Why WS title would be unprecedented for Yankees

September 9th, 2022

Earlier this season, the Yankees were not only considered the World Series favorites, but they looked like they could break the all-time wins record (116 by the 1906 Cubs and 2001 Mariners). Now, New York is fighting to maintain its shrinking lead in the American League East.

The Yanks entered Thursday with a 19-26 record since the All-Star break, giving them a second-half winning percentage of .422.

Even if the Bronx Bombers do manage to right the ship and get to the postseason, history suggests they would be unlikely to go the distance and capture the franchise’s 28th World Series title, which is the ultimate goal for a club that hasn’t been able to break through with its current core.

Since the first All-Star Game in 1933, only 14 teams have reached the playoffs after posting a sub-.500 record in the second half. Five of these teams made it to the Fall Classic, while three won it all. No team has won a championship with a second-half winning percentage as low as these Yankees currently have.

Granted, none of these 14 teams were as good as the 2022 Yankees were before the All-Star break (.696 winning percentage), either, so if any team is positioned to buck this trend, it could be them. But history definitely isn’t on their side.

Here’s a breakdown of the 14 teams that have limped into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record after the All-Star break, listed in reverse chronological order, with a look at where each ultimately finished.

2017 Rockies: .493
Finish: Lost in NL Wild Card Game

The NL West had three of MLB’s five best teams in terms of winning percentage at the 2017 All-Star break, with the D-backs and Rockies in a close battle for second place behind the Dodgers. Colorado tailed off in the second half (35-36) but grabbed the second NL Wild Card spot by one game over Milwaukee before losing to Arizona in the NL Wild Card Game.

2016 Giants: .417
Finish: Lost in NLDS

After winning it all in 2010, 2012 and 2014, the Giants looked poised to continue their even-year success in 2016, but they went into a 30-42 tailspin after the All-Star break. San Francisco was able to capture the second NL Wild Card spot by one game and even reached the NLDS after Madison Bumgarner delivered a complete-game shutout at Citi Field in the NL Wild Card Game against the Mets, but the Giants met their match against the Cubs.

2014 Athletics: .433
Finish: Lost in AL Wild Card Game

Although they spent much of 2014 in first place and swung summer trades for Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Jon Lester and Adam Dunn, the A’s ended up finishing 10 games behind the Angels in the AL West after going 29-38 in the second half. Oakland clinched the second AL Wild Card spot on the final day of the regular season behind a complete-game shutout from Sonny Gray, but the club blew a four-run lead over the Royals in the AL Wild Card Game as Kansas City ran wild (seven stolen bases). The A’s still had a chance to win after taking a 7-6 lead in the top of the 12th, but the Royals came back again in the bottom of the frame and walked it off on Salvador Perez’s RBI single.

2006 Cardinals: .473
Finish: Won World Series

After going 105-57 in 2004 and 100-62 in 2005 but falling short of a World Series title both years, the Cardinals stumbled into the 2006 postseason with an 83-79 record (35-39 in the second half). However, St. Louis knocked off the 88-win Padres in the NLDS and the 97-win Mets in a seven-game thriller of an NLCS to clinch the pennant, then made quick work of the Tigers in the World Series to win its first title since 1982. No World Series champion has posted a worse overall record, and the same goes for their second-half record.

2006 Tigers: .486
Finish: Lost in World Series

Coming off 12 straight losing seasons, including a 119-loss campaign in 2003, the Tigers turned the tables on the rest of the league in 2006. Detroit began to fade after reaching a high-water mark of 40 games above .500 on Aug. 7, settling for a Wild Card berth with a 95-67 record (36-38 in the second half). However, the club got its mojo back in the postseason, reeling off seven straight wins against the Yankees and A’s to clinch the AL pennant before running out of gas in the World Series against the Cardinals.

2005 Padres: .466
Finish: Lost in NLDS

During a season in which four of the five NL West clubs finished under .500, the Padres won the division by five games despite going 34-39 after the All-Star break and 82-80 overall. San Diego’s pitching staff was overmatched in the NLDS against a 100-win Cardinals team, allowing St. Louis to score 21 runs en route to a three-game sweep.

1990 Reds: .494
Finish: Won World Series

The Reds led the NL West wire to wire, as they played .733 baseball over their first 45 games (33-12) and weathered a mediocre second half (41-42) to win the division. With help from the “Nasty Boys” bullpen trio of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers, Cincinnati got past the Pirates in the NLCS, then rode the right arm of Jose Rijo and a strong showing from its offense to a Fall Classic sweep over the defending World Series-champion A’s.

1987 Twins: .493
Finish: Won World Series

While the Twins had an up-and-down season in 1987 and actually finished the year with a negative run differential (-20), they took advantage of a weak AL West and won the division with an 85-77 record (36-37 second-half record), just the fifth-best overall mark in the AL. The Tigers had a 13-win advantage entering their ALCS matchup, but Minnesota put up 34 runs in a five-game drubbing of Detroit, then topped the Cardinals in seven games to win the first World Series championship in Twins history (second in franchise history). Thus, they became the first team to win a World Series after getting outscored in the regular season, as well as the first to go all the way after posting a sub-.500 second-half record.

1982 Braves: .487
Finish: Lost in NLCS

The 1982 Braves were characterized by their streakiness. After setting an AL/NL record with a 13-game undefeated run to start the year, Atlanta had a roller coaster of a second half. The Braves had a 38-40 record after the break, and their final 64 games went as follows:

  • 2-19 from July 30 through Aug. 18
  • 13-2 from Aug. 19 through Sept. 3
  • 6-12 from Sept. 4 through Sept. 22
  • 7-3 from Sept. 24 through Oct. 3

That last flourish was enough to give the Braves the NL West crown by one game over the Dodgers -- and Dale Murphy the edge in the NL MVP race -- but they were swept by the Cardinals in the NLCS.

1981 Yankees: .490
Finish: Lost in World Series

We can pin an asterisk on this one given the unique postseason structure in the 1981 strike-shortened season. Teams that were in first place when the strike commenced in June were granted an automatic playoff berth, so the Yankees (the first-half AL East winner) were already assured a spot when play resumed in August. After going 25-26 in the second half, New York eked out a win over the Brewers in the ALDS and swept the A’s in the ALCS to reach the World Series, where it lost to the Dodgers in six games. The Yanks wouldn’t make it to the Fall Classic again until 1996.

1981 Phillies: .481
Finish: Lost in NLDS

Like the Yankees in the AL East, the Phillies earned a postseason spot by virtue of their first-place standing in the NL East when the 1981 strike began, then played sub-.500 ball after play resumed. Philadelphia went 25-27 after the strike and lost an NLDS matchup against the Expos (the second-half NL East winner) in five games.

1979 Angels: .478
Finish: Lost in ALCS

Led by eventual AL MVP Don Baylor, future Hall of Famer Rod Carew and All-Star Bobby Grich, the Angels topped MLB in runs scored in 1979, but the team’s second-half struggles on the mound contributed to a 33-36 record. Fortunately for the Halos, the Rangers were unable to capitalize. Texas was two games behind the Angels at the All-Star break, but the club went 31-40 in the second half. The Angels won the division before falling to the Orioles in the ALCS.

1976 Royals: .488
Finish: Lost in ALCS

Kansas City built a big enough lead in the AL West that it was able to withstand a 39-41 second half -- including a 12-22 finish -- to reach the postseason. The Royals won the division by 2 1/2 games and moved on to face the Yankees in the ALCS, where they lost in five games, marking the first of three consecutive ALCS defeats at the hands of the Bronx Bombers.

1971 Giants: .486
Finish: Lost in NLCS

In Willie Mays’ final full season with the team, the Giants jumped out to an MLB-best 37-14 start before hitting the skids. San Francisco played .477 ball from June 1 through the end of the regular season (35-37 second-half record) and nearly let what was once a 10 1/2-game division lead slip away. After winning the NL West by a game, the Giants fell to the Pirates three games to one in the NLCS.