As I write this, the Red Sox are two games into the World Series, which is awesome. What’s even more awesome is that this comes on the heels of one of the worst seasons in franchise history. It’s almost as though 2012 never happened.
While it seems so distant given the disaster that was last year, it wasn’t at all long ago that the Red Sox were really, really good. Between 2002 and 2011, they won 90 or more games eight times, went to the postseason six times and (of course) won it all in ’04 and ’07. For that matter, they were pretty good for several before that stretch; the last time the Sox had had a losing season was all the way back in 1997. Even given how badly 2011 ended, that was still a 90-win season.
Their 69-win campaign in 2012 was a collapse of epic proportions.
It was so epic, in fact, that I’m given to wonder how other teams in similar situations have done. As best I can tell, there were 15 teams in the last 25 seasons that suffered implosions at least somewhat comparable to Boston’s last year. How did they happen, and what happened afterward?
Let’s take a look.
Right off the bat, I’ll acknowledge that I don’t mind what the second wild card has given us in the AL. Just one win separated three different teams. The team with the most wins gets a significant advantage, the other two play a tie-breaker. If the Rays win tonight and make it to the ALDS, no one will be able to say they didn’t earn it.
The NL is a whole different story.
This past Friday, the Pirates led the Reds by one game going into the final weekend of the season. Now, one game isn’t a huge lead, but it’s a lead nevertheless. The Pirates and Reds played in the same division, which means they faced almost exactly the same opposition. In head-to-head play, they were 8-8. That’s about as close as two teams can get without actually being tied, but the fact remains that the Pirates were just a little bit better.
In that final series, the Pirates won all three games. It didn’t matter, of course. Even though they were playing the same team that they were going to face in the Wild Card playoff, the Pirates could do no more than secure home-field advantage in that one game. In particular, the last game of the series was completely, totally, utterly meaningless.*
*Yes, I realize that many teams play a meaningless game 162 every year. What bothers me is that the Pirates played a meaningless game 162 against the same exact team that they’d play in a very very meaningful Wild Card game two days later.
They finished the season at 94-68, well ahead of the Reds at 90-72. In fact, the Pirates had a better record than the NL West champion Dodgers, at 92-70.
Nevertheless, the Reds have a shot to knock the Pirates off with a single win in the Wild Card game. According to MLB, victory in that one game trumps a four-game advantage over the entire regular season.
It makes for exciting baseball, sure. Still, if the Pirates’ run this year comes to an end because they lose one game to a clearly inferior (by record) Reds team, a team that they just swept in Cincinnati, I won’t be happy.
Get rid of the second Wild Card already.