While Baseball Prospectus says we have only a 1.44% chance of making the playoffs, the Royals have never been a team to let statistics tell them what they can or cannot do. Here on July 7, they sit eight games back and eight games under .500. Can a team that far behind come back and make the playoffs?
They can if they have NED-MENTUM!
Teams with Losing Records at the All-Star Break that Made the Playoffs in the Divisional Era*
1973 New York Mets
Pre-ASG: 42-51, 7.5 Games Back
Worst Point of the Season: August 5, they were 48-60 and 11.5 Games Back
Notable mid-season acquisitions: None
How they did it: The team ERA was nearly a run better in the second half with four starters posting sub-3.00 ERAs in the second half. The Cubs had an epic collapse
1974 Pittsburgh Pirates
Pre-ASG: 45-49, 4.5 Games Back
Worst Point of the Season: June 8, they were 19-32 and 9 Games Back
Notable mid-season acquisitions: P Juan Pizarro
How they did it: The starting rotation improved and worked deeper into ballgames with Dock Ellis, Jim Rooker and Jerry Reuss having strong second halves. Willie Stargell and Al Oliver had terrific second halves. Bob Robertson replaced the weak-hitting Gene Clines in the lineup.
1984 Kansas City Royals
Pre-ASG: 39-43, 4 Games Back
Worst Point of the Season: July 18, they were 40-51 and 8 Games Back
Notable mid-season acquisitions: OF Dane Iorg
How they did it: Hal McRae and Onix Concepcion hit like crazy. George Brett was finally healthy. Daryl Motley replaced the disappointing Butch Davis.
1989 Toronto Blue Jays
Pre-ASG: 42-45, 7 Games Back
Worst Point of the Season: July 5, they were 38-45 and 10 Games Back
Notable mid-season acquisitions: OF Lee Mazzili, OF Mookie Wilson, P Jim Acker
How they did it: : Bullpen (Tom Henke, David Wells, Jim Acker, Jose Nunez, Frank Wills) became unhittable.
1991 Atlanta Braves
Pre-ASG: 39-40, 9.5 Games Back
Worst Point of the Season: The All-Star Break.
Notable mid-season acquisitions: P Rick Mahler, P Dan Petry, P Jim Clancy, P Alejandro Pena
How they did it: Bullpen stabilized in the second half with the addition of Alejandro Pena. Glavine, Avery and Smoltz had great second halves.
1995 New York Yankees
Pre-ASG: 30-36, 8 Games Back
Worst Point of the Season: July 18, they were 33-40, 7.5 Games Back
Notable mid-season acquisitions: OF Daryl Strawberry, OF Ruben Sierra, P David Cone
How did they did it: Starting pitching greatly improved with the addition of David Cone.
1995 Seattle Mariners
Pre-ASG: 34-35, 5 Games Back
Worst Point of the Season: August 23, they were 54-55, 11.5 Games Back
Notable mid-season acquisitions: OF Vince Coleman, OF Warren Newsom, P Tim Belcher, P Andy Benes, P Salomon Torres, P Norm Charlton
How they did it: Luis Sojo replaced a crappy Felix Fermin and a not-yet-ready Alex Rodriguez. Ken Griffey was healthier. Vince Coleman stabilized left-field. Norm Charlton was an upgrade at closer over Bobby Ayala. The Angels had an epic collapse.
1995 Los Angeles Dodgers
Pre-ASG: 34-35, 5 Games Back
Worst Point of the Season: June 16, they were 22-25, 5 Games Back
Notable mid-season acquisitions: IF Chad Fonville, OF Roberto Kelly, P Kevin Tapani, P Joey Eischen, P Mark Guthrie
How they did it: Ramon Martinez went from crappy pitcher to unbeatable in the second half.
1997 Houston Astros
Pre-ASG: 43-45, 1 Game Back
Worst Point of the Season: July 4, they were 41-45, but only one Game Back
Notable mid-season acquisitions: IF Tim Bogar, OF Chuck Carr
How they did it: The competent Tim Bogar replaced the awful Pat Listach. Derek Bell had a terrific second half. The starting rotation improved with Mike Hampton completely turning his season around.
2003 Minnesota Twins
Pre-ASG: 44-49, 7.5 Games Back
Worst Point of the Season: All-Star Break
Notable mid-season acquisitions: LF Shannon Stewart, P Jesse Orosco
How they did it: Shannon Stewart was a slight upgrade over the Jacque Jones and Bobby Kielty. Starting pitching ERA fell by a run in the second half with Johan Santana and Brad Radke combining to go 17-2 with a 3.19 ERA. The clock struck midnight on the Royals.
2008 Los Angeles Dodgers
Pre-ASG: 46-49, 1 Game Back
Worst Point of the Season: June 15, they were 31-38, 5.5 Games Back
Notable mid-season acquisitions: 3B Casey Blake, LF Manny Ramirez, P Greg Maddux
How they did it: Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez were huge upgrades from Blake Dewitt and Juan Pierre. They got the rotting corpse of Andruw Jones out of the outfield and stopped platooning Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.
*-Many more teams have been at or slightly above .500 and gone on to make the playoffs, including great comeback teams like the 2001 Athletics and the 2006 Rockies…and even the 1985 Royals!
I also did not include teams from the 1981 and 1994 strike seasons.
As we can see, only three teams at least five games under .500 at the break have gone on to make the playoffs. So the Royals need to at least scratch their way to that point.
The mid-season acquisitions were pretty mixed. Mookie Wilson garnered MVP votes for his performance in 1989 which I can only guess was due to New York nostaglia more than his .601 OPS. Ruben Sierra was not really an improvement over the player he replaced - Danny Tartabull. Andy Benes and Kevin Tapani were pretty much busts with their new teams. Shannon Stewart received a lot of attention for turning the Twins’ fortunes around, but his offensive numbers weren’t much different from Bobby Kielty, the guy he was dealt for. Guys that did have an impact – Alejandro Pena, David Cone, Norm Charlton (who had been released by the Phillies), Vince Coleman, Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez.
I am also struck by how little contrast there is in first half and second half performances. I would have expected a good number of players to be much better in the second half than they were in the first half. But for the most part, that isn’t the case. Most teams simply got a good injured player back (George Brett, Ken Griffey) or had some modest improvement by a couple of players. A lot of teams simply improved by getting rid of black holes on the roster and filling them with someone competent.
Pitching also seemed to be catalyst for improvement. Only the 2008 Dodgers improved greatly on offense in the second half. All of the other teams showed only modest improvement or no improvement offensively, but improved greatly in the pitching staff..
It also helps to play in a weak division. Note that one this list, only the 1991 Braves won more than ninety games.
I should also note that none of these teams won a championship, and only the '73 Amazin' Mets and the '91 Braves even made the World Series.