MLB standings: Can your team still win the division?

Sports Stats ‘on Tapp’ is a sports statistics blog published daily focusing on stats that go beyond the numbers.

Gulf Coast League Twins

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How well is your team doing in the MLB standings?

Well, it’s June 1… the first two months of the season are in the books and each team has about 110 games remaining of their long, 162-game schedule. There are some surprises atop the standings. In the A.L. East, the Baltimore Orioles were picked by many to finish last in the division, but they are currently tied with Tampa Bay for the top spot. The White Sox have a 1.5 game lead in the A.L. Central, and the Texas Rangers have a comfortable 5.5 game lead in the West.

Over in the National League, the Washington Nationals are the surprise leader of the N.L. East, holding a half-game advantage over Miami. The Cincinnati Reds are leading the N.L. Central by 1.5 games, and the Dodgers, even though they were recently swept at home in a four-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers, have a 5.5 game lead in the West.

What does all this mean? Does being in first place in the division on June 1 carry much weight when it comes to winning the title at the end of the season.

Major League Baseball went to a three-division format in 1995. In the 17 seasons since that change, there have been 102 division winners (17 seasons times six divisions). Of those 102 division-winners, 65 (63.7 percent) were leading their division (or were tied for the division lead) on June 1 of that year.

This season there are 17 teams that are leading their division or are within three games of the lead. Since 1995, 83 of the 102 division-winners (81.4 percent)either were in first place or were three games or less out of first in their division on June 1.

Since 1995, only nine teams won a division after being five games or more out of first place in their division race on June 1 of that year. The Minnesota Twins hold the distinction of winning the A.L. Central in 2006 after being 10.5 games out of first on June 1, 2006. That’s the largest deficit made up in the standings from June 1 in the past 17 seasons. The Twins are the only team to have a double-digit deficit (10 games or more) in the standings on June 1 to win a division title since ’95. This does not bode well for these 2012 teams, (Cubs, Rockies, Padres and Twins) who are each 10 or more games out of first in their division as of today. (Ironically, the Twins are 10.5 games out of first in the A.L. Central. Are they looking for a repeat of 2006?)

Following are the teams that won division titles since 1995 that were five games or more behind in the standings as of June 1 in their title season.

Games behind as of 6/1, Team, Year

10.5: Minnesota, 2006

9.0: Oakland, 2002

8.5: Philadelphia, 2007

8.0: Atlanta, 2001

7.0: San Francisco, 2000

6.5: Chicago Cubs, 2007

5.0: Detroit, 2011

5.0: Oakland, 2003

5.0: Houston, 2001

Note: Of the last 17 World Series champs (since 1995) five were not in first place in their division on June 1 of the year they won the title. The five: Atlanta, 1995 (3.5 games out of first on June 1); N.Y Yankees, 1999 (1.5 games out); N.Y. Yankees, 2000 (1.5 games out); Philadelphia, 2008 (0.5 games out); San Francisco, 2010 (3.5 games out).

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