On the Ball: Baseball’s Ten Biggest Late-Season Collapses
We’re down to the final two weeks of the baseball season, and though it appears that most of the playoff participants are set, until a team is mathematically eliminated you can’t count them out.
The following collapses, 10 of the biggest ever, are a reminder of that.
To narrow the scope a bit, we’re only including collapses since the expansion in 1969.
10. 2005 Cleveland Indians—On Sept. 4, the Indians were 75–61 and sitting two games out of the wild card when they caught fire, winning 17 of 19 games. The resulting streak put them 1.5 games ahead in the wild card race and just 1.5 behind Chicago in the AL Central.
But they finished with a flop, losing six of their final seven—including five games by a single run—to finish two games behind the Red Sox for the final playoff spot.
9. 2008 New York Mets—Just a year removed from another epic September collapse (see below), the Mets got off to a sub-par start (34–35), fired manager Willie Randolph, and then caught fire under new boss Jerry Manuel.
New York was then a healthy 82–63 on Sept. 10—3.5 games up on Philadelphia when the collapse began. Just six days later, the Mets, who lost four of the next five, had already relinquished first place to the suddenly hot Phillies.
A three-game win streak gave the Mets a brief half-game lead on Sept. 19, but then a 3–6 ending gave the Phillies first place and the Mets more heartbreak.
8. 1969 Chicago Cubs—The lovable Cubbies were in first place from Opening Day all the way into September, peaking with a nine-game lead as late as Aug. 16 at 75–41.
But a 9–11 stretch left them with a five-game lead on Sept. 2, and that’s when the wheels officially came off. Chicago lost eight in a row and 11 of 12 to relinquish the lead to the surprisingly hot Mets.
Though the Cubs split their final 14 games, the Mets were on fire winning 38 of their 49 games and took the division by a whopping eight games—a 17-game turnaround from mid-August.
7. 1987 Toronto Blue Jays—The AL East was the superior division even back in 1987. Four teams finished with a better record than AL West champion Minnesota’s 85–77 mark that year, but only one could go to the playoffs.
Toronto made their claim as that team with a late-season 18–5 run, giving them a commanding 3.5-game lead over Detroit with just seven to play. But the Blue Jays lost the first four of those games, though, and held just a one-game lead over the Tigers with three left—all against each other.
Detroit finished them off by winning all three—each by one run—to take the division. In all, Toronto lost their final seven games of the year.
6. 2009 Detroit Tigers—Talk about a tease. The Tigers grabbed the division lead all the way back on May 10 and didn’t relinquish it until the final game of the season—an extra-inning loss to Minnesota in a one-game, winner-take-all playoff.
In between, they built up a seven-game lead back on Sept. 6, before going 11–16 to end the season in second. In the process, they became the first team to blow a three-game lead with only four remaining.
5. 1978 Boston Red Sox—Probably the most famous of all late-season collapses, Boston had a 62–28 record and a 14-game lead over the Yankees on July 19 when the first signs of a collapse started.
They lost 9 of their next 10 to see their lead shrink to 4.5 games on July 28. After re-grouping in August, they held a 7.5-game lead (84–47 record) on Aug. 30 over the second-place Yankees. But they lost five of their next seven to see their lead shrink to four, heading into a four-game set against the Yankees.
Now known as the “Boston Massacre,” the Yankees swept the set to draw even at 86–56 on Sept. 10. The two teams ended up 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—a good 9.5 games out in front of second-place San Francisco (10.5 ahead of St. Louis) in the wild card race when the losing started. Atlanta lost 12 of 18 games, including a three-game sweep courtesy of St. Louis, and by Sept. 12 the lead over the all-of-a-sudden hot Cardinals was down to 4.5 games.
By Sept. 23, the Braves were clinging to a three-game lead with five to play. Incredibly, Atlanta lost all five games, while the Cardinals won four, taking the lead on the final day of the season.
3. 1995 California Angels—California was 64–38 on Aug. 15—good enough for a 12.5-game lead over Seattle in the AL West and 11.5 over the Yankees in the first-ever wild card spot.
But that was their high point. The Angels lost 28 of 37 games and actually trailed Seattle by three games with five to play, before rallying to pull into a tie for the division at 78–66. Meanwhile, the Yankees zoomed past them to clinch the wild card.
But in their one-game playoff against Seattle, the Mariners (behind ace Randy Johnson) 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. Piece of cake, right? Wrong.
Six days later, the Phillies completed a sweep of New York to pull within 3.5 games with 14 left to play. The Mets held strong for the next week and still had a 2.5-game lead with seven to play.
They lost five of six, though, to fall into a tie for first heading into the season finale. The Mets lost to the Marlins, while the Phillies took care of the Nationals to win the division.
1. 2011 Boston Red Sox—Boston started the season 2–10 and then caught fire, winning 70 of 103 games to take a 2.5-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 a 1.5-game lead over the Yankees and a 9-game lead over the Rays.
Then the bottom fell out. Boston went just 7–20 in September, thanks in large part to a failing pitching staff. Still, heading into the final game of the season, the Red Sox were tied with Tampa Bay in the wild card race.
But Boston’s bullpen coughed up a 3–2 ninth-inning lead in a loss to Baltimore, while Tampa Bay came roaring back from a 7–0 eighth-inning deficit to beat the Yankees in 12, taking the wild card on the season’s final day in a most dramatic turn of events.