We have reached August, the beginning of the final stretch. The Home Run Festival and the All-Star Game are in the rearview mirror, the trade deadline is Tuesday and attention is turning to games that would impact the postseason race.
Some might be concerned if a team isn’t close to a playoff berth. But what truth is there in that? For teams looking to conquer a division, crunch time is definitely approaching.
Let’s take a look at what it means to be in first place in early August and what the playoff landscape looks like. It’s worth noting that the following stats don’t include the brief 2020 season. In addition, it focuses on full campaigns for postseason impact and implications.
What it means to be on top (or not to be)
Since 1996 — the first full season with at least one Wild Card in each league — 111 of the 150 eventual division champions have at least shared a division top come August. This is 74% of the divisional winners.
Look closely fans of the Yankees, Twins, Astros, Mets, Brewers and Dodgers — the teams currently atop their respective divisions.
Last year, five of the six division leaders on August 1 turned out to win their keys. In the American League, the Rays, White Sox and Astros took the pennant. In the National League, the Brewers and Giants won their respective divisions, but the Mets, who led the East in July, failed to qualify.
Since 1996, 14 of the 25 World Series champions, not including 2020, led their divisions at the start of August. But none of the past full-season champions — the 2021 Braves and 2019 Nationals — have done it. Atlanta seized the NL East lead in mid-August while the Nationals qualified as a Wild Card.
Rebounds and those 2021 Braves
How about the possibility of rallies? Only two teams have won the World Series after going under .500 into August — the 1914 Boston Braves, who were 44-45, and the 2021 Braves, who were 52-54. That means the 2021 Braves’ .491 shooting percentage entering August was the worst of any eventual Fall Classic champion.
Before last year, the worst percentage starting August for a team that won the divisional era (since 1969) was .528 (57-51) for the 2011 Cardinals.
What if we just look at the playoff qualifiers? The worst percentage by a team in early August by a team that advanced to the postseason in a season that wasn’t shortened by a strike was .436 (44-57) by the 1973 Mets, who were Old Circuit champions. (Not including 2020 in both of these cases)
Overall, 13 teams have qualified for the postseason in a full season after entering August under .500.
This year’s leaders and the competition
Of the current leaders this season with the arrival of August, each has at least shared the top at the beginning of August at least once in the last two campaigns as well.
Three teams are on top by at least 10 games coming into August this year: The Dodgers (12 games), Astros (12 games) and Yankees (11 1/2 games). It is only the third time since three divisions per league were implemented that at least three clubs come into August with a lead of 10 games or more.
It happened in 2017, too, with the Astros (16 games), Nationals (14 games) and Dodgers (14 games). He also happened in 1998, with the Yankees (15 games), Cleveland (10 1/2 games), Braves (14 games) and Padres (13 games).
Along with the Dodgers, Astros and Yankees, the Mets also led by 10 games at one point in 2022. It’s the third time in the Divisional Era (since 1969) that four or more teams led by at least 10 first-place games in their division before Aug. 1, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It also happened in 2019 (HOU, LAD, MIN, NYY) and 1998 (ATL, CLE, NYY, SD).
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What does it mean to be in first place as of August 1?