10 Worst Late-Season Collapses of the Last Decade

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2016

10 Worst Late-Season Collapses of the Last Decade

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    The Boston Red Sox's 2011 implosion led to stories of their pitching drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games.
    The Boston Red Sox's 2011 implosion led to stories of their pitching drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games.Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    The San Francisco Giants are in danger of completing one of the worst late-season sports collapse in recent memory.

    When MLB pressed pause on the 2016 campaign, the Giants entered the All-Star break with the league's best record. After starting 57-33, they have since gone 27-42. Once poised to seize the National League West, they're now narrowly ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card hunt.

    If they can't salvage one of two spots in the NL Wild Card Game, their late meltdown will go down as one of the worst ever. Even if they do make the play-in game, they'll need to extend their pattern of even-year postseason success to erase the stench of their foul summer.

    The end remains unwritten, so it's too soon to admonish them for what could ultimately amount to an obstacle they overcome. Otherwise they will join these franchises who have unraveled down the stretch.

    Here's a look at some of the worst late-season blemishes from the past decade. 

2006-07 Minnesota Timberwolves

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves unraveled before trading Kevin Garnett in 2007.
    The Minnesota Timberwolves unraveled before trading Kevin Garnett in 2007.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Kevin Garnett led the Minnesota Timberwolves to eight consecutive playoff appearances, culminating in a trip to the Western Conference Finals after seven Round 1 eliminations. The wheels decayed over the next two seasons before falling off entirely in the 2006-07 campaign.

    In the middle of January, Minnesota brandished a 20-16 record behind the Big Ticket. Yet that wasn't enough to secure Dwane Casey's head-coaching job following a four-game losing streak. 

    The Randy Wittman era did not go well.

    Following the coaching change, Minnesota went 12-30, turning a solid start into a tie for the Western Conference's third-worst record. During the offseason, the franchise traded the disgruntled Garnett to the Boston Celtics, where he captured a title alongside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

    The face of the franchise left after 12 years, but Wittman stayed. The Wolves decomposed under his watch, going 22-60 the following season. After a 4-15 start in 2009, they finally fired him.

    They haven't made the playoffs since, but Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins should end the drought soon.

2007 New York Mets

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    Tom Glavine's disastrous final start cemented the New York Mets' 2007 collapse.
    Tom Glavine's disastrous final start cemented the New York Mets' 2007 collapse.Nick Laham/Getty Images

    After the Atlanta Braves ruled the National League East for 11 years, the New York Mets ended their reign of terror in 2006. Their stacked offense had designs on establishing a monopoly of their own.

    They started on the right path, exiting May with a 34-18 record. Despite playing sub-.500 baseball (40-42) for the next three months, they controlled the division after winning eight of nine to open September. On Sept. 12, they held a seven-game advantage over the Philadelphia Phillies.

    New York could have effectively ended the race that weekend, but Philadelphia instead carved down the deficit with a three-game sweep. Even after dropping five straight games, the Mets entered the final day tied following a gem from starting pitcher John Maine.

    In the season finale against the 91-loss Marlins, Hall of Famer Tom Glavine got demolished for seven runs during the opening inning. This culminated a disastrous month for the entire pitching staff, which relinquished 5.7 runs per game.

    The following year, they lost 10 of their final 17 games to again blow a late lead to Philadelphia. They didn't make the postseason until last year, but it'd take another late tumble to miss out on this year's NL Wild Card Game.

2007-08 Ottawa Senators

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    General manager Bryan Murray unsuccessfully appointed himself head coach of the flailing Ottawa Senators in 2008.
    General manager Bryan Murray unsuccessfully appointed himself head coach of the flailing Ottawa Senators in 2008.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Ottawa Senators had earned 10 consecutive playoff berths entering the 2007-08 season, and there was no reason to believe that streak was in peril. Although they narrowly made the cut with 94 points, a No. 7 seed provided little joy to a team which started 15-2. 

    Perhaps this is unfairly punishing them for an exceptional beginning. A 28-29-8 closing isn't horrific in a vacuum, but it's jarring for a perennial Stanley Cup contender who flaunted juggernaut upside early in the season.

    Desperate for answers, general manager Bryan Murray fired head coach John Paddock and appointed himself as the replacement. He could not guide them back on the proper course.

    Ottawa could have erased itself from infamy, but it instead got swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins during the opening round. The previously year, the Senators defeated them en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Including the swift playoff boot, they lost 11 of their final 14 matchups. It took 44 games before suffering their 11th regulation loss of a season which once contained so much potential.

2009 Denver Broncos

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    Kyle Orton's Denver Broncos went 8-8 in 2009 despite starting 6-0.
    Kyle Orton's Denver Broncos went 8-8 in 2009 despite starting 6-0.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Life without Jay Cutler initially started splendidly for the Denver Broncos, who opened the 2009 season 6-0 with Kyle Orton under center. Already more than halfway to compiling enough victories for a playoff ticket, they looked like a sure thing to snap a three-year playoff drought. 

    They then lost four straight games by a combined 80 points. Yet after everyone pressed the panic button, they regained stability with back-to-back wins. Nobody wants to get destroyed four times in a row, but the 8-4 Broncos remained in the driver's seat. Just don't lose four straight times again.

    They lost four straight times again. A couple of those contests were close, but they ended the season with a 44-24 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs, whom they dropped 44 points on four weeks earlier.

    The 13-3 San Diego Chargers ran away with the AFC West, but Denver could have salvaged a playoff bid in a season where both wild-card winners (New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens) went 9-7. Baltimore started the spiraling with a 30-7 rout.

    Two years later, the Broncos again concluded the season at 8-8 following a three-game losing streak. That time, however, they still won the AFC West with that college football analyst and baseball player at quarterback.

2009 New York Giants

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    The New York Giants imploded in 2009 after winning their first five games.
    The New York Giants imploded in 2009 after winning their first five games.Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Denver wasn't the only NFL team to fall off a cliff in 2009. The New York Giants had to like their chances when they exited Week 5 a perfect 5-0. They earned the fifth triumph by trouncing the Oakland Raiders, 44-7. 

    A year after wide receiver Plaxico Burress literally shot himself in the foot, the Giants figuratively did the same to their playoff hopes. 

    They also squandered their early lead with four straight loses. An early MVP candidate who amassed 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions through Week 5, the bad Eli Manning surfaced far too often over the final 11 contests. After the promising start, he tallied 17 passing touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

    Yet the defense is more to blame, allowing 32.4 points per game from Week 6 onward. They coughed up 40 or more points in five separate matchups, including twice to the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Unlike Denver, the 8-6 G-Men had no hope left in a season where both NFC wild-card winners (Eagles and Green Bay Packers) went 11-5. Yet they played with pride down the stretch ... Wait, they relinquished 85 combined points while scoring 16 in two embarrassing blowouts.

2010-11 Utah Jazz

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    In 2011, the Utah Jazz traded Deron Williams shortly after head coach Jerry Sloan resigned.
    In 2011, the Utah Jazz traded Deron Williams shortly after head coach Jerry Sloan resigned.Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    The Utah Jazz missing the playoffs is no longer a big deal. They have fallen short in each of the past four seasons, but they had notched four consecutive postseason bids entering 2010.

    They were well on their way to Jerry Sloan's 19th playoff appearance, starting 15-5 and residing at 27-14 midway through the season. Utah still stood in decent shape in early February, when Sloan resigned after spending 23 years as the franchise's head coach.

    Two years later, Jazz CEO Greg Miller gave credence to chatter of an uneasy relationship with point guard Deron Williams driving Sloan away,

    "I'm serious. I'm out of gas," Miller recalled Sloan telling him after a heated exchange with Williams, per Desert News' Jody Genessy. The team's star player had changed a called play on the court to the veteran coach's chagrin.

    Two weeks later, the Jazz traded Williams to the Nets, who were preparing for their move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. While a smart transaction for their future, it also torpedoed a once hopeful contender.

    The Jazz went 8-17 after the All-Star break, falling seven games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the Western Conference's No. 8 seed. They haven't won a playoff game since.

2011 Atlanta Braves

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    The Atlanta Braves fell apart at the end of Fredi Gonzalez's first season as manager.
    The Atlanta Braves fell apart at the end of Fredi Gonzalez's first season as manager.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Braves reached the playoffs 15 times in two decades under manager Bobby Cox. Yet the team had struggled over his final years, and he retired after 2010. 

    The 2011 season started smoothly under new skipper Fredi Gonzalez. They stormed into the All-Star break at 54-38. On Aug. 26, they held a 9.5-game lead for the National League's wild-card spot. (This was the year before MLB added a second one.)

    Per Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated, they boasted a 98.99 percent probability of making the playoffs. As long as they didn't go 8-17 with 3.2 runs per game in September, they'd commemorate a new era with yet another postseason opportunity.

    Except that's exactly what happened. Atlanta's offense vanished at the worst time, scoring seven times over the team's final five games, all losses. The Cardinals, who swept the Braves in a three-game September series, absconded the final playoff ticket. They made the most of their improbable entrance, winning a wild seven-game World Series over the Texas Rangers.

    With five games remaining, the Braves still held a three-game edge over the Red Birds. Yet some will argue it wasn't even MLB's worst September collapse of 2011.

2011 Boston Red Sox

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    The Boston Red Sox blew a 9,5-game lead for the American League's wild-card spot in September.
    The Boston Red Sox blew a 9,5-game lead for the American League's wild-card spot in September.G Fiume/Getty Images

    Most sports fans will remember the 2011 Boston Red Sox less from their September meltdown than the story that followed. 

    On Sept. 4, Boston held a 9.5-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the American League's wild-card spot. They squandered a seemingly insurmountable edge by losing 20 games over the final month. Per Jeremy Lundblad of ESPN.com, their starting rotation recorded a ghastly a 7.08 ERA, and the team didn't win consecutive games all month.

    There's no easy answer for how a top team can sharply fall off the rails, so everyone latched onto a damning report from The Boston Globe's Bob Hohler, who reported that Boston's starting pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey drank beer, ate fried chicken and played video games in the clubhouse during games.

    All three have also made huge postseason starts, and Lester and Lackey are currently key cogs for the Chicago Cubs. At the time, however, the story stuck as an indictment of laziness. 

    Let's also give credit to the Rays, who won six of their seven September meetings and capped off the incredible comeback with a five-game winning streak. In the final game against the New York Yankees, they erased a 7-0 deficit during the eighth and ninth innings before Evan Longoria's 12th-inning homer clinched a playoff berth.

    On the same night, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning. Fortunately for everyone involved, this happened shortly after the franchise broke its long title drought and two years before winning another World Series.

2014 Oakland Athletics

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    The Oakland Athletics mortgaged their future on winning in 2014, but they fell apart during the final two months.
    The Oakland Athletics mortgaged their future on winning in 2014, but they fell apart during the final two months.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Two years ago, the Oakland Athletics were dominating the way the Cubs are now. They entered the All-Star break with 59 victories and a plus-145 run differential. Only the Cubs and Red Sox have outscored the opposition more this season.

    Despite stumbling through the second half, their final plus-159 scoring margin still led the majors. Per Baseball-Reference.com, a team with such a rate is expected to win 99 games. Unfortunately for Oakland, it only accrued 88 victories.

    Because of the added wild-card spot, the A's salvaged a playoff bid despite their 29-38 record after the All-Star break. They entered the eighth inning sporting a 7-3 lead over the Kansas City Royals, who stole seven bases during a 9-8 comeback victory in extras.

    Making the shortcoming even tougher to swallow, general manager Billy Beane put all of his chips on the table for a title run. With a team poised for a playoff run, he loaded up on pitching by swapping outfielder Yoenis Cespedes for Lester, who allowed six runs in the Wild Card Game. Even worse for a small-market club, he gave the Cubs their top prospect, Addison Russell, in exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

    Both starters left in the offseason. Russell, a 22-year-old shortstop, has registered 22 home runs, a .748 OPS and 18 Defensive Runs Saves, per FanGraphs, during his second season. That high-risk gamble set the bar at title or bust, and Oakland slipped well below it.

2015 Atlanta Falcons

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    Following a 5-0 start, the Atlanta Falcons finished 8-8 last season.
    Following a 5-0 start, the Atlanta Falcons finished 8-8 last season.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Before banking on the Atlanta Falcons to maintain their early NFC South lead, remember how last year unfolded.

    With help from the entire NFC East, Atlanta opened 2015 with five straight wins. According to ESPN Stats and Information, 39 of 43 teams who started 5-0 since 1990 made the postseason. ESPN's Football Power Index gave the Falcons a 97 percent chance of reaching the playoffs after Week 4.

    They finished 8-8. Despite handing the Carolina Panthers their only loss in Week 16, they finished seven games behind them in the division standings. 

    Over those final 11 games, quarterback Matt Ryan threw 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. After winning three of those early games by six points or fewer, the Falcons dropped five games by four or fewer points.

    Ryan has led them to two straight road triumphs this September, but don't get too excited. Along with playing Carolina for the first of two meetings this weekend, they will face the Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Chiefs this season.

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