How early division clinchers have fared

October 23rd, 2023

Securing an early postseason berth does not always translate to October success. 

Here's a look at which teams were first to clinch a division title each year going back to the advent of the Wild Card in 1995, as well as how they fared in the postseason:

Won World Series

2016 Cubs
In a year in which the Cubs would finally end a championship drought that was over a century old, Chicago would also be the first team to clinch a division title, winning the NL Central on Sept. 16. Facing the Giants -- winners of the World Series in three of the previous six seasons -- the Cubs won the NLDS in four games. They proceeded to beat the Dodgers in a six-game NLCS to capture the franchise's first pennant in 71 years. Then came the ultimate price, the World Series title, which Chicago won in a thrilling seven-game series against Cleveland.

2015 Royals
Kansas City reached the postseason in 2014 for the first time in 29 years, losing to the Giants in seven games. But the Royals made it two straight postseason appearances by clinching the AL Central on Sept. 24, 2015. They beat the Astros in a five-game ALDS, then dispatched Toronto in a six-game ALCS to get back to the Fall Classic, where they won their first title in 30 years in a five-game victory over the Mets.

2012 Giants
The Giants missed the postseason in 2011, the year after winning their first World Series title since moving to San Francisco in 1958. But they punched their postseason ticket in 2012, winning the National League West on Sept. 22. They immediately fell into a 2-0 hole in the best-of-five NLDS against the Reds. But San Francisco reeled off three straight wins in Cincinnati, then came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS vs. the Cardinals to reach the World Series, in which the Giants swept the Tigers.

1998 Yankees
The Yankees set a then-American League record by winning 114 games in 1998, clinching their second AL East title in three seasons on Sept. 9. Led by Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, David Wells and David Cone, the Bronx Bombers swept the Rangers in the AL Division Series and beat Cleveland in six games for the AL pennant. New York then swept the Padres in the World Series for its 24th championship in franchise history.

Reached World Series, but lost

1995 Indians
This team was a juggernaut, winning 100 games despite a strike-shortened 144-game schedule. It became the first club to win the newly created AL Central division, clinching it on Sept. 8 (Game No. 123) with a 3-2 victory over the Orioles at Jacobs Field. It was Cleveland's first trip to the postseason since 1954. It swept Boston in the ALDS, then beat Seattle in a six-game ALCS to win the pennant, but the team's power-hitting lineup, featuring Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, ran into the best starting rotation in the 1990s, falling to the Braves in the World Series.

Lost in League Championship Series

Even the teams that didn't make the World Series were forces to be reckoned with. The most notable example: the 2001 Mariners, who tied the MLB record with 116 regular-season wins, but fell to the Yankees in the ALCS. Three of the Mariners' losses in the series were by two runs or fewer, including the toughest one in Game 4, when Alfonso Soriano hit a walk-off home run in a tie game in the ninth to give New York a 3-1 series lead.

There are other notable early clinchers who saw their seasons end in the LCS, too. In 2007, a Cleveland club led by ace CC Sabathia, had a 3-1 lead over the Red Sox in the ALCS before losing the final three games. The 2006 Mets lost in Game 7 of the NLCS to the Cardinals on Yadier Molina's tiebreaking ninth-inning homer -- even after Endy Chavez made one of the great catches in postseason history, robbing Scott Rolen of a home run in the sixth.

The 2000 Cardinals' postseason is most remembered for Rick Ankiel's yips on the mound, and their loss to the Mets set up the Subway Series World Series that year. And the 1997 Braves and their Hall of Fame pitching troika of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz lost to the upstart Marlins in the NLCS, who went on to shock the world by winning the World Series.

Lost in Division Series

There was a stretch from 2007-10 when MLB's earliest division clincher lost in the LDS four straight times -- the Angels in '07 and '08, the Cardinals in '09 and the Twins in '10. That streak has now been surpassed, with the 2022 Dodgers following the '21 White Sox, '20 A's, '19 Dodgers, '18 Indians and '17 Nationals.

Here is the full list of the earliest division clinchers in each season of the Wild Card era, and how they all fared in the postseason.

2023: Braves (NL East, Sept. 13) -- Lost NLDS, 3-1 to Phillies
2022: Dodgers (NL West, Sept. 13) -- Lost NLDS, 3-1 to Padres
2021: White Sox (AL Central, Sept. 23) -- Lost ALDS, 3-1 to Astros
2020: A's (AL West, Sept. 21) -- Lost ALDS, 3-1 to Astros
2019: Dodgers (NL West, Sept. 10) -- Lost NLDS, 3-2 to Nationals
2018: Indians (AL Central, Sept. 15) -- Lost ALDS, 3-0 to Astros
2017: Nationals (NL East, Sept. 10) -- Lost NLDS, 3-2 to Cubs
2016: Cubs (NL Central, Sept. 16) -- Won World Series, 4-3 over Cleveland
2015: Royals (AL Central, Sept. 24) -- Won World Series, 4-1 over Mets
2014: Orioles / Nationals (AL East / NL East, Sept. 16) -- Orioles lost ALCS, 4-0 to Royals; Nationals lost NLDS, 3-1 to Giants
2013: Dodgers (NL West, Sept. 19) -- Lost NLCS, 4-2 to Cardinals
2012: Reds / Giants (NL Central / NL West, Sept. 22) -- Reds lost NLDS, 3-2 to Giants; Giants won World Series, 4-0 over Tigers
2011: Tigers (AL Central, Sept. 16) -- Lost ALCS, 4-2 to Rangers
2010: Twins (AL Central, Sept. 21) -- Lost ALDS, 3-0 to Yankees
2009: Cardinals (NL Central, Sept. 27) -- Lost NLDS, 3-0 to Dodgers
2008: Angels (AL West, Sept. 10) -- Lost ALDS, 3-1 to Red Sox
2007: Angels / Indians (AL West / AL Central, Sept. 23) -- Angels lost ALDS, 3-0 to Red Sox; Indians lost ALCS, 4-3 to Red Sox
2006: Mets (NL East, Sept. 18) -- Lost NLCS, 4-3 to Cardinals
2005: Cardinals (NL Central, Sept. 15) -- Lost NLCS, 4-2 to Astros
2004: Braves (NL East, Sept. 18) -- Lost NLDS, 3-2 to Astros
2003: Giants (NL West, Sept. 17) -- Lost NLDS, 3-1 to Marlins
2002: Braves (NL East, Sept. 9) -- Lost NLDS, 3-2 to Giants
2001: Mariners (AL West, Sept. 19) -- Lost ALCS, 4-1 to Yankees
2000: Cardinals (NL Central, Sept. 20) -- Lost NLCS, 4-1 to Mets
1999: Indians (AL Central, Sept. 8) -- Lost ALDS, 3-2 to Red Sox
1998: Yankees (AL East, Sept. 9) -- Won World Series, 4-0 over Padres
1997: Braves (NL East, Sept. 22) -- Lost NLCS, 4-2 to Marlins
1996: Indians (AL Central, Sept. 17) -- Lost ALDS, 3-1 to Orioles
1995: Indians (AL Central, Sept. 8) -- Lost World Series, 4-2 to Braves