Underachieving At Memorial Day, These Days A Team Still Can Contend
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Besides being the solemn reminder about those who fought in various wars, Memorial Day is also the first of the three so-called mileposts in the marathon of the 162-game baseball season.

Over the years its meaning is evolving as the playoff format is evolving. Until 1969 if you were middling around Memorial Day, it meant a pennant was unlikely. Then with the advent of divisional play, hovering around .500 gave you a chance depending on the quality of the division with the first notable example being the 1969 Mets.

In 1969, the Mets were 18-22 at Memorial Day, then went 82-38 the rest of the way to win the division by eight games over the Cubs and eventually the World Series in five games over Baltimore. Four years later they were 20-21 at Memorial Day but that year only 82 wins were required, allowing the Mets to get a chance at knocking off the 99-win Reds.

The two divisional format lasted through 1993 and in the final few years of that system, some teams were able to go from middling at Memorial Day to division winners.

Among those teams were the 1987 Tigers, who went from 21-21 to a 98-win team who won the division by two games over the Blue Jays. A year after the Red Sox won the division after being two games over .500 and seven games out, the Blue Jays went from nine games under to edging the upstart Orioles for the 1989 AL East title.

Perhaps the most notable example in the last few years of the two division format are the Atlanta Braves. In 1991, they were 21-19 and only 2 1/2 games out before ultimately winning the NL West. In 1992 it seemed slightly more dire as the Braves were 20-26 and six games back. In 1993, they were six games over .500 and 4 1/2 games out but eventually they caught the Giants and won the division by one game on the last day of the season.

These days with the postseason expanded to 12 games, if you are middling it is possible your playoff hopes are not dashed. As of Monday night, every team in the National League was within five games of the third wild-card spot which gets a team an encounter with the third-best division winner.

Among those teams are the high payroll San Diego Padres, who looked the part of the dynamic team Friday in Yankee Stadium when Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis hit prodigious homers into the second deck. After those homers, the Padres dropped to 24-29 due to a variety of things such as not getting key hits, seeing Yu Darvish lose his command in the third inning and Tatis get picked off to end the sixth.

While the record is hardly anything to brag about it puts them in the same place as the Cincinnati Reds at 3 1/2 games out. One of the teams ahead of the Padres are the Mets, whose offseason hype has not quite kicked in due to a combination of injuries and inconsistent performances driving their fans to occasional bouts of insanity. The Mets reached the one-third mark at 27-27 but one game out of the last wild-card spot.

Last year at this point the Phillies were 21-28 and days away from firing Joe Girardi. A little over four months later, they were celebrating their first NL pennant since 2009. To a lesser extent, the Mariners were 20-28 but wound up making the postseason for the first time since 2001, ending the longest drought in baseball.

In the 162-game years with only the wild-card game adding two extra teams from 2012-2021 it happened with the Nationals in 2019 when they went from 22-32 at Memorial Day to World Series champions. Another example is the 2015 Blue Jays, who went from 21-26 to hovering around .500 at the deadline and eventually beating the Yankees by eight games for their first AL East title.

There are others such as the 2013 Dodgers, a team who was 21-28 at this point and then won the first of 10 division titles. Another is the 2007 Yankees, a team that was ravaged by pitching injuries and 21-28 at this point and then got hot in the second half to win the wild card before ending the Joe Torre era with a four-game loss to Cleveland in the ALDS.

The ideal way is not to fall too far under .500 though being 18-32 did not deter the Astros from storming back and getting to their first World Series in 2005.

With more opportunities unless your team is as dreadful as the Oakland Athletics at 11-45 or the Kansas City Royals at 17-38 being middling at this point can be reversed just enough.

And for those teams not currently in wild card position you can point to the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers as inspiration. Since both teams barely got into the playoffs and now will be competing for champions.

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