How bad would it be if MLB’s most comfortable teams at the moment, Washington, Los Angeles and Houston, found a way to give back huge leads?
It’s been done before and it could happen again.
As of Tuesday, the Dodgers held a 15.5 game lead on Colorado in the NL West, the Astros a 15 game cushion on Seattle and the Nationals up 14 games on Miami.
Yes, folks, the dog days of August are in full swing and barring epic, colossal swoons, those three teams should ride high into their respective division series, at worst. But, only the Dodgers are hot right now, riding a 9-1 record in their last 10. The Nats are a pedestrian 5-5, but no one in their division is better than .500 in their last 10. Houston is 4-6, but the chasing M’s are just 6-4, so not much to worry about, yet.
With the current situation in mind, here are 15 of the worst August to September swoons in MLB history (in chronological order).
15. Pittsburgh Pirates – 1938
Before the start of major league baseball play on this day 79 years ago, the 61-35 Pittsburgh Pirates held an eight-game lead on the 54-44 Chicago Cubs in the old eight-team, one division National League. The cracks, though began to show when the Bucs couldn’t string together more than a two-game winning streak and also lost three games in a row twice to finish the month at 73-48. The Cubs, however, couldn’t take advantage, going 13-12 to sit seven games back on Aug. 31. The Pirates mediocre August gave way to a horrible slide at the beginning of September, when they lost eight of 12 and the Cubs won 8-of-12 to trim the lead to three. Undaunted Pittsburgh would win eight out of 10 before Sept. 25, but Chicago did them one better going 9-1 and the lead was down to two, with a pivotal three-game series at Wrigley pending. In horrible fashion, the Pirates lost all three, including a 10-1 clinker in the series finale that sealed their fate. The Pirates turned a seven-game lead into a two-game season-ending deficit.
14. Brooklyn Dodgers – 1951
Just about 66 years ago to the day, the old Brooklyn Dodgers — like their L.A. counterparts today — had a commanding 13.5 game lead in the old one division National League. These were the Dodgers, too, of Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Don Newcombe — as powerful a squad as their was. But, the fateful New York Giants, who employed Bobby Thomson, who sat in second on Aug. 11, 1951, reeled off an incredible 16-game winning streak and would win an incredible 37 of 44 to end the season. The Dodgers, meanwhile, went 26-22, which isn’t bad in anyone’s books, but was good only for a tie with the crosstown Giants on the last day of the season. The two squads would play a three-game series, with the first at game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and the last two at the Giants’ Polo Grounds. They would split the first two, but in the pivotal series-clincher, Thomson hit the “Shot Heard Round The World” to seal the Dodgers fate.
13. Philadelphia Phillies – 1964
This monumental collapse will forever be known as the “Phold of ’64.” The Philadelphia Phillies entered the 1964 season, having not won a National League pennant since 1950. This team, though, would lead the NL from opening day onward and would see a perfect game thrown by Jim Bunning on June 21 as a highlight. By late September, though, that was a distant memory. On Aug. 1, 1964, the Phils owned a 60-41 record, which was eight games better than the St. Louis Cardinals (for reference). By the end of a 18-10 month, Philly was still 7.5 games up, even though the Cards went 18-9. That lead could have been even bigger, had Philadelphia not dropped five of eight at the end of August. The dog days of August melted into an early September swoon, as the Phillies went 5-5 to open the month and St. Louis went 7-3 to put a two-game dent in the lead. Things didn’t change much until the final, awful last two weeks of the season. Philadelphia was 90-60 after a win on Sept. 20, but would lose 10 of their next 12, including three straight in St. Louis, to inexplicably finish a game back of the Cards, who were 83-66 on Sept. 20.
12. Chicago Cubs – 1969
Long after — and long before — they were World Champs, the Chicago Cubs enjoyed a magical ride early in the 1969 season. For 155 days they were in first place. As of the middle of August of that year, they were 10 games ahead of the competition in the newly formed NL East. That competition included the New York Mets, unfortunately. The Cubs began the month by winning 12 out of 16 games to build that big lead. However, they picked the wrong time to go on a skid and dropped seven of nine before August 27. This allowed Tom Seaver and the Amazin’ Mets a chance to climb back in to the race, which they did, with a fluorish. The Mets went 14-3 from August 15 on get within two games. It was worse in September, as New York went 23-17, while Chicago stunk the joint out at 8-17, finishing eight games behind the eventual World Series champs.
11. Boston Red Sox – 1978
When Chicago Cubs fans complained bitterly about being cursed in years gone by, fans in Beantown could probably be heard saying, “hold my beer.” The Red Sox won it all in 1918, then Babe Ruth got sold for a song and the Curse of the Bambino was on. Sixty years and three failed World Series later, the powerful ’78 Bosox, including Carlton Fisk, Carl Yasztremski, Jim Rice and Luis Tiant, were riding high in the AL East. In the middle of July of that year, Boston had a 14-game lead on the hated New York Yankees. They took a bit of header in late July, going 3-10 to end the month and give New York new life. But, as of August 9, they still had a 7.5 game lead on the Bombers and at the end of August were still seven games up. A 15-15 September would be their undoing, what with the Yanks going 22-8 to force a one-game playoff for all the AL East marbles. All we have to say how it went for Boston is, “Bucky Frickin’ Dent.”
10. Atlanta Braves – 1983
Boston and Chicago fans did not hold a monopoly on being long suffering in decades gone by. Atlanta (formerly Milwaukee) hadn’t won a world title in 26 years at the opening of the 1983 season. Coming off a failed trip to the NLCS in 1982 — after pretty much a lost decade in the 70s — there was hope in Georgia for bigger and better things. For much of the first half of the season, a scrappy Braves team led by two-time MVP Dale Murphy and young manager Joe Torre were in first place. On Aug. 13, the Braves had a 6.5 game cushion in the NL West on the Los Angeles Dodgers. That would be, though, as good as it got for Atlanta. They dropped their next four games in a row as part of a slide 5-14 slide that saw them drop out of first by Sept. 3, 3.5 games back of the Dodgers, who won 16 of 21 in the same time span. The Braves would end up a disappointing second, a mere three games back.
9. Toronto Blue Jays – 1987
After a dismal start to the franchise in the late 1970s, (they lost a team record 109 games in 1979), the Blue Jays came around in the mid-80s, making it to the 1985 ALCS against the Kansas City Royals. They didn’t fare as well in 1986, but with soon-to-be MVP George Bell leading the charge, 1987 was looking like another watershed season. For much of August they fought it out atop the old AL East with the Detroit Tigers, flip flopping the lead most of the month, despite not playing each other. In September, the Jays really got rolling, winning 19 of their first 24 games (including the first three games of a crucial four-game set at home to Detroit) to open up a 3.5 game cushion on the Tigers with just seven games to go in the season, as of Sept. 26. They lost to the Tigers on Sept. 27, but had a chance to rebuild the lead with another home series against Milwaukee. The baseball Gods did not smile on Toronto, as the club dropped all three games to the Brewers. But, they still owned a one-game bulge on Detroit going into a season-ending three-game series at Tiger Stadium. It wasn’t meant to be, as their bats fell silent in a sweep.
8. San Francisco Giants – 1993
How does a team that wins 103 games miss the post-season? In the case of the 1993 San Francisco Giants, let us count the ways. That year, they were 39 years removed from their last title (when the team was in New York) and four years past a sweep at the hands of the Oakland A’s in the 1989 World Series. Barry Bonds was still a skinny kid that year on the way to his third NL MVP award and the Giants had a solid squad. In what would be the last great pennant race (for the NL West crown a year before the wild card came in) the Giants and Atlanta Braves would duke it out. As good as the Braves were playing going into August, the Giants were even better and on Aug. 11, San Fran had a healthy nine-game lead on the boys in Atlanta. The Braves, much to the chagrin of the Giants, went supernova hot the rest of the way. They went 36-11 over the remainder of the season (including a 5-1 record against San Francisco), with but one two-game losing streak included. The Giants didn’t play badly with a 26-21 mark over the same period, but they finished 103-59, one game back of Atlanta. Wow.
7. California Angels – 1995
In the annals of dog days swoons, the collapse suffered by the 1995 California Angels goes down as statistically the worst ever. On August 20 the Halos were 12.5 games ahead of third-place Seattle during the strike-shortened campaign — and then the wheels fell off. They managed to win just 12 of their remaining 39 games, with a pair of nine-game losing streaks added in. As bad as they played, though, the Angels were tied with the Mariners at the end with identical 78-66 records (the major league season was shortened to 144 games due to the strike). A one-game playoff at Seattle’s Kingdome would break the tie, with the M’s trotting out ace Randy Johnson to face Angels’ top starter Mark Langston. It was a pitchers’ duel for the first six innings and Seattle held a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the seventh. They erupted for four more that inning and four in the eighth to seal a resounding 9-1 victory.
6. Cleveland Indians – 2005
Now that the Chicago Cubs are finally world champs again, the ignominy of having the longest title drought goes to the Cleveland Indians. They haven’t won it all since 1948, but in 2005 (as well as last year) they had a great chance to end it. This one doesn’t concern a pennant, but it did involve a wild card race that was the Tribe’s to lose. The Indians and close competitor Boston Red Sox were in the hunt for the wild card in August, with Boston holding it mid-month and a four-game cushion at the end of it. Cleveland would play remarkably in the first three and a half weeks of September, winning 18 of 22 to flip the Bosox out of the wild card position by Sept. 24. However, the hard luck that had followed the Indians around for decades came back. They dropped six of their final seven games, five by a single run, missing out on the post-season by two games.
5. New York Mets – 2007
In the end, there was nothing “Amazin” about the Mets’ 2007 season. Mets fans didn’t have a lot to cheer about the early part of the last decade, but their club came to life again in 2006, finishing first in the NL East and losing a seven-game heartbreaker to eventual champion St. Louis in the NLCS. Cautious optimism reigned in 2007 for an aging Mets team. On August 14, New York held a three-game lead on Philadelphia in a relatively weak NL East. Ten days later that lead was doubled. The beginning of the end, though, came in a four-game visit to Philadelphia starting August 27. The Mets, dropped four in a row to the Phillies, shrinking their lead to two. Yet, with Pedro Martinez back in the fold for the beginning of September, New York reeled off eight wins in 10 games to restore the six-game cushion by the 11th. That was a brief respite in their late season problems, however, and the Mets would go 6-12 the rest of the way, not only losing the NL East pennant on the last day of the season, but the wild card as well to Colorado.
4. Detroit Tigers – 2009
For 164 days in 2009, the Tigers sat atop the AL Central, from May 10 right to the final day. That year, the Central was up for grabs, and was the weak sister of the American League’s three divisions. On Aug. 15, 2009 Detroit was six games up on the Minnesota Twins with a 62-54 record. The Tigers scuffled a bit through the last part of the month, going 7-7, but still maintained a 3.5-game bulge on the Twinkies. Detroit opened September with a six-game winning streak to expand that AL Central lead back to seven games. Both the Tigers and Twins would slump for a bit, and on Sept. 12 the lead was shrunk to 5.5 games (which was still considerable). Minnesota caught fire after that, going 17-3 to finish 86-76. On the other hand, the Tigers could only manage an 11-10 mark, with four of those losses at the hands of the Twins, to set up one-game playoff with their rivals in Minnesota. In heart-breaking fashion, Detroit lost 6-5 in 12 innings.
3. San Diego Padres – 2010
To think, the Padres could have been 2010 world champions. The 2010 version, which had a good mix of youngsters and veterans, had just taken two-of-three from the San Francisco Giants in mid-August, sending the eventual champs into a spiral. At that point on Aug. 15, the Pads had a 3.5 game lead on their California rivals. Not 10 days later, that lead was expanded to 6.5 games with 37 games left in their schedule (to San Fran’s 34). San Diego flamed out badly after Aug. 25, going on a 10-game losing streak as part of a 14-23 finish. The Giants ripped through September, fashioning a 18-8 mark, including taking three of four from the Padres in one series. Even with a horrid month, San Diego entered a season-ending three-game set in San Francisco with a chance to tie them in the standings (they were three games back). They did win two of three, but fell short by two games. Oh what could have been.
2. Atlanta Braves – 2011
The year 2011 saw not one, but two spectacular late season tanks. The Atlanta Braves were a wild card team in 2010 and in 2011 were in a dead heat battle with the St. Louis Cardinals for another wild card berth. They opened August on a high note, winning nine out of 14 to open up a seven-game lead on the Cards in the race by August 16. Then, they went on a 8-4 run the rest of the month, which coincided with St. Louis’ 7-6 mark to widen the gap to 8.5 games on Aug. 31. It was like someone flipped a switch, though, in September. Atlanta managed just nine wins in their last 27 games, which included a sweep at the hands of the red hot Cardinals in week 2. At that point, the Braves were still 4.5 games up, but it didn’t matter anyway as St. Louis finished the season 18-8, eclipsing the Braves by a game. They would go on to win the World Series, too.
1. Boston Red Sox – 2011
The other team to go in the toilet in 2011, no surprise, were the Boston Red Sox. Even though they had won two World Series in 2004 and 2007 to shake off the Curse of the Bambino, the Bosox had yet another collapse in them. In the middle of August, they were tied with the New York Yankees atop the AL East with identical 73-46 records. By the end of the month and after a 9-5 triumph over the Bombers on Aug. 31, Boston had a slim 1.5 game lead. Boston opened September on a low, low note, losing 12 of 15, including a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, who would then battle them for a wild card spot. The mighty Bosox couldn’t shake off the doldrums, however, dropping another pivotal series to the visiting Rays (losing three of four) and after a horrid 7-20 month, they missed the wild card by a single game. That game could have been made up, had they not blown a 3-2 ninth inning lead to Baltimore on the last day of the season, while Tampa stormed back from a 7-0 deficit to stun the Yanks and claim the spot.