- Taking stock of what the races look like in the American and National League East, Central and West divisions, plus the wild-cards and the pursuit of homefield advantage.
At first glance, the 2017 Major League Baseball season would appear to be lacking in drama as the final days tick away. Entering play on Sept. 8, four of the six division leaders had advantages of at least 10 games and none of the division races are even as close as three games.
Yet ask the 1951 Dodgers, the '64 Phillies, the '69 Cubs, the '78 Red Sox, the '95 Angels or many of the other teams who saw seemingly insurmountable leads slip away how quickly things can change. And even if those comfortably ahead now—the Nationals (NL East), Dodgers (NL West), Indians (AL Central) and Astros (AL West)—cruise to a title, there are still compelling races for the wild cards in both leagues as well as for homefield advantage, which could wind up having a big impact on how things play out once the postseason finally arrives.
For the remainder of the season we will be tracking the daily changes in the playoff standings, including each team's record, winning percentage, elimination number and chances of reaching the postseason (as calculated by Baseball Prospectus). Check back each day to see how what's happening in September will impact what the field will look like in October.
(NOTE: All records are through the previous day's results.)
Finalized postseason matchups:
• The Yankees host the Twins in the AL wild-card game
• The Diamondbacks host the Rockies in the NL wild-card game
• The Indians host the winner of the AL wild-card game in a best-of-five Division Series
• The Astros host the Red Sox in the other AL Division Series
• The Dodgers host the winner of the NL wild-card game in a best-of-five Division Series
• The Nationals host the Cubs in the other NL Division Series
Coming off the AL East title last season, the Red Sox have been in control of the division for most of the summer. Boston has led the division every day since the start of August but hasn't been able to shake the Yankees, who are having a surprising season after dealing away a trio of stars last year and seeming to embark on a rebuilding campaign. Unfortunately for New York, it will not get another chance to play the Red Sox head-to-head this season, depriving the Yankees of a chance to make up ground without getting any help (and depriving baseball fans of some compelling drama.) The Blue Jays have fallen out of playoff contention while the division title chances of the Orioles and Rays are virtually non-existent.
Baltimore dominated the six-team AL East when division play was formed in 1969, winning the first three titles and five of the first six. The Yankees replicated that feat between 1976 and '81, including the latter year in which they won one of the two postseason berths given to each division because of the player's strike and then beat the Brewers—then an AL East rival—in the first-ever Division Series.
The Red Sox (three titles) and Blue Jays (five) combined for eight titles in the last nine years of the pre-wild-card format (the Tigers, who would join the Indians and Brewers in to the AL Central when that division was created in 1994, won the other, in 1987) and Boston finished first again in 1995, the year the Division Series started again. Starting the next year, the Yankees began their most recent dynasty. From 1996 to 2012, New York finished first 13 times in 17 years, including nine straight from 1998 to 2006.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who entered the majors as an expansion team in 1998, shocked baseball by going from last place in the AL East in each of its first 10 seasons to first place in 2008, then proved it was no fluke by winning the division again two years later.
Division Titles: 9 (1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1983, 1997, 2014)
Boston Red Sox
Division Titles: 8 (1975, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1995, 2007, 2013, 2016)
New York Yankees
Division Titles: 18 (1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2012)
Tampa Bay Rays
Division Titles: 2 (2008, 2010)
Toronto Blue Jays
Division Titles: 6 (1985, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 2015)
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After losing the World Series in heartbreaking fashion in 2016, the Indians seemed to have a hard time recapturing the magic of that ride when the 2017 season began. As late as June 14 Cleveland was just one game over .500, but before that week was over they had moved into first place, where they have remained for all but one day ever since.
Not much was expected of the Twins after they lost 103 games a year ago, but they have been the biggest turnaround story in baseball. Minnesota led the division for much of the spring and is still in prime position to reach the postseason for the first time since 2010. The Royals, meanwhile, are making one last push with the core of players who carried them to the 2014 AL pennant and the '15 World Series title. Kansas City started 7-16 but has dug out of that hole to remain in postseason contention as the year draws to a close.
The Tigers became trade deadline sellers, dealing away outfielder Justin Upton and, most notably, former AL Cy Young and MVP award winner Justin Verlander while playing out the string. The White Sox have been buried in last place all summer but continue to stockpile young talent that should form the core of one of baseball's most compelling teams in years to come.
Created in 1994 when baseball went to a three-division format, the AL Central took the White Sox, Royals and Twins from the AL West and the Brewers and Indians from the AL East. When Milwaukee switched over to the NL for the 1998 season to accommodate the most recent round of expansion that gave birth to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Detroit was moved to the AL Central.
No matter which teams filled out the division, they all shared one thing in common in those early years: looking up at the Cleveland Indians. After not making the playoffs since reaching the World Series in 1954, the Tribe bashed their way to 100 wins in strike-shortened 1995 and followed up with five more first-place finishes in the next six years, much to the delight of a record streak of sellout crowds at their new ballpark, Jacobs Field. The White Sox, in 2000, were the team that interrupted that streak; Chicago also won the division in 2005 en route to its only World Series title sine 1917.
In fact, rebounds have ben a hallmark of this division. Another small-mark darling, the Twins, overcame threats of contraction after the 2001 season to win the first of six division titles in nine seasons in '02. The Tigers lost a modern-AL record 119 games in 2003; three years later they were in the World Series en route to becoming a consistent winner that included four straight division titles this decade. And the Royals, an AL West power in the 1970s and '80s, endured a quarter-century of irrelevance before their recent resurgence that culminated in the 2015 championship.
Chicago White Sox
Division Titles: 5 (1983, 1993, 2000, 2005, 2008)
Division Titles: 8 (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2007, 2016)
Division Titles: 7 (1972, 1984, 1987, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014)
Kansas City Royals
Division Titles: 8 (1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985, 2015)
Division Titles: 10 (1969, 1970, 1987, 1991, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010
A certain publication may have seen this coming, but it would have been hard to predict just how dominant Houston would be from start to finish. The Astros have been in first place all but five days this season, and have led the division outright since April 14, after their 11th game of the season. The lead reached double-digits in late May, and even after a brief stretch of difficulty, they have not been seriously challenged.
The Angels overcame the absence of Mike Trout for six months to a thumb injury to hang in the wild-card race, where they've been joined the Mariners and two-time defending division champion Rangers. Only the A's, going through another round of rebuilding, have not been able to realistically shoot for the postseason this year.
This has been the division of big changes. The Rangers arrived in 1972 from Washington, where they had played in the AL East as the second version of the Senators; the Mariners joined via expansion in 1977; the Angels have changed their first name from California to Anaheim to Los Angeles; and the Astros arrived from the NL Central for the 2013 season when MLB decided it wanted two 15-team leagues.
Even the lone seemingly stable team has been through plenty of flux. The Athletics came to Oakland from Kansas City for the 1968 season and have been in the same ballpark, with the same name, ever since. But they've balanced periods of poverty with extreme success, winning a division-best 16 titles, including five straight from 1971 to '75 that featured three consecutive World Series titles in the middle of that run.
From 1994 to 2012, this was the only division in baseball to consist of just four teams. During that time, it was well balanced, as each club won at least three titles and none won more than five.
Division Titles: 7 (1980, 1981, 1986, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001)
Los Angeles Angels
Division Titles: 8 (1979, 1982, 1986, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2014)
Division Titles: 16 (1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2012, 2013)
Division Titles: 3 (1995, 1997, 2001)
Division Titles: 7 (1996, 1998, 1999, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016)
Though they've been overshadowed by the Astros' hot start, the Dodgers' summer-long domination and the Indians' late-season winning streak, the Nationals have been more consistently excellent than any of those clubs. They've been in first place for all but three days, the last of which was April 15, and they could wind up with one of the biggest margins of victory in divisional play history.
Washington has taken advantage of a division in which the Braves and Phillies are in rebuilding mode and the Mets have dealt with a cataclysmic series of injuries that derailed their hopes of a third straight postseason berth, which would have been a franchise first. The Marlins were somewhat surprising thanks to the exceptional slugging of Giancarlo Stanton but the most important thing to happen to Miami this year may have been the sale that will transfer ownership to a group headed publicly by Yankees icon Derek Jeter.
Because of the realignment that would come, the first year of NLCS play actually featured two division winners that would later become rivals, as the Braves (then in the NL West) faced the Mets. New York won that round en route to its miraculous World Series title, and as it advanced toward its second and most recent championship in 1986 it did so by first winning a division in which only one of the five other teams (the Phillies) remains in the NL East.
The three-division format shifted the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates to the NL Central and brought the big, bad Braves to the more geographically appropriate NL East from the NL West, where they had just won three straight titles from 1991 to '93. Atlanta would eventually run that streak to an incredible 14 in a row, with only the 1994 player's strike able to stop them. The Mets finally broke through in 2006, but they blew a huge lead down the stretch in '07, enabling the Phillies to kickstart a streak of five straight division crowns of their own.
The Nationals, who had moved from Montreal to Washington D.C. for the 2005 season, won the first of their four flags in 2012 but have yet to advance past the Division Series. They'd gladly trade places with the Marlins, who have never won a division title since debuting in 1993 but who have won two World Series, in 1997 and 2003.
Division Titles: 17 (1969, 1982, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2013)
Division Titles: 0
New York Mets
Division Titles: 6 (1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 2006, 2015)
Division Titles: 12 (1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1993, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)
Division Titles: 4 (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017)
Coming off a 103-win season and their first World Series title since 1908, the Cubs were expected to cruise to another division title. Instead, Chicago entered the All-Star break under .500 and 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers. The Cubs have since turned things around, but Milwaukee won't entirely go away. Neither, for that matter, has St. Louis, which used an eight-game winning streak in August to briefly tie for the top spot.
The Pirates have never been able to mount a sustained charge and will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year after making it three seasons in a row from 2013 to '15. The Reds jumped out to a 7-2 record for an early division lead but have been in last place since mid-June.
Like its AL counterpart, the NL Central was born in 1994 when MLB switched to a three-division format. The Cubs and Cardinals imported their century-old rivalry from the NL East, joined by the Pirates, while the Reds and Astros came from the NL West. The Brewers not only switched divisions, they switched leagues, coming over from the AL in 1998 when the majors expanded by adding the Rays and Diamondbacks. Houston stayed until being moved to the AL for the 2013 season.
Before leaving the Astros won four division titles in the NL Central, a total the Cubs have matched and second only to the Cardinals' 10. St. Louis's worst record among its division title teams came in 2006, when it won 83 games, but that didn't stop the Redbirds from winning an unexpected World Series championship.
In 2013, the Cardinals were joined in the postseason by the Pirates and Reds, the first time a division had sent three teams to the playoffs. Their wild-card game matchup was nothing new for Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, which faced each other in the NLCS five times from 1970 to 1990 when they played in opposite divisions.
Division Titles: 6 (1984, 1989, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2016)
Division Titles: 9 (1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1990, 1995, 2012)
Division Titles: 3 (1981, 1982, 2011)
Division Titles: 9 (1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979, 1990, 1991, 1992)
St. Louis Cardinals
Division Titles: 13 (1982, 1985, 1987, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015)
Believe it or not, the Dodgers weren't always the juggernaut they would become. Los Angeles was in a three-team battle with Arizona and Colorado during the spring before turning on the accelerators with a stretch of play that hadn't been seen in baseball for more than 100 years. The Dodgers used a pair of double-digit winning streaks (and a nine-game streak) to tear off a 43-7 run, the best 50-game stretch in the majors since the 1912 Giants. By late August, there was talk of the L.A. matching the 1906 Cubs and the 2001 Mariners for the most wins in baseball history, but a complete nosedive has made that question moot.
Still, the Dodgers have maintained a huge edge on the Diamondbacks, who themselves have opened up a comfortable lead for the first wild-card spot on the Rockies, who are trying to hang on to the second wild-card in an increasingly interesting race. The Padres have actually been better than anticipated while the Giants are in the running for the worst record in the majors just one year after making the playoffs and three after winning their third World Series title this decade. At various points this season San Francisco has found itself a staggering 40 games behind its archrivals.
A trio of expansion teams—the Padres (1969), the Rockies (1993) and the Diamondbacks (1998)—have joined forces with two teams whose rivalry dates back more than 3,000 miles and 125 years, the Dodgers and the Giants. Perhaps not surprisingly, those two franchises have dominated the division, combining for 23 first-place finishes, nine pennants and five World Series titles.
The other three teams have had their moments of glory, too. Arizona, Colorado and San Diego have each reached at least one World Series. The Diamondbacks won it in 2001, just three years after they came into existence and two years after they became the first expansion team to win a division title within their first two years. The Rockies made the playoffs as the wild-card in their third year, 1995, and while they join the Marlins as the only team without a division title, they did win the NL pennant in 2007. As for the Padres, they lost Fall Classics to two of the great teams of the modern era, the 1984 Tigers and the 1998 Yankees, and have not been to the postseason since winning the second of back-to-back NL West crowns in 2006.
Division Titles: 5 (1999, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2011)
Division Titles: 0
Los Angeles Dodgers
Division Titles: 15 (1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1995, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
San Diego Padres
Division Titles: 5 (1984, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2006)
San Francisco Giants
Division Titles: 8 (1971, 1987, 1989, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2010, 2012)
One of the most crowded postseason races in baseball history could go right down to the last day of the season—and maybe beyond. While the Yankees have managed to hold on to a small edge, at least seven other teams are lingering with realistic hopes of making it to October. To get there, the Twins, Royals, Orioles, Rays, Angels, Rangers and Mariners will at some point have to beat up each other, which limits the chances of something truly wild, like a scenario in which more than two teams tie for a playoff spot, something that has never happened in baseball history.
Although the three-division format was introduced in 1994, the player's strike that year meant that the first wild-card wasn't awarded until the next year. The first such winner was the New York Yankees, who used that avenue to get back to the postseason and end a 14-year franchise postseason drought.
The first AL wild-card team to reach the World Series was the Angels, who in 2002 kept the Yankees from the Fall Classic for the first time since 1997 and went on to beat another wild-card entrant, the Giants, in memorable seven-game showdown. Two years later the wild-card-winning Red Sox erased the Curse of the Bambino en route to their first title since 1918. Since then only two AL wild-card teams have reached the World Series: the Tigers, in 2006, and the Royals, in 2014. Neither won the championship.
For many years the wild-card was the exclusive province of the AL East, as teams from that division won it 13 times in the 17 years before the introduction of the second wild-card in 2012. In the five years that has been in existence, the home team has gone 2-3. Only two teams have yet to win a wild-card: the Twins and the White Sox.
AL Wild-Card Winners
New York Yankees: 1995, 1997, 2007, 2010, 2015
Baltimore Orioles: 1996, 2012, 2016
Boston Red Sox: 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009
Seattle Mariners: 2000
Oakland Athletics: 2001, 2014
Los Angeles Angels: 2002
Detroit Tigers: 2006
Tampa Bay Rays: 2011, 2013
Texas Rangers: 2012
Cleveland Indians: 2013
Kansas City Royals: 2014
Houston Astros: 2015
Toronto Blue Jays: 2016
For most of the season this race seemed to be among the races that would have little drama, aside from seeing whether the Rockies or Diamondbacks would host the wild-card game. But Arizona has pulled away with a stretch that has all but clinched a berth and even put a scare into Dodgers fans who might fear an October showdown; Colorado, meanwhile, has been left to fend off a pair of NL Central teams for the last spot.
The wild-card has been very good to National League teams, four of which have gone on to win the World Series. Most notably, the Marlins have done so twice, in 1997 and 2003, and the Cardinals also did it in 2011. The 2014 Giants are the most recent team to pull that feat off and the only team in either league to have done it since the two-wild card format was introduced in 2012.
In all, seven NL teams have made it to the World Series after getting in as the wild-card. Home teams are just 1-4 in the NL wild-card game. The only NL teams that have not yet won a wild-card berth are the Nationals, Phillies and Padres.
NL Wild-Card Winners
Colorado Rockies: 1995, 2007, 2009
Los Angeles Dodgers: 1996, 2006
Florida Marlins: 1997, 2003
Chicago Cubs: 1998, 2015
New York Mets: 1999, 2000, 2016
St. Louis Cardinals: 2001, 2011, 2012
San Francisco Giants: 2002, 2014, 2016
Houston Astros: 2004, 2005
Milwaukee Brewers: 2008
Atlanta Braves: 2010, 2012
Pittsburgh Pirates: 2013, 2014, 2015
Cincinnati Reds: 2013
For the first time since 2002, the All-Star Game outcome did not impact which league will have home field advantage in the World Series. This year, for the first time, the Fall Classic will open at the home of the team with the best record. For most of the summer that team has been the Los Angeles Dodgers, and while they still have a comfortable edge for the best overall record, their September slump has raised additional questions about their chances of making it to the World Series. That makes it all the more important for the rest of the playoff entrants to finish with the best record they can, knowing that having Game 1—and perhaps Game 7—of the Series in their ballpark could be at stake.
Since the introduction of the wild-card to the playoffs in 1995, the team with home-field advantage in the World Series has won 16 times, losing just six times. Of the six times the Series has gone to a Game 7, the home team has won four and lost two (denoted by asterisk).
2004 Red Sox
2005 White Sox
2007 Red Sox
2013 Red Sox
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