Throughout the history of baseball, mileposts have been designated to help predict how things might turn out by the end of the year. They give the fan the chance to sit at a stop sign and evaluate how the pennant races and individual and team statistics are beginning to pan out.
The most popular landmark – certainly the one most often referred to – is gazing at the standings on July 1 and trying to predict how likely it is a team will actually win their division, the league pennant or the World Series.
So, let’s take a look at the pennant races in the Major Leagues as of July 1 – the unofficial midpoint in the 162-game marathon.
In the American League, the New York Yankees have a seven-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the Eastern Division. The Minnesota Twins lead the Cleveland Indians in the Central by eight games. And the Houston Astros are 6 ½ games ahead of the Texas Rangers in the West.
In the National League, the Atlanta Braves are 5 ½ games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in the East. The Los Angeles Dodgers are running away with the West, already 12 games ahead of the Colorado Rockies. The only true race in either league is in the Central where the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers are tied for first, three games ahead of St. Louis, five ahead of Pittsburgh and 5 ½ ahead of the Cincinnati Reds.
How likely is it that any of these seven teams (counting the tie in the NL Central) will win the division?
According to MLB, since the 1996 season, the first with at least one Wild Card in each league, 91 of 138 eventual division champions held at least a share of their division lead entering July 1. That’s 66 percent.
Of course, this number doesn’t account for the size of divisional leads as of July 1. The Dodgers and Twins obviously have more of a chance to win their division because of the large advantages they currently hold. Only three times since 1996 have there been as many divisions led by five or more on July1. In 2016, all six divisions were led by five-plus games.
The July 1 leaders pretty much held true last season. The only division winner that didn’t have at least a share of the lead entering July was the Dodgers, who fought back from a horrendous start and had to beat the Rockies in a playoff game (Game 163) to be crowned West division champion. The Diamondbacks, held a 3 1/2-game lead entering July, but lost 19 of their final 27 and missed the playoffs.
Also since the 1996 season all but seven of the 23 World Series winners led their divisions entering July – and that includes each of the last eight champions. The 2010 Giants were the last team to win the World Series after trailing on July 1. They sat 5 ½ behind the Padres.
Here’s more: The Boston Red Sox, MLB’s defending champs, are 11 games behind the Yankees after being swept over the weekend in London. According to MLB, they are only the third reigning champ to trail by at least 11 games on July 1 the following season. The others were the 1998 Marlins (24 ½ games) and the 2003 Angels (12 ½). The 2007 Cardinals trailed by 10 in the NL Central in 2008.
On the other end of the spectrum, consider the 2019 Baltimore Orioles, who already trail the Yankees by 30 ½ games. Only three teams since 1969 – the beginning of divisional play – have ever dug so deep hole so soon. The last year’s Orioles were 32 games out of first and the 1979 Toronto Blue Jays trailed by 30 ½.
Here’s one more great statistical tidbit from MLB:
There were more home runs hit in June (1,142) than in any month in the history of the game. Ironically, it broke the one-month record just established in May (1,135). It’s been a amazing year for dingers, best exemplified by the Yankees, who have hit at least one homer in an MLB-record 31 straight games.
There have also been at least 1,000 homers in each month this season. In 2017, when the all-time home run record (6,105) was set, there were only four 1,000-homer months. MLB is on pace for 6,623 homers, 518 more than the current record.