We're only a week into the 2011 Major League Baseball regular season, with most teams having to this point played five or six games. That's five or six games out of a 162-game schedule, meaning there's still more than 96% of the season to go. Odds are that, by the end, Howie Kendrick won't be among the league leaders in homers, and the Rays will have scored more than 1.4 runs per game.
Yet, while I think everybody has an intuitive understanding of how little the first week of the season really means, the first week of the season also provides data in the context of only itself, meaning the landscape now is ripe for overreactions. If a team loses five games in a row in August, it isn't that big of a deal, because there have been something like 100 other games. But if a team loses five games in a row out of the chute, there have only been those five games, so everyone's instinct is to panic. "Based on the information we have collected to this point in the season, the Red Sox are winless!"
Everybody overreacts this early in the year, even if they don't mean to. Which means we've seen some wild swings in fan confidence since the last day of Spring Training. Here, let's take a look at the five teams that've have sparked the greatest increases in confidence with their play over the week, and the five teams that've sparked the greatest decreases. This is all very scientific so please don't question the methodology.
Fan Confidence Booms
I don't know if the facts actually bear this out, but my understanding of the Blue Jays is that they always start really strong and hang with the big boys for a while before fading down the stretch. And my understanding of sports fans in Toronto is that all they want is to watch a team that's playing for something meaningful in the final 25% of the season so they probably buy into the Blue Jays every time. A first place tie! I bet that once the clouds clear, the view is really something.
What people love to tell you about the Orioles is that they went 34-23 under Buck Showalter a year ago, so we all should've seen this coming. But on the other hand: Orioles. Orioles fans have a lot of enthusiasm they've been saving up for the past 14 years and only now are they looking around at each other, wondering if it's time to open the vent.
Coming off a season that saw them reach the World Series, Rangers fans already came into 2011 feeling confident, but now six games in they've clubbed their opponents to death and racked up consecutive sweeps, one of which came against a good team. There aren't a lot of fans higher than Rangers fans right now.
I was on a radio show this morning and at one point the host asked me a question about the undefeated Cincinnati Reds, which caught me off guard since I figured the Reds were probably 2-3 or 3-2. The Reds pulled off that dramatic comeback on Opening Day and haven't slowed down, and their fans have to be feeling pretty good about themselves given the way St. Louis and Milwaukee have struggled.
I don't mean to suggest that Royals fans are confident, but they're probably a good deal more confident now than they were last week when most of them were looking ahead to a 100-loss season. In the span of four games, the Royals had three walk-offs and one game in which they rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth. Comebacks like that make you think that your team is magic in the clutch, and that feeling doesn't go away for another few weeks when it becomes clear that no, it is not.
Fan Confidence Busts
Nobody panics like Red Sox fans panic, and as of this moment they're locked in a scoreless tie in Cleveland in the bottom of the seventh. I think we all understand that the Red Sox are still one of the best teams in baseball, if not No. 1, but literally no one would've envisioned the team starting the way that it's started, and it's hard to maintain that Bostonian level of hubris when your team has the same record as the Astros.
Tampa Bay has seven runs. Brandon Phillips has nine runs.
The A's came into the season as a popular dark horse pick to contend, and perhaps the team's greatest strength was its defense. So far they've committed nine errors, including five on Opening Day. The A's have been playing like a team that's unprepared to play baseball, which wouldn't be so bad were it not for the Rangers going all Eye Of The Tiger.
In fairness, it would be nearly impossible for Giants fans to maintain the same level of confidence they had in Spring Training all season just since that confidence was influenced by the world championship, but it's amazing what watching Aubrey Huff flop around in the outfield can do to one's spirit.
I don't have any sense of what Astros fans are usually like, but their team is winless, it has the worst run differential in baseball, and it blew a chance to beat Roy Halladay on Opening Day when Brandon Lyon gave up six singles in the ninth, so whatever Astros fans are usually like, they're probably worse than that now.