The biggest comebacks in the wild-card era

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Or, which teams are kidding themselves.

The Mariners are buying. They're 10 games back of the division, and 10½ back of the second wild card. Don't believe they're buyers? Neither do I. But there is evidence to the contrary, not just rumors.

Someone would want Raul Ibanez and his dingers, even though he's 58 and can't play the field. Someone would want Mike Morse. Someone would want Oliver Perez. But the Mariners are buying. Or at least, not selling. Let's ask Jack Zduriencik what he's thinking. Jack?

Jack Zduriencik: …

Brent Musburger (on TV): No balls and a strike to Martínez...Line drive, we are tied! Griffey is coming around! In the corner is Bernie. He's going to try to score! Here's the division championship! Mariners win it! Mariners win it!

Zduriencik: /rewinds

Brent Musburger (on TV): No balls and a strike to Martínez...Line drive, we are tied! Griffey is coming around! In the corner is Bernie. He's going to try to score! Here's the division championship! Mariners win it! Mariners win it!

Yes, yes, that really was exciting. And something to strive for! Just nothing to expect. And while it was unexpected for the Mariners to win the division in 1995 (they were 11 games back in the division at the July 31 trade deadline), they were certainly competing for a playoff spot for almost the entire season. When the trading deadline hit, the Mariners were just a game back of the wild card. They were a game under .500, but the wild-card leader was just a game over .500. The Mariners had about a 21-percent chance of making the playoffs at the deadline according to CoolStandings.com.

And that's what we're talking about, right? At the deadline? Let's go back through the Wild Card Era using CoolStandings.com and see which teams with the lowest playoff odds at the deadline eventually made the postseason each year.

1995 - Mariners, 0.8 percent chance to win division, 20.5 to make the playoffs
1996 - Orioles, 6.9 division, 16.1 playoffs
1997 - Giants, 22.9 division, 28.7 playoffs
1998 - Rangers, 38.0 division, 38.7 playoffs
1999 - Red Sox, 7.9 division, 39.7 playoffs

2000 - A's, 20.6 division, 51.5 playoffs
2001 - A's, 0.1 division, 30.6 playoffs
2002 - Angels, 38.4 division, 56.0 playoffs
2003 - Cubs, 10.7 division, 11.6 playoffs
2004 - Astros, 0.4 division, 7.4 playoffs

2005 - Yankees, 19.4 division, 29.5 playoffs
2006 - Dodgers, 6.6 division, 11.3 playoffs
2007 - Rockies, 16.5 division, 24.1 playoffs
2008 - Brewers, 9.3 division, 40.6 playoffs
2009 - Twins, 26.7 division, 27.4 playoffs

2010 - Phillies, 16.3 division, 24.2 playoffs
2011 - Rays, 0.2 division, 2.1 playoffs
2012 - Orioles, 3.0 division, 11.3 playoffs

Every team that's thinking about an A's-type run from 2012 should remember this oft-forgotten point: The A's were 3½ back in the AL West and leading for the second wild card at the deadline last year. They had already made their big charge.

No, the biggest comeback in the wild-card era according to Cool Standings came from the '11 Rays, who were 10½ back in the AL East and 8½ back in the wild-card chase. They went 35-20 to close out the season, and they needed help from the Red Sox.

Not every team can expect that pairing, of course. So let's look for the second-biggest vault into the playoffs according to Cool Standings. In 2004, the Houston Astros were 52-52. They were 14½ back in the NL Central and six behind the Padres for the wild card. They had a seven-percent chance of making the playoffs according to Cool Standings' "smart" odds (which take Pythagorean record and remaining strength of schedule into account) and a five-percent chance according to the "dumb" odds (calculated by assuming every team had a 50-percent chance of winning each game for the rest of the season).

It was one of the more impressive playoff surges in recent history. And, again, it was a seven-percent chance. Here are the teams right now with lower odds than the 2004 Astros had at the deadline:

Royals (7.0)
Angels (6.5)
Nationals (5.2)
Mets (3.8)
Giants (2.9)
Phillies (2.7)
Mariners (1.8)
Cubs (1.2)
Padres (1.2) Blue Jays (0.7)
Twins (0.3)
White Sox (< 0.1)
Marlins (< 0.1)
Brewers (< 0.1)
Astros (0.0)

So we'll slow it down and repeat this for everyone to understand:

If the Royals make the playoffs, it will be the second-biggest comeback in the wild-card era, which started in 1995.

If the Angels make the playoffs, it will be the second-biggest comeback in the wild-card era, which started in 1995.

If the Nationals make the playoffs, it will be the second-biggest comeback in the wild-card era, which started in 1995.

If the Phillies make the playoffs, it will be the second-biggest comeback in the wild-card era, which started in 1995.

If the Giants make the playoffs, it will be the second-biggest comeback in the wild-card era, which started in 1995.

If the Mariners make the playoffs, it will be the biggest comeback in the wild-card era, which started in 1995.

You can object to the math behind the odds. But the odds have done a pretty good job considering that baseball is usually drunk. For every team that makes an unlikely run, there are eight or nine that the odds nail.

The second wild card has made more teams think, "Well, maybe."

And that leads to things like Michael Young never, ever, ever, ever being available again for the rest of his life. Except the odds are against the Phillies. The odds are against a lot of teams, even if they don't know it. Or, rather, if they know it, but choose to ignore it.

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