Baseball’s Biggest Late-Season Collapses
Back on Aug. 28, the Texas Rangers were sitting pretty with a 78–55 record, two and a half games ahead of Oakland (which had a four-game lead in the wild card) in the AL West race. Heading into Thursday night, Texas has gone just 4–14 since, and are in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.
What a difference a few weeks makes.
What baseball’s final week and a half will bring, no one knows, but if the Rangers continue to slide, it would be one of the bigger late-season collapses in the history of baseball. But would it be the biggest?
Here’s what the team would be competing with to have the undesired designation of the biggest collapse ever. To narrow the scope a bit, we’re only including playoff races since the expansion in 1969. Here are the biggest collapses since:
5. 1978 Boston Red Sox—Probably the most famous of all late-season collapses, Boston had a 62–28 record with a 14-game lead over the Yankees on July 19, as well as a nine-game lead on Milwaukee, when the wheels started coming off. They suddenly lost 9 out of 10 games before regrouping in August. On Aug. 30, they stood comfortably at 84–47, seven and a half games ahead of the second-place Yankees, before losing five of seven heading into a four-game series against the rival Yankees. Now known as the “Boston Massacre” the Yankees swept the set to draw even at 86–56 on Sept. 10. The two teams were still tied at the end of the regular season at 99–63, and though Boston hosted the one-game playoff, the Yankees, courtesy of Bucky Dent’s famous home run, won the game and the division.
4. 2011 Atlanta Braves—On Aug. 23 the Braves stood at 78–52—nine and a half games out in front of second-place San Francisco (and 10.5 ahead of St. Louis) leading the wild card race when everything suddenly went wrong. The Braves then lost 12 of 18 games, including a three-game sweep courtesy of St. Louis, and by Sept. 12 the lead over the suddenly hot Cardinals was down to four and a half games. Atlanta won three of four to keep pace, but with a three-game lead with five to play, Atlanta lost all five games, while the Cardinals took four of five, taking the lead on the final day of the season and finishing a game ahead at 90–72.
3. 1995 California Angels—Back in 1995 the Angels were a young and fun team with hitters like J.T. Snow, Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, and Tim Salmon all having banner seasons. California was 64–38 on Aug. 15—giving them a 12.5 game lead over Seattle in the AL West and 11.5 over the Yankees in the first ever wild card. The pitching wasn’t as strong as the hitting though (no starter had an ERA below 4.00), and when the bats went cold the Angels went into a tailspin. California lost 28 of 37 games and actually trailed Seattle by three games, with five to play, before rallying and winning the last five games to pull into a tie (at 78–66) while the Yankees clinched the wild card. But in the one-game playoff, Seattle trotted out Randy Johnson, who won his first of five Cy Youngs that year, to the mound against Mark Langston—Seattle won 9–1 to take the division.
2. 2007 New York Mets—On Sept. 10 the then defending NL East champion Mets stood at 82–61—a full six games ahead of Philadelphia with just 19 games left to play. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. Six days later, the Phillies completed a sweep of New York to pull with in three and a half games with 14 left to play. The Mets held strong for the next week and still had a two and a half game lead with seven to play. But they lost six of seven, including the season finale to Florida. Meanwhile the Phillies kept winning and caught New York heading into the final game of the season. They then won the division outright after topping Washington that day to finish at 89–73.
1. 2011 Boston Red Sox—The Red Sox have certainly had some disappointments before (see World Series 1986 or the above 1978 pennant race). Had Boston not won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, the collapse in 2011 would seem much worse. Still, it was pretty bad. How bad? Boston started the season 2–10 and then won 70 of 103 games to take a two and a half game lead in the AL East on Aug. 9. At that point they had an 11-game lead over Tampa Bay. They ended a mediocre August with still a one and a half game lead over the Yankees and a nine game lead over the Rays. Then the bottom fell out. Boston went 7–20 in September as the pitching staff fell apart. Still, they were tied with Tampa Bay heading into the final game of the season in the wild card race. But while Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon coughed up a 3–2 ninth-inning lead to lose to Baltimore, Tampa Bay came roaring back from a 7–0 eighth-inning deficit to beat the Yankees in 12, taking the wild card in dramatic fashion.