Just how important is it for a playoff contender to finish the season with a hot September?
Does playing well during the final month on the schedule increase the chances that a team will make it to the World Series?
Current teams that might be interested to know include the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles, each of whom have 12 wins so far this September. Others hoping there's nothing to that theory could be the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, who are all near .500 for the month.
As you might expect, recent history suggests that it's beneficial to go into the playoffs playing well. A team that's sharp at the end of the regular season figures to also run smoothly in the postseason. Let's look at the last four World Series champions as an example.
The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals wouldn't have even qualified for the postseason, let alone gone on to win the World Series if not for a hot final month. At one point, the Cards were 10.5 games behind the Braves but won the NL Wild Card on the last day of the regular season thanks to an 18-8 record in September.
In 2010, the San Francisco Giants had to keep winning to keep pace with the San Diego Padres for the NL West title. From Sept. 10 to 26, the Giants and Padres traded first place in their division nearly every day. San Francisco finally took control of the division in the season's final week by winning five of its final seven games.
The Giants finished 18-8 in September, 19-10 if you include their last three regular season games in October.
The 2009 New York Yankees weren't locked in a duel for the AL East title. The Yanks entered September with a 6.5-game lead over the Boston Red Sox. But they put the division away with a 19-9 September that increased their first-place lead to 10.5 games.
Even by going 1-2 in their final three games at the beginning of October, the Yankees finished the season by going 20-11. They were 52-22 after the All-Star break.
Finally, we have the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies needed a strong September to overtake the New York Mets in the NL East. The Mets held first place in the division right up until Sept. 16 and even regained a half-game lead on Sept. 19.
But Philadelphia finally prevailed by winning six of its final eight games and winning the division by three games. The Phillies went 17-8 during September.
Playing 10 games over .500 in September isn't a prerequisite to winning the World Series. The 2007 Red Sox went 16-11 in the final month of the season. Perhaps most infamously, the 2006 Cardinals had a 12-16 record in September and went 35-39 after the All-Star break.
In looking back at the past 10 World Series champions, however, it's pretty clear that the teams who enter the playoffs on a hot streak tend to continue that success through the postseason to a World Series championship.
This bodes well for the Braves, Giants and Orioles, who have 12 wins thus far into September. (San Francisco actually got win No. 13 Thursday afternoon—Sept. 20— with a 9-2 win over the Colorado Rockies.)
With 12 to 13 games remaining for each of MLB's playoff contenders, there is still plenty of opportunity to put together the kind of September that tends to rocket a team toward October glory.
So even if teams like the Yankees, Reds, Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers, all of whom have a 10-7 record for the month as of Sept. 20, they could boost those records considerably with a successful run through the final two weeks of the season.
The team to really watch out for, if it makes the playoffs, could be the Milwaukee Brewers. Going into play on Thursday, the Brew Crew had a 13-4 record thus far in September.
With upcoming series against the Nationals and Reds, Milwaukee could run into a wall, slide down the NL wild-card standings and miss the playoffs. The rest of the postseason field could consider itself fortunate for that.
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