MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Cubs, Nats shouldn't take hot starts for granted

Cubs, Nats shouldn't take hot starts for granted

The Cubs and Nationals have lived up to the offseason expectations in the opening days of the 2016 campaign.

Chicago is 11-4 after dropping Wednesday's contest against St. Louis, and Washington was 10-3 going into its matchup with Miami. They were the only National League teams with double-digit victory totals.

After they weren't able to advance to the postseason a year ago, the Nats not only signed free-agent second baseman Daniel Murphy, but they also dismissed manager Matt Williams and replaced him with veteran skipper Dusty Baker.

The Cubs, meanwhile, responded to being swept in the NL Championship Series by the Mets last October by signing free-agent second baseman Ben Zobrist, outfielder Jason Heyward and starting pitcher John Lackey, as well as re-signing free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler.

Lackey's dominant outing

But be careful. Fast starts are exciting for fans.

And it is true games won in April count just as much as games won in September. However, they don't carry any postseason guarantees.

In the 21 seasons since the advent of the Wild Card in 1995, 11 of the 21 NL teams that had the best record in the opening month of the season -- and three of the 21 in the American League -- did not even advance to the postseason.

The quick starts did not pay off with a postseason trip for the Brewers (20-8) in 2014, the Dodgers (16-7) in '12, the Indians (18-8) in '11, the Padres (15-8) in '10, the D-backs (20-8) in '08, the Braves (16-9) in '07, the White Sox (17-7) and Reds (17-8) in '06, the Marlins (15-8) in '04, the Red Sox (16-7) and Reds (16-9) in '02, the Cubs (15-9) in '01, the Expos (17-9) in 1996 and the Phillies (23-9) in '95.

Four of those teams did not even finish the season with a winning record: 1995 Phillies (69-75), the '02 Reds (78-84), the '06 Reds (80-82) and the '11 Indians (80-82). Manager Jim Fregosi survived the '96 season with the Phillies, but in the three other cases, the manager was dismissed in the midst of the following season -- Bob Boone in '03 with the Reds, Jerry Narron in '07 with the Reds and Manny Acta in '12 with the Indians.

Only nine of the 42 teams that had the best opening month record in their league advanced to the World Series. Five went on to win the World Series, and all of them were from the AL -- the Red Sox in 2004, '07 and '13, the White Sox in '05 and the Yankees in 1998.

And there is hope for teams that struggle to open the season.

Five teams who had a losing record in the first month eventually made it into the World Series. The 2003 Marlins (14-15 in April) and '02 Angels (11-14) both earned postseason berths as Wild Card teams, and both won championships. The 1997 Indians (12-13), '10 Rangers (11-12) and '05 Astros (9-13) lost in the World Series. Texas and Houston also claimed Wild Card berths.

The 2015 Rangers overcame the slowest start, as they went 7-14 in April. They rallied and clinched the AL West title in the final days of the regular season, but they were knocked off by the Blue Jays in five games in the AL Division Series in a matchup of teams that had losing April records. Toronto opened the '15 season at 11-12.

There were only two teams in the Majors that went into Wednesday's games with a record more than four games below .500 -- the Braves (4-9) and Twins (4-10).

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.