We are fast approaching the All-Star break in Major League Baseball and many teams have surprised this season, either in a negative or positive fashion. The defending World Champs the Boston Red Sox have struggled mightily; the Texas Rangers, two-time AL Champs in the last four years, have slid down the AL West. However, one of the biggest cliches in baseball rings true; it’s a marathon of a season. A lot can happen in 162 games and almost nobody can be counted out, considering the dramatic turnarounds we’ve seen in the sport’s history.
We’ll revisit them here, sticking with the positive turnarounds. This is also factoring in how far the team went once they reached the postseason. Here are the biggest midseason turnarounds in MLB history.
5) 2003 Florida Marlins
It’s amazing what the Marlins can do when the ownership group is actually committed to winning.
The 2003 Florida Marlins made a move that rarely works in the midst of a season. They fired their manager (Jeff Torborg) and replaced him with 72-year-old Jack McKeon which was a refreshing change of pace for the players. They were 16-22 at the time of the change and still took a while to adjust to the new manager, but they clearly started feeling comfortable. While Torborg brought a micro managing approach, McKeon adopted a more laid-back, hands-off approach.
The team already had talent to start the season, with Josh Beckett as their ace, as well as Ivan Rodriguez, Derek Lee, Mike Lowell and Luis Castillo. They eventually called up Miguel Cabrera and acquired Ugueth Urbina from the Texas Rangers.
The team couldn’t catch the dominant Atlanta Braves for the NL East, but they remained in wildcard contention and outlasted the Astros, Cardinals, Phillies and Dodgers for the last playoff spot.
Still, no one gave the Marlins much of a chance in their NLDS series with the defending National League champions, the San Francisco Giants. After dropping the opener 2-0, the Marlins came back with three straight wins, winning the series in four to meet the Chicago Cubs who had just upset the Atlanta Braves.
After winning a dramatic opener 9-8 in 11 innings, the Marlins quickly found themselves in a huge hole. The Cubs’ bats caught fire, winning 12-3 in game 2, then earning two wins in Florida. An Aramis Ramirez grand slam in game 4 led the Cubs to a win, putting them up 3-1 in the series.
Josh Beckett saved the day for the Marlins, shutting out the Cubs and holding them to just two hits in a 4-0 win.
Down 3-0 in game 6 back in Chicago, the infamous Steve Bartman incident occurred, opening the door for an eight-run eighth inning for Florida. Florida then won game 7 to advance to the World Series.
The Marlins stunned the biggest giant of them all, in the New York Yankees. They split the first two games in the Bronx, before a great seven-inning performance by Beckett was wasted by the bullpen in a 6-1 Yankees win in game 3.
Alex Gonzalez’s 12th inning walkoff homer in game 4 would turn things around. Florida took game 5 as well, with a chance to win the World Series in game 6. McKeon went back to Beckett on three days rest and it was the last managerial move he would have to make. Beckett produced a complete game and a 2-0 shutout to give the Marlins the World Series.
A team that never went away, the Marlins pulled off an incredible run. They still have not been back to the postseason since, as their pieces were sold off.
4) 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers
While they didn’t win the World Series last year, the Dodgers’ dominant second half of last season earns them a spot on this list.
The Dodgers were 31-42 on June 21 last year, 9.5 games back of the NL West. Their blockbuster trade with the Red Sox the year before seemed to be a waste and ownership’s $2 billion purchase looked like a ripoff. Many were calling for Don Mattingly to be fired.
However, with the emergence of Yasiel Puig came the resurgence of the Dodgers. LA also got several players back from injury and everything came together. The Dodgers went on an incredible 46-10 run through August while the rest of the NL West faded.
They wrapped up the division on September 19, with a 7-6 victory over Arizona. They wound up finishing the season at 92-70.
Their run continued through the first round. Juan Uribe’s eighth inning home run in game four sent the Dodgers past the Braves and into the NLCS with the Cardinals.
The battle-tested Cardinals put an end to the Dodgers’ dominant run. The Dodgers’ bats were silenced, as they scored just 13 runs in the six-game series, all capped off with a 9-0 shutout at Busch Stadium in the deciding sixth game.
Nonetheless, this run made a statement for this franchise and it appears they’ll be in contention for a while. Who knows; maybe they can still pass the Giants this season.
3) 2007 Colorado Rockies
Okay, so this turnaround came a little past the halfway point; still, has any team ever had a better month of baseball than the Colorado Rockies did in September of 2007?
The Rockies were all but out of it, yet their month of September ended with a run of 13 wins in their final 14 games. That forced a one-game playoff with the San Diego Padres to determine the National League’s wildcard team.
The Rockies didn’t shy away from any drama. Deadlocked at six after nine innings, the two teams went to extras. The Padres seemed set to end the Rockies’ miracle run, going ahead 8-6 in the 13th inning. Colorado was dubbed a team of destiny for a reason; Matt Holliday’s triple tied the game at eight and put the winning run on third.
Jamey Carroll hit a fly ball to left field, setting up the sac-fly. There is still debate as to whether Holliday actually touched home plate.
The Rockies continued their tear through the playoffs, sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies and then their division rivals the Arizona Diamondbacks. They looked unstoppable, but they ran into the brick wall that was the Boston Red Sox, and their run ended quickly. They were swept in the World Series. Still, this run was the highest point in the franchise’s history.
2) 2011 St. Louis Cardinals
The 2011 season was all about late season turnarounds, and/or collapses. The Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays both crept up to grab playoff spots on the last day of the season, while the Braves and Red Sox went on disastrous collapses. What the Cardinals did stands above it all.
The Cardinals were 10.5 games behind the wild card leading Braves on August 24. On the final night of the season, they needed a win and an Atlanta loss to send them to the postseason. They did their part with an 8-0 win over Houston. The Braves then squandered their hopes, losing to Philadelphia in 13 innings. This marked both a huge comeback and collapse. While St. Louis went 23-9 to close the season, the Braves went 9-18, opening the door for the Cards to steal the NL’s final playoff spot.
St. Louis’s improbable run continued, as they took out the Phillies in five games, capped with a 1-0 shutout in the deciding game. The slugging Milwaukee Brewers were up next, but the Cardinals got by them in six games to reach the World Series.
The Texas Rangers were what stood in St. Louis’s way and the Rangers were seeking redemption for losing in the Fall Classic the year before.
Both teams traded punches, but after five games, the Rangers were up 3-2 with a chance to win their first World Series.
The Rangers took a 7-4 lead and were six outs away. The Cardinals got one back in the eighth, but were still in tough against closer Neftali Feliz. Albert Pujols, in what would be his final stretch with the Cardinals, started the rally, hitting a double. The Cardinals added a man on but were forced to their last out.
Down 1-2 in the count and down to the team’s last strike, David Freese knocked one deep in right past Nelson Cruz to bring in the two runners.
Josh Hamilton, angry his team had blown an opportunity, blasted a two-run shot in the 10th to again put St. Louis behind the eight-ball. The Cardinals again rallied, again going down to one final strike. Lance Berkman brought in the tying run.
In the 11th, with the score tied at nine, David Freese hit a solo blast to centre to force a game 7.
The Cardinals won 6-2 capping off an amazing turnaround and sending manager Tony La Russa into retirement on top.
1) 1969 New York Mets
The expression, “they came out of nowhere” was probably coined when the 1969 New York Mets won the World Series.
The Mets were in their eighth season of play. In their first ten seasons, they never had a winning record and never finished higher than ninth in the 10-team National League. In fact, in their inaugural 1962 season, they were 40-120.
The 1969 season didn’t seem like it would offer much more, as they were 18-23 after 41 games. They managed to go on an 11-game winning streak. From game 42 to 162, the Mets went 82-39.
They were 9.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs midway through August, but would win 14 of 17 to close out August and 24 of 32 through September and October, finishing eight games above Chicago. That’s a 17-game differential in under two months of baseball.
Their playoff run didn’t need much drama. They swept the Philadelphia Phillies in three games to reach the World Series against the high-powered Baltimore Orioles, whom many assumed would end the Mets’ dream season.
The Miracle Mets earned their name, stunning the Orioles. The Mets allowed just nine runs in five games. After splitting the first two games, the Mets put the hammer down and shocked the world.
The Mets shut out the Orioles 5-0 in game three, then got a dramatic victory in game 4.
Tied at one in the bottom of the 10th, the Mets had the winning run at second. J.C. Martin laid down a sacrifice bunt, and the throw to first hit Martin in the wrist, sending the ball rolling down the right field line. That gave enough time for the winning run to score.
Down three games to one, and facing a huge upset, the Orioles stormed out in front in game five to a 3-0 lead, but again the Mets plucked away. Al Weis’s solo home run in the seventh tied the game at three, cementing his .455 batting average in the series.
In the eighth, Ron Swoboda doubled in the go-ahead run and the Mets added an insurance run, going up 5-3 with three outs separating them from the World Series. Baltimore’s frustration never ended. Jerry Koosman finished the job, getting the three outs and the Mets shocked the baseball world, and were officially dubbed the Miracle Mets.
There’s still plenty of time in this MLB season for such turnarounds to happen. For all you know, this year’s champion could be sitting under .500 right now.