First came the dramatic increase in home runs and runs scored. Then it developed that teams were stealing significantly less than last year. Now comes the latest early-season development: streaks.
In the first two months of last season, only one winning or losing streak in the major leagues reached double figures. This season teams have compiled four such extended streaks.At overlapping times last month, the Yankees won 10 consecutive games while Milwaukee lost 14 in a row and San Diego 13. Oakland began it by finishing April with a 12-game losing streak.
In the first two months of last season, teams had winning streaks of five or more games 11 times; this season teams have had such streaks 21 times.
In a variation on the theme, the Chicago Cubs lost their first 12 games at Wrigley Field this season, and the Cleveland Indians have won their last 11 games at their new park, Jacobs Field.
"There seems to be a more significant carry-over from one game to the next this season, and I don't know why; I can't explain it," said Cubs Manager Tom Trebelhorn, who in the latter part of last month reeled off eight consecutive victories, the first six at Wrigley Field.
No one else has a firm explanation for the streaks, either. But this has been a different season so far, so why not have longer streaks?
"It appears we've had unusual streaks," said Milwaukee Manager Phil Garner, who survived the Brewers' hellish two weeks.
"I don't see any overall dynamics or trends. If expansion thins out the talent, I guess it can lead to wilder swings. We talked it to death, searching for explanations. We played 20 of 25 games on the road, and when you get that many on the road, there's a chance you can lose some games.
"We also had an inordinate number of injuries to our regulars, and that added to it. You put all those things together and we just weren't able to come out of it. It was awful."
The latter part of the losing streak became psychological, Garner added. "It starts to wear on you," he said. "You beat yourself over the head, asking what can I do? You dig a deeper hole for yourself. Guys try to do too much. When you have guys who are responsible, they get in the crossfire and can't get out of it."
Trebelhorn said streaks often take on a life of their own.
"Something happens, and there's a tendency that hangs around," he said. "If you win a big one, the euphoria hangs around, and if you lose, that hangs around."
THE POWER PACE SLACKENS: In April, major league teams averaged 2.22 home runs and 10.4 runs a game. In May, they averaged 1.95 home runs and 9.64 runs. The decline in the home-run pace continued on the first day of June when the 14-game schedule produced only 14 home runs, the lowest one-day total of the season for a full schedule.
On the other hand, in the past week, 19 players hit their first home runs of the season. Furthermore, the Yankees on Friday night extended the season's longest team home-run streak to 15 consecutive games. The last game the Yankees did not hit a home run was May 14 at Milwaukee. In 15 games since then, before yesterday, 12 different players have hit 24 home runs.
ANDERSON SHORES UP A COLLEAGUE: Sparky Anderson, who has enjoyed a successful two-league managerial career, also has experienced the other side of winning. When his Detroit Tigers played Oakland last month, he had some soothing words for Tony La Russa, the suffering Athletics manager.
"I told Tony you can't allow things to get you for one reason," Anderson said. "You've been on both sides. It's marvelous. You enjoy the good times; you also must accept the bad. Tony's doing fine."
NOT SO FAST: Glaring evidence of why projections based on early-season paces are foolish:
Since Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 21st home run in Seattle's 43rd game, his projected number of home runs has fallen from 79 to 68. Since Joe Carter drove in run No. 54 in Toronto's 43rd game, his projected number of runs batted in has dropped from 203 to 177.
The fuss over Paul O'Neill's batting average also was woefully premature. O'Neill was hitting .472 after the Yankees' May 25 game. In seven games since, before Saturday, O'Neill had 4 hits in 25 at-bats, lowering his average to .420.
THE JORDAN FADE: Where has Michael Jordan gone? Plummeting under .200, that's where. Far from the attention that followed his every spring move, Jordan has rapidly gone backward as a Class AA minor leaguer. Through Friday night, the would-be baseball player was hitting .197 and striking out once every 3.4 times at bat, with 50 percent more strikeouts, 56, than hits, 37. His new career should not last much longer.