Teams with a big lead in standings hope to hold on through home stretch
By Mike Bauman
Good news for the Blue Jays, Indians, Rangers, Nationals, Cubs and Giants: Since the expanded postseason format was instituted in 1995, 81.7 percent of the teams that were leading their division on Aug. 15 went on to qualify for the postseason.
On the other hand, there has been a lot more fluidity with the Wild Card berths. Since 1995, 58 percent of the teams in a Wild Card position on Aug. 15 went on to qualify for the postseason. There is bound to be more of a crowd once the eyes move down the standings from first place.
If you're still in first place in mid-August, you may not have officially earned anything, but you probably deserve what you're getting, which is a better than four out of five chance to reach the postseason.
Of course, not all first-place teams are created equal. It is one thing to be the Blue Jays with a half-game lead in the American League East. It is another to be the Cubs with a lead of 12 games in the National League Central.
The particularly good news for the Cubs is that during this century, no team with that large of a lead has failed to make the postseason. And this sort of lead, at this time of the season, is not uncommon. But even this sort of domination does not guarantee postseason success.
The last team with a 12-game lead on Aug. 15 does not require a long historical search. The 2015 Kansas City Royals had that lead in mid-August, finished 12 games ahead of the second-place Twins in the AL Central and, of course, went on to win the World Series.
In the expanded postseason era, there have been teams with even larger leads on Aug. 15. The 2013 Atlanta Braves had a 14 1/2-game lead in the NL East and finished 10 games ahead of the Nationals, but they lost in the NL Division Series to the Dodgers.
The 2008 Angels had a 15 1/2-game lead over the Rangers and stretched it to 21 games by the end of the regular season, but they lost in the AL Division Series to the Red Sox.
The 2006 Mets had a 13-game lead on the Phillies on Aug. 15. They finished 12 games up, but lost to the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series.
The 2005 White Sox had a 12-game lead on the Indians on Aug. 15. Chicago finished with a six-game lead over Cleveland and then went on to win the World Series, losing only one game in the postseason.
The 2004 Cardinals had a 13 1/2-game lead on Aug. 15 and finished 13 games ahead of the second-place Astros. The Cards won 105 games, the best record by an NL team in this century, but were swept in the World Series by the Red Sox.
The 2003 Braves had a 12-game lead on Aug. 15 and finished with a 10-game lead over the Marlins, but they were defeated in the NLDS by the Cubs.
The 2002 Twins had a 12 1/2-game lead on Aug. 15 and finished with a 13 1/2-game lead over the White Sox. Minnesota lost in the ALCS to the Angels.
The 2002 Braves had a 19 1/2-game lead in mid-August and finished 19 games ahead of the Montreal Expos. But Atlanta lost to San Francisco in the NLDS.
The 2001 Mariners had a 19-game lead over the A's in the AL West on Aug. 15. Seattle finished 14 games ahead of Oakland while winning a record 116 games. But the Mariners lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.
In this season, the Cubs look secure atop the NL Central, and the Nationals, with an 8 1/2-game lead in the NL East, don't look particularly threatened, either.
But even beyond the rest of the division races, you can make a valid case that there are 12 clubs legitimately in the race for the four Wild Card berths. Those races have become essential parts of baseball's landscape, extending postseason opportunities to more teams, more cities, more fans.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.