How important is it to be in first on July 1?

July 1st, 2019

As the calendar turns to July, the postseason picture is starting to take hold and even solidify, to an extent. If a team isn’t in the mix yet, its chances to end up making the playoffs are dwindling -- though they aren’t zero yet.

With that in mind, now is a great time to analyze the standings and try to project where teams may end up when the season is complete.

Let’s take a look at what it means to be in first place in a division entering July, as well as dive into where we’re at with home run and strikeout trends for the season, as we ascertain how the 2019 Major League season will be defined.

What it means to be in first place (or not be there)

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 players’ strike that began in 1994 -- 91 of 138 eventual division champions held at least a share of their division lead entering July 1. That’s 66 percent of division winners.

Last year, we saw the beginning of July almost hold through as status quo into the playoffs, with one exception. The only eventual division winner that didn’t have at least a share of the lead entering July was the Dodgers, who got off to a slow start but eventually won the division in a Game 163 to complete the season. The team that was leading the division at the time actually missed the playoffs: the Diamondbacks, who had a 3 1/2-game lead entering July. The Diamondbacks were tied for the division lead as late as through the games of Sept. 1, but ultimately went 8-19 in September to miss the playoffs entirely.

Since 1996, 16 of the 23 World Series winners led their divisions entering July, including each of the last eight. The most recent World Series winner without at least a share of first place in its division entering July was the 2010 Giants, who trailed the Padres by 5 1/2 games entering July and went on to win the division on the final day of the season.

The defending-champion Red Sox are not just not in first place entering July, they’re 11 games behind the division-leading Yankees. They’re just the third reigning World Series champion to be 11 or more games behind the division leader entering July that next year, according to Elias. The 1998 Marlins were 24 1/2 games behind, and the 2003 Angels were 12 1/2 games behind. The only other reigning champ to be even 10 behind was the 2007 Cardinals, who were 10 1/2 behind entering July.

Speaking of the AL East, the Orioles are 30 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees in the AL East. There have been just three teams in the Divisional Era (since 1969) to enter July 30 or more games behind in their division -- and two of those three have been the Orioles last year and this year, according to Elias.

Most GB in division entering July in Divisional Era (since 1969)

  1. 2018 Orioles: 32
    2-T) 2019 Orioles: 30.5
    2-T) 1979 Blue Jays: 30.5
    4-T) 2006 Royals: 28
    4-T) 1997 Phillies: 28
    4-T) 1993 Mets: 28

Winning any division other than the NL Central from this point looks like it’s going to require a comeback of sorts. The team leading every other division in the Majors has at least a 5-game lead. This is just the third time since 1996 that there have been that many divisions led by five or more games entering July. In 2016, all six divisions were led by five-plus games, and in 1998, there were five such divisions as there are this year.

Home run record for calendar month falls, again

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: June broke the record for home runs across the Majors in a calendar month. You have indeed heard it recently -- a month ago, to be precise. May 2019 set the record for most homers in a calendar month with 1,135. Then June 2019 came in and blew that away -- finishing with 1,142 for the new single-month home run record.

Most home runs in calendar month, MLB history

  1. June 2019: 1,142
  2. May 2019: 1,135
  3. August 2017: 1,119
  4. June 2017: 1,101
  5. May 2000: 1,069

We’ve seen 1,000 or more home runs in each complete calendar month this season. That’s three months with 1,000 or more home runs. In 2017, when the all-time home run record of 6,105 was set, there were four 1,000-homer months for the entire year.

As you might imagine, we are on pace to smash that home run record this season. We’re on pace to see 6,623 homers across the Majors this year, which would be 518 more than the current record.