Blue Jays, Padres show fight to pull off turnarounds
In case you missed it -- and it happened so quickly, there's a chance many did -- the Padres and Blue Jays have seemingly come out of nowhere and established themselves as contenders.
Left for dead by many, they have battled back from 10 games under to surpass the .500 mark and put themselves in a position to be a factor for the remainder of the season.
The Padres -- once 10 games below -- and the Blue Jays -- once 11 games below -- each sit a game above .500 and in the thick of the two tightest division races in baseball. The Royals overcame a similar sub-par start to reach the .500 mark, but they regressed a bit with their recent four-game losing streak.
Historically, however, making the playoffs is an immense challenge for teams who put themselves in such an early hole. Obviously, the gold standard for these types of comebacks is the 2003 Marlins. They sat 19-29 on May 22 but played .640 baseball the remainder of the season and went on to beat the Yankees in six games to win their second World Series.
The 1914 Boston Braves hold the all-time record among World Series champs, having once sat 15 games below .500. More recently, however, coming back from 10 games below and earning even a playoff berth has been next to impossible.
In the past 10 seasons, only the '09 Rockies, the '05 Astros and those Marlins have done so. Three other clubs -- the '12 A's and the '07 Rockies and Cubs -- came back from nine games under.
So what exactly did all those clubs have in common? Well, they all came back from their poor starts relatively quickly. All were above .500 by the All-Star break, just as the Padres and Blue Jays are now.
For clubs that started as poorly as the Padres -- who were once 5-15 -- a return to .500 is no small feat. Before a team can begin to talk about making a run at a division crown or a Wild Card berth, it must first get out of the red.
"After the hole we dug, I think it's a big deal," said Padres reliever Joe Thatcher after the Friars did so on June 15. "We've played good baseball for 50 games. That's a long enough sample size to know it's not a fluke. We're beating good teams."
Only one club in the past 10 years has been at least eight games under .500 in July and went on to earn a playoff berth -- the 2008 Dodgers, who were eight below on July 26 before reeling off 11 straight and finding themselves one-half game back in the National League West.
In fact, many of the aforementioned comebacks began with significant winning streaks by the clubs just as they reached their lowest point. The '09 Rockies fell 12 games below .500 on June 3, before rattling off 11 straight and 17 of 18. Just as the '06 Twins hit eight under on June 7, they followed by going 21-2.
Of course, that bodes well for Toronto, which just had its franchise record-tying 11-game run snapped by the Rays on Monday night.
"I've been waiting for this since the season started," Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion said Sunday, discussing the streak and the club's return above .500.
"I believe in this team, so I knew things had to change, things had to turn around for us. This is what's happening for us, and we're going to enjoy the moment. I'm not surprised by this, I know this team is good and I know we can do it."
The most peculiar recent revival may be the '05 Astros, who matched the Boston Braves' record by overcoming a start that saw them drop 15 games below. They never won more than seven consecutive games and didn't have any specific stretch where they caught fire. They simply played baseball at a .635 clip, and that was enough to reach the playoffs and eventually the World Series, before they were swept by the White Sox.
Those Astros and the '03 Marlins are the only two clubs to overcome such deficits and reach the World Series in the past 10 seasons. Sure, teams like the '11 Cardinals and the '08 Phillies get credit for coming from behind to win the pennant -- and eventually the World Series -- and deservedly so. But they were playing solid baseball record-wise all year long, and simply weren't ahead in the playoff picture.
It's far tougher, historically, for a team to come back once it has fallen double-digit games below .500. That's partially because teams that are 10 games under typically don't have playoff talent, and it's statistically very difficult to do so.
Just ask the '03 Marlins, '05 Astros and '09 Rockies -- a group the 2013 Blue Jays and Padres would be more than happy to join.