It had to end sometime. After sustaining a perfect record and a staggering 142-37 scoring margin over more than three weeks of play, the Cleveland Indians finally lost Friday night, dropping a tight contest to the Kansas City Royals. It was their first loss after winning 22 straight games. Now that The Streak is over, Cleveland can go back to focusing on the playoffs like any contending team.
Just because the Indians can put their streak in the rearview mirror, though, doesn’t mean that we can’t dwell on it a little more. It wasn’t the major league record for consecutive wins — if we include unofficial ties in between victories, the 1916 New York Giants’ 26-game mark still reigns supreme. But we can compare the Indians’ streak to that Giants’ run and determine exactly how difficult baseball’s best winning streaks were in general. (And, because I can’t resist, compare the Indians’ accomplishments with winning streaks in the NBA.)
Depending on how you measure the streak’s likelihood, the chances of a team like Cleveland pulling off their streak might have been as low as 1 in 65,000.
To judge this, I compared all the MLB streaks to one another, assuming they were done by the same, generic contending team. I set up a simulationunder which a team with a fixed Elo rating — our method for determining how good a team is at a given moment — would take a crack at the particular opponents1 faced by every real MLB team who had a winning streak2 of at least 18 games since 1901.
A few more technical details of the simulation: I gave all the teams the same fixed rating, 1560, which is the average Elo of a World Series participant since 1903, when the first modern Fall Classic was staged.3 For comparison’s sake, the Indians’ rating at the beginning of their streak was 1555. I also assumed the streaking team had a five-man starting rotation, with the team’s rotation slot for the initial game of the streak randomized.4 (This matters because a team that goes into a potential streak with its No. 5 starter is much less likely to get off on the right foot than a team putting its ace on the mound.)
According to this model, the hardest streak still belonged to the 1916 Giants — which isn’t too surprising, since they won four more games in a row than the Indians. And sorry, Billy Beane: the 2002 “Moneyball” A’s also fall behind lesser streaks because of the weak opposition they faced during their streak. But another thing that stands out are the odds, which are much more favorable than if we simply ran them on a .500 team.