What June 30 Standings Tell Us About Postseason Odds, A Look Back at 1997, 2003 and 2008
As we awake this morning on June 30, we are now in terms of the calendar at the midpoint on the baseball schedule or very close to that point for all teams. So for fun, let’s look at the standings on this very calendar day of Monday June 30 from the three prior seasons that also were at this same point on the schedule for this very date and examine how predictive those standings were in identifying those teams that would go to postseason. The three seasons which are identical in terms of the baseball schedule and yes to the calendar are 1997, 2003, and 2008. Interestingly, the Marlins had success in all three of those seasons and they have been a mild surprise this season as they were in 2008 and 2003. It is not so likely though that a Florida team will be in a World Series this season unlike the Marlins of 1997 and 2003 and the 2008 Rays.
In 1997, the Orioles, Indians, Mariners, Braves, Astros and Giants claimed the division titles, while the Yankees and marlins were the Wild Card teams. Had a second Wild Card been added in ’97, the 84-78 Angels would have played at New York against the 96-66 Yankees, while the 86-75 Indians rested as AL Central champs. The NL would have been even wilder as the Mets and Dodgers were both 88-74 and they would have had to play a game to decide who would then play another elimination game at the 92-70 Marlins, all teams with better marks than the 84-78 Astros that claimed the NL Central crown.
As for the standings on the morning of June 30, the Orioles lead the Yankees by 5.5 in the AL East, they ultimately would go wire-to-wire but only win the division by 2 games over New York. The Indians held a 1 game lead on the White Sox in the AL Central and the Brewers were 3 back at 37-39. It would be September before Cleveland had enough separation and they ultimately won the division by 6. The Mariners lead the angels by 5.5 in the Al West and they ultimately won the division by 6. The NL East was very competitive, the Braves lead the Marlins by 4.5, the Mets by 6.5 and the Expos by 7.5. Montreal would fall back after the All Star break and though the Mets and Marlins would eventually lose ground with Atlanta winning by 9 games over Florida, those teams along with the Dodgers would contend for a Wild Card into September before the marlins pulled far enough away. The NL Central was the joke of the league, Houston at 40-41 had a 1 game lead on the Cardinals and 3 on the Pirates. Houston’s struggles and Pittsburgh hanging near .500 most of the season would ultimately make the Pirates the largest threat to the Astros who would finally claim a weak division the season’s final Thursday. Meanwhile, the Giants had a 4.5 game lead on the Rockies in the NL West and the Dodgers trailed by 7. Ultimately Los Angeles would get to within 2 by seasons end, the Rockies would finish 7 back. As for the Wild Card races, the Yankees had a 4.5 game lead on the Angels which would end up at 12 by seasons end while the Marlins had a lead of 2 over the Mets and 3 over Montreal, ultimately they would finish 4 ahead of the Mets and Dodgers, the Expos would slip 11 games further behind the Marlins over the second half. IN 1997 as it would turn out, the 8 teams in the lead all would end the season that way and in fact, the only change would have been for the second Wild Card berth in the NL if it existed, as the Dodgers would have pulled even with the Mets, overcoming the Expos by a wide margin.
Moving forward six years to 2003, the ultimate division winners that season were the Yankees, Twins, Athletics, Braves, Cubs and Giants. The Red Sox and Marlins would claim wild Card births. Had second Wild Card teams existed in ’03, the Red Sox heart break in game 7 against the Yankees may have not even occurred because they would have hosted the Mariners at Fenway, Seattle was 93-69 and just a pair of games behind Boston. Meanwhile in the NL, the Marlins at 91-71 would have hosted the 87-75 Astros and the Phillies at 86-76 would have missed that second spot by a single game in their final season at the Vet.
As for the standings on the morning of June 30, the Yankees held a 3.5 game lead over the Red Sox that would end up at 6 in the AL East. IN the Al Central, the Twins and Royals were in a tie six games over .500, Minnesota had two more games played and thus on percentage points they were listed as the first place team. The White sox were 4.5 back and ultimately Minnesota would edge Chicago by 4 and KC which stayed in the race would finished 7 games out. The AL West was a different story as the Mariners held a 6 game lead on the Athletics on this date. Seattle was 52-28, they would play exactly .500 the rest of the way and ultimately finish 3 behind Oakland in the division and 2 behind Boston in the Wild Card. Seattle in fact on this date had the best record in baseball, though the Yankees, Red Sox, Athletics, Braves and Giants would all end up better than Seattle three months later. The Braves would hold a 6.5 game lead over the Phillies in the NL East, the Expos were 7 back and the marlins were 12 back and a game under .500. Ultimately Atlanta won the division by 10 over the Marlins, the team with the second best second half in baseball. The Cardinals would hold the NL Central lead at 43-37, they would end up finishing in third 3 behind the Cubs. The Cubs on June 30 were a game behind St. Louis and the Houston Astros trailed by 1.5, all would hold the division lead at various points into September before the Cubs won out. The Giants held a 3 game lead on the Dodgers in the NL West, San Francisco would ultimately get on a second half roll and cruise to a 15.5 game lead.
The Wild Card races would look completely different from June 30 to the end of the season. The Red Sox lead the Athletics by a game and the Blue Jays by 2 on June 30, Toronto would finish 9 games behind Boston and Oakland would actually finish a game ahead of the Red Sox and take a division title, Boston would get in because of the Seattle clubs going cold. The Phillies would have the NL Wild Card lead on June 30 which they shared with the Dodgers and the surprising Expos in their second to last season in Montreal were only a half game off the pace. The Marlins of course would ultimately come from nowhere to claim that spot, they were in the bottom half of the race among all NL teams on June 30 5.5 games out, but went 50-29 the rest of the way and ultimately took the World Series as they had six years before.
Unlike in 1997, 2003 would not be as predictive as on June 30, teams leading the AL West and NL Central would miss postseason all together, the AL Central which was tied would see the Twins outperform the Royals in the second half and the NL Wild Card race would look completely different when the ’03 season had concluded.
We now move forward another five years to 2008, a season that saw a lot of change from what had been the norm. The Rays came out of nowhere to claim the first franchises division title, joining the white Sox who won in a division playoff game with the Twins, as well as the Angels, Phillies, Cubs and Dodgers as division champions. The Red Sox and Brewers would be wild card teams and it would mark Milwaukee’s first postseason visit since 1982. The Brewers would hold off the Mets who had a legendary fall the final two weeks of the season and it marked a great collapse the final weeks of the season for a second straight year in New York. If a second Wild Card existed, the Mets would have claimed it in the NL and yes the Yankees would have done so in the AL and in Yankee Stadium II’s final season, the Wild Card game would have been Yankees at Red Sox, while the Mets would have played the Brewers and the Twins and White Sox had that AL Central playoff as both finished game 162 a single game behind New York.
As for those June 30 standings in 2008, the Rays held a half game lead on the Red Sox in the AL East. Tampa would win by 2 though they had the lead as high as 7 games and they would clinch the division with 8 days to go in the 2008 season. The Yankees who were 5.5 out would close to within 3 but ultimately they would finish 8 back. Baltimore which was 42-39 and just 7 out on June 30 would have a horrible second half and not even win 70 games while Toronto at just 40-43 would have a good second half and if additional wild card births existed, the Jays would have been in a battle with the Yankees as the season concluded along with the Twins and White Sox for that slot. IN the AL Central, the White Sox lead the Twins by a game and unlike in 2003, the very tight standings would in deed hold true to the very end. The Tigers were just 4.5 back but they had a rough second half and finished 14 back and in last place. The Angels lead the AL West by 4.5 over Oakland, the Athletics would have a horrible second half and the Angels would cruise to a 21 game lead over second place Texas when it was all said and done. The Rangers were already sliding and 7.5 out on June 30.
For all the struggles of the Mets in 2008 in closing out the season on a good note, they were just a very average team on June 30. The Phillies in fact had the division lead at 44-39 and a game back at 42-39 were the surprising Marlins. The Mets at 40-41 were in third 3 off the lead and the Braves were only 4 games out. The Cubs were showing they were one of the best teams in baseball as they were 49-33 and well on their way in the NL Central. The Cardinals and Brewers were in the race, St. Louis second 2.5 back and Milwaukee third 4.5 out. The Brewers would stay hot the second half, but the Cardinals would slide and the Astros would come from nowhere to make a very interesting contender for the wild Card. Houston was just 39-43, they would get very hot in August and early September before things came apart when hurricane Ike arrived. The Diamondbacks at just 41-41 lead the NL West, the Dodgers 2.5 back were the only contender, though the Rockies who were just 32-50 would play better in the second half and begin to make some wonder if an even more amazing repeat of 2007 was in order.
The Wild Card races on June 30 saw the Red Sox leading the Twins by 4, Athletics by 4.5 and Yankees by 5 games in the AL, while in the NL the Cardinals lead the way, Milwaukee at 2 and Philadelphia at 3 out were next, while the Marlins at 4 back, Mets 6 and Astros 8.5 would all become second half factors.
Ultimately, the teams that had division leads on June 30 accept the Diamondbacks would end up advancing to post season, though for the White Sox and Phillies, a lot of doubt existed along the second half route. Boston would get the Wild Card which it lead, but the Cardinals would be the team ultimately let down in the NL. The Dodgers played well enough in the second half to overtake Arizona by two, though the NL Wild Card contenders all had better records. Just how different was the NL in the second half you ask? The Cardinals were just 39-40 and the Brewers at 45-36 were good enough to get the wild Card berth, though the 49-32 Mets and 47-32 Astros certainly made things very interesting.
So overall during those three previous seasons, 15 of 18 division leaders would get to post season, the ’03 Mariners, ’03 Cardinals and ’08 Diamondbacks would not. Among the six Wild Cards, the AL leader advanced to post season each time, but in the NL, only the Marlins of 1997 were so fortunate as the ’03 Phillies and ’08 Cardinals were overtaken. Philadelphia would have been the second Wild Card team in 2003, St. Louis would still have missed all together in 2008.
On this morning of June 30 in 2014, the blue Jays lead the Orioles by 1.5 in the AL East, though both are not playing as well of late. Do the Yankees at 2 back or Red Sox at 6 back come through in the second half? All teams that won division titles on this date in the seasons reviewed were no worse than second in the division, though Oakland was in terms of games played 6 off the pace where the Red Sox are now when they came back in 2003. Amazingly, the Rays are 10 back and they have played a bit better of late. But the odds of a team that is 14 under .500 going 24 to 30 over in the second half and finishing 10 to 16 over are very long. Interestingly, this is the first time since 1993 that the Yankees and Red Sox would both be out of the playoffs on this date. The Tigers lead the Royals by 3.5 in the AL Central. KC has played much better since May 28 and Detroit has been a streaky team in both directions this season. The AL Central has provided several dramatic finishes when teams are 10 or fewer games over .500 at this point, so are we looking at another 2008? If anything is likely a guarantee at this point, it is that the Athletics at 51-30 will win the AL West or at least get into postseason play. The Angels show signs of cooling off a bit and they now trail by 5.5, the mariners continue to hang in at 7.5 off the pace. Does Seattle’s offensive troubles come back to pass in the second half, how about the Angels pitching? The wild Card race in the AL is rather remarkable, the Angels are leading and they are followed by a bunch of teams in play for that second birth that now exists. The Mariners currently claim that position, while the Royals and Orioles are 1.5 back, the Yankees are just 2 out and teams under .500 are very much alive, the Indians the closest at 5.5 out.
Over in the NL, the Braves and Nationals appear to be in place for a great NL East race as the 44-38 Braves and 43-38 Nationals are a half game apart. The Marlins though now under .500 are still just 5 out but they are showing signs of fading. The Brewers just keep on winning in the NL Central and they are now 6.5 games ahead of everyone else and out in the NL West, the Giants and Dodgers are now in a dog fight but the rest of the division is so bad that while these two rivals are just 10 over .500, the closest teams are 10 under .500 and 10 games off the lead. The drama may very well be held in the NL’s second wild Card slot this season. If the Giants and Dodgers keep playing well, one of them will almost for sure get a wild Card and the same could be said of the Braves and nationals, though both are not appearing to be as solid as their western counterparts. This morning, the Nationals, Reds and Cardinals are all tied for that second wild Card slot 5 games over .500, while the Pirates are 1.5 out. The closest team under .500 is the Marlins at 4.5 games off the pace. If this holds, six teams are in play for this slot, three each from the NL Central and NL East.
When we awake September 29 and the season is at its likely conclusion, will these standings look similar to today? Which team stumbles and gives away its position on top? Does a team that is struggling get red hot and become the second half surprise? Stay tuned for what is coming over the next 13 weeks of the season.