In this series, we’re looking at the 210 teams that won at least two thirds of the games they played in September and October. I divided them into three groups. In the first installment, I examined Group 1: They Were Gonna Win Anyway. They’re the 87 teams that were leading their league or division at the end of August, or were less than three games behind, and rode a hot September/October to the postseason. I also looked at Group 2: No Cigar, Often Close. That’s the 91 teams that that won two-thirds of their games starting September 1, but didn’t play beyond the regular season’s close. Now we’re at the really fun teams—those that were trailing by three or more games at the end of August but rallied to make the postseason.

Group 3: From the Depths of Hell
If you haven’t seen this video of a collegiate 4×400 relay, you really should, partly because it’s a thrilling race, but also to hear the announcers, one of whom makes a Tom Hamilton home run call seem sedate while the other at points seems to be channeling Fred Willard in Best in Show. So which major-league teams, like the anchor-leg runners, have used a sizzling final lap to come from behind and win their races?

There have been 32 teams that were in second place or lower, three or more games back, at the end of August, but won two-thirds or more of their September/October games to qualify for the postseason. Prior to divisional play, only eight clubs had managed the feat. From 1969-1994, the two-division era, six teams did it. Since 1995, 18 teams have done it. However, of those 18, 14 were within three games of the wild card as of August 31. So there are only 18 teams since 1913 that have trailed a postseason berth by three or more games as of the start of September but got to play into October via a blistering finishing kick. Here they are, ranked by the deficit they overcame in ascending order:

· 1964 Yankees, 3 games: Both teams in the 1964 World Series had to come back to win the pennant. New York passed the White Sox and Orioles on the strength of a 24-9 September/October to win by a game.

· 1966 Dodgers, 3 games: The Giants and Pirates were tied for first at the start of September. Los Angeles was three games back. They went 21-10 as the Giants were 15-13 and the Pirates 14-15 the rest of the way.

· 1973 Reds, 3 games: Cincinnati was 19-8 after August to win the division by 3.5. Both of the NLCS contestants in 1973 came from behind to take their divisions.

· 2004 Astros, 3 games: They trailed the Cubs and Giants by three games and the Padres by 2.5 in the wild card race the morning of September 1. They went 23-7 the rest of the season, the best record in the majors, to secure the wild card by a game over the Giants.

· 1942 Cardinals, 3.5 games: St. Louis went 21-4 in September, the third-best record ever in the month, to hold off Brooklyn by two games. The Dodgers went home with a 104-50 record, the best record in history for a team that didn’t play in the postseason.

· 1993 Braves, 3.5 games: This was the last postseason without a wild card. The Braves were 22-8 in September/October to win the National League West by a game, as they broke a tie for first by beating the Rockies as the Giants lost to the Dodgers on the season’s final day. The Giants watched the postseason on TV with a 103-59 record.

· 1969 Mets, 4.5 games: The Miracle Mets erased the Cubs’ lead and won the newly formed National League East by eight games by going 24-8 as Chicago stumbled to a 9-18 finish.

· 2013 Indians, 4.5 games: Cleveland trailed the Rays, Yankees, and Orioles in the race for the second wild card as September began. A 21-6 month enabled the Indians to leapfrog them all as well as the fading Rangers to clinch the first wild card. They exited the postseason promptly, though, dropping the wild card game to the Rays.

· 2007 Rockies, 5 games: That’s the gap between the Rockies and the second-place team with the best record, Arizona, as of August 31. Colorado went 20-8 in September to tie the Padres for the wild card. They won a wild one-game playoff over San Diego, 9-8 in 13 innings, to punch their ticket to the postseason.

· 1934 Cardinals, 5.5 games: They were tied with the Cubs, 5.5 behind the Giants, as September started. They went 21-7 the rest of the way, finishing two ahead of New York and eight up on Chicago.

· 1973 Mets, 5.5 games: This team was 62-71 at the end of August, in fifth place, the ninth-worst record entering September for a team that won two-thirds of its September/October games. Then they got hot, going 20-8 over the rest of the season, passing the Cubs on September 12, the Cardinals and Expos on September 20, and the Pirates on September 21. They finished 82-79, the second-worst record ever for a playoff team (excluding the 1981 strike year).

· 1974 Orioles, 6 games: They were in third, trailing Boston and New York, with a 66-65 record at the start of September. They went 25-6 the rest of the season, the sixth-best September/October ever, to beat the Yankees by two.

· 1930 Cardinals, 6.5 games: A 21-4 September, tied for the third best ever, allowed them to pass the Cubs, finishing up by two games.

· 1978 Yankees, 6.5 games: The Red Sox and Yankees played 163 games this year. The Yankees were 23-9 after August. Red Sox fans, don’t click this link. You’ve been warned.

· 1938 Cubs, 7 games: They were in fourth place, seven games behind the league-leading Pirates, the morning of September 1. They wound up winning the league by two games by going 21-7 in September, passing the Giants on September 1 and the Reds on September 11 before sweeping three games against the Pirates at home on September 27-29 to take the pennant.

· 1951 Giants, 7 games: You may have heard of this team.

· 1964 Cardinals, 7.5 games: The 1964 National League season is remembered for the Phillies’ collapse. The beneficiary was the Cardinals, who were in fourth place, 7.5 games behind Philadelphia, two behind the Reds, and one behind the Giants at the end of August. The Phillies, of course, went 14-19 the rest of the way, but the Cardinals still needed to win two-thirds of their remaining games to finish a game ahead of the Phils and Reds. They did so, going 22-10.

· 2011 Cardinals, 8.5 games: Ah, geez, a wild card? Yes, a wild card. The Cardinals trailed both the Central-leading Brewers and the wild card leader Braves by 8.5 games on August 31. The Cardinals played nearly .700 ball the rest of the season, going 18-8. The Brewers were decent. The Braves weren’t, though, with a league-worst 9-18 record. It came down to the last game of the season, with Chris Carpenter shutting out the Astros 8-0 in Houston while the Braves blew a 3-1 lead at home and lost to the Phillies in 13, 4-3. The Braves dropped their last five games of the season, handing the wild card to St. Louis.

How much did these teams’ sprint to the finish help in the postseason? Not a lot, it turns out. The 18 teams above were 0-1 in wild card games, 3-0 in Divisional Series and 5-4 in Championship Series, but 6-7 in World Series. Maybe this year a team like the Yankees or Pirates or Royals will come from way back to make the postseason. It’d be exciting! Just don’t count on that momentum carrying them to a title.

Thank you for reading

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