Fans and media members have a tendency to make too much of the notion of momentum in sports. It’s a convenient crutch to help us try to achieve order within the disorder of things.
That’s not to say there’s no such thing as momentum because these are humans who play the games. But it is to say there is a tendency to overstate its impact — particularly in baseball’s 162-game regular-season marathon.
I’m as guilty as anyone of forgetting this at times. The Twins will lose in soul-crushing fashion and I will think, “Wow, tough one to bounce back from.” Or they’ll pull a rabbit from a hat in the ninth inning, and the thought will be that this could be the start of a winning streak.
There was some of this going on Monday, when the Twins rallied late to steal a 3-2 win at Target Field. The sentiment was buoyed by an 11-1 blowout Wednesday, punctuated by tape-measure home runs from Miguel Sano. With a four-run lead Thursday, the theory was really taking shape … until, of course, the Rangers rallied for a 6-5 win.
Then the emotion swung the other way. Fans wondered if it would foreshadow more bad games to come.
And again: Momentum can be a thing. But in baseball in general — and in this Twins season specifically — it is not.
To test this hypothesis, I went through all 114 games the Twins have played so far this year. The goal was to identify as many “momentum-turning” games as possible — defined as games won or lost in walk-off fashion, in extra innings or a few, such as the 8-5 loss to the Yankees a few weeks back in which the Twins lost a 5-0 lead — and see how the Twins fared the next day.
This is an imperfect science, and you can accuse me of picking games to fit my narrative if you want (I promise I didn’t, but that’s all I can do). Quite by accident, I found nine games on each side of the ledger that a fan inclined to think in such a way could define as momentum-turning.
Following the nine wins, the Twins went a combined 4-5 in the games immediately thereafter. Following the nine losses, the Twins went a combined 5-4 afterward.
Sorry. At least with this year’s Twins, momentum is not a thing. The old cliché that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher is closer to the truth.
And fortune — Grantland.com had a great piece Thursday about the luck of the MLB-leading St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff this season — has far more to do with wins and losses than most of us would care to admit.