What it means to be in 1st place entering July

July 1st, 2022

It’s July, it’s All-Star month, and it certainly isn’t too early to start trying to project what the October postseason field will look like. Are our current division leaders for real? Let’s take a look at those current leaders and what the playoff field could look like. Note, all stats below exclude the shortened 2020 season and instead look at full seasons for the impact and postseason implications.

What it means to be in first place

Since 1996, the first full season with at least one Wild Card, 100 of 150 eventual division champions held at least a share of that division lead entering July 1. That’s 67 percent of division winners.

Take note, Yankees, Twins, Astros, Mets, Brewers and Dodgers fans – those are the teams that currently lead their divisions.

Last season, four of the six division leaders on July 1 went on to win their divisions. In the American League, the White Sox and Astros each won their divisions, while the Red Sox, who led the AL East entering July, ended up defeating the Yankees in the Wild Card Game. In the NL, the Brewers and Giants each won their divisions, but the Mets, who led the East entering July, missed the playoffs.

Since 1996, 16 of the 25 World Series winners, excluding 2020, led their divisions entering July. But neither of the last two winners in full seasons – the ‘21 Braves and ‘19 Nationals – did. The Braves first took sole possession of the NL East in mid-August, while the Nationals were a Wild Card team.

New York, New York and that large lead in the Bronx

One thing that stands out quickly on the standings page is that the two New York teams each lead their respective divisions. This is the first time since divisions began in 1969 that the Mets and Yankees each had at least a share of their division’s leads entering July.

The Yankees lead the AL East by 12 1/2 games, the largest lead of any team entering July this season. That’s tied for the third-largest division lead entering July since divisions began in 1969.

Largest division leads entering July, divisional era (1969)
2001 Mariners: 20
2017 Astros: 13.5
2022 Yankees: 12.5
1999 Cleveland: 12.5

Each of the three previous teams with that large a lead entering July won its division.

The mighty AL East

For the first time aside from the 2020 season, there is a mathematical chance of four postseason teams from a single division with the new playoff format. Keep an eye on the AL East for that feat.

The 2022 AL East has a .570 winning percentage and +227 run differential this season. Each of those is the best for a division entering July in a season (divisional era, since 1969).

That combined prowess was on display in a big way in June, in part due to the Orioles posting their first winning calendar month (min 5 games) since they went 17-12 in August 2017. The Rays, at 12-14, were the only AL East club under .500 in June this year.

The division's .619 winning percentage in June was the third-highest by a division in a month (min 25 games), behind only the 2001 AL West in July (.648) and the 2002 AL West in August (.625).

AL East teams combined for a +168 run differential in June, the highest for a division in a calendar month.

This year’s leaders overall

Of this year’s current division leaders entering July, each has had at least a share of that lead entering July at least once since 2019. Each of the six current leaders has won its division at least once since 2019 – except the Mets. The Mets last won the NL East in ‘15, when they lost in the World Series.

What’s next

Even three months in, there’s still plenty of baseball left to be played. But fans of the six division leaders can take some comfort in knowing that historically, more than half of those teams have gone on to win their divisions. And for fans of teams that aren’t in playoff position, there’s still plenty of hope -- while 67% of these teams go on to win their divisions, that means 33% do not, too. Only time will tell.