First place on June 1 bodes well
Standing at the top at the end of May is a good omen
In the six-month calendar known as the Major League Baseball season, June has occasionally been known for its swoons, which can explain why a headlining team on May 31 can fall out of contention before the All-Star Game even arrives.
Yes, June 1 is usually a significant date in the 162-game grind that leads to the glory of October, with roughly one-third of the regular-season schedule complete (56 games, or 34 percent in previous years, for many teams). And by reading into the recent history of teams' records on the first day of the third month of the season, some predictions can be made.
Of the 89 teams that have had outright or shared leads of divisions since 1995, the first season that featured six divisions and a postseason, 59 of those teams have qualified for the playoffs, or 66.3 percent.
Going season by season, the only years since '95 in which every June 1 division winner made it to October were 1998 and 1999, and the '99 Red Sox had to do it via the Wild Card. But otherwise, 2001 was the only year in which fewer than half (two of six, or 33 percent) of the June 1 division leaders made it to the playoffs.
Last year, five of the six June 1 leaders made it, with the late-surging Phillies riding their September momentum all the way to their first World Series trophy since 1980.
So what does all this mean for the June 1 division leaders of 2009 -- the New York Yankees (American League East), Detroit Tigers (AL Central), Texas Rangers (AL West), Philadelphia Phillies (National League East), Milwaukee Brewers (NL Central) and Los Angeles Dodgers (NL West)?
In first on June 1st
|A look at teams in first place on June 1, with records, since the start of the Wild Card era in 1995 and whether they reached the postseason. Teams in bold went on to the playoffs that year.|
|2009||N.Y. 29-21||Detroit 28-21||Texas |
|Phila. 28-20||Milw. 30-20||L.A. |
|2008||T.B. 35-22||Chicago 30- 27||L.A. |
|Phila. 33-25||Chicago 36-21||Arizona |
|2007||Boston 36-17||Clev. |
|N.Y. 34-19||Milw. 31-24||L.A./Ariz. 32-22/33- 23|
|2006||Boston 31-20||Detroit 36- 18||Texas |
|N.Y. 32-20||St. L. 34-19||Arizona 31-22|
|2005||Balt. 32-20||Chicago 35- 18||Tex./L.A. 30-21/31-22||Atlanta 29-23||St. L. 34-18||San Diego 33-20|
|2004||N.Y. 31-19||Chicago 29- 21||Anaheim 31-20||Florida 30-22||Cinc. |
|L.A./S.D. 27- 23/28-24|
|2003||N.Y. 33-23||Minn. |
|Atlanta 37-19||Chicago 30-25||S.F. |
|2002||Boston 36-16||Minn. 32-24||Seattle |
|Atlanta 31-25||Cinc. |
|2001||Boston 30-22||Minn. 31-22||Seattle |
|Phila. 35-18||Chicago 32-20||Arizona 32-22|
|2000||Boston 29-20||Chicago 30- 22||Sea/Tex 26-24/27-25||Atlanta 35-17||St. L. 30-23||Arizona 34-19|
|1999||Boston 32-19||Clev. |
|Atlanta 32-20||Houston 30-20||Arizona |
|1998||N.Y. 38-13||Clev. |
|Atlanta 40-18||Houston 33-22||San Diego |
|1997||Balt. 36-15||Clev. |
|Atlanta 37-17||Pitt. |
|1996||N.Y. 30-21||Clev. |
|Atlanta 35-18||Houston 27-29||San Diego |
|1995||Boston 20-11||Clev. |
|Phila. 24-9||Cin./Chi. 20-12||S.F. |
Not a whole lot, of course, because this is baseball, where anything can and often does happen.
But that doesn't mean it's not a whole lot of fun to check out the numbers anyway and wonder what might happen down the stretch. Let's read the tea leaves, team by team, as of June 1:
New York Yankees: The Yankees haven't won the AL East in two years and didn't even make the playoffs last year, the first time that happened in a postseason year since 1993. But the lavish offseason overhaul is paying off. The team won 14 of its last 18 prior to June 1, won again on the first day of the month, and clings to a division lead over the archrival Red Sox. Looking to history for clues, since 1995 the Yankees have won the division all four times (1996, 1998, 2003, 2004) they've led on June 1 and six other times they haven't (1999-2002, 2005-2006). Throw in three Wild Cards (1995, 1997, 2007) and you're talking about one dominant team in the last 14 years and a good bet to make it there in 2009.
Detroit Tigers: The much-ballyhooed 2008 Tigers were six games back on June 1 and never recovered, sinking in the standings in a roundly disappointing year. But they're back this year thanks to a revamped pitching staff that includes rookie phenom Rick Porcello, hard-throwing and emerging right-hander Edwin Jackson and Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander. The only time since 1995 that the Tigers had the division lead on the first day of June was 2006. They still lost the division to Minnesota, but they regrouped via the Wild Card and made it all the way to the World Series.
Texas Rangers: Twenty wins in May got this team a franchise victory record for that month and a tag as one of the most surprising teams in the Majors this season. The Rangers are finally pitching enough to support their monstrous offense, and it could add up to their first postseason berth in 10 years if everything keeps falling into place. To do it, however, they'll have to buck more history than any other team on this list. Sure, the Rangers were playoff-bound June 1 division leaders in 1996, 1998 and 1999, but they also held at least a share of the AL West's top spot on the first day in June in 1997, 2000, 2005 and 2006 and didn't hold on come October.
Philadelphia Phillies: Nobody's closed ground in the late months of the season better than this club over the last two seasons. Just ask the New York Mets. And while some of those magical pieces from 2008 haven't quite materialized yet this season -- it turns out Brad Lidge really is a mortal closer, after all -- the Phils are right there where they want to be. In fact, they're the only team that was in first place last June 1 and is back in the driver's seat a year later. And after missing the postseason the two other times they led the NL East on June 1 (ultimately succumbing to the Atlanta juggernaut in 1995 and 2001), they finally got it done last year. That just might be one more good omen for all the phanatics out there.
Milwaukee Brewers: They've got a new manager (Ken Macha), a new ace (Yovani Gallardo), and, as of June 1, a tight little lead on their division. What they don't have is much history being in this position at this time of the season. They led the NL Central on June 1, 2007, but faded down the stretch as the Chicago Cubs took over. But the Brewers rode CC Sabathia all the way to their October Wild Card surprise last year and now get to watch Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart continue to mature and mash the ball all over Miller Park.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers have the best record in the game by quite a bit so far this year and are now doing it without suspended slugger Manny Ramirez, which makes their post-All-Star-break prospects downright scary. They've been getting enough pitching to stay in games long enough for their young, potent offense to take over, and now Opening Day starter Hiroki Kuroda is back. Since 1995, the Dodgers have been spotty with the June 1 milestone. They led the division on June 1, 2004, and went on to win it, but they shared the lead with Arizona on the first day of June in 2007 and lost it to the D-backs. Then again, they didn't lead the division on June 1 in 1995, 2006 and last year but went on to win it all three times anyway.
An aside: Of the four Wild Card teams to win the World Series, two held Wild Cards leads on June 1: the 1997 Marlins and the 2004 Red Sox. The 2002 Angels were second in the AL West and second in the Wild Card race. The 2003 Marlins were in fifth place in the NL East.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.