decent power made him a fan favorite during the late 1980s, played in his last Major League game at the tender age of 33.

1997

The defending AL West champs struggled through late June after starting 36-30. At the break, Texas was 43-42, five games behind division leader Seattle and wild card leader New York. Facing a tough climb for another playoff appearance, Texas opted for Plan B, losing 18 of 26 to fall twelve games out of the division lead and 14.5 behind New York. The Rangers traded Dean Palmer and Ken Hill during the downfall.

Low Point: Falling to 51-60 after losing to Boston by scores of 11-5 and 17-1.

2000

After losing to the Yankees in the Divisional Series for the third time in four years, GM Doug Melvin reshaped the team under a mandate from owner Tom Hicks. Five everyday players and starter Aaron Sele disappeared. Texas traded 29-and-reasonably-healthy slugger Juan Gonzalez to Detroit in an eight-player deal (in which the most useful players for each team have been Francisco Cordero and Danny Patterson).

Texas muddled through the first half the season and found themselves at 44-44, disappointing but only four games out of the division lead and the wild card the Sunday after the All-Star break. Instigating a stretch of awfulness lasting almost four years, Texas lost 30 of the next 44 games and fell to 58-74. On August 30, Texas stared longingly up at division leader Seattle and wild-card leader Cleveland, both 13.5 games in the distance. The collapse was no fluke; the Rangers lost seven games by at least eight runs. Texas also lost five of six to Toronto during that span, the one victory an eleven-inning, 1-0 contest.

High Point: On July 19, Texas traded Esteban Lozaiza to Toronto for Michael Young and Darwin Cubillan.

2004

The Rangers lead the AL West by two over Oakland, a team famous for its second-half surges.

They open the second half of the season with a three-games series against (gulp!) the Toronto Blue Jays.

Posted by Lucas at July 14, 2004 11:58 AM