By Jason Wojciechowski on July 26, 2005 at 7:34 PM
Oakland is now the sole leader in the wild card chase, having smoked Cleveland last night while Minnesota was idle. It's exciting to be a fan of this team right now.
After 99 games last year, the A's were just one game better than their current record, but they were closer to second place, sitting a game and a half back of Texas, and two and a half up on the Angels. They were also tied for the wild card lead with Boston. With the exception of the AL West, the team that would eventually win each division was already in the lead, though Houston, which took the wild card in the NL, was five games back.
In 2003, the A's were 56-43, two games better than their current record. They were four games back of Seattle and trailed the wild-card-leading Red Sox by three contests. Three division winners, including the A's, were not commanding their respective divisions at this point: the Cubs were 4.5 games back and in third place; and the Twins were 5.5 back and also in third place; in addition, the Marlins, who eventually won the NL wild card, were four games back of that lead and in fourth place.
In 2002, the A's were 58-41, four games better than today, but they stood in third place, albeit just two games back of first (Seattle). They trailed wild-card leading Anaheim by just a game, though Boston was also ahead of them in that chase. In the other five divisions, the eventual winners were already in the lead. Two of those leads were commanding: Minnesota by 14 games and Atlanta by 12.5. The eventual AL wild card was Anaheim, who was leading that chase at this point (though the A's and Mariners swapped places around the Angels) while the Giants made their half-game lead over the Dodgers stand up, taking the extra playoff spot in teh NL. There were no close divisions nor even close wild-card chases at the end.
In 2001, the A's were 53-46, a game worse than they are now, and they were already 19 games back of Seattle in the West. They were also five games back of Cleveland, which was in a virtual tie for first place with Minnesota, in the wild card chase. Cleveland ended up winning their division while the A's outpaced the next-best second-place team by a whopping 17 games. Thus, in a space of 63 games, the A's gained 22 games in the wild card standings, which is simply astounding. Five of baseball's six divisions were lead (or tied, in the case of Cleveland and Minnesota) by the team that eventually went to the playoffs. Chicago, though, blew a lead of three games over Houston and seven and a half over St. Louis, as the latter two teams finished the season tied (St. Louis was awarded the wild card). St. Louis had been 6.5 games back of the wild card at that point in the season.
My point? There's a lot of baseball left to play. The A's lead the wild card, but it's not exactly a stranglehold, especially considering the quality of some of the teams chasing them (the Yankees could go on a crazy streak where they score 12 runs every day from here to the rest of the season; the Twins could have a team RA of about 2.3 from here on out; and Baltimore could get a new shipment of syringes for Sammy Sosa). On the other hand, a five game lead for the Angels isn't insurmountable, either. It would take continued hot play by the A's to make it up, but that's not out of the question. I don't think Anaheim is in for an epic collapse, but they're going to have to slow down a little bit if the A's want to catch them, because I don't think it's possible for them to play .833 ball from here on out.