If you can hear choking, weezy, coughing sounds from the east coast, there’s no need to fret, it’s just the New York Yankees blowing the American League East. On July 27, the Yankees beat their rival Boston Red Sox 10-3, extending their lead by a season-high 8.5 games. With their record at 60-39, the Yankees were a sure lock for the MLB playoffs, right?
Since that fateful day in July, the Yankees have gone 17-21 and are now tied with the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the East. According to playoff expectancy formula on Baseball Prospectus, the Yankees still have a 89.8% chance of making the playoffs, but those odds were 97% on September 1. Essentially, the Orioles got an inside-straight down on the turn, with a chance of breaking the Yankees hearts on the river.
Although the Yankees are gagging a bit, how would it rank histroically if they can’t receive the Heimlich? Let’s take a look at the ten worst September collapses in MLB history, with thanks from SI and Baseball Prospectus on the following percentages.
10. 1908 New York Giants (95.46)
John McGraw’s boys finished the season 98-56, so they didn’t really “choke” per say. But they could have prevented those pesky Cubs from winning back-to-back championships!
9. 2009 Detroit Tigers (96.04)
The 2009 Detroit Tigers were 75-61 on September 6, a full seven games up on the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central. With players like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, you would have thought they could have held off the pesky Twins; however, Detroit finished 11-15 and the Twins finished 19-8, losing in game #163.
8. 1964 Philadelphia Phillies (96.15)
Before there were three divisions and the wild card, baseball only had two teams make the playoffs in each league. Although the Phillies had rookie of the year Dick Allen, they imploded beyond comprehension. On September 17th, the Phillies were 89-58, 6.5 games up in the National League East. After that date, the Phillies finished 3-14, losing the division by one game.
7. 2005 Cleveland Indians (96.50)
The 2005 Indians were one of the most interesting teams in the history of baseball. First off, they were fifteen games back of the Chicago White Sox on July 25. With a record of 51-49, it’s safe to assume the Indians were finished. Two months later, the Indians were 92-63, leading the wild card comfortably and only trailing the White Sox by 1.5 games. One would think it’s a lock for a team who just went 41-12 in their previous 63 games could hold onto the wild card, but not the Indians. They dropped six of their next seven, allowing the defending champion Boston Red Sox to sneak into the wild card.
6. 2010 San Diego Padres (96.71)
On August 25, the Padres were 76-49, 6.5 games up in the National League West. All season pundits were saying the Padres were the perfect team to hold onto a division lead because their pitching staff wouldn’t allow a long losing streak. But from August 26-September 5, the Padres lost ten straight games, and that 6.5 game lead became only one. The Padres had a chance to tie the San Francisco Giants on the last day of the season, but got shutout by Jonathan Sanchez. As we all know, the Giants went on to win the World Series.
5. 1969 Chicago Cubs (97.90)
The Godfathers of choke – - the 1969 Chicago Cubs. This was the precedent for the choke job. All choke jobs are relative to this one. The Cubs were 75-44 on August 16, nine games up in the division. Then, like a boulder down a hill, everything went wrong for the Cubbies. This collapse is so bad, that the Cubs finished eight games out of the division. So in the matter of a month and half, the Cubs lost 17 games in the standings.
4. 2011 Atlanta Braves (98.99)
This is still fresh in our minds, yes? Entering September, the Braves had a huge lead on the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League wild card. But thanks to a 8-18 September, the Cardinals sneaked in the playoffs, winning the World Series in the process.
3. 2011 Boston Red Sox (99.78)
Fried chicken, beer, choke jobs, and a 7-19 record. The 2011 Red Sox took choking to a level only two teams have ever seen before.
2. 2007 New York Mets (99.8)
On September 12, the Mets were 83-62, seven games up on the Philadelphia Phillies. But then Mets things happened, such as a 5-12 record the rest of the month, losing the National League East by one game. What made the collapse even worse was the Mets blew the wild card lead as well, which is why their 99.8 playoff peak odds were what they were.
1. 1995 California Angels (99.99)
Using an analogy, the Angels had pocket aces and the Seattle Mariners had ace-jack. The flop was 2, 6, 9; ergo, the Mariners would have needed running jacks to win the hand. Well, the Mariners got those running jacks. I use that hand as an example because it actually happened to me. And even though those odds are about 99 to 1, it isn’t 99.99 to 1.
It should be noted the season started late due to the strike, so it wasn’t a full season. But the Angels were 11 games up on the Mariners on August 7, with a record of 58-36. Forty-nine games later, with a record of 20-29 in those games, the Angels lost 9-1 in a playoff game against Seattle, completing the worst collapse in the history of the game.
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