In 2012, the Oakland A's were 22-30 on June the 1st, 9 games out of first place. They won their division. In 2013, the LA Dodgers were 23-31 on the same date, 7.5 games out of the top spot. Then they went on a historic run and won the NL West handily. Also in 2013, the Kansas City Royals were 23-30 to begin June, 6.5 games out of first. They couldn't come all the way back, but had a shot at the Wild Card all the way to the final week of the season. In a similar fashion, they also started slow in 2014, 26-30 to end May. They bounced back to earn a playoff berth and come within one game of winning the World Series.
Sense a theme here? It has now been three years in a row in which at least one team has recovered from being in last place entering June to make the playoffs or at least contend in September. While using June as the cut-off point may be arbitrary, it also represents a good a point as any to assess the situation in which each team stands. The All-Star break is roughly a month away, while the trade deadline is not that far behind, so the first games in June can be a critical time for any losing team to decide if there is still hope or if punting the season is the best decision going forward.
This is more evident for last-place teams. Being in last place can be the product of many factors, from lousy luck and injuries, to a tough division, to just being a plain bad squad. As we enter June, the six teams in last place include the obvious and the surprising, from rebuilding organizations to teams that were in the playoffs just last season. As we enter June, they sit at an average of 9 games out of first place in their divisions, while also being an average of 7.5 games out of their respective wild cards.
Despite the cited examples of success, the normal fate of teams that sit in last place by this point is more of the same, as even a mild bounce-back is not enough to push them into contention. With this in mind, does any last-place squad in 2015 actually have a chance? Today we take a look at the six cellar-dwellers and rank them in order from the least likely to the best chance of at least turning things around. We may not hold much hope for these clubs, but it is still baseball, after all.
6.- Philadelphia Phillies
In a case where the eye test and the projections were all aligned, the Phillies have been just as bad as advertised. Aside from a bizarre six-game winning streak, the Phils have only managed to win consecutive games only twice this season, becoming the main reason for the Mets' hot start (New York is 8-1 versus Philadelphia). The Phillies only have Ryan Howard as an above-average offensive player, being saved from utter badness by the valiant efforts of Cole Hamels and Aaron Harang on the pitching side. In terms of offensive WAR and wRC, the Phillies are 29th and 30th respectively, while their pitching is 21st in ERA. Their run differential suggests that they have been a bit lucky, so things could get worse for Philadelphia, more so if they complete the inevitable trade of Hamels, and some others for Harang, closer Jon Papelbon and even Howard. They are the only team with playoff odds at 0%.
5.- Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers had at least tempered expectations to start the year, but it all came off the rails quickly, as the team started 3-15 and promptly fired its manager. It hasn't helped that they play in a tough division with at least 3 playoff contenders, which has Milwaukee with a 0.1% playoff odds heading into June. The recent hot streak of Ryan Braun, and solid contributions from Carlos Gomez and Adam Lind give the Brewers a decent offense, but their pitching sits at 29th in the league, with little hope of improvement. It will be interesting to see if the franchise goes on a full-on fire sale, or if they chalk up this lousy start to a confluence of bad luck and injuries and reload heading into 2016. The rejuvenation of Braun (tied for 8th in baseball with 12 homers) can give Milwaukee the sense that he remains a franchise cornerstone, and avoid them from trading any important pieces mid-season.
4.- Colorado Rockies
The Rockies started the season on a high note, but quickly showed their true colors by getting into an 11-game losing streak that remains the longest in MLB so far in 2015. Their playoff odds stand at 1.3%, which is a product of their middling squad and the fact that they share a division with the Dodgers and Giants, who have been pretty good to start the year. As usual, they have suffered from bad pitching, being the last team in ERA in the majors. The problem is that their offense has also dragged, with the Rockies standing at 25th, with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez struggling, and Corey Dickerson in the DL. The troubling thing for Colorado is that they don't seem to have a plan for the future, unless they pulled the trigger on trading their most marketable stars and finally trying to build a staff that can face the cruel realities of Coors Field.
3.- Chicago White Sox
Despite their many win-now moves in the offseason, the White Sox were never embraced by the projections, and it has showed during the young season. Chicago's offense has been the absolute worst in the AL, and their pitching is 24th in MLB, with little help outside the usual brilliance of Chris Sale. Fangraphs has their playoff odds at a tiny 7.2%, even as they are only 4 games behind in the wild card race. Their run differential suggest that the Pale Hose should be even a bit worse in the standings, and have no readily apparent reinforcements coming mid-season, outside of a sudden emergence of Carlos Rodon. However, with the White Sox acquiring many top-tier players, they still have the foundation to contend in 2016 and beyond.
2.- Boston Red Sox
At 22-29 to start June, the Red Sox season hasn't really gone as planned, if you believe the preseason projections. However, those models may have been a bit optimistic with Boston's rotation, which has been just as bad as the eye test suggested. Boston's staff has been the worst in the AL as a whole, with its starters being the main culprits. Boston's starting rotation has a 5.10 ERA, and has only won 15 games. With their weak division having them only 4 games behind the Yankees and Rays, Boston's playoff odds stand at a healthy 30.5%, but it is hard to see them jumping in the standings unless they can trade for a couple of front-line starters, like Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto. Their much-heralded offense has only managed to be the 23rd-best in the league, and the second-worst in the AL, so the Red Sox may need a lot of improvements if they are to contend.
1.- Oakland A's
Oakland is the worst team in the AL in terms of record, and their playoff odds are a meager 5.3%; so, why do I put them in front of Boston? Well, the A's have the foundation of a good team, and they have been the victims of a terrible run of luck that is finally beginning to be corrected. Oakland's run differential suggests that the team should be 7 wins better than their record, which is mostly a product of them going 3-15 in 1-run games and 0-6 in extra innings. Oakland also benefits of playing in a division where the leader Astros could fall back to earth, while the Mariners and Angels are being surprisingly mediocre. The A's won 6 of their final 9 games in May, and have a Cy Young candidate in Sonny Gray along with a bullpen that should get better. While it may be a stretch, I still think that they have the talent to challenge for .500 and contend if their luck regresses to the mean.