Whether it comes as a strong finish to an already dominant season or an amazing comeback, or it's a newly emerged contender coming out of nowhere, there have been some remarkable finishes in the recent history of Major League Baseball. The wild-card era has ushered in far more opportunity for the postseason than ever before but also has raised the stakes within the pursuit.
With 2019’s pennant chase preparing to take shape, let's take a look back some of the great finishes of baseball’s modern postseason era.
After owning a 34-35 record at the All-Star break, the ’95 Mariners went from last to first place in the season’s second half. Ken Griffey Jr returned from a two-month absence to hit 10 home runs over the final two months, Edgar Martinez won the AL batting title and Randy Johnson won his first Cy Young Award. The Mariners bested the California Angels in a tie-breaker game to claim their first division title in franchise history. They reached the AL Championship Series, led by a legendary performance by Martinez against the Yankees in the ALDS. Seattle lost to Cleveland in the ALCS.
While the summer of ’98 is best known for the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, it also is known for a tight NL playoff race. Sosa’s Cubs were one of the hottest teams in the game in the middle of the year before cooling off late. Meanwhile, Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants won nine of their last 12 games to catch the Cubs. The teams squared off in one-game playoff in which Bonds nearly hit a ninth-inning grand slam amid a Giants rally that fell short. The Cubs hung on to win, and they reached the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Not all memorable second-half performances included airtight races to the finish. Take the case of one of the greatest teams of all time, the ’98 Yankees. They were dominant from start to finish, winning 20 games in three separate months en route to a record 114-win season. They won the AL East by 22 games, with a breakout season for a young Derek Jeter, who hit .324 with 203 hits. They finished the season 66 games over .500 and set a record for most wins in a season, 125, after sweeping the San Diego Padres in the World Series.
Aided by Minnesota's huge collapse, the 2001 Indians staged an incredible comeback to claim an AL Central title. After reaching the All-Star break 23 games over .500, the Twins dropped 15 of their first 20 second-half contests, losing their grip on the division in the process. Meanwhile, behind a 49-homer season from Jim Thome, after being five games back at the All-Star break, the Indians finished six games ahead to win a sixth AL Central title since 1995, going 9-3 against Minnesota in the second half.
In the wild-card era, no team has had more second-half success than the 2001 A’s. They set a 162-game schedule record by going 63-18 over their final 81 games, which included an incredible 29-4 record over the season’s final month. Led by their hallowed three-ace rotation of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, along with a string of incredible starts from Cory Lidle, who went 11-2 after the break, the A’s set a record for most wins by a wild-card team with 102. It also was the most wins by a second-place club, but they still finished 14 games behind the record-setting 2001 Seattle Mariners.
Led by an incredible jolt of energy from MVP/Rookie of the Year Ichiro Suzuki, the 2001 Seattle Mariners tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most regular-season wins in history with 116. The team never posted a double-digit loss total in any month and saved the best for last. From Sept. 1 through Oct. 7, they went 20-7, with a 4-3 loss on the season’s final day, costing them a chance to set the outright record for most wins in a season.
For a second consecutive season, in 2002 Oakland channeled second-half magic, going 24-4 in August, a run that included the bulk of one of the greatest winning streaks in MLB history. Oakland went undefeated from Aug.13 to Sept. 4, embarking on an AL-record 20-game winning streak — which included walk-off wins during the final three victories of the streak. However, taking over the division outright required a second, shorter winning spree, when Oakland won nine of its final 11 games over divisional foes to win the AL West. It was a season that changed the way the sport is perceived and inspired the book and movie"‘Moneyball."
The 2003 Marlins are the definition of a team that got hot at just the right time. After losing eight of their final nine games in August, Florida entered the final month 13 games back in the NL East and barely in control of a wild-card spot. However, its "team of destiny" run — which included an NLCS victory aided by the "Bartman Game" vs. the Cubs and a stunning upset of the New York Yankees in the World Series — got underway quickly in September. Jack McKeon’s club went 10-2 to start the month and won seven of its last nine to claim the NL wild-card spot.
In 2006, the Twins pulled off the biggest second-half comeback of the last quarter century, erasing an 11-game deficit in the process. With Johan Santana embarking on a 13-0 second half en route to claiming AL Cy Young Award honors, Justin Morneau capturing AL MVP and Joe Mauer being crowned as AL batting champion, the Twins went 49-27 in the second half. This allowed them to track down the Detroit Tigers, who had posted the game’s top record in the first half but stumbled south of .500 following the All-Star break. Ultimately the Twins won the AL Central on the final day of the season.
On Sept. 15, Colorado was barely above .500 and 6.5 games back of the San Diego Padres. However, the Rockies soon turned the booster jets on, winning 13 of their final 14 games to incredibly reach 90 wins and force a one-game playoff for the NL wild-card spot. The game featured another incredible comeback, as the Rockies rallied from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the 13th inning, capped by Matt Holliday scoring a still-disputed run on a Jamey Carroll sacrifice fly to send the Rockies back to the postseason for the first time in six seasons.
As late as Sept. 12, the Phillies were seven games back of the New York Mets in 2007 and one of three teams two games back for the lone wild-card spot. However, they pulled off a three-game sweep of New York from Sept. 14-16, propelling themselves back into the race. Meanwhile, this started a tailspin for the Mets, whose meltdown continued against the lowly Nationals and Marlins over the final two weeks, going 5-8 against the bottom two teams in the division. The Phillies then won 13 of their last 17 games to win the NL East outright…while the Mets missed the postseason in full.
Fueled by one of the greatest in-season trade acquisitions of all time in CC Sabathia, the Milwaukee Brewers transformed themselves in the second half of the year. Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and seven complete games as a Brewer, pulling Milwaukee back into an NL Central race that they were four games out of when he was acquired. On the final day of the season, Sabathia threw a four-hitter for his seventh complete game with Milwaukee, which clinched the NL wild-card spot after the New York Mets lost later in the day. It was the first time Milwaukee reached the postseason since 1982.
Having gone 3-12 from June 10 to 26, the Cardinals' 2011 season looked to be spinning out of control at the halfway point. To make matters worse, Albert Pujols had a fractured wrist and was expected to be out until August. However, Pujols made a miraculous recovery by July 5, the team made a nine-player deal with the Toronto Blue Jays on July 27, landed Rafael Furcal two days later and then began to come to life. St. Louis went 23-9 over its final 32 games and erased a 10.5 game deficit in the process to claim the NL wild-card spot, the largest comeback in history after 130 games.
The Boston Red Sox started September with a nine-game lead over the Rays for the AL wild-card spot. However, they failed miserably down the stretch, going 6-18 in September and being on the ropes heading into the final day of the season. Meanwhile, the Rays kept the heat on Boston via a walk-off, 12 th- inning Evan Longoria home run over the Yankees in game 162. Later that evening, the Red Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles, sealing the fate of their massive September implosion.
In the first season of the second wild-card spot being in play, the Baltimore Orioles captured their first postseason trip in 15 years via a thrilling ride to the finish. From Aug. 1 until the end of the year, the O’s went 38-20 amid a year defined by nail-biters: They were 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra-inning affairs. Their flare for the moment continued in the first winner-take-all, wild-card game, as they defeated the Texas Rangers, 5-1.
The A’s saved their best for the last moment of the 2012 regular season. After starting the second half with a 43-43 record, they roared out of the gate, winning nine of 10 games with three wins coming via a walk-off. They continued their streaking ways by winning nine in a row amid a run of capturing 15 of 17 games, which carried into September. Things were still knotted up with the Texas Rangers late, when they swept the final series of the year to take over the divisional lead.
The Royals two-year run as a team of destiny began in the second half of 2014, when they were just three games over .500 on Aug. 1. It was at that point the upstart Royals embarked on a 17-3 run that catapulted them up the AL Central standings. In full, over the final two months of the year, Kansas City played to a 34-22 mark and eventually overtook the lead from Oakland atop the wild-card standings. The Royals beat the A’s in extra innings of the best wild-card play-in game to date, with Salvador Perez driving in Christian Colon to seal a 12 th-inning, walk-off win — the first steps to their first World Series appearance since 1985.
There was no drama to the Cubs' romp to the finish line in 2016, as they dominated the NL Central and National League at large. Joe Maddon’s club kept its foot on the gas en route to capturing the NL Central title by 17.5 games, posting a .685 win percentage in the second half. Following the All-Star break, Chicago lost consecutive games only three times and lost only seven times at Wrigley Field. The season marked the first time the franchise topped 100 wins since 1935 and set the table for the historic, streak-ending postseason run that was to come.
Coming off a World Series run the year before, the Indians picked up right where they left off, dominating the AL Central from start to finish. Yet the journey toward defending their divisional title featured a historic run, as from Aug. 24 to Sept. 15, the club enjoyed a 21-game win streak, the second-longest string of victories in MLB history. The streak itself was a part of a larger incredible run of success, as the Indians lost just four times in September and tied for the most wins in the month since 1950.
After playing just one game above .500 between June and August, the 2018 Brewers staged one of the most impressive late surges in recent memory. Entering September in third place and five games back, they won 20 games over the final month, including 11 of their final 13. Along the way, Christian Yelich put on one of the great September performances of all time, hitting .370 and nearly completing the first NL Triple Crown since 1937. The final win of the year came in game No. 163 to determine the NL Central winner, with the Brewers defeating the Cubs at Wrigley Field to claim their first NL Cental title since 2011.