The Blue Jays suffered another stinging defeat Wednesday night in New York to fall to 9-19 on the young season. Once again, they find themselves ten games under .500 and in danger of being left for dead in the always competitive AL East.
With that in mind, I wanted to look at MLB history and see how many teams fell double digit games under .500 and still made the post season. This is useful because it captures all the ships that sailed through the general waters the Blue Jays are in right now and made it back to shore alive, even if they didn’t all necessarily pass over the exact same coordinates along the way (the exact 9-19 record they have now for instance).
The list consists of the following ten teams in chronological order with half of them coming in the Wild Card era:
The 1914 Boston Braves
Most games under .500: 16 (12-28 record)
Final Record: 94-59
More than a century has passed since this team staged its dramatic reversal of fortune, but they still hold the MLB record for being the furthest under .500 and bouncing back to make the playoffs. However, what might be even more impressive than coming back from 16 games under .500 is the fact that this team was still 14 games under .500 on July 4 (26-40). From there the Braves went a staggering 68-19 on their way to their first World Series, which they swept in four games.
This was also done during a time where there were no playoff games before the World Series. So the Braves had to overtake the entire National League to go from 14 games under .500 in July to the top of the baseball world in October. This is still the gold standard in terms of how far you can fall into a hole and still hang a championship banner at the end of a season.
The 1951 New York Giants
Most games under .500: 10 (2-12 record)
Final Record: 98-59
This team started their season 2-12, just like this year’s Blue Jays. From there they played well enough to get to 59-51 on August 12, but still found themselves 13 games behind the division leading Dodgers. That’s when they went historical and closed the season with a 39-8 stretch over their last 47 games, capped by the legendary Bobby Thomson home run.
The 1973 New York Mets
Most games under .500: 13 (53-66 record)
Final Record: 82-79
Here’s the example on this list that probably doesn’t help most sub .500 clubs. While they did close the season on a 24-9 run, their division title had more to do with the National League East being so terrible in 1973 than anything else. In fact, no team has ever won a division with less than 82 wins since the schedule expanded to 162 games. Despite their mediocre record, they went on to upset a 99-win Reds team in the NLCS, making it the only time between 1972 and 1978 that the National League was represented in the World Series by a team other than the Dodgers or the Reds.
The 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates
Most games under .500: 14 (18-32 record)
Final Record: 88-74
One year later, the NL East produced another outrageous comeback. This time it was the Pirates who fell 14 games under .500. But unlike the Mets, they bottomed out in early June and climbed all the way back to a respectable 88-74 record. That probably won’t be a mark that will take the AL East in 2017 (it’s taken at least 93 wins to win this division for 16 straight years), but it is a number that has a decent shot at getting a team into the Wild Card game.
The 1989 Toronto Blue Jays
Most games under .500: 12 (12-24 record)
Final Record: 89-73
Here’s the example Blue Jays fans will be the most familiar with when it comes to a turnaround. This team actually sunk one game further under .500 than the 2017 squad has to this point (11 games under .500 at 6-17 one week ago), but their turn around started in mid May, so the clock is ticking. 28 years later, the 1989 Blue Jays still hold the AL East record for falling the most games under .500 and still winning the division. Can lightning strike twice?
The 2001 Oakland A’s
Most games under .500: 10 (8-18 record)
Final Record: 102-60
The A’s of this era (specifically the 2002 team the following year) will always be remembered more for the “Moneyball” story than anything else, but the 2001 A’s also staged one of the most impressive turnarounds in MLB history. What makes this comeback particularly impressive is that they managed to not just make the playoffs after falling double digit games under .500, but also won 102 games. No team has ever won more games after falling in such a deep hole.
(This is also a good time to give a shout out to the 2012 A’s who just missed the cutoff for being on this list. They fell nine games under .500 (26-35) and 13 games behind the Texas Rangers before catching fire and coming all the way back to win the AL West on the last day of the season with a 94-68 record).
The 2003 Florida Marlins
Most games under .500: 10 (19-29 record)
Final Record: 91-71
Here’s a team that kept surprising everyone. After coming off five straight losing seasons and falling ten games under .500 by late May, I can’t imagine anyone thought this team was going to win the World Series. But then they got back to .500 in June, and then they posted a 42-25 record after the All-Star Break to take the Wild Card, and then they upset a 100-win Giants team in the NLDS, and then they came from 3-1 down to beat the Cubs, and then they upset the Yankees in six games in the World Series.
Not many Marlins fans exist, but for the few diehards, this had to be a sweet ride. Then again, the baseball gods have punished them by keeping this team out of the post season ever since.
The 2005 Houston Astros
Most games under .500: 15 (15-30 record)
Final Record: 89-73
Twelve years and another league ago, the Houston Astros pulled off the second largest turnaround in MLB history in terms of distance falling below .500 and still making the playoffs. The surge was mostly fueled by pitching and defense as Morgan Ensberg and Lance Berkman were the only two players on the roster to post an OPS+ above 109. While the comeback wasn’t enough to catch a 100-win Cardinals team, the momentum did propel them to a pennant and their only trip to the World Series.
The 2009 Colorado Rockies
Most games under .500: 12 (20-32 record)
Final Record: 92-70
Most people associate the 2007 Rockies with epic comebacks, and to be fair, that team did come from nine games under .500 (18-27 record) to grab the Wild Card which eventually turned into a 21-1 stretch to win the pennant. However, the 2009 Rockies actually fell even further under .500 at a later point in the season and manged to win more games.
As a fan who followed that team day in and day out, I remember noticing that they had the second worst record in baseball around the end of May and wondering if they had a shot a Bryce Harper who was coming out in the 2010 draft. Then out of nowhere the team ripped off a 17-1 stretch in June and that was the end of that.
The 2017 Blue Jays also have a special connection to the ‘09 Rockies because Troy Tulowitzki was part of that club and instrumental in its turnaround. In other words, they have someone in their clubhouse who knows what it takes to turn a team that’s double digit games under .500 around. (Josh Donaldson was also part of the 2012 A’s, but he only played 75 games for them and spent much of that summer in Triple-A reworking his swing).
The 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers
Most games under .500: 12 (30-42)
Final Record: 92-70
This turnaround was also remarkable. They were nearly halfway through the season at 30-42, and then went 42-8 over their next 50 games. 42-8! They went from 9.5 games behind the division lead to 8.5 games ahead. They haven’t lost an NL West title since.
Of course, for the Blue Jays to join these teams, they can’t fall much further under .500. They need to stop the bleeding now, and for that to happen they need to get healthy. Donaldson and Tulo could return on the next homestand, but it’s the holes in their rotation (Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ) that’s the bigger problem, and they could be farther off. Also, if Marcus Stroman’s early exit Wednesday turns into something bigger, they’re really in trouble.
For now it seems like their best bet is to tread water in the short term, hope to get healthy, and then catch fire in June and beyond. It’s not likely, but history shows it’s not impossible either.
The 2017 Blue Jays will ...
This poll is closed
Join these historic teams and make the playoffs.
Recover from their slow start and finish above .500, but it won’t be enough to make the playoffs.
Not recover, not make the playoffs, and not finish above .500.