What History Says About Postseason Baseball Participation with Five Weeks Left in the Regular Season
As we come down the home stretch in the 2013 Major League Baseball season, some races seem clearly decided, others are anything but and every game won and lost will mean the difference between a division title, playing in a one-game Wild Card playoff, or sitting at home all together in October.
Using the data available through Baseball Reference, I went back and looked at the standings for the divisions and the wild card births going back to the first season the wild card officially appeared in post season, which was 1995. It is important to remember that from 1995 through 2000, all teams played a balanced schedule and so by the end of August, some potential divisional matchups were already completed for the season. But even in the unbalanced schedule era since 2001, some teams may have finished their season series with one another before the final five weeks of play, especially in the old six-team NL Central. Even this year with a truly balanced alignment which should mean everyone plays a home and an away series against their divisional opposition over the final five weeks, a formula that is very doable in a well-designed schedule using the current format, MLB decided not to take that approach for this season. Oakland for example has yet to play Minnesota and will have both a home and an away series with the Twins in September. Too many other odd quirks exist in the current schedule and it has nothing to do with the format. The current format could allow easily for maximum divisional play the final five weeks. Each week, one team from each division would be designated to play outside the division. When that happened, one team would play two others in its own league, Pittsburgh plays Arizona and Miami for example in the NL, Oakland plays Minnesota and Boston for example in the AL. Minnesota and Boston would each play and interleague series, in 2013 the Twins would have played the Marlins, and the Red Sox would have played the Diamondbacks, just as an example. The other four weeks, teams would play within their own division, which would allow for a home series and an away series. I will have a post that looks more at scheduling for next season, once the 2014 schedule is released in about three or four weeks. Perhaps in 2014 MLB, will do a better job of scheduling in this respect.
Scheduling aside, ultimately it does come down to how you play on the field, no matter who your scheduled opposition is over the final five weeks. So before we look at the 2013 standings following the conclusion of play on Sunday August 25, leaving 35 days on the regular season calendar, let’s go back in time and look at how things played out with 35 days to go in the regular season for the period 1995-2012.
At the end of play Sunday August 27, 1995, the Red Sox lead the AL east at 70-43. The Yankees were 54-58 and trailed by 15.5 games, the Orioles were 16 back at 54-59. The Indians were well on their way in the AL Central with a 76-35 record and a lead of 18.5 over the second place Brewers who were 58-54. The Angels lead the AL West at 67-47, the Rangers were in second at 59-54, 7.5 games back and the Mariners were 57-56, 9.5 games behind. Over in the NL, the Braves were well on their way in the East, they had a record of 73-39 and lead the Phillies by 15 games, Philly had a 59-55 mark. The Reds likewise were way out in front in the NL Central at 70-41, Houston with a 57-55 record trailed by 13.5 games and the Cubs at 55-57 were 15.5 behind. The Dodgers had the lead out in the NL West, but their record was only 60-54, the Rockies at 58-55 trailed by 1.5 and the 55-57 Padres still had hope just 4 back, even the Giants at 52-61 were only 7.5 games out. The AL Wild Card was a scramble, the 59-54 Rangers held the lead but the Brewers were just a half game back at 58-54, the Mariners 2 out, Royals 3.5 out, and Yankees 4.5 out at 54-58 were all in the mix. Even the Athletics at 55-60 and Orioles at 54-59, 5 games out were still considered contenders. IN the NL, the Astros once held a better than 5 game lead in the race for the wild card, but a major fade by Houston in late August turned the NL into just as mad of a scramble. The Phillies had the lead at 59-55, the Rockies at 58-55 were a half game out. The Astros trailed by 1 game, the padres and Cubs trailed by 3, the Expos by 4.5 at 54-59 and the 52-61 Giants, who were in last but just 7.5 out in their own division, were only 6.5 out of a Wild Card.
How did things end up in 1995? The Red Sox held on to the AL East, but they went just 16-15 those final five weeks. The Yankees went on an incredible run of 25-7 to finish second in the division but more important, it lead them from behind teams such as the Rangers, Brewers, mariners, and Royals, to capture the AL wild card berth. The Indians continued to streak to the AL Central title, going 24-9 over the same stretch. The drama would play out in the AL West. The mariners would make up that 9.5 game deficit on the Angels and win the division in a one-game playoff. Down the stretch, the Mariners went 22-10, the Rangers just 15-16, and the Angels crashed to an 11-20 closing mark. As for that wild Card race, the Yankees and Mariners who played incredible baseball ran right past the remaining teams in the league, the Orioles closed 17-14, Royals 16-18, Athletics 12-17, and the Brewers who were right there on August 27 closed a horrible 7-25 down the stretch. The Yankees who trailed the Brewers by 4 in the standings would close 18 games better than Milwaukee in those final five weeks. The Indians and Red Sox in deed made post season, the Angels didn’t, the Rangers and Brewers didn’t, the Mariners and Yankees took their places and as it turned out, those two teams played one of the best division series of all time. Meanwhile in the NL, Atlanta and Cincinnati cruised as they closed in on division titles. The Braves went just 17-15, but with such a large lead, they were not threatened in the NL East division. The teams that were better turned out to be the two teams that were in the bottom two positions of the division, the Mets and Marlins. The Reds went just 15-18, but their story was just like that of the Braves. The drama like in the AL was out west in and the wild card. The dodgers would win the NL West, but it was a dog fight with the Rockies the entire way. Los Angeles closed 18-12 which was just enough to hold off the Rockies who went 19-12. But the race for the Wild Card was one to remember. The Rockies with that 19-12 mark held off the Astros who rebounded to go 19-13 the final five weeks. The Phillies on the other hand went just 10-20 and fell off the pace. The Cubs stayed on the outside of the race into the final week going 18-14, while the Padres went just 15-17. The Expos, who were in the same place as the Yankees, the two teams who were baseball’s best in 1994, could not go on a run like their counterparts in New York. Montreal went 12-19 and was not a factor in the race. Had they gone 25-7 like the Yankees, Montreal would have been right there with Colorado and Houston and in deed the Expos would have won the Wild Card in 1995. Montreal though did not have the talent of the Yankees. Ultimately in the NL, the only change was in the wild Card, the Rockies took the playoff spot that the Phillies gave away with a truly horrific close to the season.
Now let’s move ahead to 1996, looking at where things stood at the end of play on Sunday august 25 of that season. The Yankees were 74-55 and lead the Orioles by 6 in the AL East, the Red Sox were 9 back. The Indians were 77-53 and they lead the White Sox by 8 in the AL Central, the Twins were falling back and trailed by 12. IN the AL West, the Rangers were 75-56 and lead the Mariners by 8, though Seattle tried to make another historic run at the Rangers. As it would turn out, all these teams never gave up their division leads. IN the NL, the Braves were way out in front again in the NL East at 81-48, the Expos trailed by 11. The Astros lead the NL Central at 70-61, the Cardinals trailed by 1.5, the Cubs by 4 and the Reds by 4.5. The Padres held the NL West lead at 72-60, the Dodgers trailed by 1 and the Rockies were 3.5 back. The Padres and Braves would ultimately win division titles, Houston would choke away the NL Central, but more on that in a moment. The AL wild Card was another dog fight. The white Sox at 70-62 and the Orioles at 68-61 were at the top with Chicago’s half game lead on Baltimore. The Mariners were just 2.5 out, the Red Sox 3.5 out and the Twins trailed by 4. The Montreal Expos held the NL wild Card at 70-59, leading the dodgers by a half game, the Cardinals by 2.5, the Rockies by 3, the Cubs by 5.5 and the Reds by 6.
How did things end up in 1996? IN the AL, the Orioles took the Wild Card finishing 20-13 over the final five weeks. The Red Sox were competitive at 19-12, and the Mariners finished 19-13. The White Sox fell off going just 15-15 and the Twins closed 13-19. IN the NL, the Astros who held the Central Division lead closed just 12-19 while the Cardinals went 20-12 and captured the division crown. The Padres would ultimately finished tied with the Dodgers but San Diego claimed the division, the Dodgers the Wild Card berth. The dodgers would finish 20-12 to hold off Montreal, the Expos closed at 18-15. The Reds would close 17-16, the Rockies 15-16, and the Cubs just 12-22 down the stretch.
One factor that many won’t remember is that the Astros and Expos had a major brawl in a game August 12 at Montreal. Several players on each team would receive suspensions and one could argue that that fight cost Houston the NL Central title and Montreal the NL Wild Card.
Now let’s move forward another season and look at where we stood eight days after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. ON Sunday August 24, 1997, the conclusion of games that day the Orioles held the top spot in the AL East at 83-44, while the Yankees trailed by 7, no other team was within 20 games. IN the AL Central, the Indians were having an off year and stood at just 67-60, good for a narrow lead of 4 over the Brewers in the AL Central, the White Sox were still in the race at 4.5 games back. IN the AL West, the mariners were 73-57, leading the Angels by 2.5, the Rangers had faded by this point and were 11 back. In the NL East, the Braves were on top at 80-50, the Marlins trailed by 4 games and the Mets who were fading trailed by 9.5. Montreal, once a contender had a horrible August and were out of the picture at 16 games behind. The Astros held a 69-61 mark to lead the NL Central, the surprising Pirates were 3 back, the Cardinals had fallen to 9.5 out and the Reds 11.5 out. IN the NL West, the Dodgers at 72-58 lead the Giants by 1, the Rockies and Padres were both 10 out. IN the Wild Card races, the Yankees held the AL lead at 77-52, the Angels trailed by 7 and the next closest contender was Milwaukee at 13 games behind. The NL featured more drama, as the Marlins at 75-53 were also the second best team in the entire National League. The Giants trailed by 5 in the Wild Card, the Mets were 5.5 out, and the Pirates were 10 out. The giants and Pirates were closer in their divisional races, whereas the Mets only hope by this stage was to try and run down the Marlins for the Wild Card berth.
How did things end up in 1997? The Orioles would ultimately win the AL East, but they did not play well down the stretch going just 15-20, the Yankees went 19-14 and finished just 2 back and claimed the wild Card berth. The Indians at 19-15 over the final five weeks did enough to win the AL Central, the White Sox 16-15 and Brewers 14-18 remained on the fringes until the final couple weeks of the season. The mariners would win the AL West, closing out with a 17-15 mark, the Angels went just 13-18 and never were a serious threat in either the division or the Wild Card race. In the NL, Atlanta took the NL East finishing strong at 21-11, the Marlins for their part would get the wild Card but they finished just 17-17, while the Mets played well at 18-15. IN the NL Central, the Astros sure looked the part of a team that again wanted to give things away. They would ultimately hang on to win going just 15-17. The Reds tried to make a run going 20-15, while the Pirates faded going 13-19 and the Cardinals never could make a run going just 14-19. The NL West too turned into more than just a two team race and as it turned out, the Rockies nearly came all the way back. The Dodgers who had a 1 game lead would falter going just 16-16, while the Giants went 19-13 to take the division. The Rockies were even better down the stretch drive, going 21-11. As for the two wild card births, the Yankees were hot and never threatened, going 19-14 and easily pulling away from the Angels who had just a 13-18 mark. The Marlins at just 17-17 held on to take the wild Card in the NL. The Giants who were 19-13 became division champs in the west, which meant the Dodgers were the NL West contender for the wild Card, but they were also just .500 at 16-16. The 18-15 Mets were the only team close to the Marlins who closed a bit of ground, but it was not enough. Those Wild Card Marlins would ultimately win the World Series.
The 1998 season is remembered for what turned out in retrospect to be the juiced home run race. AS for the standings with five weeks to go, we look at where things stood following play on Sunday August 23, 1998. The Yankees made a complete joke of the AL East, they stood at 94-33 and were on their way to a championship. The Red Sox were 76-52 and even with that good of a mark, they were 18.5 games out. The Indians were 71-58 and on their way to the AL Central title, leading the Royals by 12.5. IN the AL West, the Angels held the lead at 71-59, the Rangers were 2.5 out and ultimately, the Rangers would come back and win that division title. The Braves held the NL East again by a wide margin at 86-44, leading the Mets by 14. The Astros were 81-50 and lead the Cubs by 9.5 in the NL Central, while in the NL West, the Padres were way out in front at 83-47 and the Giants trailed by 14. All of the NL division leaders were never threatened and ran away to post season births. The AL Wild Card did not feature much drama, the Red Sox found themselves leading the Orioles at the time by 8 and the Rangers by 8.5, the Blue Jays trailed by 10. the NL wild Card was where the drama truly was in 1998 and it would remain such to the very end. The Mets lead the Cubs by 1, the Giants by 3, the next closest team were the Dodgers who never were a factor, 8 games back.
How things ended up in 1998 you ask? The Yankees and Indians easily won their divisions as mentioned above, But the Rangers caught and left the Angels behind in the AL West. The Rangers closed 20-13, the Angels just 14-18. The AL Wild Card got a bit close for comfort though the Red sox held on. Boston went just 16-18, while the Toronto Blue Jays closed on a 22-10 run to end up just 4 games behind Boston in the race. IN the NL, the Braves, Astros, and Padres all cruised to division titles, all three won over 100 games. The drama was the NL wild Card, which was one of the great races in any baseball season before or since. With a week to go, the Mets and Cubs were tied for the Wild Card, the Giants trailed by 5 games. With two days to go, all three teams were in a three-way tie. Ultimately when the season ended September 27, the Giants and Cubs were still tied and needed a playoff game to decide the slot, the Mets were on the outside looking in. The Mets finished just 16-16, whereas the Cubs and Giants closed with winning records, the Cubs 18-14 prior to their playoff game with San Francisco, the Giants 19-13 prior to that same playoff game. Of course the Yankees went on to a dominant post season performance, only the Cleveland Indians scared them as the tribe had a 2-1 ALCS lead before dropping games 4-6.
The 1999 season brought a couple of surprise contenders in the race for the postseason, Arizona and Cincinnati. When games concluded on Sunday August 29, 1999, the Yankees were again on top in the AL East at 80-49, leading the Red sox by 8.5 games and the Blue Jays by 12.5. The Indians were on their way to another AL Central title, a 79-50 record put them 17.5 ahead of the White Sox, while in the AL West, the Rangers enjoyed a 79-52 record and a lead of 7.5 over the surprising Athletics. The Braves lead the NL East at 83-49, but the Mets were on their heels just 3.5 off the pace. The Astros held the NL Central lead at 78-54, but an upstart Cincinnati Reds club was just 1.5 back and tied in the loss column. IN the NL West, the surprising second year Diamondbacks were well in front, the Arizona mark of 78-53 gave the snakes a lead of 8.5 over the Giants, no one else was closer than 17 games. The AL wild Card race was shaping up to be a classic, the Red sox at 72-58 lead the Athletics by 1, and the Blue Jays by 4. The NL wild Card was even more interesting, because the Mets were involved in a chase with the Reds and Astros, who were also in a battle to the end in the NL Central. At that point, the Mets held the wild Card, the Reds were 3 games off the pace, the Giants were all but out of it, 9.5 out and they were never a threat down the stretch.
How things ended in 1999 would again create the same kind of drama as the prior year in the NL. IN the AL, the Yankees and Indians cruised to division titles and the Rangers though given a slight scare at one point by Oakland, would pull away and take the AL West. The Wild Card went to the Red sox, who down the stretch had a mark of 22-10, The Athletics were just 16-16 and the Blue Jays 15-15. The Diamondbacks and Braves had easy finishes for division titles, but Houston found itself looking up at the Reds as late as September 29. Ultimately, the Astros won by a single game over the Reds, who ended up tied with the Mets for the Wild Card and forced to go to a playoff game, which the Mets would win. Down the stretch, the Reds went 21-12 to catch the Mets before their playoff loss, the Mets were just 17-14 before winning that playoff with Cincinnati, while Houston captured the NL Central going 19-11 down the stretch.
The year Y2K brought more baseball surprises, including the struggles of the Cleveland Indians early in the season that proved to make their return to postseason a difficult one. The Expos early in the season were a surprise, though they would eventualy cool off. This season though the drama was more in the AL rather than the NL.
At the end of play on Sunday August 27, 2000, the Yankees lead the AL East at 72-55, the Red Sox would trail by 4 and the Blue Jays by 5.5. The White Sox lead the AL Central at 77-53, the Indians trailed by 8 games. IN the AL West, the Mariners at 71-59 lead the Athletics by 2.5 and the Angels by 4. Over in the NL East, the Braves were in the lead at 78-52, the Mets were just 1 game out, no other team was closer than 14.5 games. IN the NL Central, the Cardinals at 73-57 were on top, the Reds were the next closest team but they were 8.5 behind, while in the NL West, the Giants at 73-55 lead the Diamondbacks by 2.5, the Dodgers by 6 and Rockies by 8. In the AL Wild Card race, the Red Sox held the lead at 68-59, the Indians were just a half game out, the Athletics trailed by 1, the Blue Jays 1.5, the Angels 2.5, and the Tigers who were 64-65 were still just 5 games off the pace. IN the NL, the Mets had a 5.5 game lead on the Diamondbacks and the dodgers trailed by 9.
As for how things finished in 2000, lets first start in the NL where nothing changed. The Braves, Cardinals, and giants won the division titles and the Mets took the Wild Card. The Mets and Braves each finished 17-15 giving Atlanta a narrow division victory. The Cardinals finished strong at 22-10, the Reds for their part did as well at 21-12 in the NL Central, while out in the NL West, the Giants closed at 24-10, the diamondbacks finished just 14-19 and well out of the race.
The AL saw lots of movement in the Wild Card race, but first a look at the divisions. The Yankees went into a slump and coasted into the AL East title going just 15-19 down the stretch. The Red sox were also just 17-18, otherwise they could have caught New York for the eastern division. The slide by Boston also cost them the wild Card. Oakland stormed to the finish at 24-9 giving the Athletics the AL West title and the Mariners who closed at 20-12 took the Wild Card. The White Sox held on to the AL Central division going 18-14, while the Indians ran out of time and missed out on the postseason despite a closing finish at 23-13. The blue Jays who were in the Wild Card race closed at just 15-17, the Angels finished at 15-17 and the Tigers 15-18. Ultimately, the Athletics took the AL West away from the mariners, Seattle took the wild Card berth away from Boston.
IN 2001, five weeks were left on the schedule at the conclusion of games on Sunday August 26. Of course the end of the season would be pushed back a week because of the tragic events on 9-11. That Sunday night in August when games were done saw the Yankees leading the AL East at 76-55, with the Red Sox trailing by 4. In the AL Central, the Indians were 73-57, the Twins trailed by 4.5 and the White Sox by 7.5. The mariners in 2001 were doing like the Yankees in 1998, running away with a record that was in the stratosphere, 94-37. Amazingly, the Athletics 75-56 but a full 19 games out had the third best record in the AL, a game behind the Yankees.
The NL East found the Braves at 71-58 and the Phillies trailing by 2. The NL Central found the Astros on top at 75-55, the Cubs 3 back and the Cardinals down by 5. The Diamondbacks at 75-54 lead the NL West, the Giants trailed by 3.5 and the Dodgers 4.5. In the AL wild Card race, the Athletics lead the Red Sox by 3 games, the Angels and Twins by 6, and the White Sox by 9. The Giants and Cubs were tied for the NL Wild Card at 72-58, the Dodgers trailed by 1, the Cardinals by 2, and the Phillies by 2.5, the 64-65 Padres were 7.5 off the wild Card and never threatened.
Down the stretch in the AL, all teams that held leads would maintain them to the end. The Athletics finished an amazing 27-4 and took the Wild Card, the Mariners finished 22-9 and sailed into an easy AL West title. IN the NL, the Braves held off the Phillies, both going 17-16 down the stretch. The Mets made a run but came up short, ending at 21-11, giving the Braves the NL East. The Astros finished in a tie with the Cardinals in the NL Central, Houston got the division title and the Cardinals the Wild Card. St. Louis finished a strong 23-9 down the stretch, Houston finished 18-14. The Cubs who once held the NL Wild Card lead with the Giants faded to 16-16 closing the 2001 season. The Giants finished 18-14 but not only was it not enough for the wild Card, it was also not enough to catch the Diamondbacks, who closed at 17-16 and held on to win the NL West. The dodgers closed 15-17 and also missed out on the postseason all together.
In 2002, the games of Sunday august 25 took us to the point of where we had just five weeks to play in the season. At that time, a player strike loomed and was somehow averted. At the conclusion of that night, the Yankees again had the AL East lead at 80-48, the Red Sox trailed by 7 and all other teams were 17 or more games behind. The Twins were running away with the AL Central at 78-54, the closest team were the White Sox 16 games back. IN the AL West, Oakland was in the middle of what would become a 20 game winning streak, at the time they were 80-51 leading the AL West, but the Angels and Mariners were only 2 games out. IN the NL East, the Braves had a huge lead at 82-47, the Expos were second 17.5 behind. In the NL Central, the Cardinals lead at 71-57 and the Astros were 3 games behind with the Reds 7.5 out. IN the NL West, the Diamondbacks were on their way to the division title at 83-47, the dodgers were second 8 games out and the Giants were in third 11.5 behind. IN the AL Wild Card race, the Mariners and Angels were in a tie, the Angels 77-52 and the Mariners 78-53, the Red Sox were 3.5 out of the lead. In the NL Wild Card race, the dodgers had the lead at 75-55, the Giants were 3.5 off the lead, while the Astros were 6 games off the Wild Card lead, they were closer in the race for the central division.
When the season ended, the AL teams remained in their same places for the division titles and the Angels would pull away slightly from the Mariners and Red Sox for the Wild Card. The Angels down the stretch were 22-11, the Red Sox were 20-14, the Mariners 15-16. The Athletics it should be noted went 23-8 and two teams had horrific finishes, the Orioles went just 4-29 and the Tigers just 6-25. In the NL, the division leaders remained unchanged, but the Giants did end up taking the Wild Card berth, going 24-8, the Dodgers were just 17-17 and the Astros were 15-17 and the division champion diamondbacks also slid to the finish at 15-17. The Cardinals were the best NL team over that stretch, going 26-8. Both wild Card teams would play in the World Series, the Angels and Giants both rewarded for their ultimate late season success.
In 2003 at the conclusion of play on Sunday August 24, the Yankees lead in the AL East at 79-49, the Red Sox trail by 5. The AL Central featured a fun race with the White Sox in the lead at 69-62, the Royals 1 back, the Twins trailed by 1.5. In the AL West, the mariners lead at 76-54 with the Athletics just 1 game out. IN the NL East, the Braves were on their way to another division title at 84-46, the rest of the division while not near the braves, the second place Phillies trailed by 13.5, were all part of a crazy Wild Card race. The Astros and Cardinals had the NL Central lead at 68-62, the Cubs a half game back were 67-62. In the NL West, the Giants were on top at 78-51 and on their way to a title, the Diamondbacks were 10.5 behind. The AL Wild Card at the time had the Red Sox and Athletics in the lead at 75-55, the next closest teams were the Royals 7.5 and the Twins 8 games behind. The NL was the ultimate horse race, the Phillies were 70-59, the Marlins were a half game out, the Astros and Cardinals who were sharing the central division lead as well as the Diamondbacks were all 2.5 back, the Cubs and Dodgers trailed by 3 and the Expos trailed by 4. At one point four days later, all of these teams would be within 2.5 games of one another.
How it all played out would be one for the books. IN the AL, the Yankees held on to their lead in the AL East, but the Twins came back to claim the AL Central and the Athletics would overtake Seattle for the AL West. The Red Sox would also outplay the Mariners and claim the AL Wild Card. Down the stretch, the Yankees were 22-12, the Red Sox 20-12, the Twins 23-9, and the Athletics 21-11 to get into postseason play. The Mariners were 17-15, the Royals 16-17, and the White Sox 17-14 to conclude the season.
IN the NL, the Braves and Giants went on to win their division titles, the Cubs would come out of the scramble to claim the NL Central and the Marlins would do likewise to claim the NL Wild Card. The Marlins finished 21-11 and the Cubs 21-12 to earn their postseason births. The Astros were the best of the rest down the stretch at 19-13, the dodgers went 18-15, the Cardinals 17-15, Expos 17-16, Diamondbacks 16-16, and Phillies 16-17. The Marlins of course had memorable victories over the Giants, Cubs, and Yankees to claim their second World Series.
ON Sunday August 29, 2004, the standings with five weeks to go showed the Astros making a strong late season push. But we start with the AL East, the Yankees again in the lead at 81-49, the Red Sox trailed by 4.5. In the AL Central, the Twins had the lead at 72-58, the 66-66 Indians were 7 back and the White Sox trailed by 8. IN the Al West, the Athletics had the lead at 77-53, the Angels trailed by 2 and the surprising Rangers were 3.5 behind. The Braves had the NL East lead at 75-54, the Marlins were 8.5 behind and the Phillies 10.5. IN the NL Central, the Cardinals were on their way to the division title at 86-44, the Cubs were next 15 games out, the Astros were 19 behind, they were focused totally on the Wild Card. IN the NL West, the Dodgers were 76-54, the Giants and Padres trailed by 5 games. The AL Wild Card had the 76-53 Red Sox in the lead, the Angels were 1.5 out, and the Rangers 3 out. The Indians were more than 10 games out and not a factor. The NL Wild Card had the Cubs and padres at 71-59 and the Giants at 72-60 in a tie, the 66-62 Marlins and 67-63 Astros were both just 4 back and the Phillies were 6 back.
How it all ended, the Yankees and Twins would go on to division titles, but the Athletics would miss the playoffs all together as the Angels ultimately won the AL West. The Red Sox would end up claiming the Wild Card berth. The Red Sox were 22-11 down the stretch, the Athletics just 14-18. The Angels winning the west thanks to the Oakland slide were 17-15 and the Rangers finished the season 16-17. IN the NL, the Braves and Cardinals held their division leads, the Dodgers tried to give away but held on as well in the NL West. The Astros would be the story of September in the NL claiming the Wild Card berth. The Astros finished 25-7 to take the Wild Card, the Phillies had a serious push as well going 21-11 and the Giants went 19-11. The Cubs finished 18-14, the Marlins 17-17, and the padres 16-16.
IN 2005, the Astros would again be a second half story. First, how things were in baseball at the conclusion of games on Sunday August 28, the night when America was preparing to see what would turn out to be the horror of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and southern Mississippi.
The AL East lead belong to the Red Sox at 74-54, the first time since 1997 that this late in the season the Yankees were not in first. New York trailed by 1.5 games. In the AL Central, the White Sox were 79-48, the Indians trailed by 8 games. IN the AL West, the Athletics were in first at 73-56, the Angels were a half game back. In the NL East, the Braves were 74-56, the Phillies trailed by 4.5, the Marlins by 5, the Mets by 6, and the Nationals by 7. The NL Central again featured the Cardinals way out in front at 83-48, the Astros were 14.5 back but in the Wild Card race. In the NL West, the question was if anyone would finish with a winning record. The Padres at 64-65 were in first and lead the Diamondbacks and Dodgers by 5.5 games, the Giants by 7, the Rockies by 13.5. The AL Wild Card race had the Yankees lead at 73-56, the Angels were a half game back and the Indians 1 back, the Twins at 5.5 back were on the outside. The NL for a third straight season had a crazy race for the Wild Card, the Phillies at the time in the lead at 70-61, the Marlins a half game back, Mets and Astros 1.5 behind, the Nationals 2.5 and the 64-67 Brewers were on the outside 6 games off the lead.
When it was all over, the Red sox and Yankees finished in a tie, the Yankees were given the division title and Boston the Wild Card based on season finish against each other. The White Sox held off a spirited finish by the Indians to claim the AL Central and the Angels again overtook the Athletics to claim the AL West title. Down the stretch, the Yankees were 22-11 and the Red Sox 21-13. The Indians were 20-11 and the White Sox 20-15 to conclude the season, while the Angels 22-10 outperformed the Athletics at 15-18. In the NL, The Cardinals and Braves went on to division titles, the padres at just 82-80 claimed the NL West and set a record for most losses by a team that made it into postseason play. The Astros 21-11 to claim the NL Wild Card were a tick better than the Phillies at 18-13. The Brewers finished 17-14, the Mets 15-17, while both the Marlins and Nationals finished just 14-18.
In 2006, the standings at the end of the day on Sunday August 27 saw the Yankees back in the AL East lead at 77-52, the Red Sox trailed by 6.5 games and the Blue Jays were 8.5 behind. The Tigers were out in front at 82-49 in the AL Central, the Twins trailed by 5 and the White Sox by 5.5. The Athletics at 74-56 lead the AL West by 5.5 over the Angels and the Rangers were 8 back. In the NL East, the Braves for the first time since the Wild Card era began were not in first, the Mets had the NL East lead at 79-49, the Phillies were in second 14.5 back. The Cardinals at 69-60 lead the NL Central, the Reds were 3 out, the Astros 7 out, and the Brewers 7.5. In the NL West, The Dodgers were 68-62, the padres were 2 out and the Giants 3.5, the Diamondbacks 5 back and Rockies 7 back were on the outside. The AL Wild Card had the Twins in the lead at 76-53, the White Sox a half game back and the Red Sox 5.5 out, the Blue Jays trailed by 7.5 and the Angels by 8. In the NL Wild Card race, the Reds at just 67-64 had a half game lead over the padres, the Phillies were 1 back, the Giants 2, Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 3.5, Astros 4, Brewers 4.5, Braves 5, and Rockies 5.5 were all within range of the lead.
When the season had ended, the Yankees claimed the AL East, but the slumping Tigers gave away the AL Central to the Twins, Detroit would settle for a Wild Card berth which was enough to get them still to the World Series. The Athletics would go on to win the AL West. In the NL, the Cardinals took a weak record to the NL Central title and ultimately the World Series title, while the Padres and Dodgers both got in out in the NL West, San Diego as the division winner and the Dodgers as the Wild Card, the Mets by far were the best NL team as they cruised to the NL East win. Down the stretch, the Angels had the best record in the AL at 20-11, the Twins at 20-13 caught the Tigers and held off the White Sox. The Athletics were also 19-13, compared to the Red Sox at just 15-17, White Sox at 14-18 and Tigers at 13-18. In the NL, the padres had the best finish at 22-10, the Dodgers at 20-12 kept pace and joined their southern California neighbors in postseason. The Astros again made a late push but fell short this time at 19-12 and the Phillies did the same at 20-13. The Reds stumbled down the stretch at 13-18.
The 2007 season provided some of the best finishes in recent memory and proved again that you have to play every day with heart and effort. At the end of the day on Sunday August 26, the Red Sox at 80-51 lead the AL East by 7.5 over the Yankees. The Indians at 72-57 held a 2.5 lead in the AL Central over the Tigers and the Twins trailed by 5.5 games. In the AL West, the Angels lead at 76-54, while the Mariners trailed by 2 games. In the NL East, the Mets were in the lead at 73-56, the Phillies were 6 out and the Braves 7. The Cubs lead the NL Central at just 66-63, the Brewers trailed by 1.5, the Cardinals were 2 out, with the Reds 6.5 and Astros 9 games back on the outside. The NL West featured the 74-57 diamondbacks in first despite allowing more runs than they had scored, the padres were 3 games out, the Dodgers and Rockies both trailed by 6.5. In the AL Wild Card race, the mariners had the lead at 73-55, Yankees were 2 back, the Tigers 4, Twins 7, and Blue Jays 9 games off the pace. IN the NL, the padres had the Wild Card lead at 70-59, the Phillies trailed by 3, the Rockies and Dodgers both 3.5 back, followed by the Braves 4, Brewers 5.5, and Cardinals 6 games off the pace.
How did things end up? IN the AL, the Indians, Red Sox, and Angels would all hang on to win their divisions. The mariners would fade and ultimately the Yankees would have the best stretch run to claim the Wild Card, their first since 1997. The Indians had the best AL record the final five weeks at 24-9, the Yankees were 22-10. The teams involved in the Wild Card chase outside New York had less success, the Tigers and Blue Jays just 18-14, Mariners 15-19 and the mariners 12-20.
The NL story was one of great comebacks for the Rockies and Phillies, major letdowns for the Mets and Padres, the Cubs held on to claim the Central division holding off the Brewers and Cardinals. In the NL East, the Phillies down the stretch went 22-11 to overtake the Mets who were just 15-18. IN the NL Central, the Cubs finished 19-14 and the Brewers were 18-14, the Cardinals closed just 15-20. IN the wild NL West, the Diamondbacks finished 16-15 and took the division flag. The padres finished19-14 and were caught by the amazing Rockies at 22-10 to force a playoff, which the Rockies won in dramatic fission over San Diego. The listed records do not count the playoff game between the Rockies and Padres. Note too that going into the final weekend of the 2007 season, a scenario was in play that would have had the Phillies, Mets, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and padres all finish with the same record. Ties would have had to been broken in both the NL West and East, then after those were resolved, a three-way Wild Card tie would have then needed to be resolved.
At the conclusion of the games for Sunday August 24, 2008, we had a new look at the top of the AL East. From 1995 to 2007, the Yankees had the lead 9 times, the Red Sox three times in 1995, 2005 and 2007, while the Orioles had the lead in 1997. IN 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays were in first place with a record of 79-50, the Red Sox were 4.5 back and the Yankees 9.5 back. The Twins and White Sox both at 74-56 had the AL Central lead, the Tigers were 10 out. The Angels held the AL West lead at 79-50 and would cruise to the division title, the Rangers were in second 17 games out. The NL East lead was held by the Mets at 72-59, the Phillies were just a half game out and the Marlins trailed by 5. The Cubs were out in front in the NL Central at 80-50, the Brewers were 4.5 back and the Cardinals trailed by 8. The Diamondbacks lead the NL West at 68-62, the Dodgers were 3 out, the Rockies trailed by 8.
The AL Wild Card lead belonged to the Red Sox at 75-55, the twins and White Sox both being tied for the AL Central were also counted in the Wild Card standings, both 1 back, while the Yankees were 5 off the pace and the Blue Jays were 8 back. The NL again had a tight Wild Card race, the Brewers held the lead at 76-55, the Cardinals were 3.5 out, Phillies 4.5, Marlins 9, and the Astros 9.5 out.
As the season concluded in the AL, the Rays and Angels won their divisions. The Twins and White Sox ended up tied and the White Sox would win a playoff to claim the AL Central. The Red Sox would maintain their claim to the Wild Card as they were not seriously challenged. IN the NL, the Phillies again past the mets to claim the NL East and the Dodgers would come back to overtake Arizona and win the NL West. The Cubs would take the NL Central and the Brewers would hold off several teams including the Mets and a charge at one point from the Astros to take the Wild Card berth. IN the AL down the stretch, all teams that needed to play well did so accept the Twins and White Sox, who both were under.500, but a large division lead did not allow any opportunity for other teams to climb back into the race. IN the NL, the Phillies went 21-11 to take the eastern division, the Marlins were 17-13, the Mets 17-14. The Astros had the best record in the NL at 20-11, but it was not enough to catch the Brewers, who did finish just 14-17 and the Cardinals would close out just 13-17. The Dodgers went 19-13 to capture the NL West, the Diamondbacks went just 14-18 as they would give away the division lead.
The 2009 season started later than any regular season since 1992, opening with the Sunday night game on April 5, all other teams opened April 6 or 7. So at the end of the day on Sunday August 30, with 35 days left on the regular season calendar, the standings had a familiar look in the AL East, the Yankees were on top. New York had a record of 82-48, good for a 6 game lead on the Red Sox, the Rays were 11.5 games out. The Tigers lead the AL Central at 69-60, the Twins were 4.5 back and the White Sox 6. The Angels held the AL West lead at 77-52, the Rangers were 5 games out. IN the NL East, the Phillies were on top at 75-53, a position they did not enjoy at this stage the prior two seasons, the marlins and Braves were both 8 games behind. The Cardinals at 77-55 were pulling away in the NL Central, no team was closer than 10 games, with the Cubs sitting in second. IN the NL West, the Dodgers at 78-53 had the lead, the Rockies were making another charge and at this point were 6 games back and tied with the Giants. The Red Sox held the AL wild Card lead at 76-54, the Rangers were 3.5 out and the Rays were 5.5 out. The NL Wild Card was shaping up to be a potentially tight race yet again, the Giants and Rockies were tied at 72-59, the Braves and Marlins were both 3.5 games out and the cubs trailed by 5.5 games.
How did things end up in 2009? IN the AL, the Yankees and Angels won their divisions with Boston taking the Wild Card. The Tigers late collapse forced a second straight playoff in the AL Central. The Twins who lost the year before to the White Sox, edged the Tigers in extra innings to take the division crown. IN the case of the teams trying to catch the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels, it was as much about those teams playing well over .500 as it was the chasing oppositions in ability to play well, the Rays and Rangers both were under .500 to close the season. But this story could not be more dramatically told without looking at the finish by the Twins, 21-11 before their playoff with Detroit, while the Tigers went just 17-16, including three straight losses as they fell into that playoff at the Metrodome. IN the NL meanwhile, the Phillies and Cardinals had easy division titles, the Dodgers would have to hang on against a hard charging Colorado Rockies club. The Rockies for their part took the Wild Card with a finish of 20-11, the Giants went just 16-15 and the Dodgers 17-14. The Phillies did not play the best ball in the NL East, but their finish of 18-16 was enough to hold off the Braves 18-14 and the Marlins 19-13.
At the conclusion of play on Sunday August 29, 2010, the AL East was a 3-team race, the Rays and Yankees were both 80-50, the Red Sox were 6.5 behind. IN the AL Central, the 75-56 Twins held a 4.5 game lead over the White Sox and the Tigers were out of it by this stage, 10 games behind. IN the AL West, the Rangers at 73-57 held a division lead at this point of the season, for the first time since the same date in 1999, the Athletics were the closest threat at 7.5 games behind and Oakland never made a serious run. The Braves held the NL East lead at 75-55, the Phillies were 2 back and the marlins who never really could get momentum going were 9.5 out. IN the NL Central, the Reds were 75-55 and in first at this stage for the first time since 1995, the Cardinals 5 games back were the only threat. IN the NL West, the Padres were 76-53 and it appeared in route to the division title, but they were beginning what would become an epic 10 game slide, a slide that would prove fatal. At the time, San Diego lead the Giants by 5 games and the Rockies by 8. The AL wild Card lead was held by the Rays and Yankees who were tied for the eastern division lead, the Red Sox were 6.5 out and the only serious contender with the White Sox next 10 games behind. For the NL Wild Card, the Phillies at 73-57 held the lead, the Giants trailed by 1.5, the Cardinals by 3, the Rockies by 4.5, the Dodgers by 6.5, and the Marlins by 7.5.
How things ended up would be a memorable conclusion in the NL. IN the AL, little changed, the Rangers and Twins took their divisions, the Rays took the east by a game and the Yankees took the Wild Card. IN the NL, the Padres collapse created a dramatic race that brought back reminders of 2007. Going into the final weekend, the Padres and Giants were in play for the NL West, the Braves and Phillies for the NL East, and all four teams were in the Wild Card race. When all was done on the final day, the Braves took the Wild Card after the Phillies again came back to claim a division title. The giants edged the Padres on the final day to claim the NL West and send San Diego home. Had the padres won the game, the teams would have headed down to Petco Park for an extra playoff game on Monday to settle the division race. Down the stretch, no team in the AL East race played well, the Rays 16-16, Red Sox 15-16, and Yankees 15-17. The Twins closed well and thus the white Sox had no chance in the central division, the Rangers did likewise in the AL West going 17-15. IN the NL, the Phillies closed an incredible 24-8 to take the eastern flag, the Braves at just 16-16 settled for the Wild Card though they nearly made the giants and Padres race out west meaningless as they appeared to be ready to miss the postseason all together, foreshadowing what was to come a year later. The giants 20-11 were the best closing team out west and they ultimately would take that winning effort all the way to the World Series title, the padres closed 14-19.
In 2011, the schedule took a different look, the final day being the memorable Wednesday of September 28, so the point in the schedule to compare for 2011 would be at the conclusion of games on Wednesday night, august 24. At that time, the Red Sox were in the AL East lead at 79-50, the Yankees were 1 back and the Rays 8.5 back at 70-58. IN the AL Central, the tigers were 70-59 and held a 6 game lead over the Indians who were just 63-64. The Rangers were again in the lead out west at 74-57, the Angels were 2.5 behind. In the NL East, the Phillies at 83-45 were way in front, the Braves 6.5 out were the closest threat and they would not make a run. The Brewers had a 10 game NL Central lead at 78-54 over the Cardinals, while the 71-59 diamondbacks had a lead out west of 2 over the Giants. The Yankees had the AL Wild Card lead at 77-50, the Rays and Angels were both 7.5 games out. IN the NL Wild Card, the 78-53 Braves enjoyed a lead of 8.5 games over the Giants, the Cardinals were 10.5 games out.
How it all ended up? The 2011 season is not remembered for the great division races, it was all about the Wild Card in its final season as a one-team birth. IN the AL, the Yankees would take the East going 20-15, the Tigers and Rangers took the other divisions going 25-8 and 22-9 respectably. But the story was what happened in Tampa and what did not happen in Boston. The Rays stormed to a finish of 21-13 and took the Wild Card, while the Red sox slid all the way out of the postseason going just 11-22. IN the NL< the same story would play out. The Phillies, Brewers, and Diamondbacks all took their divisions going 19-15, 18-12, and 23-9 respectably. But the Cardinals would come all the way back to take the wild Card, also going 23-9, the Giants went 17-15 and the Braves who appeared to be on their way would finish just 11-20 and like the Red Sox, miss postseason all together.
The 2012 schedule was like that used in 2011, so when the games concluded on Wednesday August 29, the Yankees were 75-55 and leading the Orioles by 3.5 and the Rays by 4 in the AL East. The White Sox at 72-57 lead the Tigers by 3 in the AL Central, while the Rangers at 77-53 lead the west by 4.5 over the Athletics. IN the NL, the eastern lead was with the Nationals at 78-51, the Braves were the only team in range 5 games out. IN the central, the 80-52 Reds had an 8 game lead on the Cardinals and the Pirates were 9 out. Out west, the 73-57 Giants had a lead of 3.5 over the Dodgers. This was the first season where each league had two wild cards, those two teams to play a 1-game playoff. The Athletics at 72-57 and Orioles at 71-58 had the two slots, the Rays were a half game behind the Orioles, the tigers trailed by 2 and the Angels were 2.5 out. IN the NL, the 74-57 Braves and 71-59 Cardinals held the two slots, while the Pirates were 1 game behind St. Louis, the Dodgers were 1.5 behind.
When the season ended, things looked quite different. The Athletics stormed back and took the AL West from the Rangers, Texas would join the Orioles in the wild Card playoff. The Tigers came back to claim the AL Central, the white Sox missed out all together, the Yankees would take the East. IN the NL, the Cardinals and Braves would hang on to the two wild Card births, the Pirates had a horrible ending to their season and the Dodgers ran out of gas, the Nationals, Reds, and Giants would all have relatively easy division titles. IN the AL, the Orioles guaranteed a place in postseason going 22-11, the Yankees 20-12, Tigers 19-14 and Athletics 22-11 all had strong finishes. The Rangers closed cold going just 16-16 before losing the playoff to Baltimore. The White Sox closed just 13-20, but the lack of effort award went to the Red Sox who went just 7-24. IN the NL, the Braves 20-11, Nationals 20-13, Cardinals 17-15, Reds 17-13, and Giants 21-11 all had winning stretch runs to postseason. The Dodgers would close 16-15, while the Pirates closed a disastrous 9-23. Pittsburgh could not be accused of lacking effort, unlike the 10-21 Marlins, who were the NL version of the Red Sox in 2012.
So now let’s look at where we stood going into the games of Monday August 26, with 35 days left on the MLB schedule here in 2013. The Red Sox lead the AL East at 77-55, the Rays are just a game out and the Orioles trail by 5.5 with the Yankees 7.5 out. IN the AL Central the Tigers appear to be pulling away with a 77-53 mark, the Indians trail by 6. In the AL West, the Rangers are on top at 75-55, the athletics are just 2.5 out. At this point, it appears that the loser of the East race between the Rays and Red Sox will get one wild Card, who gets the second birth, Oakland, Baltimore, Cleveland? Do the royals or Yankees have a chance? They do if they go on a 23-9 or 25-7 kind of run that we have seen teams do in the past, 2011 Cardinals, 2004 Astros, 2000-01-02 Athletics, 1995 Yankees. Do one of the leading teams have an ultimate collapse out of contention, see the 1995 Brewers while in the AL going just 7-25 or the Pirates in 2012 going just 9-23. Going into play on Monday, the Rays had the top wild Card berth at 74-54 and the Athletics held the second slot at 72-57. Very much in contention just behind Oakland are the Indians at 71-59 and Orioles at 70-59. One cannot completely dismiss the Yankees at 69-61. The Royals, who have many games remaining with both the Indians and Tigers, can still in theory make a move, KC came into play Monday at 65-64 and as the 1995 Yankees taught us, a team in the KC position could still make a move with a very strong finish. Those Yankees were 4 under and over the final 35 days closed 18 games over .500. If the royals went 24-9 over their final 33 games, they could be a surprising contender.
IN the NL, the Braves at 78-52 have a 13 game lead in the East. No team has had a lead of more than 10.5 slept away at this point in the season from any form of playoff berth, the Braves know that story from 2011 as that was the distance made up by the Cardinals. The NL Central has been the race to watch and if there were only one wild card, someone would go home unhappy. As it is, the Cardinals lead at 76-54 in a flat footed tied with the Pirates, while the Reds come into play Monday 74-57 and 2.5 out. In the NL West, the 76-54 dodgers have opened up a 9.5 game lead on the Diamondbacks. While the Dodgers pitching has been amazing during this incredible run, the lack of offensive production could still be a problem if their pitching suddenly hits a cold streak and the Diamondbacks while way out of the race, have a schedule against weak western teams and a closing series with the underperforming Nationals to end the season. This is not at all a commentary that would suggest a diamondbacks run to the NL West title, perhaps if Arizona had been playing hotter baseball like those 2011 Cardinals or 1995 Mariners, it would at least give Dodger fans reason to pause. If Arizona doesn’t set a fire offensively this week though, the chances of them having any hope to catch Los Angeles will ultimately fade. The diamondbacks do still have some faint wild Card hopes, because coming into Monday trailing the Reds by just 7 games, they do have a shot because of the schedule maker. While Arizona has an easier time of it, the Reds have two series left with the Pirates and two with the Cardinals. This rough stretch is offset for Cincinnati by having one series against the Astros, but very bad teams sometimes do surprising things at home in September when young guys are called up from the minors, guys who play with all-out effort in hopes of securing a spot on a big league team the following season.
All that said and looking at history, one would and reasonably should assume that the 2013 drama will unfold in the American League. But it is too early to completely rule out some sort of closing push by an unexpected team in the National league, if the right sequence played out, the Diamondbacks could be that one team that has a closing finish on the outside, not unlike a race horse that seemed all but done on the back stretch.