In August summer still stands strong. It hasn't burnt away, it hasn't been sapped of it strength yet. In August children return to school. The magic of summer vacation is now a memory, one immortalized in What Did You Do On Your Summer Vacation prompts and on the skin of its participants.
In August some baseball teams are still in the race, while others have fallen hopeless behind. It isn't the end yet, but the end is in sight. By mid-August a team is either in it or out, most times. It is the Ides of August for baseball hope.
So maybe the Ides of August doesn't have the same punch that the other Ides, but let's take a look down memory lane to see where the Diamondbacks have been on August 15th.
As most people might remember the inaugural Diamondbacks team was a special kind of awful. Maybe not 2004 bad, but pretty close. This time in 1998 the team was 34 games back and at the end of a three game skid. That team had a lot of losing skids, that's how you get to an eventual 97 losses. Arizona hadn't yet lost its luster, though, as 48,000 people came out on August 15th to watch the last place Diamondbacks lose to the Mets.
What a difference a season makes. To paraphrase Tim McCarver, as bad as the Diamondbacks were in 1998, that's how good they were in 1999. They weren't fighting for the division lead by the middle of August because they already had a stranglehold on it. They were 7.5 games up on the competition, and went on to win 100 games, the only time the franchise has achieved that milestone.
The 2000 season didn't end as well as '99 or '01, but the Diamondbacks were still in the race until mid-August. The team was only 1 game back of the eventual division winner Giants. In fact, the D-backs lead the division for most of the year up to that point, before collapsing as the summer wore on to finish 3rd in the West.
Remarkably, the 2001 World Series Champion team was not running away with the division at any point before August. They spend a good portion of July in 2nd place, and were only 1 game up as division leaders on August 15th. Although they wouldn't give up the lead the rest of the way, they never had a lead more than 4 games, and eventually won with a 2 game lead.
2002 was another cruise year, with the defending World Champions running away with the division by mid-August. Or at least, that's what it felt like at the time. The D-backs were 8 games up, but a couple losing streaks after that point, including one in late September, whittled the eventual lead to 2 games.
A positive to 2003 is that the Diamondbacks were in 2nd place come August 15th. The bad news is that they were already 9.5 games back to a Giants team that would eventually win 100 games. And they were a Babybacks winning streak in July away from being even further in the hole.
Oh 2004. The less said about you, the better. Last place, 34.5 games back, eventually 100 game loser. You know the drill.
Even after a horrible year before, the Diamondbacks were right back to being in the race in 2005. It helps that the division was awful (eventual division winner San Diego stumbled into the postseason with an 82-80 record), but even at that time the D-backs had a winning record. On August 15th they stood 3 games back, and were in striking distance of eventual winner (though were they really?) Padres. They proceeded to go on a few losing streaks, but still somehow ended up in 2nd only 4 games back when the season ended.
Another year, another time for the Diamondbacks to be in it near the end. Arizona was 3.5 games back in second place, but was just around the corner from a late summer collapse that had the team finishing in 4th.
Ah the glory days of 2007. That's what they are, aren't they? The Diamondbacks were 3 games up on the competition, and outside of one brief day in September, would not be out of first again. They streaked their way to the finish line (despite an almost-collapse) with 3 streaks of 4 wins, and 1 of 6 wins in the final two months.
If you heard that the D-backs were tied for first on August 15th, 2008, you'd probably think, that must have been when the Diamondbacks started to lose first place. Sorry, but only a week later the Diamondbacks would 4.5 games up on the Dodgers, a lead they hadn't seen since June 21st. But by the end of the season, the Diamondbacks had collapsed to 2nd place and 2 games back.
End times were near in mid-August 2009. 15 games back and in 4th place, the Diamondbacks still had 7 game and 6 game losing streaks planned.
I'm sure we all remember last year, so I'll just say that we were in dead last and 23.5 games back. Not the worst ever for the franchise on August 15th, but we've seen much better days.
As the seasons go on it can be hard to remember how exactly all these seasons happen. It's easy to remember the division wins, or the epic collapses. But it's remarkable that the Diamondbacks have been competitive in August 11 of the 14 seasons to date. It's a small sample, to be sure, but it illustrates some possibilities for the 2011 club, which currently sits at 2.5 games up. Are they like the 2001 and 2007 clubs, which had slim leads in August and still won out. Or will they be like the 2008 Diamondbacks, who saw their slim lead evaporate.
No, the 2011 Diamondbacks will be their own. We collect data because we want to make comparisons. That's how the human brain works. We want to look for patterns and make things fall into categories. It's easy to get caught in the trap in thinking ahead of "well, maybe this year will be like 2001," or to worry and think I sure hope this team doesn't collapse like 2008. But each season is not the same, just as unhappy families are not alike.