Momentum matters: Teams aim to build off 2012
Recent history shows strong September could lead to success the next year
Bud Black has every right to be optimistic.
The Padres manager and his club finished fourth in the National League West a year ago, but greatly improved in the second half. The Padres posted a better winning percentage (.560 in their last 75 games compared to .391 in the previous 87) and also scored almost 40 more runs in a dozen less games.
"I like the way we ended the season last year," Black said during the offseason. "We've got the same group of position players coming back, with a couple guys maybe trying to fight to get on the club. Like every club, it depends on how you pitch.
"I think we have to have a healthy year on the mound, do what we did offensively the second half of the year, and then we'll see how the year plays out."
Black and the Padres are hopeful that success -- which included a .500 September against many teams fighting for playoff bids -- carries over into 2013.
But will it?
In a game where the great Earl Weaver declared momentum the next day's starting pitcher, it's tough for some to buy into The Big Mo carrying a club for weeks at a time -- let alone through an entire offseason. But there have been some recent cases where September success breeds a full season of great baseball the following year.
The Padres have been here before. In 2009, they went 17-9 in the season's final full month, and that carried over into '10. They spent 148 days in first place, but that September wasn't as kind as the previous one. The Padres went 12-16 as the Giants gained steam and won the division on the final day by beating San Diego.
A similar story, albeit with a much happier ending, happened last year. Baseball's best team, record-wise, of 2012 also was one of the game's best in September 2011, when the Nationals went a National League East-best 17-10.
They added arms (Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson) and a young phenom (Bryce Harper) to a solid core consisting of Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and others, and won the NL East while posting the best record in baseball.
There are handful of teams heading into 2013 who hope to be this year's Nationals and carry last September's success into a new year.
The Brewers posted a feverish late rally in 2012, posting a NL-best 18-10 September mark among teams who didn't make the playoffs. Much of that success was based on a group of young hurlers who Milwaukee hopes can continue to grow.
The Rays also had a great September, going 17-10; though their success in recent years has proven to hinge more on Evan Longoria's health. The same goes for the Phillies, who went 17-10 last September and appear much closer to full health this spring.
The Angels, so underwhelming in the season's early months, brought it all together last September with an 18-9 mark. A full season of Mike Trout, typical Albert Pujols production and the addition of Josh Hamilton make them a good bet to return to the playoffs.
Along with the Padres' late-season improvement, the Dodgers and D-backs each went 14-12 last September. Los Angeles' big midseason moves and the D-backs' offseason deals, coupled with the Giants' two rings in the last three years, should make for an interesting year in the NL West.
But for every San Diego or Washington club, there's a story of another team that proves September success is moot.
The Rockies' miraculous late-season run in 2007 led them to the World Series, but they finished under .500 and in third place the following season. The same thing happened in Denver the next year, when an 18-9 September mark in 2009 led to a third-place finish in 2010.
The Twins closed 2010 with a 17-10 record. But all that followed were consecutive last-place finishes.
The Cubs, too, impressed in September 2010, going 17-9, but were unable to carry it into 2011, when they finished fifth.
Varying outcomes make it difficult to determine if good Septembers can carry over for a full season, just as it's hard to say if momentum does or doesn't matter. But there's enough reason and positive examples to understand the optimism surrounding numerous clubs this spring.