Greatest MLB Turnarounds
The baseball season is a grind. There’s no way around it. Six months, 162 games, with a few extra if you’re lucky.
It’s human nature to get hot and tail off a little bit. This, of course, also refers to teams. Even the greatest teams have swoons in the season. It’s all about how they’re timed.
Some of the best, most well-constructed teams in MLB history peaked too soon, while others got hot at just the right time.
These teams started slow, then caught fire to make the postseason — and history. They are the biggest turnarounds in MLB history.
Honorable Mention: 2004 Atlanta Braves
Low point (regular-season record): 33-38
Final record: 96-66, first in NL East
Finish: Lost in NLDS (3-2) to Houston Astros
Bottom line: After an all-time great run of divisional titles with Bobby Cox at the helm, the Braves looked like their dominance would end.
They were still under .500 as the season turned to the second half. That was until John Smoltz allegedly delivered an emotional speech in a players-only meeting that lit a fire under the club.
Resurgent pitchers Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton, along with former bust Jaret Wright, propelled them to yet another division crown.
25. 2008 Milwaukee Brewers
Low point: 23-27
Final record: 90-72, second in NL Central
Finish: Lost in NLDS (3-1) to Philadelphia Phillies
Bottom line: Coming off their first winning season since 1992, the Brewers were feeling themselves a little bit coming into 2008. They met a hard dose of reality in those first 50 games, finding themselves well back in the NL Central.
The team got all the way back to 43-34, when they traded the farm for a few months of CC Sabathia’s best work. Sabathia was an innings-eating legend the second half, carrying the Brewers to a wild-card berth.
24. 1995 Seattle Mariners
Low point: 34-35
Final record: 79-66, first in AL West
Finish: Lost in ALCS (4-2) to Cleveland Indians
Bottom line: Midway through September in 1995, the Mariners sat six games back of the division lead in the American League West, and hopes of their first divisional title seemed lost.
They ripped off 11 wins in their next 12 games, surging past the Anaheim Angels to take the division lead. Seattle won a one-game playoff against the Angels in a drama-free 9-1 game.
They advanced to the American League Championship but fell two wins away from their first World Series.
23. 1995 New York Yankees
Low point: 20-29
Final record: 79-65, second in AL East
Finish: Lost in ALDS (3-2) to Seattle Mariners
Bottom line: Hard as it may be to believe, the Yankees were in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought entering 1995 and looked to be keeping that streak alive with another dreadful start.
A strong July got the Bronx Bombers back to .500, and the team sold the farm for ace pitcher David Cone to get them the rest of the way.
Cone was a stud in pinstripes and helped propel the Yanks to a 21-5 September, vaulting them into the postseason for the first time in nearly two decades.
22. 1996 Baltimore Orioles
Low point: 53-52
Final record: 88-76, second in AL East
Finish: Lost in ALCS (4-1) to New York Yankees
Bottom line: Baltimore went all in in the offseason of 1995, shelling out big bucks for Roberto Alomar and trading for lefty ace David Wells from the Blue Jays. But by August in 1996, it seemed like that money may have been better used elsewhere, as the team struggled to an 11-16 record in July.
After reacquiring Orioles legend Eddie Murray from the Indians, they stormed through the final two months, going 35-22 with 21 of those wins coming away from Camden Yards.
Baltimore lost its first game of the ALCS to the Yankees on the infamous Jeffrey Maier incident. Otherwise, the end may have turned out to be a very special season in Baltimore.
21. 2009 Minnesota Twins
Low point: 52-51
Final record: 87-76, first in AL Central
Finish: Lost in ALDS (3-0) to New York Yankees
Bottom line: Like many teams with a big turnaround, the Twins had the benefit of being in a mediocre division in 2009. Despite being just a game over .500 in August, they were just 2.5 games back of the American League Central lead.
They bolstered the team by picking up shortstop Orlando Cabrera and starting pitcher Carl Pavano to shore up the rotation.
The newly fortified roster went 17-4 down the stretch and topped Detroit in a one-game playoff for the division crown.
20. 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates
Low point: 23-27
Final record: 88-74, second in NL Central
Finish: Lost wild-card game to San Francisco Giants
Bottom line: After a better-than-usual start to the 2014 season, the Pirates were still well on the outskirts of the playoff picture.
They rallied to go 17-10 in June, firmly inserting themselves into the wild-card race. Propelled by stellar play at their home ballpark, where they went 51-30, and a terrific season of prime Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates secured a home wild-card game.
The Cinderella season ended there against the eventual World Series champion Giants.
19. 2006 San Diego Padres
Low point: 9-15
Final record: 88-74, first in NL West
Finish: Lost in NLDS (3-1) in St. Louis Cardinals
Bottom line: This Padres team was far from the stout club that took San Diego to the World Series eight years earlier, but they were mightily resilient.
Led by Adrian Gonzalez, a former No. 1 pick who most presumed to be a bust, the Padres turned around a tough start to tie the Dodgers for the division title.
A 13-5 record against the Blue Crew gave San Diego the crown.
18. 2007 New York Yankees
Low point: 40-41
Final record: 94-68, second in AL East
Finish: Lost in ALDS (3-1) to Cleveland Indians
Bottom line: A stacked Yankees team had not been used to struggles of this kind since the early 1990s.
The team looked to be on the ropes for most of the season, but rallied around the death of former great and longtime broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, carrying that to 94 wins and a wild-card berth.
It turned out to be the Red Sox’ year, but this Yankees team showed more fight than they were given credit for.
17. 2001 Oakland Athletics
Low point: 8-17
Final record: 102-60, second in AL West
Finish: Lost in ALDS (3-2) to New York Yankees
Bottom line: The 2001 A’s were a wrong-place-wrong-time team. After an abysmal start to the season, they caught fire and won 102 game. If only the season hadn’t been the year that the Seattle Mariners won 116, things may have broken differently.
This A’s team was stacked with talent. See Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Eric Chavez, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito.
It’s a shame they couldn’t keep it together for more than this one run.
16. 2006 Minnesota Twins
Low point: 23-27
Final record: 96-66, first in AL Central
Finish: Lost in ALDS (3-0) to Oakland Athletics
Bottom line: The Twins pulled off the biggest comeback of the wild-card era in 2006.
Despite winning 12 of 13 games coming out of the All-Star break, the Twins still found themselves behind the Detroit Tigers by 9.5 games on Aug. 1.
Aided by an abysmal finish to the year for the Tigers, the Twins took control of the division, finishing with a 49-27 record in their last 76 games and winning their fourth division title in five years.
15. 2012 Oakland Athletics
Low point: 22-28
Final record: 94-68, first in AL West
Finish: Lost in ALDS (3-2) to Detroit Tigers
Bottom line: The A’s didn’t lead the AL West at any point in the sixth months leading up to the final day of the season, but when that final out was recorded, they celebrated the division crown.
Streaky til the end, the A’s won 10 of 11 games coming out of the All-Star break, went on a nine-game winning streak in August and then won eight of their final nine to overtake the Texas Rangers on the final day of the season.
14. 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers
Low point: 31-42
Final record: 92-70, first in NL West
Finish: Lost in NLCS (4-2) to St. Louis Cardinals
Bottom line: The Dodgers took a big risk in 2012, cleaning up the mess the Red Sox had made by taking on all their high-priced, under-performing talent (Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto) for James Loney and four prospects.
Deep into the next season, that risk was not looking like it would pay off. Enter a young and vibrant Yasiel Puig, who triggered a an offensive surge and led the team on a 46-10 run as the rest of the NL West wilted.
The Dodgers locked up the division title in mid-September and have been more or less a powerhouse ever since.
13. 2002 Oakland Athletics
Low point: 20-26
Final record: 103-59, first in AL West
Finish: Lost in ALDS (3-2) to Minnesota Twins
Bottom line: The 2002 A's may be the most famous baseball team of the modern day, but not necessarily for the reasons one would think.
Yes, they went 24-4 in August. Yes, that run included an unheard of 20-game winning streak. But the most memorable part of this run for Oakland was how they broke the mold.
After losing Jason Giambi and David Justice, the A’s went after low-cost players who got on base. The gamble paid off, and the strategies implemented in that season transformed the way teams grade players today.
12. 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates
Low point: 18-32
Final record: 88-74, first in NL East
Finish: Lost in NLCS (3-1) to Los Angeles Dodgers
Bottom line: Winners of the NL East for three straight years from 1970 to 1972, the Pirates were reeling from the recent death of beloved Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente in 1973, and that grief carried into 1974.
The team didn’t reach the .500 mark until mid-August, but by then, they were on fire.
Battling the Cardinals down the stretch, Pittsburgh won eight of its last 10 games to seal the NL East division title.
11. 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers
Low point: 38-43
Final record: 84-78, first in NL West
Finish: Lost in NLCS (4-1) to Philadelphia Phillies
Bottom line: The Dodgers had a losing record for much of the 2008 season, but they were lucky enough to be stuck in a dreadful NL West and still right in the thick of the race. Then Manny-wood happened.
The Dodgers traded for Manny Ramirez after he had more than worn out his welcome in Boston. Ramirez went nuts at the plate, hitting .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs in 53 games.
He took Los Angeles by storm and carried the Dodgers to the postseason.
10. 2006 Los Angeles Dodgers
Low point: 47-55
Final record: 88-74, second in NL West
Finish: Lost in NLDS (3-0) to New York Mets
Bottom line: The 2006 version of the Dodgers turned a new page for the franchise. The team hired a new general manager, Ned Colletti, who hired Grady Little to manage the squad.
More than 100 games into the season, things had not turned around, but something awoke a sleeping giant, and Los Angeles rolled off 17 wins in 18 games.
With San Diego trying to chase down the Blue Crew in September, the Dodgers had a ninth-inning rally for the ages on Sept. 18, overcoming a four-run deficit and giving them the NL West division lead for good.
9. 2003 Chicago Cubs
Low point: 54-53
Final record: 88-74, first in NL Central
Finish: Lost in NCLS (4-3) to Florida Marlins
Bottom line: Ignoring their brutal, Cubs-like finish to the season, where they collapsed in the final two games against the Marlins, this Cubs team had more heart than the city of Chicago had seen in some time.
After being under .500 for most of the season, the team closed strong with a 19-8 September to punch its playoff ticket. They did all this on the strength of two dominant pitchers, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
The overuse of those two became one of the main reasons we see pitch and innings limits today, as the "lovable losers" squandered a league championship series lead to the Marlins, and the "Bartman curse" was born.
8. 2004 Houston Astros
Low point: 52-52
Final record: 92-70, second in NL Central
Finish: Lost in NLCS (4-3) to St. Louis Cardinals
Bottom line: Heading into 2004, the Astros looked stacked after acquiring Roger Clemens and Andy Petitte in the offseason. The season didn’t exactly start out that way.
With a 44-44 record at the All-Star break, the Astros canned manager Jimy Williams and replaced him with Phil Garner. The team also acquired slugger Carlos Beltran from the Royals to add more firepower.
The combination of panic moves worked and triggered a helluva finish for Houston, which made the World Series the next season.
7. 2007 Colorado Rockies
Low point: 39-42
Final record: 90-73, second in NL West
Finish: Lost in World Series (4-0) to Boston Red Sox
Bottom line: Looking up in the standings at the San Diego Padres as September began, the Rockies won 13 of their last 14 games to force a one-game playoff at Coors Field.
They topped the Friars in 13 innings, and continued their run through the playoffs, winning seven straight games to secure the franchise's first pennant.
Then, they met an overpowering Red Sox teams in the World Series, and Colorado's "Rocktober" magic ended.
6. 1973 New York Mets
Low point: 35-46
Final record: 82-79, first in NL East
Finish: Lost in World Series (4-3) to Oakland Athletics
Bottom line: Fortunate to be in one of the most underwhelming divisional races in major league history, the Mets kept hanging around despite their sub-.500 record well into the season.
A finishing kick of 34-19 erased an 11.5 game deficit in the standings and propelled this team to a National League pennant behind the strength of four starting pitchers (Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, and George Stone) and reliever Tug McGraw , who coined the famous rallying cry, "You Gotta Believe."
But after going up 3-2 on the A's in the World Series, the Mets lost two straight in Oakland, and the belief ended.
5. 2011 St. Louis Cardinals
Low point: 67-63
Final record: 90-72, second in NL Central
Finish: Won World Series (4-3) over Texas Rangers
Bottom line: In what was a bizarre year in Major League Baseball, both the American League and National League wild-card leaders had epic collapses. As the Red Sox crumbled to pieces in the Junior Circuit, so did the Atlanta Braves.
It helped that the Cardinals went 23-9 to end the season, but they benefited from the Braves blowing a 10.5 game lead in August.
Glory was meant to be again for St. Louis, whose run through the playoffs was just as remarkable.
4. 2003 Florida Marlins
Low point: 40-41
Final record: 91-71, second in NL East
Finish: Won World Series (4-2) over New York Yankees
Bottom line: After switching managers early in the season, the Marlins still were middling as the season hit the second half.
Calling up a young Miguel Cabrera gave the offense some extra oomph, and the emergence of a stout young rotation headed by ace Josh Beckett provided even more firepowers.
They topped Barry Bonds and the Giants in the NLDS, benefited from some voodoo Cubs magic in the next round and stepped up to shock the Yankees in six games to win it all in the 100th anniversary of the Fall Classic.
3. 1978 New York Yankees
Low point: 52-43
Final record: 100-63, first in AL East
Finish: Won World Series (4-2) over Los Angeles Dodgers
Bottom line: The Yankees were having a decent year by their standards, but still trailed the Boston Red Sox by 14 games in July.
A 48-20 finish by the Bronx Bombers forced a one-game playoff at Fenway Park to decide who advanced to the ALCS. A home run by light-hitting Bucky Dent gave the Yanks the win, and Dent became a forever villain for Boston.
Then, they swept the Royals in the ALCS and won four straight over the Dodgers after being down 2-0 to win their 22nd World Series title.
2. 1914 Boston Braves
Low point: 26-40
Final record: 94-59, first in National League
Finish: Won World Series (4-0) over Philadelphia Athletics
Bottom line: The Braves were the cellar dwellers of the early 1900s, finishing eighth out of the eight teams in the National League for four consecutive seasons. So a slow start in 1914 wasn’t exactly a shocker.
The shocking part was their meteoric rise into relevancy.
An insane 68-19 finish to the season erased a 15-game deficit in the league, and the "Miracle Braves" finished off the year with a World Series sweep of the A’s.
1. 1969 New York Mets
Low point: 18-23
Final record: 100-62, first in NL East
Finish: Won World Series (4-1) over Baltimore Orioles
Bottom line: In the first six years of their existence, the Mets had never finished higher than ninth out of the 10 teams in the National League.
It looked to be another one of those years in No. 7, until an 11-game winning streak jumpstarted a magical year for the "Amazin' Mets," or "Miracle Mets," led by Casey.
They finished 17-3 in August and a combined 24-8 in their final 32 on their way to an unlikely championship, the first in franchise history.