Slowest starts by playoff-bound teams

October 1st, 2023

Each season, all 30 teams want to get off to a good start and set the tone for a successful campaign.

It doesn’t always work out that way. But fortunately for the clubs that are slow out of the gate, all 162 games count the same in the standings. A sluggish April, a disappointing May, a frustrating first half -- none of those things necessarily precludes a fulfilling finish.

There are many examples throughout baseball history of teams that rebounded from a slow start to make it to the postseason, through some combination of better play and competition that left open a window of opportunity. Look no further than the 2022 Phillies, who fired manager Joe Girardi after a 22-29 start, only to surge all the way to the World Series with Rob Thomson at the helm. Philadelphia recovered from another slow start in 2023, making the playoffs despite going 25-32 in its first 57 games.

Here is a look back at the clubs that have posted the worst records through the first 25, 50 and 81 games, only to recover in time to either win their division or earn a Wild Card berth. These lists go back to 1995, the first year of the Wild Card Era, and do not include 2020, when there was a 60-game schedule but an expanded postseason field.

*Denotes pennant winner

#Denotes World Series winner


Division winners
9-16: 2015 Rangers (finished 88-74)
9-16: 2006 Twins (finished 96-66)
10-15: 2006 Padres (finished 88-74)
10-15: 2005 Yankees (finished 95-67)
Seven division winners have started 11-14

For the '15 Rangers, it wasn’t as simple as starting slow and then getting hot. There were ups and downs until late July, when the club went on a 41-22 closing run to turn an eight-game American League West deficit into a two-game edge over the Astros. But the roller coaster wasn’t over yet. Texas jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the AL Division Series, only to have the Blue Jays win three straight to advance.

Wild Card winners
8-17: 2001 Athletics (finished 102-60)
10-15: 2014 Pirates (finished 88-74)
10-15: 2009 Rockies (finished 92-70)
10-15: 2007 Rockies (finished 90-73)*
Eight Wild Card winners have started 11-14

The '01 A’s were the defending AL West champs but had the misfortune of sharing a division with the Mariners, who set an MLB record with 116 wins. Oakland played Seattle tougher than anyone (9-10), but was never in the division race despite winning 67 of its final 87 games, including an 11-game streak in August. That was enough for the A’s to finish 17 games ahead of the Twins for the lone AL Wild Card berth.


Division winners
22-28: 2013 Dodgers (finished 92-70)
22-28: 2012 Athletics (finished 94-68)
22-28: 2007 Cubs (finished 85-77)
22-28: 1996 Cardinals (finished 88-74)
23-27: 2022 Braves (finished 101-61)
23-27: 2018 Dodgers (finished 92-71)*
23-27: 2015 Blue Jays (finished 93-69)
23-27: 2012 Tigers (finished 88-74)*
23-27: 2006 Twins (finished 96-66)
23-27: 2006 Athletics (finished 93-69)
Three division winners started 24-26

The Dodgers’ first of seven straight National League West titles looked far from certain for a while. In mid-June, the ‘13 club was foundering at 30-42 and 9 1/2 games behind the division-leading D-backs. Spurred by the arrival of rookie Yasiel Puig and fantastic starting pitching from the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers soared to 62-28 finish and wound up winning the division by 11 games before advancing to the NLCS.

The 2022 Braves, coming off a World Series title the previous year, managed to win 101 games despite going 23-27 through 50 games. Atlanta edged the Mets, who also won 101 games, via tiebreaker to clinch its fifth straight NL East title.

Wild Card winners
18-32: 2005 Astros (finished 89-73)*
19-31: 2019 Nationals (finished 93-69)#
20-30: 2009 Rockies (finished 92-70)
21-29: 2022 Mariners (finished 90-72)
21-29: 2022 Phillies (finished 87-75)*
21-29: 2007 Yankees (finished 94-68)
21-29: 2003 Marlins (finished 91-71)#
21-29: 1995 Yankees (finished 79-65)
23-27: 2023 Phillies (finished 90-72)
23-27: 2014 Pirates (finished 88-74)
23-27: 2008 Brewers (finished 90-72)
23-27: 2007 Rockies (finished 90-73)*
Two Wild Card winners started 24-26

The '05 campaign capped a nine-year run in which the Astros made six postseason appearances, and it was the final season for Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell, who was limited to 39 games. With Houston getting off to a slow start, St. Louis ran away with the NL Central, but the Astros also faced a double-digit deficit in the Wild Card race. They overcame that hurdle with a 70-41 record after the end of May, taking the Wild Card by one game over the Phillies and advancing to the World Series against the White Sox.

Fourteen years later, the 2019 Nationals became the first team to lose 31 of their first 50 games and go on to win the World Series. To make that happen, the Nats won 74 of their final 112 games (a 107-win pace over a full season), put together a late comeback to get past the Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game, rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the NLDS against the two-time defending NL champion Dodgers, swept the Cardinals in the NLCS, and finally, overcame deficits in both Games 6 and 7 of the World Series against the Astros.

Then, in 2022, the Mariners and Phillies snapped the two longest postseason droughts in the sport by both rallying from 21-29 starts. Philly's case in particular was helped by an expanded playoff format that allowed them to squeeze in via the sixth and final NL berth.


Division winners
38-43: 2013 Dodgers (finished 92-70)
38-43: 2008 Dodgers (finished 84-78)
39-42: 2012 Athletics (finished 94-68)
39-42: 2012 Tigers (finished 88-74)*
40-41: 2022 Guardians (finished 92-70)
40-41: 2021 Braves (finished 88-73)#
40-41: 2019 Cardinals (finished 91-71)
40-41: 2017 Cubs (finished 92-70)
40-41: 2004 Braves (finished 96-66)
40-41: 1997 Astros (finished 84-78)
40-41: 1995 Mariners (finished 79-66)
Eight division winners started 41-40

The '08 Dodgers took advantage of a weak NL West to tie for the fourth-lowest winning percentage (.519) ever posted by a division winner in a non-strike season. The Joe Torre-led club finished with only two more wins than the previous season, when it came in fourth under Grady Little. L.A. went 38-29 after the All-Star break, including 17-8 in September, to beat out Arizona by two games.

Wild Card winners
39-42: 2022 Mariners (finished 90-72)
39-42: 2018 Rockies (finished 91-72)
39-42: 2007 Rockies (finished 90-73)*
39-42: 2005 Astros (finished 89-73)*
39-42: 2001 Athletics (finished 102-60)
40-41: 2021 Cardinals (finished 90-72)
40-41: 2007 Yankees (finished 94-68)
40-41: 2003 Marlins (finished 91-71)#
40-41: 2001 Cardinals (finished 93-69)
Six Wild Card winners started 41-40

Beginning with their 81st game of the season, the '18 Rockies went on a 19-5 run that cut their NL West deficit from eight games to one. At that point, a three-team race was on between the Rockies, D-backs and Dodgers. While Arizona ultimately withered, the Rox went 19-9 in September to finish even with L.A. and force a one-game tiebreaker, which the Dodgers won. Still, Colorado beat the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game, before losing to the Brewers in the NLDS.

Since 1904

6-18 (plus a tie): 1914 Braves (finished 94-59)

The Braves, who then played in Boston, had little history of success. Their fifth-place finish in 1913 came on the heels of four straight eighth-place finishes in the eight-team NL and was their best standing since 1902. So when the ‘14 club started slowly, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise. After getting swept in a July 4 doubleheader, the Braves were 26-40, in last place, and 15 games behind the New York Giants. But then, out of nowhere, Boston ripped off 68 wins in its final 87 games, passing the Giants for good on Sept. 8 before sweeping Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.

18-32: 1974 Pirates (finished 88-74)

Pittsburgh won the NL East three straight times from 1970-72 -- and the World Series in ‘71 -- but took a step back in ‘73 following the tragic death of Roberto Clemente. The ‘74 club then started slowly and faced a division deficit as large as nine games on June 12, only climbing over the .500 mark in mid-August. The rest of the season was a battle for first place with the Cardinals, which Pittsburgh eventually won by 1 1/2 games by taking eight of its last 10 contents -- before falling to the Dodgers in the NLCS.

35-46: 1973 Mets (finished 82-79)

No team in history has lost more regular-season games but gone on to win the pennant than this one, which benefited from a thoroughly mediocre NL East. The Yogi Berra-managed Mets went a combined 32-49 from May through July and were as many as 11 1/2 games out of first after getting swept in an Aug. 5 doubleheader. Urged on by Tug McGraw’s “You Gotta Believe” catchphrase, the Mets finished with a 34-19 kick while the rest of the division played sub-.500 ball. The Mets ultimately won the East by 1 1/2 games over the Cardinals and beat the Reds in the NLCS before stretching the A’s to Game 7 of the World Series.