What it means to be in 1st place entering June

June 1st, 2023

The weather is heating up, and the baseball season is in full swing. As we enter June, it’s time to take a good look at the standings. Of course there’s still plenty of baseball left, but trends that began in April have solidified further in May. Just about a third of the way into the season, it’s time to really think about whether our current division leaders are for real.

Let’s take a look at those leaders and what the postseason field could look like come October. 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 in each league after the ‘95 campaign was limited to 144 games due to the strike that began in 1994 -- 91 of 156 eventual division champions held at least a share of their division lead entering June 1. That’s 58 percent of division winners.

Pay special attention, Rays, Twins, Rangers, Braves, Brewers and Dodgers fans -- those teams are our current division leaders heading into June.

Last season, three of the six division leaders on June 1 went on to win their divisions. In the American League, the Yankees and Astros each won their divisions, while the Twins, who led the AL Central entering June, missed the postseason entirely. In the NL, the Dodgers won their division, but the Mets and Brewers, who led the East and Central entering June, respectively, did not. The Mets clinched a Wild Card spot, but the Brewers missed the playoffs.

Since 1996, 14 of the 26 World Series winners, excluding 2020, led their divisions entering June. Before the Astros last year, the last winner in a full season to do so was the '18 Red Sox.

The defending champion Astros are not in first place entering June. How rare is that? Not as rare as you might think. Of the 25 teams to win the World Series since 1996 and play in May the next year, just seven have found themselves in first place through May that subsequent year.

The AL East

We’ve covered the fact that the AL East could be historically strong, but it bears a recap here. The division has a combined .587 winning percentage, which would be the highest by a division in a single season. The current record for a five-team division? .541 by the 2022 AL East.

Every AL East team is above .500. If you’re curious, the latest into a season that an entire division has been above .500 was the NL East in 2005, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. All five teams were over .500 through October 1, the second-to-last day of the season. The Nationals then lost their finale to finish 81-81.

This year’s leaders overall

Of this year’s current division leaders entering June, each has had at least a share of that lead entering June at least once since 2018, except one. The Rangers are in this spot for the first time since ‘16, which is also the last time they won the AL West.

Each of the current leaders has won its division at least once since 2019 -- except for the aforementioned Rangers.

What’s next?

Even two 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 positions, seeing how close all of the races are is solace in and of itself. And while 58 percent of teams with a share of the division lead entering June win that division, plenty do not. Only time will tell. That’s why they play the game -- and, luckily, we get to follow along.