Does September play predict October success?
Conventional baseball wisdom holds that a hot September is an essential component to an October drive to a World Series championship parade. Recent history supports that belief.
When the 2014 National League Wild Card Game winner Giants subdued the American League Wild Card Game winner Royals in a gripping seven-game Fall Classic, it ended a run of six consecutive seasons with World Series champions having enjoyed a better winning percentage in September than in the regular season. In four cases, the numbers overwhelmingly backed the notion that a big finishing kick is absolutely critical.
Yet a review of the past 20 years of tiered postseason infused with Wild Cards indicates that there are no absolutes to be drawn from September results.
Four World Series champs -- the 1997 Marlins, the 2000 Yankees, the 2001 D-backs and the 2006 Cardinals -- came into postseason play on the heels of a sub-.500 September.
In the 13 years preceding 2008, when the World Series champion Phillies played .680 ball in September and .568 overall, only four times had the team that celebrated a championship played better in September than in the five previous months. The 2007 Boston Red Sox were .593 in September, .593 for the season.
During the Yankees' dynastic run of four crowns in five years, only in the 1996 season were they better in September -- .593 compared to .568 for the regular season.
The 1997 Wild Card Marlins, the only team to interrupt the run of the Bronx Bombers, were a .444 club in September and .568 overall. That was an anomaly for Wild Cards, who generally come rolling into October.
The 2002 Angels had their second-best month of the season in September, going 18-9 (.667) and outscoring the opposition by a whopping 56 runs. The club they defeated in seven World Series games, the Giants, also had a big September: 18-8 (.692) with a plus-47 run differential.
Boston's curse-shattering 2004 Wild Card "Idiots" rolled through the final month 18-10, outscoring opponents by 32 runs. The 2011 Wild Card Cardinals were 18-8 (.692) in September, with a plus-27 run differential.
The only exception, once again, was those incredibly exceptional 2014 Giants. They were 13-12 in September and actually were outscored by 12 runs by opponents. Manager Bruce Bochy, of course, had an ace up his sleeve in the form of Madison Bumgarner, who never seemed to care much about numbers or history.
Taking the Giants to a one-run loss to MadBum in Game 7, Kansas City's Royals actually gathered most of their momentum in a three-game sweep of the Angels in the AL Division Series. They had gone 15-11 (.577) in September -- good, but far from overwhelming.
In their 2010 and '12 championship seasons, the Giants were dominant down the stretch in September. They were 18-8 (.692) in 2010 and 19-8 (.704) in '12, far superior to their .568 and .580 overall ledgers, respectively. That .704 showing in '12 is the best September of any of the past 20 World Series champions.
Returning to the Yankees of Joe Torre, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, they wobbled into October in 2000. They were 13-17 in September, scoring 51 fewer runs than opponents. But they managed to arrange a Subway Series with the Mets, who weren't a whole lot better (14-14) in September. A five-game triumph in the Fall Classic completed the five-year run of excellence.
When the D-backs dethroned the Yankees in an unforgettable 2001 Fall Classic, New York actually had put together a far superior 12-6 September to Arizona's 10-11.
No discussion of September baseball would be complete without a toast to the 2007 Colorado Rockies.
On Sept. 16, the Rockies were 76-72, long forgotten. They thumped the Marlins, 13-0, launching an 11-game winning streak that ended with a loss to Arizona. Winning two more, the Rockies set up a one-game tiebreaker with the Padres and prevailed, 9-8. It was a thriller fans of both teams never will forget.
Finishing the month 20-8 (.714) and outscoring opponents by 53 runs, Colorado swept both Arizona and Philadelphia in the playoffs. That proved to be a mixed blessing, creating a lengthy break before the big show.
Waiting in the World Series were the Red Sox, who swept the Rockies. It might have been a cruel finish, but a magical September 2007 holds a special place in the hearts of Mile High fans.