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Here are 6 years where big pennant-race leads were blown

Think the NL Central race is over? Maybe, but... leads this big have been blown before.

Somewhere in that crowd is Bobby Thomson, scoring after his walkoff home run won the pennant for the 1951 Giants
Getty Images

I know what you’re going to say about this article, so let me say this before I begin.

I am well aware that the Chicago Cubs are nine games out of the NL Central lead entering Monday’s action with 69 games remaining and are currently listed with a 4.8 percent chance of making the postseason. I know that this season is likely going to end with the Cubs trading off many current players and the team watching the playoffs with the rest of us, on TV. Trades are likely to come. Why am I not writing about those? It’s pretty obvious which players are desirable, or not, by other teams, and many of the rumors I’ve seen seem like pure speculation. I could do that, but... we will know, soon enough, about deals. The deadline is 11 days away.

So indulge me, if you will, with this list of teams that blew leads around the number of games the Brewers currently lead the NL Central by — or in a couple of cases, even bigger — this late in the season or even later. It happens, and more often than you might think.

There is one thing all these teams have in common: Like the Brewers today, all of them appeared to be sailing toward a pennant or postseason berth with little or nothing to stop them... but all of them sat home in October.

Will the 2021 Cubs do this? Probably not. Stipulated and acknowledged. These are still memorable parts of baseball history.

1951 Dodgers

The Dodgers split a doubleheader with the Braves on August 11 and had a 70-36 record, leading the NL by 13 games.

They went 26-23 the rest of the way in the regular season and a 96-58 record should probably have been good enough, but the Giants went 37-7 to tie them, then the Giants famously won the three-game playoff on Bobby Thomson’s home run in the bottom of the ninth of the third game.

1964 Phillies

This is perhaps the most-quoted collapse in MLB history. The Phillies led the NL by 6½ games with 12 remaining.

Then they chose the worst possible time to lose 10 in a row. The first of those 10 consecutive defeats was 1-0 to the Reds on a steal of home. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were winning eight straight.

The Phillies did win their final two games of the season. The Mets had won the first two games of a series against the Cardinals and if they had won on the season’s final day, it would have forced a three-way tie for the NL pennant among the Cardinals, Phillies and Reds. St. Louis won 11-5 to win the pennant by one game.

There has still never been a three-way tie for any MLB postseason spot.

1969 Cubs

You probably don’t need to hear anything more about this one, so I will simply note that on August 6, the Cubs beat the Astros 5-4 and were 71-41, 30 games over .500 and nine games ahead in the NL East.

They went 21-29 after that while the Mets were 41-15.

1978 Red Sox

On July 19, 1978 — exactly 43 years ago today — the Red Sox led the AL East by nine games. The Brewers were second, the Orioles third, and the Yankees fourth, 14 games behind.

The Red Sox went 37-35 and the Yankees 51-21 and the teams wound up tied at 99-63. In fact, the Red Sox at one point fell as far as 3½ games behind New York with 14 to go, but wound up ending their schedule with an eight-game winning streak to force the divisional tie.

The Yankees, famously, won the tiebreaker game on a home run by Bucky Dent, whose name you still don’t speak in polite company in Boston.

1995 Angels

On August 15, the Angels defeated the White Sox 7-3 and led the Rangers in the AL West by 10½ games. The Mariners were 12½ games behind, in third place and only one game over .500 at 51-50.

The Angels collapsed, going 14-28 while Seattle went 27-16 to force a divisional tie at 78-66 in that strike-shortened 144-game season.

The Mariners won the divisional playoff 9-1 and defeated the Yankees in a division series before losing the ALCS to Cleveland.

2011 Braves and Red Sox

The Braves didn’t have much of a chance to win their division, as the Phillies had a commanding lead. But the Braves defeated the Nationals September 1 to lead the Cardinals in the NL wild-card race by 8½ games.

Meanwhile, on that same date the Red Sox lost to the Yankees, but still led the AL East by half a game, and were also 8½ games ahead of the wild-card leading Rays.

Boston went 7-19 the rest of the way and lost on the last day of the season to be eliminated from the wild-card race, won by the Rays (the Yankees won the division). Jon Lester, beer and fried chicken were said to be involved. If the Red Sox make the playoffs in 2011 and make a long playoff run, it’s entirely possible Theo Epstein doesn’t wind up with the Cubs.

Atlanta went 8-18 and was also eliminated on the season’s final day. The Cardinals wound up with the wild card.

There are more examples than this of blown leads even later in the season. Is it likely that the Brewers will blow their division lead and the Cubs, Reds or Cardinals will win the NL Central? Of course it isn’t, most times when teams run out to leads like this they keep them.

But every once in a while, a collapse by one team and a late-season run by another gives a far different result than was expected in late July.

You just never know, because baseball!


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