(Baseball StL) -- On June 15, the good news was that the St. Louis Cardinals were in first place and were arguably the best team in baseball. The bad news was that on June 15, the Cardinals were arguably the best team in baseball.
On June 30, the Cardinals had lost 6 of their last 8 games and have been passed by the red-hot Pittsburgh Pirates. The good news is the Cardinals are no longer the best team in baseball and no longer in first place.
What madness is this?
Well, the best team in baseball in June is almost never the best team in baseball all the way through the season and through October.
In fact, as with all sports, closing speed always seems to matter more than a hot start.
Examine history. In 2006, the Cardinals did not even belong in the playoffs, nudging out Houston for the Central Division title with a glorious 83-78 record.
The Cardinals were the tallest midget in the worst division in baseball. So pathetic was the central that combined, the teams finished 65 games UNDER .500. Yet incredibly, the Cardinals beat San Diego, New York and of course, the Detroit Tigers, who had won 95 games that year and steamrolled the Yankees and Oakland to roll into the World Series.
In 2011, the Birds had to go on an incredible late season run and then didn’t make the play-offs until the last day of the regular season, finally defeating a 96-win Rangers team after squeaking by the Phillies and the Brewers.
Only a couple of times in modern baseball has a team completely dominated the league from beginning to end. The 1984 Detroit Tigers did it, going 104-58 without ever being seriously challenged all year. They beat the Padres 4-1 in the Series to complete a nearly perfect season. The 1986 Mets finished 108-54 and won the World Series- though even they were down 3-2 to the Red Sox.
Historically, teams playing their best baseball later in the season tend to get stronger in the play-offs. Five teams entered the post season as a wild card and won the whole thing. They are:
1997 Florida Marlins
2002 Anaheim Angels
2003 Florida Marlins
2004 Boston Red Sox
2011 St. Louis Cardinals
In addition, 5 other wild card teams also made it to the World Series. In fact in the last 11 years, 9 teams in the World Series were wild cards, including 2002, when both the Angels and the Giants were.
Furthermore, the teams with the best records in the regular season frequently do not win the World Series. The 2001 Seattle Mariners went 116-46 and didn’t even make it out of the ALCS. The 1954 Cleveland Indians finished 111-43 and were considered one of the best teams of all-time, until they lost the World Series.
But the worst “bad beat” of all time goes to the team that finished 116-36 for a .763 winning percentage, the best in the history of baseball. In the World Series, they faced the Chicago White Sox, known that year as “The Hitless Wonders” for their team batting average of .230. Despite hitting just .198 in the Series, the White Sox prevailed in what is regarded as one of the greatest upsets in World Series history.
Oh, the team they beat?
The 1906 Chicago Cubs.