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View Full Version : Pennant races and post-season success


Johnny Mostil
09-29-2005, 09:52 AM
The tight races in the AL--five teams within four games of each other as I write this--and the blowouts in the NL--the best team currently 18 games better than the worst team making the post-season--got me to wondering what effect, if any, do such tight or wide-open races have on post-season success.

The evidence is scanty. The current AL race appears to be one of the tightest in history. In fact, I found only one race that ended as tightly as the AL currently is. In the NL in 1980, five teams finished within four games of each other--the Phillies won 93 games, the East (1 game ahead of the Expos), and ultimately the World Series, while the Reds won 89 games and finished third in the West. Even the '67 AL race ended more wide open than the current AL race; the Red Sox finished 8 games up on the Angels, the 5th place team that year. The tightest race in the past ten years (i.e., since the introduction of the "wild card") was in the NL in '01, when five teams finished within five games of each other, the Astros and Cardinals with 93 wins, the Diamondbacks with 92, the Giants with 90, and the Braves with 88.

There are a few more cases where teams have been at least 18 games better than the worst post-season team, though none in the NL. The biggest differences in the NL (since divisional play) appear to be:
--'98, when the Braves won 16 games more than the Cubs, whom they swept in the LDS before losing to the Padres in the LCS
--'97, when the Braves won 17 more than the Astros, whom they swept in the LDS before losing to the Marlins in the LCS
--'75, when the Reds won 16 more than the Pirates, whom they swept in the LCS, before being taken to 7 by the Red Sox
--'73, when the Reds won 17 more than the Mets, who beat the Reds in the LCS.

There have been a few more blowouts in the AL, with some more (but not always) predictable results. These include:
--'01, when the Mariners won 25 games more than the Indians (and were 14 games better than the Athletics in the West), whom they beat in the LDS, before losing to the Yankees in the LCS
--'98, when the Yankees won 26 more than the Rangers (and were 22 games better than the Red Sox in the East), whom they beat in the LDS before going to win the World Series
--'95, when the Indians won 16 more than the Yankees, whom they did not play in the postseason because of different pairing results (and were 30 games better than the Royals in the Central), before losing to the Braves in the World Series
--'90, when the Athletics won 15 more than the Red Sox, whom they swept in the LCS, before being swept by the Reds in the World Series
--'88, when the Athletics also won 15 more than the Red Sox, whom they swept in the LCS, before losing to the Dodgers in five in the World Series
--'84, when the Tigers won 20 more than the Royals, whom they swept in the LCS before winning the World Series in five against the Padres.

What does it all mean? Probably not much, if anything. The "evidence" is little more than anecdotal, and it's difficult to generalize from anecdotes. But if one wants to be an optimistic '05 White Sox fan, then I suppose one could say tight pennant races sometimes toughen teams (cf. '01 Diamondbacks, '80 Phillies), while blowouts sometimes soften teams to the point that they ultimately fail in the postseason (cf. '01 Mariners, '98 Braves, '97 Braves, '95 Indians, '90 Athletics, '88 Athletics, '73 Reds).