Among the 161 positive integers that are less than the number 162 is the number 60. This is relevant to purposes of This, Our Baseball because the usual MLB regular season spans 162 games. In 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic and the trundling pace of team owners during the recent negotiations with players have conspired to give us a 60-game regular season. Such a drastically smaller sample size of regular season games means that weirdness and mayhem in the standings are much more likely. For this, we are grateful.
To give you a taste of what this might be like, we went back through every season since 2012 -- i.e., the era of the second wild card berth in each league -- and identified the five worst teams that would've been in playoff position at the 60-game mark during one of those seasons. "Worst" is being defined by final record across the full 162 games. While it's perhaps too much to say that any team can have a good run across 60 games, it's decidedly not too much to say that even reasonably lousy teams can find themselves in playoff position after 60 games. We have proof of that and everything.
So what follows are the five teams from 2012 through 2019 who were in the postseason mix after 60 games but wound up south of the border after the full season was completed. They're ranked in ascending order of record because sometimes you just have to do the right thing. Come with us, won't you?
1. 2017 Orioles, 75-87
In addition to finishing the season 12 games under .500, the 2017 Orioles were also outscored by the opposition by 98 runs on the year. At the 60-game mark, however, the O's were at 31-29, and that was enough to tie them with the Indians for the second AL wild card spot. That, in turn, would've meant a tiebreaker to determine who advanced to the AL Wild Card Game. The following year, the O's lost 115 games, which spelled the end for manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette and started a rebuild that's still ongoing.
2. 2014 Marlins, 77-85
The 85-loss Marlins in 2014 were a respectable 32-28 at the 60-game mark, and that would've meant a tie with the Braves (see below) for the NL East title. The loser of the tiebreaker would've taken the first wild card spot. Giancarlo Stanton finished second in the NL MVP balloting that year, and fellow young outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna also had productive turns. The loss of young ace Jose Fernandez to Tommy John surgery after just eight starts in essence sank their hopes of contention over the full season. The Marlins slipped below .500 for good in late June and at this writing have endured 10 straight losing seasons.
3. 2019 Rangers, 78-84
Last year's Rangers under rookie manager Chris Woodward got to 10 games above .500 in late June, and after 60 games (32-28) they held the second AL wild card spot. The wheels swiftly came off with an 8-16 July, however. The unlikely one-two rotation punch of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn helped Texas achieve respectability. Their new ballpark looks like God's corrugated lawnmower shed.
4. 2016 Pirates, 78-83
After 60 tilts, the 2016 Pirates were 32-28, which would've put them in a three-way tie with the Dodgers and Cardinals for the second NL wild card spot. That means they had a shot at making four consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history. Alas and alack, that 32-28 record marked the point at which the Pirates were two losses into a stretch that saw them drop 13 of 15. Said stretch effectively snuffed out any hopes of that fourth straight playoff berth. Of the regular contributors to that Pirates team, just two -- Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco -- remain with the club. Unfortunately for Buccos faithful, Bob Nutting also remains with the club.
5. 2014 Braves, 79-83
As noted above, the Braves were tied for the NL East lead with the aforementioned Marlins at the 60-game checkpoint. The 96-win Nationals would go on to claim the division, and the Braves after their 32-28 start -- built off a 17-8 mark in April -- would go on to register the first of four straight losing seasons. That came despite the presence of the young homegrown core of Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Craig Kimbrel.
Since 2012, just two other eventually .500 or sub-.500 teams were in playoff position at the 60-game mark -- the 2019 Phillies, who went on to finish 81-81, and the 2015 Rays, who wound up 80-82. If the Phils sneak into the postseason last year, then does Gabe Kapler keep his job? Quite possibly. Anyhow, in eight seasons under the 10-team playoff format, that's seven eventual losing teams that would've been in line to make it (or play a tiebreaker) after 60 games. If you're the fan of a seeming non-contender going into the 2020 season, that's reason for slight optimism.
The 10-team playoff field is modest enough that we probably won't wind up with a losing team in the postseason, but the sample size is such that we might indeed wind up with a team whose foul-smelling incompetence evades detection across 60 games. Use this reality to feel better about your favorite team, and also prepare to use this principle to impugn a team you dislike in the event that they make the postseason in 2020. Keep the champagne cold and the powder dry.