If you’re the manager of the Diamondbacks, Nationals, etc., you might want to remind your players of baseball’s recent history. Hint: it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Tom Boswell of The Washington Post has an excellent column about baseball’s recent September surprises. He’s reminding his hometown team that it’s important to play the season out because you just never know.

Here are some highlights:

  • In just the past two years, six teams have imploded to lose division titles or a playoff spot.
  • The Cardinals, Rays and A’s all seemed to be eliminated, but they played it out and were rewarded.
  • It’s sometimes easier to have a we’ve-got-to-win-every-game mentality than to simply be trying to keep what they already appear to have.

There are extreme examples: the 2011 Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of the Wild Card on August 25th, but won the World Series. That year, the Rays were nine games out on September 2, but clinched a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season.

Both teams needed help. Had the Red Sox not finished 7-20, it wouldn’t have mattered that the Rays went 17-8 down the stretch. Likewise, the Braves opened the door for the Cardinals by losing 16 of their final 23. But the Cardinals did their part with a 16-5 finish.

The 2012 White Sox spent 126 days in first place in the American League Central. But they couldn’t close the deal, losing 11 of their final 15 to escort the Tigers to the postseason. The Tigers were given an opportunity and took advantage with a 15-7 finish.

In fact, two of the three American League’s first-place teams on September 1st last season—Texas and Chicago—ended up finishing second. The White Sox missed the playoffs entirely. The Rangers didn’t get out of the Wild Card game despite spending 186 days in first place and leading the AL West by 6 1/2 games on August 12th.

The A’s didn’t give up on last season either even when they trailed the Rangers by five games with nine to play. They had the lead down to two when the two teams finished the regular season with a three-game series at the Coliseum. In other words, the Rangers needed to win once to clinch the AL West.

The A’s won the opener 4-3. Lead down to one. Okay, no big deal.

Only thing is, you could see it coming from miles away. Baseball is the weirdest of sports. Teams can reel off five- and six-game winning streaks all season long. But when the finish line is near, when the heat is on, sometimes the simplest things become impossible.

If you’d been around awhile, you knew the only thing that was going to save the Rangers was for one player to step up. In the first round of the playoffs, that one player was Justin Verlander rescuing a series against the very same A’s.

Who stepped up for the Rangers? No one did. Oakland’s Travis Blackley beat the Rangers in the second game. Tie division.

On the final day of the regular season, Rangers starter Ryan Dempster couldn’t hold a four-run lead, Josh Hamilton dropped a fly ball and the A’s won 12-5 and staged a wild clubhouse celebration. The Rangers limped back to Texas and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Orioles.

The Nationals are 2-0 in a stretch of 19 straight games against the Marlins, Mets and Phillies. An offense that averaged just 3.4 runs per game in the first 114 games has scored 5.3 per game as the Nationals have won 13 of 18. Finally, they look like the team we all thought they’d be. The Reds play 15 of their final 28 against teams with losing record. But they’ve got six of their final nine against the Pirates, and those games could be critical.

The Nationals trail the Reds by seven games for the second Wild Card, and while that’s a large number, it was 9 1/2 games a week ago. They’ve at least chipped away. They have little margin for error, but they also might be able to create a little excitement in a season that has been hugely disappointing.

The Diamondbacks are just six out. Problem is, unlike the Nationals, Arizona is showing no signs of getting hot. That’s why these next 10 games—seven against the Giants, three against the Blue Jays—are hugely important. If the D-backs are going to make a run this is the time.

As for looking ahead at their schedule, they shouldn’t. They’ve dug themselves too much of a hole to worry about tomorrow or next week. Never mind those seven games against the Dodgers. Besides, if they can creep closer during these 10 games against the Giants and Blue Jays, they’ll start to feel the possibilities.

They certainly don’t want to fast forward to the bottom of the schedule because it’s absolutely too delicious to even consider. If they get to the final weekend, they may be able to take care of business themselves with three home games against the—wait for it—Nationals.


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