So here we are, just past Labor Day, and most people seem to agree that four of the six division races are pretty much over and both Wild Card races are kaput. There are still 20-something games to go, and some folks wonder how soon the playoffs can get here. The move to three divisions in each league, and the addition of the wild card were suppose to increase September excitement for more fans in more cities. And it has for the most part . . . but there HAVE been some exceptions, and 2011 is FAR from the worst offender for dramaless Septembers.
Let’s look back at the leads in each division and wild card on Labor Day morning for each year since 1996 (the first non-strike year of three-division, wild card play):
The eight leaders on Labor Day 2011 were a collective 52.5 games ahead of their closest rivals. While this may sound like a large difference (and considering the comparatively low 32.0 game difference seen in 2010), its actually tied for the fourth-worst since 1996. Here’s a brief recap of the two “worst” seasons . . .
1998 featured the 114-win juggernaut Yankee team run away from the rest of the AL East, while Cleveland’s 13-game Labor Day lead dwindled to a “mere” nine games at the end of the season. Over in the National League, the Braves, Astros and Padres were on their way to piling up 106, 102 and 98 wins respectively.
On the flip side, 2007 had every race within 6.5 games on Labor Day.
What’s unusual about 2011 is that six of the eight “races” have margins of 3.5 or more games as of Labor Day, but none of those margins in greater than 9.5 games. 11 of the previous 15 years have featured at least one race with a Labor Day margin of at least 10 games.
So, its still possible we could see a Mets 2007-type September collapse, or a Rockies 2007-type September surge. But given that the wild card leaders are so far ahead of their nearest rivals (a record combined 17 games), there may not be much tension in these last three weeks.