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.

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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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MLB manager hot seat rankings

With the MLB regular season now about one-third of the way finished, we have a clearer picture of where each team stands. Some managers are already looking over their shoulders as a result of poor team performance. The following gallery is a ranking of MLB manager job security from one (least secure) to 30 (most secure).

1. Dave Martinez, Nationals

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While the Nats allowed Bryce Harper to walk in free agency, they entered the season with high expectations after signing Patrick Corbin. The roster has its share of stars with Corbin, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon, yet the team was almost out of the playoff race entering June. Washington was also the most disappointing team of 2018, at 82-80, and fired pitching coach Derek Lilliquist in early May. Frankly, it’s surprising Martinez has lasted this long in his second year.

2. Mickey Callaway, Mets

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The Mets sideshow continues. Callaway’s team finished with 77 wins in his first season but seemingly went all in this offseason by adding Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos and also allowed rookie Pete Alonso to stick on the roster out of spring training, thereby losing a year of team control. Yet, New York was below .500 entering June, and the pitching staff (Callaway’s area of expertise) has been disappointing.

3. Don Mattingly, Marlins

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It’s hard to believe him, but Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has insisted he expects the Marlins to win now. Jeter and Mattingly go way back to their days with the Yankees, but if Jeter truly practices what he preaches, Mattingly could be on the chopping block. To the surprise of no one (except maybe Jeter), the Marlins were 21-36 through June 3 and in contention for the worst record in baseball.

4. David Bell, Reds

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On one hand, the Reds ranked fourth in run differential in the NL through June 1. On the other hand, they were in last place at 27-32 with a lineup that has been a massive disappointment. The Reds’ pitching additions have worked out for the most part, particularly Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark, but the team had much higher expectations in Bell’s first season. It would be surprising if Cincinnati fired Bell in his first year but not unprecedented.

5. Ned Yost, Royals

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Yost gets some leeway for leading the Royals to two World Series, but the organization’s last winning season was its World Series championship 2015 season. K.C. won only 58 games last year and is well on its way to another embarrassing finish. The hiring of former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny as a front office assistant opened some eyes, and he would make sense as a replacement if the Royals move on from Yost, whose contract expires after this season.

6. Joe Maddon, Cubs

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Maddon is in the last year of his contract with the Cubs, and the team has high expectations for 2019 despite making few offseason moves. While they have appeared in four straight playoffs, including their historic World Series win in 2016, their playoff success under Maddon has otherwise been fleeting. The NL Central has never been tougher during Maddon’s tenure than it is this season, but the team might decide to finally move on from him if it doesn’t go further in the playoffs this year.

7. Mike Shildt, Cardinals

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Shildt was the Cardinals savior last season, going 41-28 after the first-time manager was promoted following Mike Matheny’s firing. His start to this season has been more innocuous at 30-28, third place in the loaded NL Central. The Cardinals are desperate to make the playoffs after failing over the last three seasons and trading a significant package for Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason. Shildt can’t be faulted for the team’s starting pitching struggles, but ownership could make changes if the team disappoints again this year.

8. Brad Ausmus, Angels

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You’ve probably heard this one before, but the Angels have been plagued by multiple pitching injuries and have struggled to find hitters around Mike Trout this year. They had the same issue recently under Mike Scioscia, and Ausmus hasn’t been able to buck the trend despite being far more amenable to using openers and defensive shifts. Ausmus should get some slack, but it’s inexcusable for the team to not be competitive for so long. The Angels are at risk of finishing below .500 for the fourth straight season.

9. Clint Hurdle, Pirates

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The Pirates remain within striking distance in the NL Central, though winning the division doesn’t truly look realistic with Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams injured. Pittsburgh’s pitching staff has been far worse than expected as a result, and their negative-68 run differential through 58 games currently is the third-worst in the league. Hurdle has done a nice job considering the circumstances, but the team has finished above .500 only once in the last three years and could be in for a standings plunge if it doesn’t get healthy quickly.

10. Scott Servais, Mariners

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The M’s had a fire sale this offseason despite winning 89 games in 2018 but were able to get off to a hot start anyway. The Jay Bruce trade on June 2 likely was the first domino to fall in a continuing rebuild with the team standing 17 games out of first place. Servais hasn’t done anything wrong, but it remains to be seen whether the front office sees him as the right manager for what will soon become a younger roster.

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By: Seth Trachtman

How MLB players performed in first season after signing massive deals

Giancarlo Stanton: $325 million (2015)

The deal Stanton signed in November 2014 with the Marlins blew away the previous MLB high-water mark by more than $50 million; the 13-year contract also set a standard for length. The first year of the deal was a disappointment for Stanton, who was limited to only 74 games due to a broken bone in his right hand. At the time of the injury in June, he had 27 home runs, four that traveled more than 460 feet.

Alex Rodriguez, $252 and $272 million (2001, 2008)

A-Rod redefined the game’s financial high-water mark not once, but twice, the first time coming when he inked a $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers in 2001. In his first year in Arlington, Rodriguez led the American League with 52 home runs and 393 total bases. He also became the third player in history with 50 homers and 200 hits in a season. He made $20 million more on his second epic deal, this time with the Yankees in 2008. That season he hit 35 home runs, scored 104 runs and led the AL with a .573 slugging percentage.

Miguel Cabrera, $247 million (2014)

On the heels of his third consecutive batting title and second straight AL MVP, Cabrera was signed by the Tigers to a $247 million extension. Although 2014 would be the only year between 2011 and 2015 that Miggy would not top the AL in batting, he still managed to hit .313, drive in more than 100 runs for the seventh consecutive year for the Tigers and lead the league with 52 doubles.

Robinson Cano, $240 million (2014)

The Mariners shocked the baseball world with the deal for Cano’s services, reaching a level the Yankees refused to go for their All-Star second baseman. In Year 1 in the Pacific Northwest, Cano made his fifth consecutive All-Star team and finished fifth in AL MVP voting. However, he posted his lowest power numbers in seven years (14 HRs, 82 RBI) because of a gastrointestinal issue that plagued him late in the year.

Albert Pujols, $240 million (2012)

Angels owner Arte Moreno stunningly lured Pujols from St. Louis with the second-largest contract in MLB history at the time. Although Pujols hit 30 home runs and 50 doubles and drove in 105 runs for the Angels in 2012, his overall performance was well short of the lofty standards he set in St. Louis. He hit at least 40 HRs six times with the Cardinals.

Joey Votto, $225 million (2012)

With an NL MVP, Gold Glove and two on-base crowns already under his belt, the Reds made Votto the highest-paid player in franchise history in April 2012. He led the NL in walks (135) and on-base percentage (.474) and had a career-best .337 batting average. Votto’s torrid 2012 season was interrupted in mid-July because of a meniscus tear in his left knee. He missed 1 1/2 months.

David Price, $217 million (2016)

At the time of his signing, Price’s deal was the richest in history by a pitcher, earning him just under $1 million per start. Although he finished with 17 wins and led the AL in innings pitched with 230, his first year in Boston was an up-and-down affair. His first-half ERA was over 4.00, and he allowed the most hits in the AL that season. His postseason struggles continued as well — he allowed five runs over 3.1 innings in an ALCS defeat.

Clayton Kershaw, $214 million (2014)

Kershaw had arguably the greatest new-money season in MLB history in 2014. The Dodgers’ lefty went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA in a season that also included a 41-inning scoreless streak. He was a unanimous NL Cy Young Award winner and the first hurler named NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968.

Prince Fielder, $212 million (2012)

The Detroit Tigers surprisingly signed the slugging first baseman to a nine-year, $214 million deal. (In 2011, he carried Milwaukee to the NLCS.) In his first of two seasons in Detroit, Fielder hit a career-best .313. slugged  30 home runs, drove in 108 runs and scored 83. He also won his second All-Star Home Run Derby crown, joining Ken Griffey Jr. as the only player with multiple Derby crowns at the time.

Max Scherzer, $210 million (2015)

In his first NL season, Scherzer threw two no-hitters, becoming the sixth player to accomplish the feat twice in a season. At one point, the Nationals’ pitcher retired 52 consecutive batters. He led the league in complete games (4) and shutouts (3).

Full List

By: Matt Whitener