A.J. Pierzynski and Chris Sale throw t-shirts to the crowd after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays beat the White Sox 6-2. (Photo: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE)

Throw in the Towel?


 

The White Sox weren’t expected by many outside of Chicago’s South Side to contend this season, but contend they have. Chris Sale has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios have both bounced back from down years in 2011, A.J. Pierzynski has had probably the best year of his career, and Paul Konerko has continued to hit the ball well. The Sox have spent 126 days in 1st place. At the end of play on August 26th, the Sox were riding a six-game winning streak, sitting on a 71-55 record and a 2.5 game lead over the Tigers.

Since then though, the season has come apart at the seams. The Sox have gone just 12-21, the worst record in the Central, and losing five of their last six has dropped them from a game in front to three games back of Detroit with only three games to play.

The consensus seems to be that the Sox are finished (actually, that seemed to already be the consensus when they were two games back with four to play), but of course mathematically they could still force a tie-breaking 163rd game by sweeping the Indians if the Tigers get swept too. If you look at every game as a coin-flip, the chances of a three game sweep are 1/8, making the chance of both sweeps happening just 1/64. But of course games aren’t coin flips and it was only last season that Tampa Bay and St. Louis both won playoff spots with dramatic late-season charges. Why couldn’t the Sox do the same?

I decided to look back at every season since MLB expanded to six divisions and wildcards and see how teams have done when sitting on the outside of the playoffs with three days left in the regular season, but mathematically still alive:

 

Year

Team

GB

Playoffs

Team

GB

Playoffs

Team

GB

Playoffs

2011

Cardinals

1

YES

Rays

1

YES

Angels

3

NO

2010

Padres

1

NO

2009

Twins

2

YES

2008

White Sox

.5

YES

Mets

1

NO

Astros

3.5

NO

2007

Rockies

1

YES

Brewers

2

NO

2006

Astros

.5

NO

Phillies

2

NO

Reds

2.5

NO

2005

Phillies

2

NO

2004

Cubs

1

NO

Padres

3

NO

Rangers

3

NO

2003

Cardinals

3

NO

2002

Dodgers

2.5

NO

2001

Giants

2

NO

Phillies

3

NO

2000

Indians

1.5

NO

Red Sox

3.5

NO

1999

Mets

2

YES

1998

Angels

3

NO

Giants

1

NO

1997

Dodgers

2

NO

1996

Mariners

2.5

NO

White Sox

3

NO

1995

Angels

1

NO

Astros

1

NO

Cubs

3

NO

 

The chart shows that there have been 32 teams over the last 17 years who were on the outside but still mathematically alive for the playoffs with three days left in the regular season. Only six of them actually made the playoffs though. Looking at the glass as half-full, one might point out that it’s happened five times in the last five years, including twice just last season. But those St. Louis and Tampa Bay teams in 2011 were both only one game back at this stage.

Teams that were .5 or 1 game back have been 4 for 11.

Teams that were 1.5 or 2 games back have been 2 for 8.

Teams that were 2.5 to 3.5 games back have been 0 for 13.

It’s easy to see which of those categories the White Sox fall into and it’s clear there isn’t much hope for them to be drawn from baseball’s history. Barring a final three days unlike anything we’ve seen before, the Sox are going to finish out of the running.

 

Tags: Chicago White Sox Featured MLB History Popular