8/20/09

Do You Remember, Winning In September?

As this season continues its downward spiral, I thought I'd try and make myself feel even worse! September is usually considered the month when baseball's pennant chases heat up and fans with the Extra Innings package adding years of wear and tear onto their remote's 'Go Back' button switching between games. You can excuse Blue Jays fans, though, if they're not so sure what all of this is about. The Jays 16 year playoff drought is well known among baseball fans north of the border, and, although it is not the longest post-season drought in the Majors, I do believe that the Blue Jays have gone the longest without playing one meaningful game of baseball once the calender moves past August.

Since they clinched their 3rd consecutive AL East division title on September 27, 1993, the Jays have not played an important (for them) game deep into the season.

Here's how many games behind the division leader they've been on September 1 every season since:

1994 - N/A (they were 16.0 games behind the Yankees when the season ended)
1995 - 22.5
1996 - 13.5
1997 - 21.0
1998 - 28.0
1999 - 11.5
2000 - 5.5
2001 - 14.0
2002 - 24.5
2003 - 15.5
2004 - 27.5
2005 - 12.5
2006 - 12.0
2007 - 11.5
2008 - 14.5

So, in 15 years, they've gone into (approximately) the last month of the season single digits behind the division leader only once. A lot of this is a product of the division, of course. The '98 Yankees already had 99 wins on September 1 and were 19 games better than anyone else in the American League.

Obviously, we also have the wild card to look at. In 1999, the Jays went into September 1.5 games behind the eventual winner, Boston. They won their first 4 games in September, to bring them within 3 (although they trailed Oakland by a game, as well) before losing 10 of their next 14 games and eventually finished 10 games back (and 3 behind the A's). September 1, 2000 saw Toronto 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the AL Wild Card, but the rest of the way they went 12-16 and finished well back of Seattle (8 games), who overtook the Indians down the stretch. The Jays did hang around 3 games back, or so, around the middle of the month, but the Mariners finished 19-9 down the stretch to distance themselves from the field. So, on September 2, 2000, when they were 1.5 games out of the wild card position, that's the closest they've been to a post-season position late in the season. At this time, the Jays were promptly swept at home by Oakland (who passed them in the standings and who eventually won the AL West) and lost 2 of 3 to Seattle (also at home) and never really recovered.

I mentioned earlier the longer play-off droughts in baseball. Those belong to Montreal/Washington (1981), Kansas City (1985), and Pittsburgh (1992).

Obviously, the Expos are remembered for having the best record in baseball when the '94 strike hit. After a mediocre '95 season following their post-strike fire sale, the Expos rebounded with a very good season. On September 1, 1996, the Expos were 0.5 games behind the Dodgers in the wild card chase. As late as September 19, the Expos shared the wild card lead with the Padres (who would trade the NL West lead with the Dodgers back-and-forth down the stretch before San Diego took the title) but went into a bit of a funk and finished the season 3-6, eventually finishing 2 games back of the Dodgers. The 2003 NL Wild Card was a fun race to watch. In late August, as many as 5 teams were tied for the lead and 3 teams were less than 2 games back. On September 1, however, the Expos entered the month 4 back and never mounted much of a charge, finishing the season 12-11, 8 games behind the eventual World Series champion Marlins. In the franchise's first season in Washington, 2005, the team somehow entered September 3 games behind the Phillies, who had the lead at that point in time. They got as close as 1.5 games behind Houston (the eventual winner) on September 5, but faded a bit down the stretch and finished 8 games off the wild card pace.

Another one of baseball's long droughts belongs to the Kansas City Royals, owner of one winning season since the '94 strike. That season was 2003, where they got off to a very hot start, faded a bit, but rebounded at entered the last month of the regular season 2 games behind the AL Central division leading White Sox. On the 3rd of September, the Royals closed the gap between them and co-division leaders Chicago and Minnesota to 1 game, but lost 3 of their next 4 (including being swept in a double header by the Angels) and a 13-14 record down the stretch wasn't enough to keep pace with the red hot Twins and KC finished 7 games back, ultimately. But hey, they still finished 40 games ahead of the Tigers.

The next long playoff drought belongs to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have not had a winning season since they went 7 games with the Braves in the '92 NLCS, finishing up their 3rd straight NL East division title. As awful as the Pirates have been since Sid Bream slid in safe, the Pirates entered September 1997 2.5 games behind NL Central leader (and eventual champ) Houston. They closed within 1.5 games on the 2nd, but the Astros finished 7.0 games ahead of the Buccos.

So, the Blue Jays and the Pirates are the only teams since 1993 who have not had a day in September where they had a chance to move into at least a tie for a playoff position. Though, I guess since the Pirates' chance was in '97, they beat the Jays out by a season. Congrats. Just for fun, the latest into a season the Jays have held on to a post-season position was July 14, 2000 when they were tied for the division lead with the Yankees (they last had the outright lead on the 6th of that month).

Other teams who've had a tough go of it are the Orioles (AL East champions in '97, no winning seasons since) and the Reds (NL Central champs in '95 and no post-season appearances since, but they did have a 1 game playoff for the wild card to the Mets in '99, which they lost).

So, while the playoff drought reaches 16 years and counting, I think perhaps the more embarrassing fact is that almost every team in baseball has had a better shot at playing into October than the Jays have in that time frame, including perhaps 2 of the 3 franchises that are seen as among the worst in recent MLB history.

1 comment:

eyebleaf said...

This team is in some BRUTAL fucking company, bro.