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Division and Wild Card leaders on September 1

It’s finally September. Although the regular season ends on October 3rd this year, there’s no question that this ninth month in the calendar will be crucial. The last full month before we know who’s going to make the playoffs and who’s going to be watching from home. We have followed all year long what it means to have a division head each month and there is no question that this is more important now than ever.

If your favorite team isn’t at the top now but still has postseason ambitions, they should find out soon or vying for a wild card spot.

Let’s take a look at what it means to finish first in a division or run for a wild card in September and what the playoff field might look like. Note that all of the following statistics exclude the shortened 2020 season and instead look at whole seasons for impact and postseason impact.

What it means to come first (or not to 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 – 114 of 144 future division champions have held at least a portion of their division leadership who ended on Jan. September entered. That’s 79 percent of the division winners.

There has not been a season since 1996 in which none of the division leaders who started in September won their divisions that year. In other words, history tells us that most of the six current leaders – the Rays, White Sox, Astros, Braves, Brewers, and Giants – will win the division. But not necessarily all.

How about the wild card? In the multiple wild card era (since 2012), there has only been one season where any team in the wild card position that entered in September was still in the wild card game at the end of the season. That was in 2017 when the Yankees, Twins, D-Backs, and Rockies did this.

For those with comebacks in mind, the Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the biggest league leader to go into the league in September for a team that didn’t win that division is 7 1/2 games from the 1995 Angels, which completely missed the playoffs when the Yankees won the wild card and the Mariners won the division that year.

Largest division leader in early September, never won a division (since 1969)

1995 Engel: 7 1/2
1978 Red Sox: 6 1/2
2006 Tiger: 4 1/2
1969 young: 4 1/2

For the Wild Card, according to Elias, the biggest lead in September for a team that didn’t win that spot was 8 1/2 in the 2011 Braves. The Cardinals came back from that deficit to win the Wild Card – and ended up winning everything too.

What about the possible World Series winners? Since 1996, 15 of the 24 World Series winners, again with the exception of 2020, led their divisions in September. But the youngest World Series winner in a full season, Nationals 2019, didn’t top their division either at the beginning of the month or at the end of the month, instead making it as a wild card.

The main focus here is on the current division leaders as well as the wild card leaders in the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Reds and Padres. But one team that is not currently in the postseason position is worth mentioning. The Mets entered August with a four-game division lead and are now 5 1/2 games behind the NL East-leading Braves.

This is the second largest league deficit in a calendar month for a team led by four or more games, according to Elias. Only the 1969 Cubs had a major deficit at the end of a calendar month they entered with such a lead, losing the NL East to the Mets in September, eventually trailing eight games. History and that black cat can return years later.

There is no more a lot Baseball to be played. The baseball that is left over will be among the top stakes. This is a full month and three days of major games. If your team is currently in the playoff position, there are many signs of optimism. And if your team isn’t, all you know is that we saw a lot of comebacks in September, all in all.


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