Worst-to-first finishes becoming more common
Red Sox are the 11th team in the last 24 seasons to turn the trick
The idea is that every spring there is hope for each team that a championship awaits.
Used to be.
In the first 90 years of Major League Baseball, no team had ever gone from worst to first.
In the last 24 years, it has happened 11 times. Boston, which finished last in the American League East with a 69-93 record a year ago -- 26 games behind the Yankees, became the latest to accomplish the feat, clinching the division title on Friday night. The Red Sox won their 94 game in their 155th game of the season. That is a 25-win improvement over a year ago with seven games to play.
The Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins, who met in the 1991 World Series, were the first two teams to go from worst to first. Philadelphia made the move in 1993, when it claimed the National League East.
And then came the realignment of the two leagues to three divisions, providing another shot at a first-place finish in both the AL and NL, which has led to seven teams going from worst to first in the last 17 seasons: San Francisco in 1997; San Diego in 1998, Arizona in 1999 and 2007, the Chicago Cubs also in 2007, Tampa Bay in 2008, Arizona again in 2011 and this year's Red Sox.
Only twice has the worst-to-first team won a division a second year in a row -- the Cubs in 2008 and Atlanta in 1992. The Braves went on to claim a professional-sports record 14 consecutive division titles.
The in-season success hasn't carried over to the postseason. The 1991 Twins are the only one of the first 10 teams to go from worst to first to win a World Series championship. The 1991 Braves, 1998 Padres and 2008 Rays lost in the World Series, while the 1997 Giants, 1999 D-backs, 2007 Cubs and 2011 D-backs were all eliminated in the best-of-five Division Series.
The Dodgers and D-backs will take their growing rivalry to Australia in 2014, opening the Major League season with two games in Sydney on March 22-23. It will be the seventh time that Major League Baseball has opened its season outside of North America.
San Diego and Colorado were the first teams to take the opener elsewhere, when they played in Monterey, Mexico, in 1999. Texas and Toronto opened the 2001 season in Puerto Rico.
The four other foreign openers were in Tokyo: The Mets and Cubs in 2000, Yankees and Rays in 2004, Red Sox and A's in 2009 and A's and Mariners in 2012.
Does the juggled schedule -- which includes the teams returning to Arizona to complete Spring Training after playing the first two regular-season games -- hurt a team?
The Mets, Yankees, Boston and 2012 A's all won division titles.
Out of nowhere
The Dodgers are the fourth team in history -- and third since the three-division alignment -- to finish in first place in a season in which it was in last place on July 1 or later. The Dodgers began their turnaround on June 21, and had won eight of nine games by July 1. But they were still in the NL West basement on that day.
On Thursday, the Dodgers became the first team to clinch a division title this year.
The 1914 Boston Braves were in last place in the NL as late as July 18, trailing the New York Giants by 10 1/2 games. They not only won the NL by a 10 1/2-game margin, but swept the Philadelphia A's in the World Series.
The 1973 New York Mets were in last place, 6 1/2 games out, on Aug. 30. They won 21 of their final 29 reuglar-season games, but lost the World Series in seven games to Oakland. The 1995 Seattle Mariners were in last place as late as July 16. They rallied to force a one-game playoff with the Angels, which the Mariners won, 9-1, to claim the AL West title. They lost to Cleveland in the AL Championship Series.
The struggles of Tampa Bay and Oakland to fill seats is well documented. Their stadiums and the locations of the franchises have been blamed for the lack of support.
But what about Cleveland? Though very much a factor in the AL Wild Card race, the Indians rank 14th in the AL in attendance at 1,468,122 going into Saturday. Only Tampa Bay has a smaller attendance in the AL. In their first 11 home games this month, the Indians reached a paid attendance of 20,000 only once.
It's not like it's been a lack of competition in the games. A three-game series during the past week with fellow Wild Card challenger Kansas City drew a combined 34,494. Two weeks ago, four games against Wild Card rival Texas resulted in a combined attendance of 49,947.
Many are blaming the economy. But just north of Cleveland, in Detroit, a city that has filed for bankruptcy, the Tigers went into Saturday with an attendance of 2,999,876 -- second best in the AL.
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh last Sunday, the Pirates broke the record for most sellouts at PNC Park, with their 20th in 2013. It surpassed the old record of 19 set in 2001, the year that park opened. The Pirates added No. 21 on Friday, and expect to add two more sellouts on Saturday and Sunday for their games with Cincinnati.
• Andrew Cashner became the 19th Padre to throw a one-hitter on Monday night against Pittsburgh. The Padres, however, remain the only active franchise that hasn't had a pitcher throw a no-hitter. There have been 135 no-hitters thrown since the Padres debuted during the 1969 expansion -- including seven alone by Nolan Ryan.
• The Astros are the 12th team since 1901 to lose at least 100 games in three consecutive season. The Phillies lost at least 100 games a record five consecutive seasons (1938-42).
• The Mariners have suffered 48 walk-off losses since 2010, tops in the Major Leagues over that stretch.
Out of left field
The Cubs and White Sox are on course to finish last in the same season for just the second time since 1901 -- and the first time since 1948 -- according to stats guru Bill Arnold. Among current and former two-team metropolitan areas, Philadelphia holds the dubious distinction of most last-place finishes for both teams (the Phillies and A's) in the same season with nine.