Best second-half MLB teams of wild-card era

Whether it comes as a strong finish to an already dominant season or an amazing comeback, or it’s a newly emerged contender coming out of nowhere, there have been some remarkable finishes in the recent history of Major League Baseball. The wild-card era has ushered in far more opportunity for the postseason than ever before but also has raised the stakes within the pursuit.

With 2019’s pennant chase preparing to take shape, let’s take a look back some of the great finishes of baseball’s modern postseason era. 1 of 20

Seattle Mariners, 1995

After owning a 34-35 record at the All-Star break, the ’95 Mariners went from last to first place in the season’s second half. Ken Griffey Jr returned from a two-month absence to hit 10 home runs over the final two months, Edgar Martinez won the AL batting title and Randy Johnson won his first Cy Young Award. The Mariners bested the California Angels in a tie-breaker game to claim their first division title in franchise history. They reached the AL Championship Series, led by a legendary performance by Martinez against the Yankees in the ALDS. Seattle lost to Cleveland in the ALCS. 2 of 20

Chicago Cubs, 1998

While the summer of ’98 is best known for the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, it also is known for a tight NL playoff race. Sosa’s Cubs were one of the hottest teams in the game in the middle of the year before cooling off late. Meanwhile, Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants won nine of their last 12 games to catch the Cubs. The teams squared off in one-game playoff in which Bonds nearly hit a ninth-inning grand slam amid a Giants rally that fell short. The Cubs hung on to win, and they reached the playoffs for the first time in nine years. 3 of 20

New York Yankees, 1998

Not all memorable second-half performances included airtight races to the finish. Take the case of one of the greatest teams of all time, the ’98 Yankees. They were dominant from start to finish, winning 20 games in three separate months en route to a record 114-win season. They won the AL East by 22 games, with a breakout season for a young Derek Jeter, who hit .324 with 203 hits. They finished the season 66 games over .500 and set a record for most wins in a season, 125, after sweeping the San Diego Padres in the World Series. 4 of 20

Cleveland Indians, 2001

Aided by Minnesota’s huge collapse, the 2001 Indians staged an incredible comeback to claim an AL Central title. After reaching the All-Star break 23 games over .500, the Twins dropped 15 of their first 20 second-half contests, losing their grip on the division in the process. Meanwhile, behind a 49-homer season from Jim Thome, after being five games back at the All-Star break, the Indians finished six games ahead to win a sixth AL Central title since 1995, going 9-3 against Minnesota in the second half. 5 of 20

Oakland Athletics, 2001

In the wild-card era, no team has had more second-half success than the 2001 A’s. They set a 162-game schedule record by going 63-18 over their final 81 games, which included an incredible 29-4 record over the season’s final month. Led by their hallowed three-ace rotation of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, along with a string of incredible starts from Cory Lidle, who went 11-2 after the break, the A’s set a record for most wins by a wild-card team with 102. It also was the most wins by a second-place club, but they still finished 14 games behind the record-setting 2001 Seattle Mariners.

6 of 20

Seattle Mariners, 2001

Led by an incredible jolt of energy from MVP/Rookie of the Year Ichiro Suzuki, the 2001 Seattle Mariners tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most regular-season wins in history with 116. The team never posted a double-digit loss total in any month and saved the best for last. From Sept. 1 through Oct. 7, they went 20-7, with a 4-3 loss on the season’s final day, costing them a chance to set the outright record for most wins in a season. 7 of 20

Oakland Athletics, 2002

For a second consecutive season, in 2002 Oakland channeled second-half magic, going 24-4 in August, a run that included the bulk of one of the greatest winning streaks in MLB history. Oakland went undefeated from Aug.13 to Sept. 4, embarking on an AL-record 20-game winning streak — which included walk-off wins during the final three victories of the streak. However, taking over the division outright required a second, shorter winning spree, when Oakland won nine of its final 11 games over divisional foes to win the AL West. It was a season that changed the way the sport is perceived and inspired the book and movie”‘Moneyball.” 8 of 20

Florida Marlins, 2003

The 2003 Marlins are the definition of a team that got hot at just the right time. After losing eight of their final nine games in August, Florida entered the final month 13 games back in the NL East and barely in control of a wild-card spot. However, its “team of destiny” run — which included an NLCS victory aided by the “Bartman Game” vs. the Cubs and a stunning upset of the New York Yankees in the World Series — got underway quickly in September. Jack McKeon’s club went 10-2 to start the month and won seven of its last nine to claim the NL wild-card spot. 9 of 20

Minnesota Twins, 2006

In 2006, the Twins pulled off the biggest second-half comeback of the last quarter century, erasing an 11-game deficit in the process. With Johan Santana embarking on a 13-0 second half en route to claiming AL Cy Young Award honors, Justin Morneau capturing AL MVP and Joe Mauer being crowned as AL batting champion, the Twins went 49-27 in the second half. This allowed them to track down the Detroit Tigers, who had posted the game’s top record in the first half but stumbled south of .500 following the All-Star break. Ultimately the Twins won the AL Central on the final day of the season. 10 of 20

Colorado Rockies, 2007

On Sept. 15, Colorado was barely above .500 and 6.5 games back of the San Diego Padres. However, the Rockies soon turned the booster jets on, winning 13 of their final 14 games to incredibly reach 90 wins and force a one-game playoff for the NL wild-card spot. The game featured another incredible comeback, as the Rockies rallied from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the 13th inning, capped by Matt Holliday scoring a still-disputed run on a Jamey Carroll sacrifice fly to send the Rockies back to the postseason for the first time in six seasons.

By: Matt Whitener

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Yankees Shock Indians, Advance To ALCS To Face Houston

Written by Tom Verducci at SI.com

Playoff baseball today is to playoff baseball just three years ago as the iPhone is to a rotary phone. Among the early adopters, no team has mastered the modern game better than the New York Yankees.

Those traditionally quaint notions of playing small ball, bunting, hitting behind runners, stringing hits together and counting on starters to pitch deep into a postseason game are antiquated. Ever since a hotter, tighter version of the baseball appeared in the second half of the 2015 season, what wins now are home runs (a record number of which were hit this year) and relievers (who pitched a record number of innings with a record number of strikeouts).

The Yankees, who led the world in home runs and built the second-toughest bullpen to hit all-time, have figured out this equation. They displayed their firm grasp of the modern game yet again Wednesday night with a 5–2 win over Cleveland in ALDS Game 5, clinching a spot in the championship series against Houston.

Shortstop Didi Gregorius, who was such a lousy hitter when he arrived in New York in 2015 that he needed remedial hitting lessons, smashed two homers off tarnished Indians ace Corey Kluber to account for a 3–0 lead, and that was that. No need for rallies. Two swings were enough to win because relievers David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman faced 14 hitters while allowing no hits and only one ball to even leave the infield.

“Once I saw this team had like four closers,” said designated hitter Matt Holliday, “and really five with the emergence of Chad Green, I knew this was a team that can win the World Series.”

The poor, tortured Indians lost their sixth straight potential clincher, and 18th such game in their past 22 tries, starting with Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. On to a 70th year trying to win their next World Series. They went home having failed to hit a home run in Games 3 and 5 in their latest three-game postseason losing streak. Over the past two postseasons, teams are 6–30 when they don’t hit a home run, an 83% consignment to defeat.

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Yankees Dominated Indians, Force Game 5 of ALDS

Written by Mike Vaccaro at New York Post.com

The Sinatra sing-along had a little more juice this time around. The 27th out, a fastball that Tommy Kahnle whipped past Lonnie Chisenhall, was greeted with an extra dash of thunder. The walk back to the parking lot didn’t seem quite as melancholy; suddenly it seemed this might not be the last such walk of the season.

A funny thing happened these last two nights at Yankee Stadium. The Cleveland Indians, who had been virtually unbeatable, practically bulletproof, for more than a month, lost a layer or two of that confident veneer. The bats, among the noisiest in baseball, were quieted. The gloves sprang a few leaks.

The swagger that fueled them through all the winning? You had to squint to see any.

A funnier thing happened these last two nights at Yankee Stadium. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves after blowing a five-run lead in Game 2, the Yankees got after the Indians. Greg Bird clobbered the only ball that mattered Sunday. On Monday, they made Cleveland pay for every mistake — and there were plenty. And for a second straight night, they received a pitching performance to take your breath away.

Here’s the funniest thing that happened these last two nights at Yankee Stadium:

The Yankees, left for dead Saturday morning, are alive, and they are well, and they will take their chances at a win-or-be-gone Game 5 Wednesday night in Cleveland after this 7-3 victory that tied the American League Division Series at two games apiece.

“There’s a lot of confidence in that room right now,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “There’s a lot of guys who pick each other up and grind out at-bats, pitchers who make big pitches. It ought to be a lot of fun on Wednesday.”

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Yankees Steal Game Three From Indians, Don’t Get Swept

Written by Dan Martin at New York Post.com

Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have hit home runs at a record-setting pace since arriving in The Bronx.

In Sunday night’s season-extending, 1-0 win over the Indians in Game 3 of the ALDS, they kept the Yankees alive with their defense.
Judge saved a two-run home run by Francisco Lindor in the sixth inning to keep the game scoreless, which it remained until Greg Bird gave the Yankees the lead in the bottom of the seventh with a solo shot off Andrew Miller.

And Sanchez, criticized for his difficulty in preventing wild pitches, made several superb blocks behind the plate on Masahiro Tanaka splitters in the dirt with Jason Kipnis on third in the fourth inning.

But it was Judge’s play that really made the difference on a night he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk.

After Tanaka gave up a leadoff single to Roberto Perez in the sixth, he got Giovanny Urshela to fly out to right.

Lindor, whose sixth-inning grand slam at Progressive Field on Friday turned around Game 2 — a game the Indians went on to win in 13 innings — nearly went deep again.

He sent a Tanaka pitch deep to right. Judge went back, just in front of the wall, and at 6-foot-7, he had to jump only a few inches to get his glove above the fence, where he kept the ball in the park — and away from ball hawk Zack Hample, who famously caught Alex Rodriguez’s 3000th hit.

Tanaka twice doffed his cap in Judge’s direction after the play before Judge responded with a smile.

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Indians Shutout Yanks, Win Game One 4-0

Written by Dan Martin at New York Post.com

After Luis Severino bombed in Tuesday’s wild-card game, it figured there was no way Sonny Gray could be any worse.
Though Gray managed to make it out of the first inning of the Yankees’ 4-0 loss to the Indians in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday, he wasn’t much better.

Gray gave up three runs in just 3 ¹/₃ innings, walking four and surrendering a two-run homer to ex-Met Jay Bruce in his playoff debut with the Yankees.

“Jay Bruce is the guy that really hurt him,” Joe Girardi said. “Besides that, he pitched pretty well.”

That doesn’t do the Yankees much good.

And it hardly was the performance the Yankees were looking for when they traded three prospects to Oakland before the trade deadline to acquire the right-hander.

“It’s tough,” Gray said. “I put everyone on our side in a disadvantage. I put us in a hole we weren’t able to climb out of.”

Gray loaded the bases with no one out in the bottom of the second by allowing a double to Bruce and a single to Carlos Santana, then he hit Lonnie Chisenhall with a pitch.Gray was able to minimize the damage by getting Roberto Perez to hit into a double play that scored Bruce, then Giovanny Urshela flied to right to keep it 1-0.He retired the side in order in the third but found trouble again in the fourth.He walked Edwin Encarnacion to lead off the inning before Bruce hit a towering fly ball that reached the seats in right to give the Indians a 3-0 lead.

He left with two runners on, but Adam Warren prevented Gray’s outing from being even worse, getting the final two outs of the inning without allowing another run.

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Yankees Vs Indians Game One Preview

Written by Anthony Castrovince at MLB.com

In this brave new world in which the Indians — the team with the longest World Series championship drought of any in baseball — are the established postseason juggernaut and the Yankees — the team with more championships than any team in baseball — are the unexpected October entrant, an intriguing and attractive American League Division Series presented by Doosan awaits.

The Indians got to today’s Game 1 at Progressive Field pretty much as expected, living up to their promise and potential in the wake of last year’s crushing World Series Game 7 loss to the Cubs with an all-in effort that included the famous 22-game win streak and a not-so-random roll to the AL Central title. The Yankees, on the other hand, got here arguably ahead of schedule, largely on the back of an insane rookie season from Aaron Judge, whose huge home run helped seal an 8-4 AL Wild Card Game win over the Twins on Tuesday night.

Regardless of how they got here, what they bring us is a matchup of loaded lineups, bruising bullpens and a little personal history mixed in.

Maybe the midges from the 2007 ALDS between these two teams will even make an appearance for old time’s sake.

“It’s an exciting time,” Yankees starter Sonny Gray said. “It’s going to be an exciting game.”

With all due respect to Gray and the Tribe’s surprise Game 1 starter Trevor Bauer, it seems bullpens will be a clear key to this series. The Indians are so confident in the depth of their staff that they’ve opted to push AL Cy Young Award favorite Corey Kluber to Game 2. The expectation is that Bauer will essentially share the game with a deep Tribe ‘pen in which would-be starters Danny Salazar and Mike Clevinger and superb setup man — and former Yankee — Andrew Miller can shorten things up.

“We’re going to get to our bullpen if we have a lead,” manager Terry Francona said. Gray made his Yankees debut against the Indians in this building in August. The Yanks will also turn to former Tribe ace CC Sabathia in Game 2. But as the Yankees demonstrated in the wild Wild Card Game, in which starter Luis Severino recorded only one out and Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman combined to allow just one run the rest of the way, they can win even if they don’t get a strong performance from their starter.

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Cleveland Indians Win 22nd Straight Game. Longest Streak since 1916

Written by Paul Hoynes at Cleveland.com

The postseason can wait. This streak does not want to become a cold page in history.

This streak wants to live.

Jay Bruce made that so Thursday night as he scored Jose Ramirez from second base with a 10th-inning double to give the Indians a 3-2 victory over the Royals and extend their winning streak to 22 straight games. The Indians, who have not lost a game since Aug. 23, own the longest winning streak in 100 years and the longest — without a tie — in the modern era (since 1900).

Jose Ramirez started the rally with his 50th double of the season — a hustle effort that surprised Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain to leadoff the inning. Edwin Encarnacion walked before Bruce ended it with a double into the right-field corner off Brandon Maurer (2-2).

Cody Allen, who pitched a scoreless 10th, was the winner

The 10th inning was the final act of Thursday night’s game, but not the most important. Francisco Lindor, with his team down to its last strike in the ninth, revived the streak with a two-out, two-strike double off the left field wall to score Erik Gonzalez to tie the score and force extra innings.

Lindor, who drove in his 20th RBI of the streak, lined a 2-2 pitch from Kelvin Herrera off the wall as Gonzalez scored from first. The ball hit the top of Alex Gordon’s glove before rebounding into the field.

The Indians entered the game tied with the 1935 Cubs for the second-longest winning streak in the modern era. With the Cubs in the rear view mirror, only the 1916 New York Giants and their 26-game streak — segments of 14 and 12 wins wrapped around a tie — remain in front of the Indians.

The Royals took a 2-1 lead on Eric Hosmer’s opposite field double just inside the left field line with two out in the sixth. Hosmer hit a 2-0 pitch from Josh Tomlin that Abraham Almonte, shading Hosmer toward center field, almost caught with a sliding attempt after a long run.

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Indians Win 21 Straight Games. Will They Ever Lose?

Written by David Schoenfield at ESPN.com

When the Oakland A’s set the American League record with a 20-game winning streak in 2002, they did so in dramatic fashion. Wins 18, 19 and 20 were all walk-off victories, with No. 20 the famous Scott Hatteberg pinch-hit home run after the A’s had blown an 11-0 lead. A’s executive Billy Beane recently said he knew the streak was over at that point; the team was gassed.

The Cleveland Indians, on the other hand, look like they may never lose again. They beat the Tigers 5-3 on an overcast Wednesday afternoon in Cleveland for their 21st win in a row.

After the Tigers took the lead in the top of the first, the Indians immediately struck back when Jay Bruce hit a three-run homer with two outs, just clearing the fence in left-center. After the Tigers clawed back to 4-3, Roberto Perez iced the win with a home run in the seventh and Cody Allen closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth. Cleveland tied the 1935 Cubs at 21 straight, with only the 1916 New York Giants looming on the horizon at 26 straight wins.

It’s a remarkable, dominant stretch of baseball. The Indians have trailed just four innings in the 21 games, have needed just three one-run victories, and have obliterated their opponents on both sides of the ball with a plus-104 differential — that’s an average winning margin of 4.95 runs per game.

Some highlights from the streak:

MVP during the streak: This is a tough one. Jose Ramirez has hit .388 and slugged .910 thanks to eight home runs and nine doubles and has 16 RBIs. Francisco Lindor has hit .370 with nine home runs and 19 RBIs. Neither has made an error, and Ramirez’s ability to slide over from third base to second base with Jason Kipnis out has been vital.

Ramirez went 4-for-4 in a 2-1 win over the Yankees in Game 6 and had five extra-base hits in an 11-1 win over the Tigers in Game 11. Lindor had the go-ahead single in the ninth inning against the Tigers back in Game 8, had the leadoff home run in a 2-0 victory in Game 20, and had home runs in the sixth and seventh innings against the Orioles in Games 17 and 18 that turned one-run leads into two-run leads.

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Indians Keep Rolling, Reach 20 Straight Wins

Written by RJ Anderson at CBS Sports.com

The Cleveland Indians won their 20th consecutive game on Tuesday night, topping the Detroit Tigers by a 2-0 final (box score).

The Indians’ victory ties the 2002 Oakland Athletics for baseball’s longest winning streak in the past 50 years. Previously, the Indians had established a new franchise record.

  1. 2017 Indians: 20 wins and counting
  2. 2002 Athletics: 20 wins
  3. 1977 Royals: 16 wins
  4. 2001 Mariners: 15 wins
  5. 2000 Braves: 15 wins
  6. 1991 Twins: 15 wins

Cleveland’s win on Tuesday was due in large part to ace Corey Kluber. A legitimate Cy Young Award candidate, Kluber threw nine shutout innings, during which he struck out eight batters. He yielded just five hits, and did not permit a walk. Offensively, the Indians were led by shortstop Francisco Lindor, who homered for the 30th time this season. Second baseman Jose Ramirez also contributed two hits of his own.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Indians will complete their three-game series with the Tigers. Mike Clevinger is expected to face Buck Farmer. On paper, the Indians are well-positioned to win their 21st in a row.
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Indians Win 19th Straight Games, Second Longest Streak in Last 50 Years

Written by R.J. Anderson at CBS Sports.com

The Cleveland Indians won their 19th consecutive game on Monday night, as they defeated the Detroit Tigers by a 11-0 final score.

The Indians are now a victory away from tying the 2003 Oakland Athletics for the longest winning streak in the past 50 years. Previously, the Indians had set a new franchise record for the longest winning streak.

  1. 2002 Athletics: 20 wins
  2. 2017 Indians: 19 wins and counting
  3. 1977 Royals: 16 wins
  4. 2001 Mariners: 15 wins
  5. 2000 Braves: 15 wins
  6. 1991 Twins: 15 wins

     

     

    Cleveland’s latest W was, by and large, a total team effort. Carlos Carrasco threw six shutout innings, allowing eight baserunners but striking out nine batters. Offensively, the Indians were paced by Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez (who left the game due to precautionary reasons), as they combined for seven runs batted in.

     

    Come Tuesday, the Indians will try to tie history. Ace Corey Kluber will square off versus Matthew Boyd. That’s a mighty big mismatch on paper: Kluber has allowed fewer hits, runs, and walks than Boyd this season — all while pitching 66 more innings.

     

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