Since the League Championship Series format began in 1969, it’s tough to find a “Final Four” of baseball that’s fallen on harder times two years later than 2015’s quartet of the Kansas City Royals, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays. Through 40 games of a season, this is the first time ever that all four LCS participants from two years prior were .500 or worse:
The only group that may have fallen further, faster were the LCS participants from 1985 — the Blue Jays, Royals, St. Louis Cardinals and L.A. Dodgers — all of whom were at or below .500 through 40 games of the very next season. Of those four, only the Jays rallied over the remainder of the season to finish with more wins than losses. (At 86-76, they finished in third place and never really sniffed the playoffs after the rough start, though they were arguably the AL’s best team from mid-May onward.)
The same scenario — one team ultimately recovering from the slow start — may play out this season. Although the Cubs are in this unenviable group for now, it’s probably just an early bump on the road to another fine season. (Even if their once-mighty defense isn’t what it used to be.)
But the other three have bigger problems that might prevent them from clawing their way back onto the winning side of the ledger. Even after their recent upswing, the Blue Jays still occupy last place in the AL East, which might be baseball’s toughest division. Similarly, K.C. is last in the AL Central despite making strides over the past week-plus. And the Mets are in significant disarray from both an injury and a performance perspective. None are tracking for a winning season, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Elo projections.
Baseball is fundamentally more unpredictable than sports such as the NBA (looking forward to that third consecutive Warriors-Cavs final?) or even the NFL (for all its vaunted parity). But it’s still surprising to see these four teams struggle after being, until very recently, the cream of the game’s crop.