A year ago, with slightly more than one-third of the regular-season schedule concluded, nine of the 10 eventual playoff teams were on pace to qualify for a spot in the postseason.Only the Blue Jays, an eventual American League Wild Card team, were on the outside looking in, and Toronto was
A year ago, with slightly more than one-third of the regular-season schedule concluded, nine of the 10 eventual playoff teams were on pace to qualify for a spot in the postseason.
Only the Blue Jays, an eventual American League Wild Card team, were on the outside looking in, and Toronto was just two games out of the second AL Wild Card spot on the morning of June 8, 2016.
This year, only four of the postseason teams from a year ago would be returning if the season ended today -- the Nationals are leading the National League East, and the Dodgers, Red Sox and Orioles are in position for Wild Card berths.
Surprised? Don't be.
Maybe it is a coincidence, but as the postseason has expanded to where it now includes 10 teams -- and a Wild Card team could face the demand of playing 20 playoff games to win a World Series championship -- the ability of teams to repeat as champions has diminished.
There has not been a repeat World Series champion since 2000. The Yankees were the most recent team to do it, winning three consecutive titles in 1998-2000. No NL has won back-to-back Fall Classics since the 1975-76 Reds.
In the first five seasons with two Wild Card teams in each league, 22 of the 30 teams made at least one postseason appearance. That includes 12 of 15 clubs from the AL, where the only teams left out of the fun were the White Sox, Twins and Mariners. In the NL, the Phillies, Brewers, D-backs, Rockies and Padres haven't reached the postseason the past five years.
And the early results add to the anticipation of what might lie ahead in light of the fact that four of the eight teams that have been shut out of the postseason the past five years are on pace to qualify for the playoffs. The Rockies are leading the NL West, with the D-backs tied for the top NL Wild Card spot. The Brewers are in first place in the NL Central, and the Twins are sitting atop the AL Central.
Now, can those four maintain their standing between now and October?
The Rockies entered play Thursday with a two-game lead on the D-backs and Dodgers. The defending World Series champion Cubs are just a game back of the Brewers, and the Twins have just a one-game edge on the Indians, the defending AL champions.
Colorado has the best fielding percentage (.990) in the NL and an impact lineup. That's not new.
What's new is the Rockies have legitimate late-inning relief with closer Greg Holland, who has converted his first 21 save opportunities, and a setup crew of lefties Jake McGee and Mike Dunn and right-hander Adam Ottavino, who is currently on the disabled list.
The Rockies also have a young but impactful rotation that currently features four rookies who are a combined 22-8, with Colorado having won 25 of their 35 starts. Antonio Senzatela is tied for the NL lead with eight wins, and lefty Kyle Freeland is right behind him with seven. And reinforcements on the way, with Opening Day starter Jon Gray about to begin a rehab assignment, lefty Tyler Anderson expected back soon, and Chad Bettis -- his cancer now in remission -- could be ready by the All-Star break.
What was ignored in discussing the D-backs' struggle a year ago -- when they finished fourth in the NL West -- was that leadoff hitter A.J. Pollock played in just 12 games, and No. 2 hitter David Peralta was limited to just 48 games. That meant that the guys who set the table for Paul Goldschmidt were missing, and nobody picked up the slack. Peralta is going strong this year, and Pollock is expected back in the next week or so from a strained groin that sidelined him on May 22.
Like the Rockies, the D-backs have found hope in the late-inning portion of the bullpen with the emergence of former first-round pick Archie Bradley, who has yet to get tested at closing out games (that's Fernando Rodney job for now) but has made an impactful move from the rotation to the bullpen. Bradley is second among Arizona relievers with 26 2/3 innings and has posted a 1.35 ERA with 34 strikeouts and 24 baserunners allowed (18 hits, six walks).
And don't overlook the fact that other than the division leaders in the NL, the only other team in the league besides the Dodgers and D-backs with a winning record is the Cubs, who may only be a game back of the Brewers for first place in the NL Central, but are 4 1/2 back in the Wild Card standings.
Milwaukee's biggest challenge, of course, is the Cubs, who rebounded from a six-game losing streak to win five of their past six. However, the Cubs open a four-game series at Wrigley Field on Thursday night against the Rockies, and the North Siders are fielding a lineup in which the on-base percentages look more like batting averages.
However, the Cubs do have pretty much the same team back from last year, and the Brewers are lacking in postseason experience. Milwaukee's only starting position player with playoff experience is outfielder Ryan Braun, who is currently on the disabled list. Matt Garza is the only postseason-tested member of their rotation.
Brewers manager Craig Counsel has mixed and matched in the bullpen, where six pitchers already have earned a save, led by Neftali Feliz (eight) and Corey Knebel (seven).
Like the Brewers, Minnesota has just a one-game lead over a team that competed in last year's World Series.
The bigger concern for the Twins is the loss of two members of the rotation to the disabled list with shoulder problems. Hector Santiago suffered a left shoulder strain, and Phil Hughes has developed scar tissue around a nerve in his right shoulder. Neither is expected to make a quick return.
Add to that the fact the Twins may be leading the AL Central, but their 29 wins rank eighth among AL teams, which makes the idea of a contending for a Wild Card spot a major challenge.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.