Don't Count Your Playoff Chickens Before They Hatch

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So the Los Angeles Dodgers have decided that yes, there will be some exciting division races this September. After seeing their lead dwindle over the last month, Los Angeles went headfirst into the den of thieves in Denver and promptly lost an extra-innings affair last night to reduce their NL West lead to two games. This film is on.

But don't think you're safe, Yankees/Angels/Phillies/Cardinals fans. I hear footsteps coming from every which direction, especially in the historical sense. Teams have blown far bigger leads far later in the season, so you better start getting modest and toning down your crazy magic number countdowns.

For history's sake, here then are the top five biggest late August-slash-September collapses in baseball history that were not committed by a Mets team. Because even we at Walkoff Walk will give a dead horse a proper burial from time to time:

  • 1964 Philadelphia Phillies: Just two weeks before the season ended, the Phillies had a 6.5 game lead over the second place Cardinals. They then lost 10 straight games without the help of Brad Lidge (he hadn't even been born yet!) while the Cardinals and Reds ended up tying for first place. At least the Phillies didn't go and do something silly like print up World Series tickets.

  • 1995 California Angels: I stole this one from Nate Silver's 2007 SI piece because frankly, I don't even remember the Angels being this good in '95. In the first year of Bud Selig's nefarious Wild Card invention, California held a 9.5 game division lead over the Rangers and a 12 game wild card lead over the Yanks as late as August 20th. A series of fortuitously awful bad luck colluded to make the Angels (and Rangers, as it were) miss the playoffs: the Yankees and Mariners each went 26-13 to finish the year while the Angels stumbled towards the finish line dragging a 12-26 record behind their bloated corpse. To add insult to injury, the M's topped the Angels in a one game playoff for the division title and Gary DiSarcina was deported back to Sicily.

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  • 1978 Boston Red Sox: Midway through August, the Sox had a tidy 9-game lead over the Yanks until New York rolled into town and treated Fenway Park like a toilet. Which is pretty much how 20,000 fans treat that joint on a nightly basis, but that's a story for a different day. The Yankees swept the Red Sox in a four game weekend series and used that as a springboard to take the division lead in September. Boston reeled off an eight-game winning streak to close out the year and force a one-game playoff, which, although it ended disappointingly, led to increased t-shirt sales.

  • 1969 Chicago Cubs: Long considered the granddaddy of collapses, the '69 Cubs played September as if every single one of them were running on Ron Santo's post-2001 legs. The team went 8-17 after a black cat played Ron Santo out of the on-deck circle at Shea Stadium. You'd think something as cliche as a black freakin' cat wouldn't kill a group of pro ballplayers, but the Cubs' nine game division lead turned into an eight game deficit and the Mets went on to win the '69 series and become the greatest franchise in sports history.

  • 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers: Sure, we all remember Bobby Thomson's famous tater tot heard 'round the world, but do you realize that on August 9th, the Dodgers came off a sweep over the Giants and held a 15 game lead in the loss column over their crosstown rivals? No matter, New York ran off a 16 game winning streak and whittled the Brooklyn lead to five games, after which Dodgers manager Charley Dressen was so disheartened, he lost his mind and had Don Newcombe executed for treason. More in-depth info here.

So be careful and always keep an eye on that rearview mirror, kids. You never know what motley crew of freaks is gaining on you and could be breathing down your neck in an instant.


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9 Comments

What, no Mets collapses?

The low-hanging fruit does not have the same sweetness, Matty Boy.

What are you talking about? This time of Cardinal NL Central dominance is a Golden Age that will never end!

/buys stock on margin
//swigs bathtub gin

Magic # countdowns should not start until you enter single digits. My favorite on is the 78 Sox collapse.

True story: We got to watch the start of the one game play-off in school because our teacher, Sister Jean Louise, was from Boston.

Within a couple of years, we'll be able to add Pedro Sandoval's skeletal system to that list.

Or, Pablo.

/such an idiot

I imagine it took some remarkable restraint to avoid mentioning any Mets collapses. Well done.

do you realize that on August 9th, the Dodgers came off a sweep over the Giants and held a 15 game lead in the loss column over their crosstown rivals?

True story: I learned that through a M*A*S*H* episode.

By not mentioning the Mets, I only elevated their failures to a completely different plane.

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